Critic’s Revenge

Have you ever wondered if critics are as capable of taking criticism as they are at dishing it out?

Of course, artistic development and achievements have always been intertwined with critical appraisal. Our art forms have a long tradition of influence and inspiration from critics. For example, for the performing arts: Aristotle, Cicero, Longinus, Saint Augustine, Rousseau, Hume, Arnold, Lessing, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Bukharin, Esslin — well, you get the idea.

There are also examples of a different kind of critic. This is the type who turn their small-minded misanthropy toward those who bring something new to the world: artists. These critics exist in that negative space known as: it’s always easier to tear something down than it is to build something up. (Taking the high road, no names mentioned. But, please fill in your own.)

Usually, it is pretty clear which kind of critic is reacting to a work of art: the passionate intellectual who is putting new work in context; or, the angry little imp who enjoys their position of authority to make or break fragile careers.

This week, we learned what lurks in the heart of a generally well-known and well-respected critic — and, his heart is on the dark side.

The cultural critic for The New Republic, Lee Siegel, was caught using an alias to go after individuals who wrote their displeasure with his writings on The New Republic’s Blog. Identifying himself not as Lee Siegel, but as Sprezzatura, he used the magazine’s blog of his own work to vilify and demean those online readers who dared to disagree with him.

How rough was it? Well, “Sprezzatura” response posts included:

(Under the heading “Siegel is my hero,”)

How angry people get when a powerful critic says he doesn’t like their favorite show! Like little babies. Such fragile egos”¦ Siegel is brave, brilliant”¦

Or,

You’re a fraud, and a liar. And a wincingly pretentious writer. You couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces.

Ouch. (By the way, does anyone have their shoelaces tied by someone else these days? Prince Charles?)

When the editor of the New Republic was informed that Sprezzatura’s posts seemed awfully similar to Siegel’s voice, the New Republic investigated. TNR suspended Siegel from the magazine and its online version.

Siegel has told interviewers that he made a mistake, and misused the opportunities of a blog.

This critic has used his own darkness of soul to bring us some light:

  1. If you have a blog, don’t masquerade as your own best fan;
  2. If you want to be a critic, you should welcome your work being exposed to all for agreement or disagreement, or even - the kiss of death - indifference;
  3. If you want to be a critic, do not hide - be honest.

In other words, a critic is in as vulnerable a position as an artist — your work is open to any and all reactions from an audience. An artist, though, does not lurk in the shadows to cut others down, but builds us up by leading with the truth.

So, this week’s critical spotlight on a critic has taught us something after all; and, that’s the job of a critic! Thank you, Sprezzatura!

- Bill Reichblum

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