As the subtitle [A Guide For The Willing But Perplexed] of this four-volume series implies, The Four Days of Wagner's Ring has been written for those intrigued by Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen but feel its complexities too daunting or complicated to undertake on their own, and who have found existing guides to be either too simplistic or so scholarly and/or lengthy as to be almost as daunting as the work it purports to explicate and make clear. The volumes in this series adopt a middle ground that it's hoped readers will find engaging reading and a helpful and illuminating guide through the intricacies of Wagner's great tetralogy.The curious and unanticipated problem is that we're experiencing some measure of unsureness getting "into the head" of that intended reader and so are having some difficulty in judging whether our approach is really striking the middle ground promised above, or whether we're missing the mark by being not simple enough, or too simple, or condescending, or.... Well, you get the idea. So, this is a call for so-called focus-group participants. If you meet the description of the above intended reader (or know someone who does) and own a Kindle or, alternatively (but not ideally), have installed on your computer Kindle For PC or Kindle For Mac, do drop us an eMail (or have the aforementioned someone do so) at The Wagner Group and we'll eMail you back a Kindle preview (.mobi) file containing the first few chapters of the book along with instructions on how to transfer it to your Kindle or to the proper Kindle document folder on your computer. (NOTE: Please let us know whether you'll be reading on a Kindle or on Kindle For PC or Kindle For Mac.) What we're looking for in return, of course, are your comments, positive and/or negative, on what you've read. We regret that the only compensation we can offer you for your participation in this focus group is a free copy of Volume I of The Four Days of Wagner's Ring on its publication. We do look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for your attention to this call.
I seem to have written more than three thousand words without a single kind one for How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One. To remedy this, at least partially, let it be noted that, at 165 pages, index and acknowledgments and biographical note on the author included, it is a short book.RTWT here.
I have to say that being a composer invited into a public gathering is always an anxiety-producing experience. No matter how casual or at ease we composers may appear on the outside, there is always that little homunculus sitting on our shoulders, muttering cryptic and often insulting remarks and reminding us that, no matter how much we’ve composed or no matter how grand the honor we may be receiving, “you’ll never be as good as Bach.”Worth your time reading the entire Speech all the way through, especially if you intend making a life in the arts your life's work.
We find Mr. Jones's new book, "My New Book", to be a crashing bore.Including that second comma within rather than outside the quotation marks as we've above done simply makes no sense. That second comma is NOT part of the book's title, and therefore has no place within the quotation marks that set off that title. Well, it appears our isolation in such matters is perhaps at last coming to an end. Ben Yagoda, in an article for Slate, writes:
For at least two centuries, it has been standard practice in the United States to place commas and periods inside of quotation marks. This rule still holds for professionally edited prose: what you'll find in Slate, [T]he New York Times, [T]he Washington Post — almost any place adhering to Modern Language Association (MLA) or AP guidelines. But in copy-editor-free zones — the Web and emails, student papers, business memos — with increasing frequency, commas and periods find themselves on the outside of quotation marks, looking in. A punctuation paradigm is shifting.RTWT here.
For Fish a great sentence is like a great athletic performance. It is an example of something done supremely well, so well that it cannot be bettered. Other similar feats will come along, but only to stand alongside it. What exactly is done in such a performance? There is no single answer, indeed no finite answer since there is no limit to the things that can be done with words. But it is what Conrad called the “shape and ring” of sentences, the perfect adaptation of form to achievement, that Fish wants to share. It is wrong to think that the sentence is a mere slave, whose function is to bear content, which, while being the really important thing, is also something that could equally have been borne by another. Change the shape and ring, and you change everything. The balance, the alliterations, the variation, the melody, the lights glimmering in the words, can work together to transform even an ugly thought into something iridescent.... [...] Do shape and ring matter? Perfection always matters. Without the sensitivity Fish admires, we would not only have no great literature. We would also have had no Gettysburg address, no Churchill, and no Martin Luther King, Jr. If we cannot move peoples’ souls, we cannot move their ways of living either: “Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws.”Quite right — all of it. RTWT here.
