Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On Knowing When to Pass By

I once had a publicist ask me whether I always felt obliged to write about a performance, even if I knew I would have to be sharply critical. I did not tell her that another publicist once told me that negative publicity is better than no publicity at all. In many respects he reflected the position taken by the French anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, which have been fond of citing in the past:
There is nothing worse than to pass unnoticed: thus, not to salute someone is to treat him like a thing, an animal, or a woman.
(Just to clarify, that sexist tag at the end has to do with the culture Bourdieu happened to be describing. Whether it reflects his own opinion is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Today, however, I found myself more sympathetic to the first of those two publicists. I was sitting through a recital realizing that, were I to start hammering away at my keyboard, there was nothing positive I would be able to say about it. Since this was a free concert that had involved a last-minute substitution, it seemed like an occasion on which passing by was the better form of valor. It was not as if there had been a publicist building up buzz prior to the concert, nor were there any unbridled roars of approval coming from those who sat with me in the audience.

I have no idea how many readers I have among those who attended this event. My guess is that they were among the unenthusiastic and disappointed. On the other hand, if they have been reading me in the past, my guess is that they do not really need me to explain their disappointment. Every unhappy member of the audience should be allowed to be unhappy in his or her own way. Whether or not the performer sensed any of that unhappiness is entirely her own affair, and I can move on to other topics where I feel I have opinions to contribute that might actually turn out to be of some use.

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