Superfluities Redux readers rarely leave comments on many of these posts, so I often leave it to Google Reader to pick up any mentions of what I write here. (True, there is the occasional Polly Carl Ph.D., the director of the American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage and editor of their HowlRound blog, who apparently believes that I can “slam” an entire online publication merely by linking to it. But Polly Carl Ph.D.s are rare, and besides, she gets plenty of “Great piece, Polly” and “Amen!” comments over there, so she shouldn’t worry about me.) But then some mornings I wake up and I’m all over the place. Few “great pieces,” though, and no “amens.” Instead, it seems like the past few days, many bloggers have felt the desire to tell me just how wrong I am, on a variety of subjects. I am responding as much as I can, but there’s never time enough.
In 1928 or so H.L. Mencken published Menckeneanea: A Schimpflexikon, in which he collected articles and quotations denouncing him and his work: since so many of his detractors wrote mostly to see their names in print, Mencken was happy to oblige. Because so many of my recent responders cropped up in the past few weeks, I do want them to know that I’m reading them, especially since Jason Zinoman said in The New York Times that he would prefer to live in a theatre culture “where discussions about plays can get as contentious (and occasionally rude) as those about politics.” Well, since most of this talk has been about theatre, I will do him a service here, offering the current condition of contentiousness and rudeness, at least as it applies to what I’m writing.
Jeremy M. Barker in Culturebot: “[Hunka's opinion is] complete bollocks … drivel … don’t listen to George Hunka (in this circumstance, at least).” (On the other hand: “[Hunka] seems nice enough, and though I don’t agree with everything he writes, he’s undeniable [sic] smart, insightful, and passionate about theater.” So there’s that.)
Matthew Murray at Broadway Stars: “… something George Hunka recently wrote on his blog, Superfluities Redux, and that Weinert-Kendt linked to from his with the descriptors ‘thoughtful,’ ‘encouraging,’ and ‘keeper.’ I don’t know Hunka personally at all, and I’m only marginally more familiar with his writing, but I’m an admirer of Weinert-Kendt’s writing and judgment, so I read Hunka’s piece. And I must say I disagree with two-thirds of Weinert-Kendt’s assessment.” (Mr. Murray neglects to say which two of the three assessments he disagrees with, but I’m betting one of them is “encouraging.”)
Tom Garvey (to me in the comments section at The Mirror Up to Nature): “Sillier and sillier … if there were a Greek word for precisely the way you’re being stupid, then perhaps you could understand it!”
And there is always this, from David Cote a few years ago for Time Out New York, which I heard about again recently from a respected friend who had just come across it for the first time: “What can you say about Hunka that everyone doesn’t already know? He’s a pretentious, quote-dropping snob who talks about his grand vision for the stage but seldom produces. His turtleneck-and-goatee manifestos are notable mainly for inadvertently lurching into self-parody. His nigh-unreadable theoretical dispatches are poorly written, pseudoacademic, hysterical, alternately obvious and obscurantist and lousy with bathetic tropes of death and erotic epiphany. They’re also weirdly dated. One colleague noted that his stuff reads as if it were badly translated from the German circa 1964. His crimes against good, clear prose are legion. (As an editor, I can forgive many things, but not that.) No one else tortures English like Hunka; that is our blessing. He is fighting a lonely, unfashionable battle for transformative tragic theater, and for that he should be applauded, I guess. If he succeeds, we’ll have more half-naked women reclining on divans enunciating morbid, goth-chick poetry while staring inscrutably at the audience. Ultimately, Hunka is the sort of self-aggrandizing crackpot who seems to flourish in theater. He’d lead a cult of personality if anybody would follow. But it’s not the ’60s, and he’s no Grotowski.”
(True, I had committed the unpardonable sin of “sniff[ing] that TONY isn’t to be taken seriously as a place for intelligent discourse on theater,” so I must plead a mea culpa, especially since he was apparently doing me the distinct and unique honor of reviewing my work before I’d produced it. Of course, Mr. Cote had recently called for “more arguing and risk-taking on theater blogs, knowing that said item would generate chatter,” not unlike Mr. Zinoman’s call for a more contentious discourse. So much for taking the risk of critically commenting on Mr. Cote’s own publication.)
Since Time Out New York has discontinued its “Upstaged” blog, the comments to his piece have mysteriously disappeared (despite his concluding “Comments are now open for death matches”), but the post is still there. At least for now; perhaps this example of rudeness and contentiousness will be taken down as well, which would be a shame, I suppose, and distort history somewhat: to erase it as if it had never been written, much like the magically disappearing comments. Perhaps Mr. Zinoman thinks this is one of those examples of his observation that “Critics are human and a negative review can go off the rails and veer into cruelty and personal attacks.” These aren’t negative reviews, of course, so perhaps I’m wrong about that. But these are just a few contributions to that theatre culture for which he has such high hopes. Fortunately, my skin is thick enough. I hope his (and Mr. Cote’s) is as well.