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This report is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

'Guild' Critics and Populism in American Poetry David C. Ward

Last winter The New Yorker's distinguished dance critic Arlene Croce refused to review Bill T. Jones's new ballet Still/Here, whose subject is (but is not only) AIDS. Rather, she reviewed it even though she hadn't seen it because she already knew she didn't need to see it in order to condemn it. Got that? For Croce, Still/Here was victim art which refused to acknowledge the division of art and life, mawkishly pandered to our sympathy for PWA, and made criticism impossible since you can't critique victims of a plague. Whatever the details of Croce's argument (and she had some sharp things to say about art and identity) she abrogated the basic function of the critic: to engage the culture. She refused to see. But Croce was no scandalized dowager averting her eyes. Otherwise she wouldn't have written her 'review'. Croce wants not to see by having those who offend her - those awful people, those 'others' - eradicated. She wants them not to speak. Even while she speaks to and for them.

Croce's pronunciamento against Still/Here is important as the most elegant, and intellectually coherent, expression of the conservative doctrine of repressive intolerance. (It is also a wonderful example of the critic's ego confusing herself with an artist; no crowd ever packed Carnegie Hall to hear Arlene Croce!) From the gag rule on abortion (doctors who get Federal funding cannot counsel women about abortion) to over-the-top hysteria about sex and violence in records, TV and movies, the ...

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