In Competition No. 2761 you were invited to provide an example of critics debating a trivial point in an absurd way.
This challenge was inspired by the parody, at the end of N.F. Simpson’s A Resounding Tinkle, of critics solemnly discussing whether the play they have just seen is a ‘hotchpotch’ or a ‘gallimaufry’.
I liked Chris O’Carroll’s dissection of the nuances of ‘myriad’ and ‘plethora’, and both Basil Ransome-Davies and G.M. Davis neatly captured the childish, foot-stomping undercurrent that sometimes characterises the exchanges between squabbling critics. The entries that most impressed though, in a smallish postbag, are printed below and earn their authors £30 apiece. Adrian Fry wins the bonus fiver.
Did the doors in this production work for you?
To the extent that they allowed the characters ingress and egress, incontestably so. One sees roles played every night, but it’s invigorating to witness such ludic trickery supplanted by honest being.
Not that performance skills were absent. The squeaky hinged door upstage left seemed excessively expressive, a rare example of the scenery chewing itself.
Deliberately counterpointed, I’m sure you noticed, by the almost subtextually subtle jamb on the door downstage right; symbolic, doubtless, of the jam humanity seems habitually to be in.
For me, a subtext has failed if one becomes aware of it.
Undoubtedly the subtext — that inanimate objects suffer too — gained considerable emotional heft from being completely indiscernible.
If I had one criticism — and I don’t — it would be that, two hours of drama notwithstanding, neither door went on a journey.
They opened, they closed: existence encapsulated, I’d say. Adrian Fry
Speaker A: Yes, nomenclature is clearly functionally determinative, but in this context surely the word ‘play’ is a critical evasion for what is properly a quasi-mimetic receptive experience, which in any case has historically been stripped by anti-feminist critics (including the author himself) of the gender and transgendering implications made patent by the unsexing of the actual, rather than the so-called eponymous principal protagonist?
Speaker B: I am fully convinced of the polyfunctional semiotics here. But I feel we should foreground the regionally politicised, indeed eco-political subtext linked with the restructuring and re-afforestation referred to at the end as something used symbolically to undermine the oligarchic stagnancy of the political status quo.
Moderator: I think, then, that we can all agree that we should mirror Thespian protocol here and refer henceforth to Shakespeare’s work as ‘the Scottish gender-misorientated and eco-nationalist revolutionary quasi-mimetic experience’.
A: The problem with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is that it divulges, in its very title, a false premise.
B: Which is that aliens, or let us say immigrants from the unknown, would be known by mere initials?
A: Absolutely. That this reductio, this chummy diminutive, this childish fetishisation, would be the norm.
C: It was of course originally entitled A Boy’s Life.
A: Exactly. And so we see in the rebranding a sort of bathetic encounter between the actual and the potential, in which the narrative viewpoints are tacitly exchanged.
B: Because the film explores, does it not, the anthropomorphism of species, in an unsubtle manner.
C: And in the process, we lose the boy, and the life.
A: Worse, we lose the particular vagueness of the indefinite article. It is ‘A’ Boy’s Life, not the Life of a Particular Boy.
B: Could we extrapolate the bicycling motif?
Critic A: Let’s be clear, Chekhov regards the bird as hugely significant, hence the title.
Critic B: But he gives no indication of its scientific name — ‘seagull’ is a loose approximation…
A: Are you disputing Chekhov’s ornithological knowledge?
B: Equalled by that of his translators? Yes.
A: Well, no one would find Larus argentatus a compelling tile…
B: Even if your identification is correct, which I have to say…
A: You have an alternative?
B: Possibly Larus canus — indeed, given its range a more probable match.
A: Though that diminishes the scale of the connections.
B: A smaller bird, a smaller death, is that what you’re saying? So should we look at large and rare species v. small and common? Somehow that doesn’t sound Chekhovian…
A: But what the seagull represents…
B: And then there’s the issue of the ‘sea’ itself. Where is this? We are inland, a lakeside setting; is this bird resident, or a migrant? Part of a colony, or a single bird? And — you’ve dodged this issue — male, or female? D.A. Prince
Hobbs: As the eye ranges over the canvas, gorging itself on the fleshy splendour of the brushwork, it’s arrested by a speck of white, a single speck that —
Nokes: Hardly a speck , I think! Specks are formless dots, utterly inert. This is something dynamic, driven on by the tip of the brush. It is indubitably a fleck.
Nobbs: Fleck! Speck! Are you both blind? When you stand back and look, instead of slavering over the brushwork, what you see is a pinpoint of luminosity, as if a white-hot needle has pierced the canvas, injecting molten light. It’s the sun — and the whole composition revolves around it.
Hobbs: I leave you to embroider your needlepoint fantasies, Greg. For me it remains a speck, a symbol of, paradoxically, spotless virginity amid opulent abandon.
Nokes: Or a fleck of foam on turbulent seas.
Stokes: As ever, Klobotkin excites debate. Now…
No. 2764: trading places
You are invited to provide an example of a Spectator columnist stepping into a fellow columnist’s shoes — Rod Liddle deputising for Dot Wordsworth, for example, or Jeremy Clarke standing in for Mary Killen (150 words max). Email entries, if possible, to email@example.com by midday on 12 September.