Regarding Kai Wright's article "The Great Down-Low Debate: A New Black Sexual Identity May Be an Incubator for AIDS" [June 12]: "Down low" is another form of drag—a swagger, a sa-shay, a stance, a lingo, a wardrobe some wear to give the illusion of heterosexuality. In other words, it's another variation on a familiar station: the closet.

That it is being discussed and propagated as a "new black sexual identity" and oh-so conveniently linked to the catastrophic rise in HIV infections in African America is both laughable and tragic. Some of us still don't (or simply refuse to) get it: It isn't who you are (or aren't), but what you do (and don't do) that puts you at risk for catching the virus. And all of the contemptuous finger pointing that I've seen in the past few months being directed at the DL crowd—the majority of whom, in my experience, are gay, not bisexual or, like the DL brother quoted in the article, "just sexual" or "a freak"—makes it clear that the blame game is far from over.

The message? Homosexuals—no matter what they call themselves or masquerade as or purport not to be—are responsible, while heterosexuals can find comfort in their ignorance, believing that it can't happen to them and it isn't their problem. Twenty years ago it was "a (white) gay disease." Today, it's "an (African American) DL disease." Old wine, new bottle, same denial.

James Earl Hardy

The writer is the author of the soon-to-be-released novel The Day Eazy-E Died, which deals with AIDS from a DL man's perspective.


Julian Dibbell's article on J.R.R. Tolkien ["Lord of the Geeks," June 12] was interesting and, on its own terms, mostly hard to argue with. But he got the broad perspective wrong. Dibbell reiterates and expands a fairly cogent argument against the worth of Tolkien as literature. Essentially, however, these are straw-man arguments.

Of course Tolkien has little value by the standards of 19th- and 20th-century mimetic literature, which mandate psychological depth, a distinctive rather than a transparent prose style, etc. However, from any perspective (especially historical), such standards represent a narrow and suffocating concept of what literature might be.

Tolkien himself made this argument in his essay "On Fairy Stories," where he spelled out the qualities one finds in fantastic tales that are absent from mundane fiction. The creation of an imagined world ("subcreation") is central. And, of course, for Tolkien and his readers, a goddamn great story has inherent worth—a notion, as old as literature, that modernism and postmodernism have been in danger of forgetting. Tolkien was not trying to write a 20th-century novel; he was (by his own testimony) trying to write a myth for modern times.

Furthermore, the fears of Germaine Greer et al. to the contrary, the qualities one finds in Tolkien are not antithetical to those of mimetic literature, just different. There are plenty of people who read Tolkien one night and Nabokov the next. There are even writers—like Ursula K. Le Guin and the incomparable Gene Wolfe—whose work evokes the pleasures of both approaches.

Eric M. Van
Watertown, Massachusetts

No doubt Julian Dibbell predicted a response from droves of "geeks" who likely feel bitch-slapped by the the title of his article. Perhaps not. Many with an enduring affection for Tolkien's seminal work The Lord of the Rings are quite used to being placed on the cultural defensive. Obviously, enthusiasm for "The Trilogy" certifies membership within a club of pudgy, pale, sexless losers. One should avoid any public, unqualified praise of Tolkien, especially among the terminally hip and discerning literati. As the December movie opening approaches, uncloseted Tolkien enthusiasts will simply have to bear up to the eye-rolling condescension and inevitable priggish comments of their betters. Certainly, they (read: I) can always seek escape in the rolling hills of Middle Earth. For Tolkien's sincerity is a comforting tonic in an age of irony, neurotic self-absorption, cynicism, nihilism, postmodern ambiguity, and paralysis.

Brad Hendershott
Portland, Oregon

Julian Dibbell replies: I have my quibbles with Eric Van's argument for Tolkien's cultural merit, but mainly I wish he'd read my own closely enough to realize we're in rough agreement. When I wrote that The Lord of the Rings deserves consideration as "one of the defining literary creations of our age," I meant it. As for Brad Hendershott: When I wrote that geek culture demands serious attention for its contributions to the contemporary cultural landscape, I meant that too. Hendershott may define "geeks" as "losers," but I don't, and the only bitch-slapping intended was for those who do.


Re Geoffrey Gray's article "Crisis of Faith" [May 29]: No matter how they try to put a spin on it, Rabbi Joseph Singer, his family, and the organizations involved in trying to sell the Stanton Street Synagogue cannot explain away the major issue. They have no moral justification for selling a synagogue that is actively being used by its congregation, who come to the synagogue every day to pray.

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