• Critics from Beyond the Grave?

    • Posted on Aug 19, 1983


    One good thing about death: it seem to rid us of critics. "A Critic," said Ambrose Bierce, "is a person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him."

    Bierce was thinking of those parasites who batten upon people's creations for their existence. Once the critic spots a created thing, be it a film, a play, a novel, a concert, or a piece of music, they fasten on it like mosquitoes, or hens maybe, and bite and peck until satisfied that the prey is sufficiently sucked and pecked. Not a pleasant analogy, I know, but it comes close to describing the critical act. Of course there's a positive side, and that's the useful critical feedback that some creators need and use.

    Stanley Kubrick claims to have improved his film "2001: A Space Odyssey" because of the critics' responses. Even more positive is the self-critic inside us who offers mid-course corrections and cautions about our private idiocies. As long as we don't listen to our critic-voices when we're trying to create, we're fine. Still the critical voice, whether from inside or outside, can be annoying if not downright paralyzing. And now I've discovered that such voices can go on even after death.

    West and a little north of Janesville there's a cemetery just off the gravel road. It's listed as the Waverly Junction Cemetery on surveyors' maps, but the arched gate says "WEST POINT CEMETERY." There lie two critics, still carping away at the living from their final resting places.

    The sweetest of the two is named Andrew Adamson, who died on Oct. 26, 1860, aged 54 years, 10 mos, 6 days. Adamson's stone reads:

    Alas he has left us,

    His spirit has fled.

    His body now slumbers

    Along with dead.

    His savior has called him,

    To Him he has gone.

    Be ye also ready

    To follow him soon.

     The "him" in the last line obviously refers to Mr. Adamson, not the savior.  And notice how those last two lines leap out and slap you. Sneaky, that Adamson. It's not enough to pay a friendly visit to his grave, we have to be reminded—however gently—of our own mortality.

    But the other man, one Aaron Sailor, is the real critic. He died Nov. 17, 1886 at age 28 years, 2 mos, and 8 days. His relative youth didn't soften his critic voice. His stone shouts:

    Remember man as you pass by,

    As you are now so once was I

    As I am now so you may be

    Prepare for death and follow me.

    Andrew and Aaron, brothers in criticism as well as death, resting together in the West Point Cemetery, still offer their critical voices to the living, still biting and pecking at we poor creatures above ground. At least they can't move around.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Death
Cedar Valley Chronicles Photo

“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


Contact Scott

Contact Scott Photo