Saturday, October 28, 2006

Robert Dawson Scott's Hubris

The boney and alarming Robert Dawson Scott stepped forward and deigned to recount his history:

"Mr Carew, you are new to criticism so I bid you listen carefully to my cautionary tale. This is a strange story - a story unlike anything you have ever heard. It is a story of madness - of cruel and unforgettable death - fantastic, unreal and horrible. Heed this tale. Do not make the same mistakes I did. This shall be my gift to you. Pay attention, for I will relate this tale in the historic present tense.

"The year is 1965. Picture it. I graduate from Oxford (yes, Mr. Carew, the university) seventeen years previously with a respectable 2:2 in Philosophy. I am now a successful critic. I possess a terrifying reputation as the most ascerbic, unrelenting, and caustic critic in the Northern Hemisphere. Playwrights fear me; life is good. The previous year, I attend the premiere of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming and I reduce him to tears at the interval. I earlier describe John Osborne's Look Back in Anger as "godawful dreck" and lap up the controversy which ensues. Criticism excites me and I feel I find my calling in life.

"In August of 1965 I attend a play by Erica Landor which of course I deride mercilessly. She is a fiesty broad and calls in to my office to personally reproach me the day after the review is in print. I laugh in her face and dismiss her as a talentless hack. She leaves swearing bloody revenge."

"The next week, I am invited to attend a piece of avant-garde theatre which comprises one naked man whooping around on stage and hurling faeces at the audience. I see Erica Landor at the interval and I see she talks to a friend about how this piece of theatre is dreadful rubbish. To show her up, I announce to the whole bar that Miss Landor's opinion is worthless and I personally consider this play to be among the most important and accomplished works this century. It is here that Erica Landor reaps her terrible revenge.

"'Ah-haaaa!' she says, 'Your ignoranance is betrayed! This whole night is a set up. This play is written and directed by a chimpanzee. It has no artistic merit whatsoever.'

"At this point, she introduces me to the author of the piece, an enleashed monkey by the name of Dimples. Of course, I am the immediate subject of scorn - I am laughed out of the theatre and my reputation is left in tatters. I flee from the theatre, my face red with shame.

"From this day on, every play I watch, Erica Landor and Dimples sit behind me in the audience and smirk. For two years, this goes on - my criticism suffers. It becomes intolerable. After the opening night of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (which I review as "poor") I lose my temper and drive my car over Landor and Dimples in an alley around the back of the theatre. I go back to examine them and note that they are both very dead. My tyre has driven over Dimples's hand, splitting the monkey's pinky clean off. This seems like a minor point, but you will see that it is of deadly importance shortly.

"The next night, I hear a scrabbling at my office door. Foolishly, I open it and I see the disembodied monkey finger somehow animated by some demonic force. Before I can stomp it, it slithers up my trouser leg, past my groin, up my torso, and eventually up my nose. It feels horrific. I sense it squeezing its way up my nasal passages and into my brain. I pass out.

"The next day, I wake up and imagine that my experience with the monkey finger is just a dream. I sip a cup of joe and sit down to write a review. When I go to type "Pile of excrement", I feel a sharp jag in my brain coupled with horrendous pain. I wait for an hour for the pain to dwindle. I try to type "The acting was woeful" but again the sharp pain in my brain renders me unable to think of anything but delirious agony.

"I catch on quickly - everytime I try to type anything negative in my review, the pain becomes unbearable. I know this is the monkey's finger lodged in my brain seeking to keep me in check. I weep. But I have a deadline to meet, so I am forced to turn in an entirely positive review.

"Every review I write from that day onwards is a positive one. I say nothing bad about anyone. I cannot do it."

Robert Dawson Scott sat down and wailed, "Howl! I am useless as a critic! I stink!"

"Robert," I said, "You have reviewed yourself negatively without feeling pain. How can this be possible?"

"Mr. Carew, that is the worst part of my curse. I may speak negatively only about myself. Because I am a natural critic, I long to speak ill of everyone - it is a natural impulse. The monkey pinky in my brain means I must turn all this bile and negativity upon myself for it has nowhere else to go. How loathsome I am! How ugly!"

With that, he wept and pounded his cheeks with balled fists. A cautionary tale indeed! In my future career as a critic, I must ensure I mow down no chimps!

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