Sing, Muse, of the Critic’s Passion! OR In the Midst of Life We Are in Death, Etc.

Related to the post below regarding Mr. Isherwood’s questionable throwing-up-of-his-hands at the work of Mr. Rapp, I have been reading some of the commentary on the development at various blogs (mostly here and here).  A particular comment caught my eye–another in the noble brotherhood of critics, Mr. Sam Thielman, wrote the following, obviously feeling Mr. Isherwood’s considerable pain: “…pans are really unpleasant to write, barring the crafting of a zinger or two. Nobody wants to damage a career or a life.”

I sympathize (profoundly!) with Mr. Thielman’s critical burden—to zing or not to zing when destroying an unruly playwright’s work?—and I am heartened by his clear commitment to devastation by the implied “but” at the end of the quoted phrase.  It is as if he were saying: It may be hard to destroy a “creative” enterprise, I may be complicit in the destruction of someone’s “career”…BUT (I hear him say), despite these pangs of conscience, or perhaps because of them, it is my job, when I encounter something I do not or cannot understand, to beat it to a bloody pulp!  Particularly if I can do so in a zingy way!  (“People whine that theater critics are too mean; that they’re privileged; that they’re mercurial and unfair. That’s all fine; it comes with the territory and we welcome it. We only start to worry when readers begin complaining that we’re boring.”  Indeed, Mr. Thielman, critics are not mean enough!!  If they are “mean” with anything, it is with displaying cold reason and wit, with their all-too-spare articulations of Objective Aesthetic Value!!  This is why Mr. Isherwood remains a champion—he is never afraid to treat his opinion, however ill-(in)formed, as an iron Law—a singular instance of Objective Aesthetic Value!)

Well I say Here Here to that sentiment!  A critic, when putting conscience aside to skewer or demean a playwright’s life in the zingeriest of terms, is just doing his job, after all: teaching us the true and correct way to see a work of art while preventing us from being bored by the incessant drudgery of life.  What noble work!  What a worthy endeavor!  If in fact a life, a work of art, or a career is a casualty along the way, so much the better!  In the long road-trip of life, it is the critical roadkill which makes the journey interesting, which piques our interest, which provides some modicum of entertainment on our slow, ghastly inexorable march to our inevitable (and inevitably) insipid, gasping, red-eyed, convulsive, lonely and bitter end.  What could give us more pleasure, considering the pain of the human condition, than watching something (that’s not us!) flare painfully up and out under the brutal gaze of a critical eye?  Very little, I can tell you!  The future of the theatre intimately depends on the critic’s boot in the playwright’s face!  If some writers are hurt along the way, they should grow up!  Or learn to take anti-depressants like the rest of us!  Who cares about their silly careers, anyway?  Nobody!  Not where the future of Theatre and Culture is at stake!

I imagine Mr. Thielman is a Critic-to-Watch.  While his conscience may give him trouble on occasion, I suspect it doesn’t give him too much trouble.  What indeed are the petty consolations of conscience compared to the alleviation of boredom which a well-crafted zinger can provide?  Fight on fight on, Mr. Sam Thielman!

(For what it’s worth, my wife does not enjoy Mr. Thielman’s writing.  She says it reads too young.  I told her it was just the effect of the Variety Burbank-industry-slang-speak.  She was much more forgiving.)

I hope you agree!

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