Back to Charlottesville I WAS SURPRISED to see that Michael Mewshaw (Letters to the Editor, Book World, July 14) had cited Joseph Blotner's William Faulkner: A Biography to justify his claim that the University of Virginia had treated Faulkner shabbily. Anybody who reads page 1,762 of Blotner's book will see that a new president, Edgar Shannon, not only endorsed Faulkner's appointment to the Balch Lectureship in American Literature (Faulkner had been writer-in-residence in 1957 and 1958), but heartily approved the faculty's recommendation that the lectureship be continued "from year to year indefinitely" at Faulkner's pleasure. In short, Faulkner was offered a permanent appointment in 1960 -- not a single return "a few years later."
The correspondence in Faulkner's file makes it clear, and Blotner accurately reports, that Shannon considered $250 appropriate for one public lecture by a distinguished visitor. Similarly, in his first two terms as writer-in-residence, Faulkner told administrators he would prefer housing accommodations, etc., to a stipend. The records show that $2,000 was budgeted for that purpose.
All this happened a decade and more before I joined the faculty at the University of Virginia. I have no interest in the pointless argument over whether Charlottesville meets undefined requirements for a "literary community." I do care about Edgar Shannon's reputation in the historical matter, for he did as much as anyone else to bring distinguished poets and novelists to the University. DAVID LEVIN Charlottesville, Va. Reconsidering Hook ONLY BECAUSE Sidney Hook is not here to defend himself do I find it necessary to reply to one of his critics. Nathan Glick's pompous assertion in his review of Hook's Convictions (Book World, June 24) that Hook "overlooks" discrimination is truly staggering. Hook, who as a Jew suffered anti-Semitic assaults as a child; Hook, who as a young leftist was on the receiving end of academic discrimination.
How can anyone fail to notice discrimination or a thousand other evils in this world? People who point to an evil to justify a particular policy they advocate cop out of the most basic requirement to demonstrate that this policy has made or will make things better, rather than worse, on net balance. Since affirmative action is about 20 years old in the United States, you would think that there would be plenty of evidence of both its positive and negative consequences. Yet few of its advocates even attempt such a weighing of the facts. Perhaps they are too busy "discovering" discrimination. THOMAS SOWELL Stanford, Calif. Nathan Glick responds:
Thomas Sowell's "defense" of Sidney Hook is decidedly un-Hookian; it is neither scrupulous nor civil. In the course of a clearly admiring review, I suggested that Hook's discussion of preferential treatment had "overlooked" -- that is, not taken into account -- instances like ethnic urban networks or university admissions based on geography or athletic ability that were generally considered, if not benign, at least no threat to the fabric of society. Like Hook, I am against quotas as a customary or automatic practice. But I argued that "in special or limited situations," such as requiring some Southern police departments to hire blacks, there was "a compensatory social gain."
If Sowell is concerned, as he purports to be, about whether or not any aspect of affirmative action makes things better or worse, why not address my specific point? Intellectual self-indulgence is no help in making difficult social decisions and certainly constitutes no tribute to Sidney Hook. And the Beats Go On . . . IN HIS REVIEW of Off the Road by Carolyn Cassady (Book World, July 1), Gerald Nicosia informs us that Neal Cassady hated women, was a pathological liar, had a relentless need for sex, drugs and fresh excitement, betrayed his wife and children with illicit lovers of both sexes, was jailed after a drug bust and allowed himself to be used as a mascot and performing bear by Ken Kesey and his retinue; finally we learn that Cassady died of pills and booze in Mexico at the age of 42.
I then expected critic Nicosia would inform us that the real heroes of Western civilization are those people who, eschewing the limelight, don't abuse their bodies with drugs, are loving spouses and parents, and attempt to live by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. Instead Nicosia instructs us that Neal Cassady "left a legacy of inspiration to thousands of people." And then, quoting Gavin Arthur, Nicosia refers to Cassady as a great human being. One thing I learned from this book review is that Nicosia's moral compass is pointing somewhere south of Hades. JOHN SCHELDRUP Washington Gerald Nicosia responds:
The function of a book review is not to propound morality; it is to summarize the content and to tell succinctly the strengths and weaknesses of a particular book.
John Scheldrup seems to hold the untenable view that a writer ipso facto takes on the virtues or sins of the subject he writes about. Such a view would have held Truman Capote accountable for the murder of the Clutter family because he described that crime in precise detail in his book In Cold Blood. What is most insidious about such a view is that it fosters a subtle but very dangerous form of censorship -- writers then become afraid to write about highly controversial subjects, and so only stick to what it is safe to say to a complacent and so-called "moral majority."
