George Hunka on Jonathan Kalb
Saturday 7th January 2012
One of the great things about theatre bloggers is that they spread the word, creating a wider readership for provocative texts. My favourite at the moment is George Hunka, whose Superfluities Redux site allows you to download an excellent 2002 piece by Jonathan Kalb, the New York theatre critic and scholar of modernism, called The Death (and Life) of American Theater Criticism. Subtitled Advice to the Young Critic, it is a speech to students, and outlines in a clear-headed and beautifully written way the dangers that threaten engaged criticism in the past decade. He writes, “Most of what passes as criticism today is camouﬂaged PR and celebrity-worship, snappy consumer reports shoved into tiny spaces lest they seem too ‘intellectual’, and impromptu opinion-mongering by ‘personal journalists’ more interested in themselves than their subjects.” Almost a decade ago, he already saw the drift towards celebrity critics and a criticism that is grounded in style and not in knowledge. He ends on a strong note: “If, having listened to me, any of you now look into your heart and ﬁnd that you are not on my side, that you don’t crave the admiration of those who read, that you have no urge to reﬁne a vision of your own, that you secretly do covet power, or that you actually do revere the stylists, hatchet-men, and blurb-whores around you, then I beg of you, please, do us all a favor and write about Hollywood and television instead of theater.” I urge you to visit this site and to download Kalb’s speech. Oh, and spend some time reading it: you won’t be disappointed.