Who reviews the reviewer?

The Queen’s Rational Review aims to provide students with a way to familiarize themselves with high-level thinking and persuasive rhetoric

At first glance, the Queen’s Rational Review looked intriguing. It’s a small collection of essays selected for their excellent argumentation and the progression of a premise along rational lines. The notion drew me in and the cover enticed me. It’s a twist on the iconic photo “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” except instead of a flag the soldiers are hoisting a pen. I liked the clever appropriation, but the picture is fairly pixilated and immediately mitigated my expectations.

I carried on anyway—I wasn’t here for flashy pictures, I wanted to read some good essays. The Review’s introduction was charming, speaking of the publication’s desire to instigate discussion on campus. It went to say that each essay has its weaknesses and that these are a challenge to the reader; try to spot the weakness in the arguments.

It sounded interesting, asking me to be an engaged reader, but this proved more frustrating than rewarding. The table of contents laid out the four essays and accompanied each with a small graphic, all of which were terribly pixilated, one to the point of incomprehension.

The point of the Rational Review is not to look pretty, but the utter lack of detail that seemed to go into its design made it difficult to appreciate. This was made all the more damning by the fact that the Review had a staff member whose soul purpose was design and layout.

Each essay began alongside its accompanying graphic and these were once again horribly pixilated and unclear, despite being about 10×10 cm, and as I began reading, there were more design problems. The footnotes alternate between raised script and plain numerals, made all the more annoying by the page numbers, which are placed the end of the first line on the page.

These are relatively small details, but ones that accumulate to make the Queen’s Rational Review seem distinctly amateur.

The first essay, by Michelle Hunniford, was about the use of metaphor to “marginalize fringe groups” in Victorian England. It focused on a single report that was published in 1866 by the House of Lords, which equated prostitutes with parasites. The problem with this essay was that it didn’t really strive to make a point. It mentioned that the metaphor was created out of fear, and then described the evolution of “parasite” as a word, as well as the development of germ theory.

Hunniford claimed that the upper classes became afraid of prostitutes, ignoring the fact that prostitution has been around for millennia and is prevalent the world round. Its final conclusion is that the biological metaphor of prostitute as parasite was used to subjugate prostitutes, but gives no evidence to prove her point.

The essay doesn’t so much prove a point so much as it does prove the existence of a phrase within a singular piece of legislation.

The next essay was by Alexandrea Bryan and centered on cognitive theories. This essay was again unconvincing; it begins by disagreeing with classical cognitive theories in favour of one called “emergence.” Emergence is given an impressively vague definition, while difficult to distil, seems to claim that cognition is “unpredictable and inexplicable.” It’s a theory that more or less refutes the possibility of an accurate theory and the forced verbosity of the essay made it difficult to decipher.

What’s also troubling is the author’s use of depression to illustrate her point; after claiming that depression has variable causes, she asserts that this proves it to be emergent (i.e. unpredictable and inexplicable). Citing an aberrant brain pattern as a stand-in for all thinking is a faulty premise to go on and it seems to negate her argument.

Essay three was about the use elemental and blood imagery in Alison Carey’s essay on the story “Mermaids,” of which the author’s name isn’t included. It’s fairly well argued, but as it’s essentially a close reading of a short story, it doesn’t fit with the tone of the other works. The writing is good, but there’s a fair amount of unnecessary quotation that doesn’t aid in the illustration of the point.

The final essay “Embryos May be Entitled to the Same Moral Status of a Person,” written by James Simpson, was far and away the best essay. Its introduction clearly laid out the progression of his argument, and he chose simple direct words, eschewing any kind of rhetorical verbosity. Arguments are presented and then challenged and he proceeds rationally from point to point.

It’s refreshing, well written and my only real critique is that focuses a little too much on analogous circumstance, slightly losing track of the main point. Besides this, it cogently makes its point and has a conclusion that is perfectly logical.

This was the first year for the Queen’s Rational Review and the newness of the operation rears its head throughout. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it should be commended for accomplishing its goal.

You’ll be thinking about the holes and laurels of each essay and you’ll definitely be contemplating the importance of design.

The Queen’s Rational Review is online: queensrationalreview.wordpress.com

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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