Editor's note: Pete Townshend sang of Going Mobile, but here we're going all Meta- on you.
Part I of this blog discussion between Matt Sutton and John Wilson is here, featuring Matt's problems with a critical review of the book Holy Hills of the Ozarks in Books and Culture; Part II, John Wilson's response to Matt's defense of the book in question and takedown of the review, may be found here.
Now on to Round III, Matt's response to John Wilson's criticisms of Matt's original critique. Ed Blum also has responded, that's coming up next. As they sing in the film The Apostle, "let the church roll on!"
John Wilson's War
by Matt Sutton
Let me begin with a warning—for those of you who have better things to do with your time than read two scholars picking fights with each other about two other scholars (which is probably all of you), don’t read any further. While common sense and my wife tell me not to respond to John Wilson’s blog about my blog, I cannot help myself. So, since Frederica Mathewes-Green misrepresented Ketchell, and I apparently misrepresented Mathewes-Green, and Wilson has misrepresented me, what’s the harm in taking the misrepresentation one step further? Someone still needs to misrepresent Wilson.
Here are Wilson’s criticisms of my blog post:
1) Wilson writes: “Let's note to begin with that Sutton gets Mathewes-Green's title wrong. There's an exclamation point ("Holy Hegemony!"), alluding to the formula frequently employed by Robin in dialogue with Batman.”
Indeed, I missed the exclamation point. Holy Punctuation Batman! While I was quite aware of the allusion to Robin, Wilson’s response ignores my larger point. Who is really practicing hegemony here? The men and women of Branson, Ketchell, or Mathewes-Green?
2) Wilson: “But if you speak of ‘Christianity Today's Books & Culture’ in a sentence making the risible claim that the ‘culture wars are alive and well’ in the pages of B&C, a sentence moreover that gratuitously drags Jerry Falwell and James Dobson into the conversation, you hint at a vast right-wing conspiracy, the orders coming from on high down to me, the editor.”
Wow—a vast right-wing conspiracy organized by John Wilson. The thought never crossed my mind. All I was saying is that on the pages of B&C Mathewes-Green wrote a bad review that reads out-of-date culture-war paradigms into a book that had little to do with the culture wars.
3) Wilson: “In short, this opening paragraph sets the tone for Sutton's response, which is characterized by remarkable sloppiness and inaccuracy, humorlessness, and self-righteous huffing and puffing.”
Maybe. Or maybe Wilson is indeed part of a vast right-wing conspiracy that has mastered the art of the personal attack. :) (A smiley face in case my meager attempt at humor is read as culture-war mongering, humorlessness, or self-righteous huffing and puffing.)
4) Wilson: “I didn't remember any reference in Mathewes-Green's article to Ketchell's acknowledgments.”
I stand corrected. This was indeed sloppiness on my part. The issue at hand, which Wilson conveniently leaves out of this section of his blog (and you would too if you were part of the vast right-wing conspiracy) is Mathewes-Green’s raising of Ketchell’s childhood Catholicism. Ketchell mentioned this in his introduction, not his acknowledgments. That does not change the fact that it is irrelevant to Ketchell’s argument. Either Ketchell recognizes that something material can also be sacred, or he doesn't (and the book demonstrates that he very much does).
5) Wilson: “Blum took Sutton's assertions at face value—evidently he didn't bother to read the article himself—and added a bit of moralizing of his own.”
Forgive me Ed for leading you astray.
6) Wilson: “I started to wonder as I read if Sutton was under the misapprehension that Mathewes-Green is an evangelical.”
I wasn’t. And I don’t care. Unlike Mathewes-Green and Wilson, I hoped to keep this discussion in the realm of ideas, not personal religious commitments.
7) Wilson, regarding Mathewes-Green’s criticism of Ketchell’s writing style: “Indeed, one wishes that the editor for this book at John Hopkins University Press—one of the foremost university presses in the country—had read Ketchell even half as attentively as Mathewes-Green did.”
I agree. The copy editors at Hopkins dropped the ball, and Ketchell’s writing could have been sharper. Nevertheless Mathewes-Green could have made this point without belittling Ketchell across multiple paragraphs of her review.
In sum, what Wilson has ignored in his blog is the point of my criticism of Mathewes-Green’s review. He can take his shots at me, as Mathewes-Green took her shots at Ketchell, but these have nothing to do with the fact that Mathewes-Green, in her effort to position Holy Hills as on the wrong side of the culture wars, completely missed Ketchell’s argument. Holy Hills is an important book that, mixed metaphors aside, makes a significant contribution to the scholarship on American religion.