Letters

CRITICAL CONDITION

Jerry Saltz's candid piece is a blast of refreshing air in a stuffy elevator crowded with gallery-goers ["Looking Back," January 8-14].

I would argue, however, that the role of the critic is more essential than he rather skeptically claims. Who does he think his readers are but artists and art lovers? A good critic inspires dialogue about art, which is something the art world is in need of today. Perhaps this dialogue doesn't make or break careers or send museum directors packing, but it certainly encourages those engaged with art to discuss things. This makes for better art.

Rebecca Cleman
Astoria


Re Jerry Saltz's "Looking Back":

Don't apologize for your opinions. It's all you've got as a critic. As another critic once told me, being a two-fisted opinion-monger requires you to step on a few toes. Hopefully that's true, so people will get a perspective beyond the gush of glowing press releases and reviews that are basically bought with full-page advertisements.

You don't need to justify yourself or the job, and isn't the Voice supposed to be an alternative paper anyway?

William Powhida
Williamsburg


TRUTH! FREEDOM! BEAUTY! BATTERIES?

I enjoyed Michael Feingold's piece "What's Opera Now, Doc?" [January 8-14], but one of his criticisms of Baz Luhrmann's La Bohème was unfair. Feingold chastises Luhrmann for making Mimi, in the age of electricity, go "out on the roof to get her candle relit." First of all, she doesn't go "out on the roof"—she goes into the bohemians' garret. And the anachronism of the candle in a production re-set in 1957 is neatly solved by Luhrmann's having the building's electricity fail just before Mimi shows up—an important point that Feingold either missed or simply chose not to mention. (He might reply, "Didn't they have flashlights?" But that would really be too pedantic, now, wouldn't it?)

Also, Luhrmann's name was misspelled as "Luhrman" throughout the piece.

Michael Portantiere
Clinton

Michael Feingold replies: Alas, it's not I but Puccini who failed to notice the building's electrical failure—since if such a thing had happened in a verismo opera, there would certainly have been offstage exclamations on every floor. And Mimi still has to go out on the roof to get to the bohemians' garret—there ain't nothin' else up there but the ad for Amour.


SAKS AND VIOLENCE

With the Hamdi case, Nat Hentoff lays out a bizarre new way to handle enemy soldiers captured on foreign battlefields ["George W. Bush's Constitution," January 8-14]. He would send them to court instead of P.O.W. camps, but won't say why we have never done that before. He claims that judges, not military commanders, must designate the bad guys on battlefields. He won't say why they should command in battle, or where they get the right to pull troops off the line to testify. He dumps the Geneva Convention governing combat captures, and replaces it with the whims of any federal judge.

I sympathize with Mr. Hentoff's deep reservations about the existence of a "parallel" legal system governing war. His arguments would carry more weight, however, if he'd taken a moment to notice that wars have always operated under their own rules throughout U.S. history, without damage to the Constitution. Common sense and hundreds of years of legal precedent tell us that governments have an absolute right to approach battle with the Taliban differently than they would handle shoplifting at Saks.

Jeff Nelson
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Nat Hentoff replies: Congress has yet to formally declare war, as required by the Constitution. But even in wartime, every American citizen, after capture, has the right under the Sixth Amendment to see his lawyer and thereby rebut the charges against him in a subsequent trial, even in a military court. This right has been denied Hamdi.


'BALKAN' CO-CREATORS RESPOND

Maybe a field recording won't do for Nick Mamatas ["Kefi Break," January 8-14]. If he'd bothered to read the appendix to Bright Balkan Morning, he'd at least know that the CD tracks are indeed annotated, labeled, and illustrated. And that we included a soundscape (rather than just a music) CD to perform the same de-exoticizing politics he applauds in the text.

The reality is that you best hear the cosmopolitan and multicultural world of the Romani instrumentalists not in a studio, but in the way their melodies mingle with café scenes, party interactions, and countryside, village, and city sounds.

Steven Feld
Morningside Heights


I am of two minds regarding Nick Mamatas's review of Bright Balkan Morning. While I am happy to see his lively description of this provocative text, I also think that he reads rather carelessly and that as a result he does the book real damage. Not only does he miss the point of the CD soundscape, but he almost completely ignores the photographs.

In fact, Bright Balkan Morning specifically presents itself as a photography book as well as a text and a soundscape. We thought about that carefully. Mr. Mamatas ignores our intention and then changes the book's credits as well. Where I was once an author, I now "supply photographs." There are about 180 photographs in this book of some 350 pages. Go figure!

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