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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Death of a (Socialist) Salesman: a Second Opinion

The Journal’s theater critic didn’t like him either.

See the original posting: Death of a (Socialist) Salesman.

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Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal’s drama critic, offers a less than enthusiastic appraisal of a recently deceased icon of the New York liberal establishment.  In Arthur Miller - The Great Pretender, Mr. Teachout writes:

“He was, literally, pretentious: He pretended to have big ideas and the ability to express them with a touch of poetry, when in fact he had neither. His final play, “Finishing the Picture,” was yet another rehash of the Monroe-Miller m?nage in which he resorted one last time to what I referred to in this space last fall as “pseudo-poetic burble” (“What we had that was alive and crazy has been pounded into some hateful, ordinary dust”).

“I wonder how much attention would now be paid to Miller if he hadn’t married Monroe, and if the House Un-American Activities Committee hadn’t made the mistake of subpoenaing him in 1956 to testify about his Communist ties (which were extensive, though he always denied having been an actual party member), thereby bringing about his citation for contempt of Congress when he refused to “name names.” The one made him a pop-culture footnote, the other a liberal icon.

“The irony is that the smartest critics of Miller’s own generation, virtually all of whom shared his left-wing views, held his plays in a different kind of contempt. Back then he took his roughest beatings from the likes of Eric Bentley, Mary McCarthy, Kenneth Tynan and Robert Warshow, who found him heavy-handed and insufferably preachy. Tynan, for instance, wrote that “The Crucible” “suggests a sensibility blunted by the insistence of an outraged conscience: it has the over-simplifications of poster art.” Bull’s-eye.”