Kakutani on the Andrew Keen Bandwagon

June 29, 2007 | 1 book mentioned 2

coverMost reviews of Andrew Keen’s anti-blogger screed The Cult of the Amateur have been pretty unflattering; take for example James Marcus’ assessment in the LA Times. But apparently Kakutani is a fan, “calling it a shrewdly argued jeremiad against the digerati effort to dethrone cultural and political gatekeepers and replace experts with the ‘wisdom of the crowd.'”

I haven’t, and likely won’t, read Keen’s book, and I’m skeptical of the position that freely available tools allowing anyone anywhere to express themselves to the world are a bad thing. The intermet’s (alleged) damage to highbrow culture is more than obviated by its contribution to democracy. For every 100 mindless bozos on YouTube, there’s a whistle-blower revealing injustice somewhere or a witness to history offering up a first-hand account. To me, the trade-off is plenty worth it, and even if we are going to make the blanket claim that the internet is nothing but “superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment,” there is value to be found in at least some of those superficial observations.

It’s hard to say where Kakutani is coming from here, but I suspect she’d back any philosophy that might staunch the flow of all those “amateurish” books she’s forced to read and then summarily dismiss in the pages of the Times. (This is in keeping with my image of Kakutani as the ultimate harried reviewer, who long ago lost the ability to enjoy books and loathes on sight every tome that crosses her desk.)

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. One unacknowledged benefit of the Internet, from the highbrow point-of-view, is that it allows writers like Michiko Kakutani to convince themselves that what they're doing constitutes "deep analysis," rather than, say, slinging adjectives at the wall.

    I've been carrying around the omnibus edition of my beloved Deborah Eisenberg's first two story collections, and only recently read Michi's blurb carefully. Apparently, Eisenberg has a "quick, bristling ear for dialogue." Doesn't "bristling ear" sound like something you should be consulting your doctor about? My, Ms. Kakutani, what a bristling ear you have!

    (The better to limn you with, my dear.)

  2. I've long been a believer in the theory that a wide and swarming mass of critics, artists, writers, filmmakers, what-have-you, does a remarkably wonderful and useful thing: it gives you a measuring stick with which to gauge brilliance. If, as many print-based critics argue, the electronic-based critics are only so much cannon fodder, then doesn't that make their writing shine all the more brightly? Or, perhaps, they're afraid that a wide and swarming mass of online critics will point out that the print-based critics are only so many emperors wearing little else but their font.

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