Now, maybe more than ever, in a cultural desert characterized by the vast, glimmering territory of the Internet, it is important for the critic to write gracefully. If she is going to separate excellent [works of classical music] from those merely posing as excellent, the brilliant from the flashy, the real talent from the hyped — if she is going to ferret out what is lazy and merely fashionable, if she is going to hold [composers] to the standards they have set for themselves in their best work, if she is going to be the ideal [listener] and in so doing prove that the ideal [listener] exists — then the critic has one important function: to write well. By this I mean that critics must strive to write stylishly, to concentrate on the excellent sentence. There is so much noise and screen clutter, there are so many Amazon reviewers and bloggers clamoring for attention, so many opinions and bitter misspelled rages, so much fawning ungrammatical love spewed into the ether, that the role of the true critic is actually quite simple: to write on a different level, to pay attention to the elements of style. Of course, it is not considered nice or polite or democratic to take the side of the paid critic (though, to be fair, she is paid very little) over the enterprising amateur who would like to shout anonymously on the Internet, but that’s precisely what is called for — unless, of course, the enterprising amateur writes better than the paid critic. The answer to the angry Amazon reviewer who mangles sentences in an effort to berate or praise [a composer or a work] is the perfectly constructed old-fashioned essay that holds within its well-formed sentences and graceful rhetoric the values it protects and projects. More than ever, critical authority comes from the power of the critic’s prose, the force and clarity of her language.... If [classical music critics] can carry the mundane everyday business of [classical music] criticism to the level of art, then they can be ambitious and brash; they can connect [musical works] to larger currents in the culture; they can identify movements and waves in [classical music]; they can provoke discussion; they can carry [classical music] back into the middle of conversations at dinner parties. [...] What separates [classical music critics who write like this] from the din of opinion, from the impassioned amateur review, from the grouchy blogged snark or the Facebook status posting, is the beauty in the sentence, the [critical] craft itself. [...] To those who doubt the beleaguered but well-spoken critic’s influence, his ability to provoke or sway, I would submit a tiny piece of anecdotal evidence from the classroom. I have seen students rush out to buy Anna Karenina because an essay by [literary critic] James Wood made them feel that Tolstoy was essential. If it’s even just these couple of students, alone on planet Earth, who have read that essay and rushed out, those couple of students are to me sufficient proof of the robustness and purpose of the eloquent critic, of his power to awake and enlighten, of his absolutely crucial place in our world.To all of which we say a fervent, Amen!
The ... opera, which utilises corny rhymes by Stephen Wadsworth, functions as an ode to dysfunctional family relations. The plot explores equal-opportunity psychosexual tangles with morbid overtones and soapy accents. The score, though cleverly structured, dabbles in wrong-note modernism, jazzy-bluesy indulgences, dancerly diversions, doodle-noodle recitatives, set pieces with applaud-now cadences, splintered parlando and neo-romantic mush — all surrounding the naiveté recycled from [Bernstein's one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti]. The jumble wants to be profound. After nearly 3½ hours it seems merely tedious.RTWT here.
I've used computers for more than 25 years. I draft prose on-screen, work it over until I can't find much wrong with it, then double-space it and print it out. At that point I discover what's really there, which is ordinarily hazy, bloated, and boring. It looked pretty good on-screen, but it's crap. My first drafts on paper, after what amount to several drafts on computer, look like a battlefield.... I've taught college writing classes for a long time, and after computers came in, I began to see peculiar stuff on papers that I hadn't seen before: obvious missing commas and apostrophes, when I was sure most of those students knew better. It dawned on me that they were doing all their work on-screen, where it's hard to see punctuation. I began to lecture them about proofing on paper, although, at first, I didn't make much headway. They were unused to dealing with paper until the final draft, and they'd been taught never to make hand corrections on the printout. They edited on-screen and handed in the hard copy without a glance.... Then I noticed glitches in student writing that also resulted from editing on-screen: glaring word and phrase redundancies, forgetting to delete revised phrases, strangely awkward passages.... Still, none of this is black and white. For years, after I got a computer I held onto my romantic attachment to writing first drafts by hand on long legal sheets. Then halfway through a book-for-hire I got in deadline trouble and for the sake of time had to start drafting on computer. I discovered, to my chagrin, that drafting first on computer tended to come out better than by hand. Computer drafts were cleaner and crisper. But, after that, I also discovered, paper rules. The final polish, the nuances, the pithy phrases, the tightening of clarity and logic — those mostly come from revising on paper.Sounds spookily familiar. In 2007, we posted an entry to S&F titled, "A Confession And Apologia Of Sorts", that was an explanation of why "there's not a single entry on this blog — be it 100 words or 1000 in length — that has not been edited, typically several times, subsequent to its posting." In that 2007 post we explained that our process for preparing a typical 1000-word piece for print rather than for online publication on this blog where following that process would be wildly impractical not to say perverse — a process we can't seem to alter, much as we've tried, without the finished product ending up a virtual train wreck — goes like this:
1: Bang out a first draft using a word processor.And here we thought it was only us.
