Thursday, January 13, 2005

Lesson learned

The worst cliche a critic can use about an old work is "it's more relevant than ever." What sounds like a (mindless) compliment to the author is actually a self-satisfied statement that the problems of our era are more significant than previous era's.

I've always enjoyed the film criticism of David Edelstein. I often disagree, but he's a lively writer who expresses his outlook well. I was pleased to see in his review of the Al Pacino film version of Merchant Of Venice that he avoided tying it to today's world. Art doesn't need the excuse of relevance.

Of course, a lot of it may be the play. More than any other work by Shakespeare, even Taming Of The Shrew, it's the hardest to make work with today's sensibilities. (And may it continue to be.) Shylock the Jew, while more than a cardboard villain, is a villain nevertheless, and the Christians--who to our eyes are practically persecuting him--are the heroes. If anything, here's a case where the critics should say "it's less relevant than ever."

But Edelstein can't completely control himself:
"Shylock is handed his head, as people with an enraged sense of entitlement often are: the lesson, perhaps, with the most contemporary relevance."

Hmm, I wonder if he's referring to anyone we know? My guess is it's John Kerry or Howard Dean.


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