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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: March ::
Re: Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0613  Monday, 31 March 2003

[1]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 Mar 2003 08:56:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0596 Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind

[2]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 Mar 2003 17:40:13 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0596 Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 Mar 2003 22:51:36 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0601 Re: Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Friday, 28 Mar 2003 08:56:23 -0500
Subject: 14.0596 Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0596 Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind

Charles Weinstein <
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 > writes,

>"But what of 'destructive' criticism, which is far and wide alleged to
>be bad?  The terms 'constructive' and 'destructive,' as applied to
>criticism, have no meaning whatever.  There is only good and bad
>criticism.

Constructive criticism has a long and distinguished history.

Recognized as one of the seminal works of theatrical criticism, Gotthold
Ephraim Lessing's, The Hamburg Dramaturgy, a series of essays written in
response to productions of the Hamburg State Theater in the mid-18th
century when he was in the theater's employ, is primarily constructive
criticism.

Among my favorite perceptions was Lessing's pithy answer to one of his
own rhetorical questions.   In assessing the particularly improbably
denouement of a formulistic play that was imitating English
commercial-class tragedy, Lessing asked, "What did she [the heroine]die
of?"  His answer, as closely as I can recall it:   Why, of the fifth
act, a particularly dangerous and insidious disease that has carried off
many an unlucky heroine, for whom the first four acts had promised a
long and prosperous life.

At the risk of over-stating the point, Lessing seems to me very
concisely to use a particular theatrical event to constructively appeal
for unity of action in the dramas of his resident theatre company.

In France, the encyclopedist, Diderot, was also writing constructive
criticism in his appeals for female costume reform, using the
performances of Mlle Clairon:  "A courageous actress, Mlle. Clairon, has
just discarded her hoops, and no one thinks it wrong.  She will go even
further, I say.  Ah! what if she dared, one day, to appear on the stage
in all the nobility and simplicity of dress that her parts demand."
(quoted in A. M. Nagler's Sourcebook of Theatrical History)

Ed Pixley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Friday, 28 Mar 2003 17:40:13 -0000
Subject: 14.0596 Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0596 Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind

An interesting thread that has arisen before but with a new twist.  Art
is what people say art is.  Art is entertainment that few people want to
see.  Art is the result of the labours of a few clever people that other
clever people think is important.  Art is all the things common people
don't like.  Art is anything that can be elegantly justified as being
important.  And so on.  The important word in all this is not 'art' but
'important'.  Those that believe that a crumpled bed in the Tate London
is art need only to elegantly explain why it is important and less
clever people usually concur.  If enough people believe it then the bed
becomes art.

But the trouble with artistic importance is that it is not measurable.
Is Beethoven more important that Van Gogh?  It is an un-measurable
question.  Our only anchor is the opinion.  Professional opinions are
usually called critics - and sometimes friends who have seen the art
before you have.  "Danny liked it - so it must be good!"  We may see it,
still be confused and still doubt our own perceptions but realise, of
course, that Danny can see more than we - but he doesn't.

There are only 6 things of earthy importance.  Love, sex, water, food,
shelter and storytelling.  Shakespeare re-told ancient stories that were
already part of the cultural organics.  Stories that warned of the evil
and gloried in the good.  That good should always triumph over the evil
one is what people need to see in order to maintain an optimistic bias
for suffering the slings and arrows of life.  That Shakespeare's stories
are told with high poetry and high literary skill is interesting,
thrilling, intellectually taxing and entertaining - but in the end mere
vanity.  The story's the thing and always will be.

SAM SMALL
http://www.passioninpieces.co.uk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 28 Mar 2003 22:51:36 -0500
Subject: 14.0601 Re: Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0601 Re: Critical Encounters of the Negative Kind

John Simon's comments as relayed to us by Charles Weinstein raise a
substantive question of great interest, which so far as I know has never
been satisfactorily answered, maybe because it can't be: namely, the
functional relationship between art and criticism.  The only way I know
to get at this is to look at history, and the results are at best
equivocal.  I think, for instance, of England in 1818, when some
reviewers, whose own view of their calling was pretty close to that of
Simon and Weinstein, savaged Keats (as they had also savaged Wordsworth,
Coleridge, and Shelley).  The poets' work seems to have flourished ins
spite of, not because of, the criticism.  The Elizabethan efflorescence
of which this list's prime subject was part did not generate a lot of
great practical criticism, at least not in print; and Aristotle comes
after, not before, Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides--indeed, none
of the tragic poets who had a chance to attend Aristotle's lectures on
the drama have survived for us to read.  I'm pretty sure that
artists--and I include here performers as well as writers and
choreographers and so on-- learn more from each other than they do from
the Shaws and Simons of the world, and of course there seem to occur
these moments when some collocation of accidents assembles a group of
talented and innovative artists who push each other until all of them
are producing exceptional work--which may or may not include significant
criticism.

The other element in all of this, to be sure, is Audience--for whom or
which I do not think the Simon/Weinstein axis has any real use. General
standards way, way lower even than mine.  But if those folks don't buy
tickets nobody can make a living from the work.  Not even the critics.

Critically,
David Evett

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