2: Print out a hardcopy and correct obvious errors and missteps which nevertheless escaped [our] notice on-screen which they do with alarming frequency.
3: Print out a hardcopy of the edited ms, and place in a desk drawer to stew unseen and unthought of for a full day.
4: Remove the ms from the desk drawer, reread, and correct and refine further.
5: Repeat steps 2-4 as many times as necessary until a finished, fully polished ms finally emerges.
Given the absolute ease today of self-publishing a POD book the physical product of which is absolutely indistinguishable from the physical product put out by any major house, and given the amount of non-writing work commercial publishers today expect an author to perform in the peddling of a published book, what irreplaceable service does a commercial publisher provide an ordinary (i.e., non-celebrity) author today for its 85%-90% cut of the book's sales price beyond the stroking of the author's ego and vanity by the prestige of being published by a commercial house? I've of course asked myself the same question, and no matter how I twist it, the answer I come up with is none. Nada. Zero. Zip. Bupkiss. I guarantee you that anything you come back at me with, I'll be able to come up with an alternate way to accomplish the same end, and just as effectively, even when economies of scale are taken into consideration. Your thoughts, please, as I suspect I must be missing something.That eMail never made it onto that agent's blog, nor was it even so much as acknowledged. Surprise! — or, rather, no surprise at all. It's time the commercial book publishing industry stopped asking itself for whom the bell tolls. Manifestly, my dear dinosaur, it tolls for thee.
Stephen Sondheim, possibly the most sophisticated and least sentimental composer ever to write a show tune, celebrates his 80th birthday on March 22. New York is waxing ecstatic. The first of several major celebrations took place on Monday amid much congratulating and fussing, whooping and hollering. The host turned out to be the underutilised New York Philharmonic, not exactly your average pit-band. The locale was Avery Fisher Hall, capacity 2,738 and essentially too large. The conductor was an old Broadway pro, Paul Gemignani. Lonny Price, the slick director, assembled a massive cast that actually honoured the tired label, “star studded.” TV cameras loomed.RTW 339-word T here.
Notwithstanding my criticism, even excoriation, of "hardcore technical" analysis in such critical writing ... and my praise for "impressionistic" analysis ..., I agree there's room for both methods, and that a marriage of the two is desirable when handled in such a way as to serve a better understanding of the music under discussion rather than as things in themselves. It's just as egregious an error to wax over-the-top poetic in "impressionistic" analysis as it is to discourse in academic detail and at academic length in "hardcore technical" analysis of a piece of music, or to take the position, as did one academic musicologist, that the only way to analyze a piece of music is by means of "the dispassionate, the unbiased, the scientific, the musicological way." And what exactly do I mean when I say that "a marriage of the two is desirable when handled in such a way as to serve a better understanding of the music under discussion"? I mean that only when the "hardcore technical" is used to provide clarifying or illuminating concrete example of an "impressionistic" point made in general critical writing on music (as opposed to, say, critical writing for use in music theory courses or other specialist venues) is it being used as it ought to be used, and that its use in any other capacity in such critical writing is decidedly out of place, and hugely counterproductive.Given our clear antagonism toward technical critical writing about music for non-specialist audiences, why, then, did we find this by Mr. Adams on Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony so utterly engaging? Because it's an exemplary instance of that marriage we spoke of above.
