Thursday, January 16, 2014

Criticism and its critics

Hi, all:

I thought I'd tip you off, if you are interested, to a lively, interesting, and occasionally maddening discussion that was sparked a few weeks ago by an essay titled "Critical Generosity" that the scholar Jill Dolan wrote for the premier issue of Public: A Journal of Imagining America. The essay, which is fairly clearly positioned as Dolan's individual take on contemporary theater criticism, was in turn cited in scholar Polly Carl's essay, "A New Year's Diet for the Theater" on the blog HowlRound. This essay is a bit broader and more general than Dolan's in its suggestions, but basically, it, too, suggests that harsh criticism might be fun and easy and good for a belly laugh, but that it's not helping theater.

Carl's essay inspired a response by George Hunka, whose "We Are All Victims Now" was posted on his blog on 7 January. He focuses--perhaps overmuch, perhaps not, depending on your interpretation--on "niceness," which is a term Carl uses, but that Dolan does not, and that is, I think, not the real point of either Dolan's nor Carl's posts.

Dolan responds with as much on Feminist Spectator with "Criticism Redux Redux Redux"; Hunka responds in turn with "Jill Dolan Responds." The back-and-forth results in some twitter discussion by critics including Peter Marks, Jonathan Mandell and Jason Zinoman, as well as Hunka and Dolan, the last of whom ends the discussion with an explanation that she doesn't find twitter an appropriate medium for productive debate. I tend to agree with her, at least in this case, since the debate now strikes me as a lot of people arguing slightly different if interconnected points from a number of angles and ideologies.

At any rate, the debate will culminate (or not) with  HowlRound's weekly howl, "Critical Generosity and the Spectre of Niceness," the title of which seems to cut to the very heart of the shades of discrepancy surrounding the argument. It starts at 2pm est, and I suspect it will be--much like the essays that have prompted it, and I guess much like theater criticism itself--lively, interesting, and (maybe not so) occasionally maddening.

Check it out, why don't you? Unless, of course, this sort of thing makes rolling around naked in ground glass seem more appealing, in which case I'd strongly encourage you to skip it and, instead, take to bed. 

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