Monday 26 January 2009
On taste and "truth"
Following the last post, I got into a bit of a discussion with a friend on Facebook and I thought I’d share my side of the discussion here. In fact, I’ve been meaning to post it for a while but never seemed to get around to it. Partly because of a growing planned blog of links and updates which is now getting stupidly unwieldy. Anyway, the friend in question got the ball rolling with: “I'm really sorry to see you fielding the traditional critics’ position of running down people who respond to reviews.”...
I'm sorry it comes across as if I'm "running down people who respond to reviews" in general. I'm running down some specific people for the way they have responded, but I absolutely don't think artists and theatre workers, not to mention members of the public, *don't* have a right to respond.
I do wish, though, that the responses didn't so frequently fall into the "you're deaf/blind/mad", "you weren't there", "you're a disgrace" categories.
I also agree that the artists/people/whoever have the right to be respectfully heard. However, once they've been respectfully heard, digested and mulled over, they also have to face the fact (just as critics do) that they might not be agreed with, and indeed may well be passionately disagreed with. I'm always interested when someone disagrees with my view of something, although I'll admit that "my view" probably took much less time to come up with than the thing of which it is a view of - i.e. I'm not going to claim that my review was anything like as hard to write as a play (damn these character limits on comment boxes).
It's mostly witless invective and stubborn refusal (or apparently incapability) to comprehend another point of view that gets my goat. You've probably read me on, oh, let's say Katie Mitchell's Attempts on Her Life, for old time's sake - I really struggled to understand the viewpoint of those who hadn't loved it as much as me. But I was always prepared to at least see that it was possible not to like it.
There's a slightly different thing when one objects to the *premises* on which someone's objections are based - if it feels like there's a tick-box-type criteria already in place which has come between the critic/opinion-holder and the work in question. I guess I do strongly object to prejudices colouring judgement - I do worry, for example, that because I also do a fair bit of banner waving for the old postdramatic thing (which one of my Slovakian colleagues recently decided was so over, you might be amused to hear) and “director's theatre” people might assume/decide that if something isn't in that vein, then I'm going to be so against it ideologically that I won't be able to enjoy it for what it is.
It’s a complex old argument - where does taste stop and prejudice kick in? Are tastes not a sort of prejudice anyway? I dunno. All I can do in my defence is point to my reviews of things like, say, the Donmar-in-the-West-End's superlative Ivanov or, say, Now or Later at the Court and say, these don't fit the criteria which I'd be being accused of having, and yet I liked them both an awful lot. Hell, the show I'm most looking forward to next week is Private Lives at Hampstead, and I'm really not expecting any innovative staging whatsoever. In fact I'd probably be alarmed if there was any; literalist, let-the-script-speak-for-itself reactionary that I am.
My interlocutor then apropos the postdramatic/”director’s theatre” thing said something about “honouring” Ibsen and “shared sense of the truth”:
Suffice it to say, I'm basically with the post-structuralists on truth up to the point where they get all impenetrable and start claiming that something like WWI isn't verifiable - which I guess makes me a bad post-structuralist, but at least stops me being a useful idiot for Holocaust deniers. And makes crossing the road a good deal simpler.
But, as far as texts go, I do think “truth” is subjective and “serving the text” doubly so. I think to an extent texts can only tell you what you already know, or at least that you can only understand them through your understand of the world, even if they subtly or wholesale-y alter that understanding of the world. I think, in this context, "truth" is a slightly disingenuous label for a (perfectly valid and frequently successful and enjoyable) aesthetic choice. I just don't like it being called "truth". That said, I do know what you mean, and I don't have anything against you carrying on doing things that way - big of me, I know :-). It's just the philosophical side that worries me - if one way is "truth" it makes it possible to call different aesthetic choices “wrong”.
Meanwhile at roughly the same time, David Jays wrote an excellent piece coming at sort of the same question from a different angle, which is well worth reading.
Hopefully in the next day or so, my massively overdue review of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour will come together, along with the unwieldy linktastic post. Then there might even be a bit of new and original thinking online before too long.
Today’s cover image comes from here. The artist, Robert The, has this to say about it: “Obsession with the semiotic erosion of meaning and reality led me to create objects that evangelize their own relevance by a direct fusion of word and form. Books (many culled from dumpsters and thrift store bins) are lovingly vandalized back to life so they can assert themselves against the culture which turned them into debris.”