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John Harvard's Journal | Voices

John Simon

March-April 2006

John Simon
Peter North

Critic John Simon ’46, Ph.D. ’59, celebrated for his acerbic reviews in New York magazine—“For better or for worse, I think of myself as a highbrow”—visited Cambridge in December to discuss three recently published volumes of his collected criticism, on theater, film, and music (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books). Here are some of his remarks, made during a presentation at the Harvard Coop:

“If you like eight out of 10 things that you have to review, then you are not a critic. Then you should work for the Salvation Army.”

“The ‘death seat’ is the seat next to the critic, the person who gets dragged to the theater with the critic and doesn’t get the satisfaction of getting even with the damn thing afterward.”

“Even ferocious writing is a love of writing.”

“I think it is good for a writer to be in love a lot, which I was.”

“I am very grateful—very grateful—that I started out in life as a poet.”

“In the Balkans, we’re tough cookies. We don’t have thin skins and we don’t try to be nice to everyone.”

“I think the critic has to do the teacher’s job. He has to keep teaching. Since most students, let’s face it, are ordinary students, it is very important for teachers to be good for ordinary students.”

“Sondheim still stands out as a peak over the hills and valleys of the rest.”

“Everybody needs to be a critic, since the world is such a mess.”

“I think there’s always one good movie out of 200, and if you happen to see the one without seeing the other 199, then you are ahead of the game.”

“Actors have to take their lumps, and if critics are their lumps, then that’s how it is.”