Quotation & Misquotation
To the Editor:
In “The Right to Misquote” [April], Gertrude Himmelfarb struggles with an intellectual problem that other commentators on Jeffrey Masson’s lawsuit against the New Yorker, Alfred Knopf, and me have had to struggle with. This is the fact that our defense against Masson’s charge that he was misquoted in my book, In the Freud Archives, is hopelessly illogical. We argue two things in our briefs, each of which makes perfectly good sense by itself but in combination make no sense at all. We say (1) that Masson’s accusation is unfounded, and that the quotations he challenges are statements he apparently forgot he made, since they appear almost word for word in my notes; and (2) that the law gives writers discretion in how they treat quotations—that the important thing is to convey the substance of a subject’s thought. What is going on here? If we argue that Masson’s words were not altered, why do we also argue that it doesn’t matter whether his words were altered? Doesn’t the second statement cast doubt on the truth of the first?
The answer to the question lies in an arcane and little understood procedure of the law called summary judgment, which Miss Himmelfarb is evidently not conversant with, and which I myself am only dimly beginning to grasp after six years of study under accredited masters. Like the Japanese tea ceremony, summary judgment can be exquisitely interesting to its students but excruciatingly boring to everyone else. Nevertheless, I propose to beg the reader’s indulgence and try to explain it, since its peculiar nature lies at the heart of the problem that plagues Miss Himmelfarb and sometimes leads her into errors of thinking that I think she would ordinarily not make.
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