Re Gisele Lestrange's "Territorial Pissings" [October 30-November 5]: The real Gisele Lestrange was the widow of Holocaust survivor and poet Paul Celan. As a pseudonym for a review of Kurt Cobain's diaries, it foists on your readers a snotty, unfunny joke on suicide that is less depressing as an instance of bad taste than as an example of what it means to be an intellectual at The Village Voice these days.
Old Town, Maine
The author replies: Paul Celan and Kurt Cobain are two magnificent artists who stand, not alone, for the eventual loss to despairtheir loss and ours. Interesting that Mr. Friedlander would imagine that pointing at both must somehow be a joke. Strange sense of humor.
THUMBING THE DEPTHS
A big "thumbs up" to Dennis Lim's thoughtful, informed interview with Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore ["Heaven Sent," October 30-November 5]. It's great that at least one New York publication remains committed to serious discussion of film, over puffy personality pieces, snap critical judgments, and incoherent rants (guess I'm thinking of the New York Press for this last). Actually the Voice's film writings are generally knowledgeable and valuablealways the first things I turn to when I pick up a copy.
But a big thumbs down to Richard Goldstein's "Neohawks" [October 30-November 5]. How thoroughly sick I am of reading automated dismissals of Noam Chomsky by the mainstream press and tepid lefties. Chomsky's arguments, of course, get little or no hearing beyond a couple quotes pulled out of context. Instead, his name has become shorthand for the "anti-American left."
May I suggest that true and principled dissent is an American tradition with deeper and more valuable roots than the jingoism of the moment? And unlike his numerous critics, Chomsky has consistently demonstrated a personal integrity that has led him to communicate unpopular positions in the face of continual distortion and often violent abuse. He has never treated political adversaries with the shabby ignorance his critics apply to him. He reads them and has the basic respect to take them seriouslynot reduce them to stereotypes.
I appreciate Richard Goldstein's desire to understand the so-called neohawk's position on war. I prefer that the neohawks be correctly identified as "chicken-hawks." I am strongly opposed to the idea that any who elect to avoid military service should be accepted as legitimate advocates of military adventurism.
Military serviceespecially combat serviceoffers experiences that often result in a mature understanding of the consequences of war, including the effects on individuals and their families, as well as on the nation.
Richard Goldstein advises us that Mohammed Atta, et al., were "driven by a response to real conditions" for which the U.S. is responsible. It would be useful to know specifically what the U.S. government did that Goldstein thinks "explains" our enemies' acts on September 11. To justify Al Qaeda's acts, Osama bin Laden has cited the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War at the Saudi government's invitation, following the liberation of Kuwait (thus "profaning" the Muslim holy places), and of course American support for Israel. Does Goldstein disagree with those policies? And, even if he does, does he think that they justify mass murder?
He also writes that the U.S. may jettison Israel when it is no longer "deemed geopolitically necessary." He might explain how the Israeli alliance "benefits" the U.S. in the Muslim world, in Europe, at the UNor anywhere else, for that matter. The U.S. has supported Israel for various reasons, but geopolitics is not among them. One reason is a simple desire that Israel not perish at the hands of its numerous enemies. Since 1948, the U.S. has done, on balance, the right thing on this issuesomething Goldstein cannot acknowledge.
A fundamentalist anti-Americanism is just not adequate to this situation. Vietnam and El Salvador are misleading when considering Islamism. That doesn't mean we should attack Iraq (Goldstein rightly fears the consequences in the Islamic world). But it does mean that the 1965-2001 mind-set should be dispensed with. This is what people like Hitchens, Marcus, and Rosenbaum are saying. I hope they find more listeners.
Richard Goldstein replies: I never said that the attacks of 9-11 were justified; only that the terrorists draw their power from real conditions that are partly of our creation. American intervention in the Middle East stretches back many decades and includes the repeated repression of democratic impulses in that region. It is naive to think U.S. support for Israel did not involve geopolitical interests during the Cold War, and not beyond imagining that these interests could change, endangering Israel's survival. Finally, it is worth remembering that among Israel's founders were terrorists (the Irgun) who blew up a British hotel, killing more than 100 people. Like the dead on 9-11, they were innocent victims of a political context. Denying this context does not decrease our danger. On the contrary, facing factsand incorporating the lessons of historyare in our vital interest now.
Michael Feingold deserves commendation for his astute comments on the insensitive and clueless treatment given "I Am Going to Like It Here" in the current, rewritten version of Flower Drum Song now playing on Broadway ["Red, Misread, and Blue," October 23-29].
However, he perpetuates the misconception that Oscar Hammerstein invented the verse form used in the lyric: the pantoum, a Malayan poetic style in which the second and fourth lines of each strophe are repeated as the first and third lines of the next.
Ravel used the form in a musical fashion in the second movement of his Piano Trio, which he, in fact, designated as "Pantoum." It seems likely that this is where Hammerstein first learned of the form, and it also seems likely that he first heard the trio thanks to Stephen Sondheim. According to Meryle Secrest's Sondheim biography, at age 13 Sondheim gave Hammerstein a recording of the trio as a birthday present. (This was many years before the writing of Flower Drum Song.) Although Hammerstein was not yet actively instructing Sondheim, what Hammerstein learned from this present perhaps gave him the idea for yet another lyric he would write some years later: "If you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught."
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