Until I got serious and really learned the piece last year, I could at best say I “recognized” Sibelius Six but never had a handle on it. It is among the most elusive pieces ever written. Much is made of its Dorian modality, and some writers correctly point out the dubious habit of saying the work is “in D minor”, when at best we ought to say, as Lou Harrison did of one of his symphonies, that it is “on D” rather than “in D”. But what no one I know has ever mentioned is how critical another chord is in this symphony — the half-diminished seventh (i.e. your fabled “Tristan chord”). It’s the composer’s special way of integrating the melancholy, resigned purity of the Dorian mode with the more emotionally dangerous and mercurial half-diminished chord that gives all late works of Sibelius their eerie moodiness. That is the case with the Seventh Symphony.... Arvo Pärt makes use of similar melancholy-saturated minor modes, but it’s Sibelius’s peculiar genius of mixing his with the more chromatically ambiguous diminished triads that makes his music both more evocative and less expressively monochrome. The Sixth Symphony opens with a simple, sustained counterpoint for strings alone. The first notes are played by the second violins in divisi, marked mezzo forte. That dynamic itself presages the many interpretive problems lying ahead. It would be easier if it were pianissimo or forte — no problem there. But MEZZO forte is so…blegh! What does he mean? And so much of the following music lies in that “mezzo” zone, including the tempi. The first movement is “Allegro molto moderato,” (or “lively but only VERY moderately so). Many of the markings in this symphony are “poco,” or “moderato,” or “mezzo” this or “mezzo” that. The feeling is not unlike visiting a home where everyone talks in a grave, hushed whisper.It's been a half-century since we left conservatory where we "studied" harmony (the scare quotes because we mostly spent our classroom time there playing cut-throat Monopoly at the local cafeteria which was our hangout), and what we learned has grown severely arthritic due a half-century of disuse, but, still, we understood fully the sense of what Mr. Adams wrote, and, further, imagine it would be understood by any regular concertgoer or devoted classical music listener whether he'd studied music formally or not. But perhaps we imagine too much. RTWT here, and see what you think.
Last week felt like a last chance before winter. The snow melted, dying back until the vole trails became thin green paths through the remains of whiteness. The ice unbound itself from the rim of the horse tanks. One warm morning, a bat fluttered past my head, resting on the clapboards for a moment and then arcing around to the east side of the house. Despite the sense of relenting, the ground was still frozen solid. And then it began to snow again — light, voluminous snow, swelling in the air and muffling every detail. Watching it, I felt a sense of intention in the weather, as if those mild days were just a way of clearing the canvas, scraping away the old paint, before laying down a fresh ground of white.RTWT here.
They're [i.e., the "minimalist" works of Reich and Riley are] tedious, mind-numbing bores — clear reactionary responses to the complicated (posing as complex) musical gibberish produced by Modernist-era, avant-garde charlatans such as Cage, Babbitt, and Stockhausen and their ilk, and, pace Alex Ross and other well-informed appreciators of the 20th-century's musical avant-garde, taking them seriously as music is something that ought not to be encouraged,it occurred to us that perhaps it was high time we read rather than virtually skip over completely, as we did the first time round, the "Beethoven Was Wrong: Bop, Rock, and the Minimalists" chapter of Alex Ross's, The Rest Is Noise, to see what he had to say there. And so we finally did, and were struck afresh by Ross's almost preternatural skill in non-judgmentally (as in, no ax to grind) describing music and its context in words in such a way that one feels it an almost imperative to actually hear that which he's describing. It's not for nothing that Ross and The Rest Is Noise received the almost universal accolades of the critical press, and were the recipients of several prestigious awards (that the Pulitzer was not among them will forever be a blot against its awards committee). Did what Ross have to say in this chapter (or anywhere else in the book, for that matter) change our mind about the "music" of Reich and Riley (and the non-opera music of Glass)? It did not. But that's quite beside the point, isn't it, the point being that had we not already done so we would have felt all but compelled to hear this "music" never mind how tedious and mind-numbing the reality of it proved to be for us. Would that more writers on music possessed and displayed in their writings Ross's extraordinary skill, for if they did it seems to us that much so-called New Music that truly deserves multiple hearings would not languish for want of it.
Apropos this recent S&F post, we ran across an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by writer and academic Gail A. Hornstein. Writes Ms. Hornstein,
The contempt that academics have toward [popular] writing is, in essence, contempt for the ordinary reading public. We assume they're unable to grasp the subtlety of our thought. We think that writing for a broad audience requires "dumbing down" our arguments. But that's wrong. Popular audiences are tougher critics than fellow academics are. You have to be saying something of import or interest; otherwise, people will just ignore you and read something else, or play video games, or watch television.
Academic writing derives its authority from certain conventions, some of them bordering on arrogance. When you're a young professor, it can make you feel powerful to sound as if you know so much. And you can get away with that kind of writing because your audience — other academics — will read your work even if it's impenetrable. But eventually, it can get lonely to have so few people to talk to. What you want to say might actually be of interest to an audience wider than those in your specialty.