Whether deliberately or not, Scheldrup severely distorts the content of my review. The inspiration Neal Cassady offered had nothing to do with lying, mistreating his family, or any of the odd potpourri of charges that Scheldrup lays against him. On the contrary, I made clear that much of Cassady's legacy was positive -- his love of life, his belief in the fulfillment of dreams, and his insistence that one never gives up, even with a difficult lot. That Cassady inspired thousands of people-including major writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey -- is not the reviewer's wishful thinking, but a documentable fact, whether Scheldrup likes it or not.
To be fair to Neal, both Carolyn Cassady in her book, and I in my review, stress that Cassady did not abuse his family. Rather, he worked for years on the railroad to support them; and after he lost that job because of his felony drug conviction, he still found whatever work he could get to pay child support till he died. Considering Cassady's own terrible childhood, such devotion to family was remarkable. Carolyn Cassady's unabated love for her husband in itself testifies to his many good qualities.
Since Scheldrup would send me back to the Bible, I would also send him there. "Judge not, that you be not judged," and "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone." GERALD NICOSIA Manhattan Beach, Calif. Debating Elie Wiesel WHAT EGREGIOUS wrong have the American goyim committed to have to endure yet another book, From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences, by Elie Wiesel, on the Holocaust (Book World, July 22)? I know what I have to say is in the realm of high sacrilege. But there comes a time when instinct rules over reason and that time is now. World War II, after heroic sacrifices, ended victoriously for America more than 45 years ago. But Wiesel continues to prattle on about Jewish megadeath, innocent victims and bad Nazis. If he and others have their way, the revenge-seeking Nuremberg trials would go on until the year 3000.
Wiesel dared to lecture an American president on his foreign policy prerogatives. But like the majority of American Jewry, he remains hypocritically silent in the face of documented Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza. Why this flagrant double standard? The late Pope Pius XII (a classic victim of the Christian-Bashers) was a Lebanese-style hostage in the Vatican during World War II. But in his Christmas Day message in 1942 he courageously denounced the evils of totalitariansim. What is Wiesel's excuse for his failure, from the safety of the West, to speak out against on-going Israeli human rights outrages during the intifada?
After the debacle for European Jewry, America graciously opened its "golden gates" to the surviving Jews. It contributed more than $50 billion to the Israeli ministate since its founding in 1948, along with strong political and moral support. Instead of gratitude from the Jewish community for these gracious efforts, America has received endless goyim-bashing in the angry self-righteous writings of Wiesel and others. And in the most insensitive act of all, American Jews are insistent on building a National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. When will this cult of the Holocaust end? WILLIAM HUGHES Baltimore Barbara Probst Solomon responds:
In my review, I described Wiesel's use of memory to "undo" his families
Rembering the Holocaust is not, to use William Hughes's inappropriate language, "goyim bashing"; the Holocaust was not Christian. Nor was it Jewish, though they were its primary victims: It was the criminal aberration of the National Socialist party whose ideology required that non-Aryans had to be exterminated or enslaved. In addition to calling for the genocide of the Jews, the list included gypsies, Slavs and the mentally impaired.
I wrote that at the Klaus Barbie trial -- (Wiesel's presence had been requested by the French government) -- rather than dwell on him, Wiesel preferred using private memory to arrive at universal redemption, and that Jacques Verges, Barbie's lawyer, denounced Wiesel, perceiving him as a symbol of Israel. The context in which the incident occurred was Verges's claim that Europeans had no right to judge the Nazis because of Algeria. The French Catholic historian, Andre Frossard -- who had witnessed, when imprisoned because of being one-fourth Jewish, Barbie's murder of the humanist, Marcel Gompel, confronted Verges: "What the SS did went far beyond racial inequality. It was killing someone just because of his birth." Verges acknowledged he was in Frossard's debt: Frossard's intervention had saved his Algerian wife from execution during the Algerian war. Frossard replied: "If you sanction the killing of all the innocent, and of the humanists, because of their beliefs, who do you think will write the letters for the future Djamila Bouhireds?" In keeping with that humanist tradition, American Jews have expressed deep concern about Israeli-Palestenian relations.
I am an American Jew -- indeed the daughter of a World War I hero gassed at Chateau Thierry -- but it is not such happenstance that defines Americans, of whatever group, nor should it be passive gratitude, but active participation in those humanist ideals, that is at the heart of what we are about.
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