Friday, 19 September 2014

How Criticism Changes The World

This article is nominally about the result of the referendum. It's really about theatre criticism, because that is all I understand.

The celebration - and theft from an essay by Rowan Williams -  of the hermeneutical spiral has always been a basic tenet of my radical subjectivity. Apart from having the kind of name that lends a patina of pretension to my theorising, the spiral encourages the inclusion of critical responses within the interpretation of a text, making my job as a critic both creative and integral to the performance event. When I really get going, it can justify statements like 'there is no play, only its readings,' 'the audience creates meaning in collaboration with the artists' and 'the criticism is the event'.

Usually, I like to use a theological example to explain the mighty spiral, but I am being topical. The result of the referendum will serve. 

My hypothesis is that nothing exists in isolation (uncontroversial, I think, and very Buddhist). The result (or the play - like Spoiling at The Traverse which I saw last night) is merely a manifestation of a particular moment, revealing something but, thanks to the wonder of human subjectivity, not everything about itself.

The referendum revealed that the majority of Scottish voters (defined through a civic rather than ethnic national identity) wished to retain the Union. There has been some response already - David Cameron had to get up all early - but the 'result' is seen as some kind of event in itself. I'm sure someone has called it an expression of the will of the people, or a travesty, or something. 

As a critic, the event in itself is meaningless to me: it is just a thing to be observed and reflected, and through the critical process, be transformed. I am sure that this cliche has been used: 'it's not the end, it's the beginning.'

The manifestation that is currently 'the result' is not yet fully revealed: it is now in a state of becoming, through interpretation... I saw Spoiling last night, a play that has had lots of reviews, won a Fringe First and is 'fixed' in its scripted form. As I was watching it, it spoke of a future in which Scotland was independent, and the foreign minister of the fledging state was up the duff off one of the rUK's negotiators.

Reflecting on it now, it is not the same play. The future it predicted cannot come to pass, there will be no opportunity for over the table nookie between the governments of rUk and Scotland. I am rereading it. Last night, it had a (slightly dark) hope for an independent nation. Today, it is a relic of a moment that never happened. It has changed.

More than ever, the critic is crucial. Shape the result: it only exists in collaboration with its audience. 

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