[I]t was a rude shock when I started trying to write for a broader audience and realized that this meant going through many, many more drafts than I'd ever done.
Revision requires making choices, something that academic writing allows you to avoid at all costs. Much of what makes that kind of prose so complicated is that nothing gets left out. Writing for a popular audience, in contrast, forces you to figure out what the hell you're trying to say and come right out with it.
For me, that's the hardest part. At first, I couldn't bear to part with any of my ideas, and found it almost physically painful to cut so much. Then I realized it was like growing carrots. Similarities between weeding in the garden and on the page have long been noted, but the focus is usually on the technical process — what to take out, how to clip back sprawling clauses, and so on. But for me, the key similarity is emotional.
I love carrots, and eating them fresh from my organic garden is especially wonderful. But you have to thin aggressively to get a decent crop. I hate thinning. It seems brutal. I decide who lives and who dies, who becomes a carrot and who ends up just a green top in the stockpot. But forcing myself to thin carrots taught me a lot.... I got a vivid sense of how too much of a good thing in the first version — in a carrot bed or an article — can result in stunted plants or spindly, overgrown prose.
We especially appreciated Ms. Hornstein's, "Revision requires making choices, something that academic writing allows you to avoid at all costs. Much of what makes that kind of prose so complicated is that nothing gets left out," which echoes nicely Voltaire's, "The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out," not to speak of our own, "There's simply no excuse or justification for a lack of discipline of that sort; unless, that is, one's an academic where the rule — nay, the imperative — is never let 1000 words do if you can manage 10,000."
(Our thanks to the always indispensable Arts & Letters Daily for the link.)
[Note: This post has been updated (1) as of 12:57 PM Eastern on 9 Sep. See below.]
Regular readers of S&F will be aware that very little has been written here about theater, and what little has been written is mostly negative as our feeling is that, aesthetically speaking, whatever can be expressed onstage live in the theater can potentially be better expressed through the medium of film (see, for instance, this 2004 S&F post).
Playwright, theater theorist and critic, and blogger George Hunka of Superfluities Redux, a champion of live theater, has up a recent post dealing with the state of contemporary theater criticism wherein are contained the following remarks:
[W]hat little long-form creative criticism about theatre that is being written [today] fails to find outlets in general print publications.... And electronic media, such as the blogosphere? At the panel [on contemporary theater criticism convened at a conference held by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education], Mac Wellman (no slouch at essayistic meanderings above, beneath and around theatre himself) offered his opinion that the blogosphere too was a disappointment at providing this, and, after seven-plus years of writing and disseminating my writing via Superfluities Redux, I had to agree. This is not the fault of the medium itself, but rather of the assumptions that have become attached to it: that the "ideal" blog post is short, informal, personal, whathaveyou. I'd like to meet the Plato who decided that this was indeed the Ideal. In its often-contentless navelgazing [sic] (and subsequent public display of the lint found therein), its 300-to-600 word reviews of everything from Shrek to Long Day's Journey into Night (whether meaningful discussion of these plays can be contained in such a short space or not), its anxious attention-deficit-disorder jumping from topic to topic and inability to stay focused (not only from post to post but from paragraph to paragraph as well), its frequent expressions of personal venom in lieu of professional or aesthetic dialogue, the theatrical and dramatic blogosphere has quickly become like the print media's treatment of theatre and drama. Only worse. [italic emphasis ours]
We confess to being one of those "Plato[s]" who have declared that the "Ideal" blog post is always short in length as compared with the long-form sort advocated by Mr. Hunka. A blog post is no proper place for such long-form disquisitions which disquisitions are more proper to specialist print journals. As we wrote in a 2004 post titled, "Writing For The Blogosphere",
And what, by far, have I found to be the most egregious fault of serious-minded writing in the blogosphere generally? Lack of discipline. Or, as [journalism professor and then-weblogger Brendan] O'Neill put it:Then there are the over-long posts 2000 words, when 400 words would have been fine. As Voltaire once wrote: "The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out." Blogging everything that comes into your head is a recipe for revealing nothing of substance about yourself or your views.
Quite right. There's simply no excuse or justification for a lack of discipline of that sort; unless, that is, one's an academic where the rule nay, the imperative is never let 1000 words do if you can manage 10,000.
