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A Question About Reading - Specificity and Wandering as applied to dance reviews

by Robert Abrams
October 27, 2007
In the October 28, 2007 New York Times Magazine (p. 13), Deborah Solomon interviews Pierre Bayard, a best selling French intellectual. One question and answer caught my eye as being relevant to dance criticism.

"You suggest in your book that schools destroy a love of literature, in part because they don't allow skimming.
Yes. Sometimes I help my son write book reports. Guillaume - he's 14. It's terrible. The questions are so specific about the names of characters, dates and towns where the heroes went that I am unable to answer the questions. It is the model of reading in France. A kind of scientific reading, which prevents people from inventing another kind of reading, which should be a form of wandering, as in a garden."

Sometimes when I am seeing a dance performance for the purpose of writing a review, I feel a pressure to take notes that are sufficiently detailed that someone who has never seen the dance could recreate it, as if the review were a form of Labanotation. There are reasons to attempt this as a general direction, but the Platonic form of this sort of review is pretty much impossible in practice. Mr. Bayard's comments provide the possibility of an alternate, equally valid, form of a dance review. Where does specificity about the dance observed help the review and where does it hinder the review? Are there multiple ways to view a dance performance, and if so, can one wander through a dance performance the way one might wander through a book?

These aren't necessarily new questions, but I thought that Mr. Bayard phrased them in an interesting way, and when having a philosphical discussion at a cocktail party, it can only help to be able to refer to a French intellectual, even if one hasn't read his book "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read". (FYI, my favorite book to cite which I haven't read is "If It Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium". I did, however, just do a Google search and discovered that it was made into a movie in 1969.)
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