Letters on Letters
To the Editor:
Edwin Newman [Letters from Readers, May] takes Joseph Epstein to task for writing: “It is an error of the kind of which only the poorly educated are susceptible.” If this criticism reflects the standards set by Mr. Newman in Strictly Speaking and A Civil Tongue, then he would seem to have supplied another good reason for Mr. Epstein’s reluctance to respond to his letter. The latest editions of both the Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler confirm the correctness of the construction in question. I hope that Mr. Epstein will be allowed to withdraw his plea of guilty on this particular count.
Keith A. Wilson
Cape Town, South Africa
To the Editor:
In your June letters section, commenting on Robert Alter’s “Deformations of the Holocaust” [February], my friend and colleague, Erich Isaac, alludes to my address, along with Professor Irving Greenberg, at the 92nd Street Y in February 1980, and represents the substance of that address in a way I find puzzling. I went back and read it and could not find an appeal for “normalization of Jewish attitudes not only with respect to the Holocaust, but with respect to Israel as well.” What I found in that address was the observation that the bulk of the ideas to which we turn in explanation of ourselves as Jews turns upon the situation of other people than ourselves. The exact words were these: “Ours is a mythic situation in which we talk about what other people go through, but then we find ourselves unable to explain the world in which we live, the things through which we pass, the life which we choose for ourselves and our children. We are spectators at someone else’s drama. But life is not for spectators.” In that context, I noted (as Mr. Isaac correctly says), “Most of what we do in our life-situation as Jews simply bears no close relevance to what we are as frail, suffering, wondering women and men. I am worried about the health of my close colleague. I am concerned about the illness of the son of my best friend. . . .” I did not refer to my garden or my dog, as Mr. Isaac suggests. None of this represents an appeal for “a normalization of Jewish attitudes” toward the state of Israel, nor for a blotting out of the memory of the destruction of European Jewry!
Since the paper to which reference was made was published in the Reconstructionist (April 1980, pp. 7-11), and since the basic arguments are unpacked at some length in my Stranger at Home: “The Holocaust,” Zionism, and American Judaism (Chicago, 1981), . . . I do not see why it was not possible accurately to state the views I did express and to argue with, rather than caricature them.
Providence, Rhode Island
To the Editor:
I was surprised at the reaction to Naomi Munson’s article “Having Babies Again” [April] in the September letters section. When I first read the article I agreed with all Mrs. Munson had to say, and after rereading it, I still feel the same way. What a delight to find someone pricking the balloon of some of our current fads and pretensions. Yet I also recall curious fads in the 40′s: I requested all visitors (even my mother) to wear a gauze mask to look at my first-born. . . .
Though Mrs. Munson is a “young writer,” she makes more sense than anyone I’ve read for a long time. So it’s hard to believe she was criticized by the letter writers as “bitter and sarcastic,” “peevish and vitriol-filled,” as having a “viciousness of tone, a “ridiculous snootiness,” as “sneering and disparag[ing],” and much more.
I take exception to most of Mrs. Munson’s critics, but especially to Monica Morris when she says “The ‘older’ women, about whom Mrs. Munson curls her lip and quivers her nostrils, were in the vanguard of changes that have opened up possibilities undreamed of only ten years ago.”
Well, let’s say that I’m an “older-older” woman who “chose” to quit an excellent, well-paying profession (there actually were working women before the last ten years) when my two daughters were born in the 40′s. Also, contrary to the never-ending rhetoric, I “chose” to have children, just as many women do right now.
My girls grew up during the 60′s, the 70′s, women’s liberation and the sexual revolution—tough years on all of us. If that weren’t enough, we’re still being tested in the 80′s! But when I read of “possibilities undreamed of only ten years ago” and of “difficult choices,” my only reaction is déjà vu.
As long as I can remember, the possibilities for women in this country have always been plentiful—if you had the guts to go after them. They weren’t dropped in your lap as they are today. The cry about difficult choices one hears nowadays can be translated to read, We Want It All.
What a great day it will be when women who “choose” to have children grow up enough to set priorities once again.
Menlo Park, California
In the review of Riding on a Blue Note by Gary Giddins [Books in Review, October], the author’s name was misspelled. We regret the error.—Ed.