There's precious little appropriate to the weblog format, the print equivalent of which would be the daily or weekly newspaper column, that requires more than 1000 words or so to express fully and adequately if one knows what one is talking about; 1500 at the outside, but typically that many only when one's post includes a necessary quoting of others' text(s), or the inclusion of, say, cast lists and credits, or other such pertinent technical data. By and large, a post longer than that and one's either an inept writer, doesn't know what one wants to say, doesn't know how to say what one wants to say, simply loves the sound of one's own voice, or any combination of two or more of the foregoing. I can't begin to list the weblogs I no longer read due this one fault alone (well, actually I can, but will here refrain from doing so).
It's a sobering thought, or ought to be, that one of the most justifiably lauded and influential writers among American critics and journalists, H. L. Mencken, first made his mark on American letters largely by column-length pieces that averaged some 800 words or so (no, I haven't word-counted his early pieces; I'm taking that word-count figure from other sources). If Mencken required only some 800 words per piece to get his points across and first make his mark as a writer, less gifted writers (which I can say without fear of serious contradiction would include just about all who write for the blogosphere) can be permitted 1000-1500, rarely more. Any more is little more than gross self-indulgence which one ought to feel nothing but shame for inflicting upon an innocent public.
And with that, I'll step down from my soapbox, but not before leaving my fellow webloggers with two final sobering thoughts. The 1953 seminal article by Watson and Crick in the science journal Nature describing the just-discovered structure of DNA and how that structure was derived took up all of 900 words, and Lincoln's dedicatory address at Gettysburg, all of 267.
And to that, we've little further to add as adding just a little more would quickly bring this post beyond the "Ideal" 1000-1500-word limit without saying much more worth saying on the subject.
Update (12:57 PM Eastern on 9 Sep): For more on this, see this S&F post.
In an article written for the Los Angeles Times, Terry Teachout, drama critic for The Wall Street Journal who writes about himself and his work on his blog About Last Night, thinks there's some truth to the dictum, "Those who cannot do, review":
Critics don't get much respect. (Pause here for raucous laughter.) If you doubt it, look up the word "critic" in any book of quotations and see what you find.
H.L. Mencken's New Dictionary of Quotations is full of zinger after zinger, most of which revolve around a single theme: Those who cannot do, review. I especially like this sulfurous couplet by John Dryden: "They who write ill, and they who ne'er durst write / Turn critics out of mere revenge and spite."
Is that true? Not really — yet there's some truth in it, especially when it comes to my particular line of work.
Many critics have managed to write well about the arts while keeping their creative maidenheads intact. But most of the best ones ... have had at least some professional experience in at least one of the art forms about which they write.
[H]ands-on experience also gives critics a proper respect for what Wilfrid Sheed calls "the simple miracle of getting the curtain up every night." It's hard to sing Violetta in La Traviata or play the Stage Manager in Our Town. It's scary to go out in front of a thousand people and put yourself on the line. Unless you know what it takes to do that night after night — not just in theory but in your blood and bones — your criticism is likely to be more idealistic than realistic.
But isn't it an essential part of an arts critic's professional responsibility and obligation to measure a performance or an artwork against an ideal; an ideal formed by the critic's extensive study of and experience in the domain(s) which he covers; study and experience as a student and observer, not as a performer or creative participant? It seems to us that a critic who knows from his own attempts "what it takes" from a performer's or creator's standpoint is subtly handicapped in making clear-eyed and bias-free critical assessments as those assessments are certain to be colored by the experience of his own attempts which, more likely than not, are not at all reflective of the experience of those genuinely gifted performers and creators who pursue their art precisely because of that genuine gift no matter the generousness of the gift.
In any case, while empathy with and an understanding of performers and creators and their efforts formed and provoked by a critic's own performing and creative efforts surely have their place, that place ought never to establish itself as an element of a critic's critical assessment of a performance or artwork. All that ought to concern the arts critic in that regard is the finished product regardless of the circumstances of its making or what did or didn't go into that making (which matters the critic should feel free to treat separately if he finds them of sufficient interest in their own right), and how it measures up when measured against the critic's deeply informed ideal of what that performance or artwork ought to or could have been.
This, it seems to us, is the arts critic's Prime Directive, and the extent to which the critic disregards that directive a measure of the worthlessness of his critical judgments.