A recent picture: In the Gehry zone

Bruce Hodges in the Gehry cafeteria, 12/19/14

A somewhat stodgy portrait of music critic Bruce Hodges, which captures elements of the Frank Gehry–designed cafeteria at 4 Times Square. The original image is on Flickr.

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Car crash theatre: Why won’t the critics defend quality in the West End?

While I attempt to escape the winter doldrums and finish a review of The Invisible Hand at New York Theater Workshop, I suggest you consider this December 15 post on the rageoffstage site, which comments on the recent run of an American celebrity in a David Mamet play on London’s West End.

rageoffstage

Apparently, Lindsay Lohan has finished her West End stint as Karen in David Mamet’s ‘Speed the Plow’, and she is so delighted with how it all went that she is now contemplating a second Mamet play.  ‘One Mamet down’ she tweets, ‘Next stop Oleanna’.  Oleanna?! It’s a play we saw more than twenty years ago with Lia Williams and David Suchet, and a classic that deserves a revival.  We’d have gone again.  But as we are not interested in indulging a Hollywood star as she ‘learns her craft’ in front of paying audiences, we’ll have to give it a miss and wait another twenty years until one of the huge number of lesser known stage actresses who might have done the part justice gets a chance.

No, this is not a review.  We did not see this production of ‘Speed the Plow’.  But what really fascinates us is watching the…

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The torture report: sources and a response

1. The report itself

On Tuesday, December 9, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 500-plus-page document reporting on the committee’s study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Long as it is, the document is only a condensed account, containing a foreword by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a set of findings and conclusions, and an executive summary. According to Senator Feinstein’s foreword, “The full Committee Study, which totals more than 6,700 pages, remains classified but is now an official Senate report.” That full study may be released, or leaked, to the public sometime in the future. In the meantime, if you want to go beyond news accounts and consult the condensed report for yourself, here are some options.

2. A response

From the first paragraph of a section called “What Is Enlightenment?” in The New Buddhism, by David Brazier (Palgrave, 2002):

It is enlightened to abolish slavery. It is enlightened to attend to the welfare of animals. It is enlightened to create the conditions for world peace. It is enlightened to help others in myriad everyday ways. It is enlightened to recognise others as brothers and sisters. It is enlightened to view yourself objectively and not collude with superstition. Basically, it is enlightened to be kind and to stand up against cruelty. [emphasis added]

Many questions follow upon the principle in that final sentence. Nonetheless, it’s a beginning.

Lincoln Kirstein on journalism

From Thirty Years (the expanded edition, published in 1978), by Lincoln Kirstein:

The temptation of journalism is always to say something for the way words sound, rather than analyzing what actually happens.

The book recounts the background, founding, and progress of the New York City Ballet. If you’re unacquainted with it, see my entry at Goodreads for a short account. In the paragraph in which that line occurs, Kirstein is talking about critics, mainly those in dailies and weeklies. But he was the kind of careful writer who always said what he meant, and he was an acute observer. The remark I’ve quoted is possibly the most trenchant assessment of journalism as a whole that I’ve ever seen.

I notice that, in saying so, I’ve fallen prey to the syndrome that Kirstein diagnoses. Let me correct myself and say this instead: Kirstein’s comment on journalism struck me as true when I read it, in 2004, and it still does. I see the problem frequently in my work as a copy editor and also in my reading. The influence of marketing is detectable here. Our words must sell themselves, we believe, and everybody now wants to say something that sounds big, bold, appealing, memorable. This presents a challenge for critics and other writers. If you can’t make, or don’t choose to make, fine distinctions in the way you present something, readers are apt to get the wrong impression. If we misunderstand the world, isn’t it in part because, when we talk about it, we keep pumping up the volume? We aren’t TV cooks; not everything needs to be kicked up a notch.