On March 30, the Theatre Centre released a weird document written by one Charles C. Smith, in which the poet/essayist rendered a kind of meta-commentary on the reviews of the Theatre Centre’s November production of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present…, to the effect that Toronto’s establishment theatre critics had been “limited by a ‘gaze’ that left them short-sighted when it came to Black and White bodies on stage.” The doc’s weird for a number of reasons, not least of which being that it was released three months since the production closed and the reviews themselves vanished from public memory (perceptive readers will observe that this essay is itself several months late; well, I write for free and make a living serving food to rich people for marginally above the minimum wage. This will stand as an excuse). That in itself is a shame, because anyone who’s ever taken pains to read the output of Toronto’s critical elite knows that it only occasionally rises above the level of the average term paper, and certainly warrants a good old-fashioned meta-ing (I myself have never encountered a meta-anything I haven’t liked).
If critical analyses of mainstream theatre reviews are wanted and needed, then you can perhaps understand my bitter disappointment that we didn’t get a better one than the one we got. Which isn’t to say that there’s exactly nothing redeeming or worthwhile about Mr. Smith’s essay – just that there’s also a great deal wrong and confusing and also just dumb about it. I’m referring mostly to Mr. Smith’s neurotic obsession with authors and their specific (and, apparently, knowable) intentions with respect to their plays’ meanings, and his totally unfounded implicit assumption that there exists some causal link between those intentions and those meanings. In the parlance, this is called the “Intentional Fallacy,” which phrase was coined in a 1946 essay co-authored by the aesthetic philosopher Monroe C. Beardsley and someone named William K. Wimsatt who’s remembered somewhat less.
All of which is to say that, despite the machinations of history, the Cult of the Author is evidently alive and well in the Torontonian theatre scene, our stages awash in the blood of sacrificial ungulates like so many gleaming ziggurats. Like the Mormonism, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon; like Scientology, it’s extremely silly. Like the superstitions of certain other reactionary monotheisms whose names I won’t mention, its arguments have been shown to be patently fallacious, repeatedly, yet still it won’t go away.
My wife-to-be has gone off on tour to the collection of fractured feudal states into which the United Kingdom is destined to decline. My days, therefore, are taken up in large chunks by playing Dwarf Fortress on my computer, cultivating a sense of self-contempt, and sobbing drunkenly into my cat’s furry, warm belly. Being a creature of habit, obstacles to my indulging in any one of these three are extremely irritating, and none more so than the Toronto Sun, about which I have to dedicate twenty minutes a day to feeling angry, in order that I might avoid such medical inconveniences as ulcers, headaches, and constipation, which might in turn further encroach on my time.
I don’t, however, like to spend any more than twenty minutes feeling angry about the Sun, and Christina Blizzard ruined my weekend. As I woke on Saturday morning, brushing salt-and-vinegar chip-crumbs from my beard and stumbling hungover to my computer to once again repel an invasion of filthy kobold child-snatchers, a deuce of Blizzard’s awful columns announced themselves in my inbox, both regarding the Black Lives Matter protest at the Pride Parade last weekend.
Blizzard’s arguments are characteristically confused, often internally contradictory, and supported by evidence which is mostly demonstrably false. This is an unconventional way to approach political writing, but is I guess what we can expect from a columnist more willing to criticize our Prime Minister for daring to take photographs with certain Hanoverian usurpers than for his selling of $15 billion worth of weapons to a regime which publicly beheads gay people. But never we mind.
The poet, in custodiam.
Too often, we men (and women! It can no longer be doubted that the female mind is, under certain circumstances, able to subvert its whimsical nature and contribute substantively to the catalogue of intellectual endeavor) of letters perform our criticism with a chisel, rather than a flower (with the obvious exception of the great Brazilian critic Manuel Oliveira, whose geranium-based critique of Pound is among the most elegant – and fragrant – in the field). We have reached, it seems, a downward turn in the Freitagian pyramid of scholarship in the humanities, in which upstart postmodernists and “historians” of Bolshevik character are content simply to deface the monuments of our most learned minds with so much electronic graffiti.
It is a pleasure I reserve for myself, then, to undertake a first serious analysis of the poetry of former Stanford University student Brock Turner, whose debut long-form work of free verse appeared in public yesterday, to the delight of poetry lovers everywhere. Keats once said of Byron: “He describes what he sees – I describe what I imagine.” Turner has struck a kind of miraculous fusion of the two, in which what he imagines and what is actually the case become indistinguishable from one another. Whatever my failings as a literary critic, I consider myself grateful that, in future years, I will be able to recall that I, alone among scholars, was the first to plumb the inner reaches of this budding genius’s surreal and abstracted universe.
Turner dedicates his 11-page, untitled work to Aaron Persky, the Californian judge whose mercy has since spared Turner from several decades in state prison. The poet has endured a profoundly traumatic past year-and-half; on January 17th of 2015, he fell victim to a bout of alcoholism, upon which he accidentally had sex with an unconscious female. No doubt shaken by the experience, he turned his pain into verse, and has produced the magnificence to which we turn our attention now.
“The time has come, my little friends, to talk of many things – of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings; of whether the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings…”
So as it turns out, a daily news post was a tad ambitious. Not to say that nobody read it (but then, what do I know about who reads this thing of mine), but to say that I have to eat and live and sometimes sleep, and working a full-time job whilst doing theatre stuff on my off hours has had a deleterious effect on my ability to regurgitate news media, I’m sorry to say, I know you miss it (no I don’t). I’m going to try to do my best to post a weekly round-up every Saturday or Sunday, which’ll sort of curate the week’s bizness into digestible chunks, for your reading displeasure.