I have come to this conclusion: if “sentimentality” is lazy emotion, then the term itself is lazy criticism. That single word is a curious poison that no other praise in the review can dilute; the smallest amount can kill the book under discussion, as well as the writer who reads it. It exempts the critic from considering whether they are simply uncomfortable with emotion, as they might be with robots or blood, and are in fact improperly suited to judge the book. The word is deployed like a drone, to destroy without culpability. I think it should be stricken from the critic’s vocabulary. It has become mere jargon, like “earning an ending,” to stand in place of a firm opinion. It is the precise sin they are declaiming against: the luxury of an opinion without paying for it. If “sentimental” is banned, then critics will forced to grapple with the emotion and explain themselves. They might be forced to invent other phrases—“writing without skin,” “impassioned characters,” “warm-hearted scenes”—so that the reader understands what the author is risking. How dare we guffaw at this risk, like high schoolers at a Shakespeare play, finding it easier to laugh at the words than do the hard work of engagement, vulnerability, and human connection? Nudity is not pornography, and bare emotion is not sentimentality. It is the way that art transforms us.
Andrew Sean Greer @ The Daily Beast


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