Words, the Arts and the World
Months back Hillary Clinton (or was it Bill, or another primary candidate?) attacked Barack Obama as a mere purveyor of words. Obama (borrowing, it turned out, from his friend Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts) responded that words do count, words mean something important. Without too great a stretch, I want to extrapolate that idea to arts journalism, and the need for same.
Recently I had an e-mail exchange with Greil Marcus, who was editing an entry on "Porgy and Bess" that I had written for a Harvard anthology. The last issue to be considered between us was whether in one sentence "African-Americans" or "blacks" worked better.
I finally decided I didn't much care, ending with "Let's move on to curing cancer, solving world peace, electing Obama and like that." Greil replied: "Don't you realize that the right choice between 'blacks' and 'African-Americans,' whatever it is, is the SAME THING as curing cancer, solving world peace, and electing Obama? Where's your sense of proportion?"
Point taken. Words do matter. Even the words, the futile scribblings, of arts critics. Take away words, take away critical commentary on the arts, and the arts lose something crucial to their creation and, especially, their reception. So think of that the next time you set out to solve world peace, arrogantly indifferent to mere words, or the arts.