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June 07, 2012

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Mark S.

I love Kenneth Williams on the subject of critics. He was a famous old-school English commedian, wit and raconteur (and a friend of Joe Orton). In 1973, he was on a chat show with Maggie Smith and poet John Betjeman. Williams was talking about how much he loathed critics, calling them the "eunuchs in the harem: they're there every night, they see it done every night, but they can't do it themselves." When he calls them "absolutely useless," Maggie Smith objects, saying, "But they're not always, Ken, because always there's a grain of truth. That's what's so unnerving." Williams responds, "Hardly ever. And even if there were, even if there were, Maggie, I'd say this: They might, in what they say, be saying something true, but they have hardly ever earned the right to say it. You see, that's the point." After some more talk, he goes on to say, "Half the time, they're not really doing what a critic should do, that is, communicate some sort of affection and love for his subject to the reader. They're really not doing that. What they're really doing is turning a fashionable phrase that might make them well known, them a reputation." He goes on to say, "There's something fundamentally ridiculous about criticism insofar as what is good is good without our saying so. Do you know what I mean? And that, I suppose, really exposes the whole thing."

For what it's worth...

-M

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