Nathan admitted that he saw words, rather than spectacle, as the most crucial aspect of a performance, though he could write well about acting when he wanted. If this was a blind spot it wasn’t an oversight. (As for his disdain for Chaplin, Nathan, like Mencken, was resistant to the power of the movies.) Reacting against the actor-based criticism of the 19th century, Nathan felt that critics had to put performers in this place: “More bosh has been written of actors and acting than of any other subject in the world. The actor, at his
best, is a proficient, likable, and often charming translator into popularly intelligible terms of an imaginative artist’s work.”
Rogoff’s perspective, which leans toward a modern variation on
actor-based criticism, plays down Nathan in order to make room for the wave of academic reviewers that sprang up during the 1960s. To these critics, Nathan was an antique spitfire whose example had to be discarded to make way for more sophisticated academic-based criticism. Today, theater historians either patronize journalistic reviews or don’t know what to make of them. And the Nathan that is easily available in print turns out to be a tombstone, an ineptly
organized tome, edited by Arnold Lesile Lazarus, that includes only two hundred pages of Nathan in its four hundred.
Also, truth is that in a number of ways Nathan has dated badly.
Statements once meant to shock – “if all the Armenians were to be killed tomorrow and if half of Russia were to starve to death the way after, it would not matter to me the least. What concerns me alone is myself, and the interests of a few close friends” – come off as rancid bon mots of a wanna-be imperial sensibility. At his worse, Nathan believed too completely that sneering became him – he betrayed his own high standards.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
George Jean Nathan
Bill Marx has a remembrance of the drama critic George Jean Nathan. Here is just a little bit: