Singularities (Magill's Literary Annual 1977)
Like the film criticism of Pauline Kael, John Simon’s theater criticism is in itself a dramatic event, and Simon is center stage. It is his “language as gesture” we hear and watch, and his reasoning is the action that develops. He tells us that Singularities has no “overarching theme other than Theater and, implicitly, the personality of the critic-essayist.” The two epithets most often hurled at him, or admiringly applied to him, are “elitist” and “acerbic.” Mingled, those two qualities are the ambience of the collection. He tells us we must “start thinking of theater as a high, perhaps even aristocratic and unpopular art.” “On Being an Elitist Critic” is the subject of the introduction to one of his books. He suffers fools viciously and is intolerant of any work that falls short of excellence. Critical wrath as an expression of genuine anger is no vice, he declares. Jacques Barzun praises him for the splendid violence of his arguments. Simon has often declared that a critic must be an artist, a teacher, and a philosopher who writes as well as any other artist. Criticism is a work of art that is significant while being entertaining. Criticism by consensus is fallacious. Objective, constructive, or destructive criticism is impossible.
It may be useful to know what background helped to produce this approach. Born in Yugoslavia, Simon came to the United States in 1941 when he was sixteen. He went to school in...
(The entire section is 3026 words.)
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