Christa Wolf: Winners & Whiners
Holly Case’s informative discussion of the West German criticism of Christa Wolf after 1989 reminded me how easy it is for the “winners” of any conflict to denigrate those on the other side. The irony for me is that Wolf was not in any narrow sense a political writer. Nor was she merely an East German writer. Yes, in the 1950s she was a youthful believer in the East German socialist experiment, and she never left the society/polity she had cast her lot with. And, like most serious writers, she primarily engaged with conditions in her own society.
But her writing is relevant far beyond the confines of her small homeland. There is little in Patterns of Childhood, for instance, that could not have been written by a West German born in the eastern territories. More broadly, the thoughts and feelings in works such as “June Afternoon” and “The New Life and Opinions of a Tomcat” are shared by many residents of the post–World War II world, the world she so aptly labeled the “divided heaven.” I’m not referring to the two German republics but to what we now call the “global North,” which was divided for so many decades into the “first” and “second” worlds. Wolf lived in a different part of that world, but the lives and preoccupations of her characters as they make their way through technological, bureaucratic, industrial and ideological society are surprisingly familiar. With relentless introspection,Wolf explored life in such a society. For that she deserves to be remembered, and will be, as the greatest German writer of the last half-century.
It seems frivolous, and cheap, for German intellectuals to squabble over the ethics of their kind many decades earlier, particularly when the critics never experienced the political circumstances of their targets. Future generations may have their own criticisms of these self-righteous gentry.
KATHARINE W. RYLAARSDAM
Secure Children = Secure Society
Katha Pollitt’s column on attachment parenting is, as usual, provocative [“Subject to Debate,” June 4]. But although much is spot-on, it’s got one crucial flaw and one giant omission. The flaw is that she misunderstands attachment parenting. It’s not a set of practices—nursing or baby-wearing—but rather the theory that raising a “securely attached” child is in everyone’s interest—the child, the parent, the society. Decades of research, including longitudinal studies, conclusively show that as securely attached babies get older, they form better relationships with others, are more flexible and resilient under stress and perform better in every aspect of life, from schoolwork to peer interactions. Their brains, quite literally, are less reactive, more empathic and thoughtful. These are nontrivial findings. And these are the kinds of citizens a democracy needs.
What does it take to create secure attachment? Responsive parenting. That can include breast-feeding, co-sleeping or baby-wearing, but it must include closeness. Baby-wearing, as any parent who has done it knows, helps the parent better understand and respond to the child’s needs. This not only contributes to the child’s secure attachment but through the experience of loving and being close to a child, the parent too becomes more empathic and happier. It’s not a plot to send mothers back into the kitchen.
In a market-based society that cares little for human needs, the solution is not to sacrifice children’s emotional welfare so that women can achieve beyond the domestic sphere. The solution is to create family-friendly policies that allow all children to experience responsive parenting from both parents. It isn’t children who are getting a free ride on the backs of women. As Pollitt rightly notes, it’s men—who don’t engage in “daddy wars” because they don’t feel as responsible for child-raising—and our entire society that count on women to raise children with little social support. So let’s have it both ways. Let’s raise securely attached children and fight for family-friendly policies like paid parental leave, paid sick time and flexible work schedules so both parents can share childcare, universal healthcare, excellent daycare and schools, and full-employment policies that give parents flexibility to re-enter the workforce. As feminists, let’s take the lead in supporting all parents who are doing their best for their children rather than attacking their private choices of what to feed their babies.
Which brings us to the omission. Pollitt cites French feminist Elisabeth Badinter as the final word on the ways attachment parenting fails women. But this is The Nation, for goodness’ sake, so follow the money. As Dominique Browning pointed out in Time, Badinter has a huge conflict of interest; she’s board chair and top stockholder in the enormous French public relations firm Publicis. Among their clients: infant formula companies Nestlé, Similac and Enfamil. Badinter’s disdain for the healthier, noncommercial, nonprofit source of nutrition known as breast milk shouldn’t surprise us, even if Pollitt’s omission does.
DR. LAURA MARKHAM
You Men! It’s Obvious
About the aphorism “a stitch in time saves nine” [“Letters,” May 21; June 18]: say you’re getting dressed in the morning and notice a hole in your sock. One stitch would mend it, but you don’t bother. By evening the hole has grown; now it takes nine stitches to mend it. Moral: deal with problems right away, or they’ll get worse.
To Marc B. Fried and Barry Schwabsky: the aphorism means one stitch in time will save a rip in fabric from needing nine. It will keep the rip from getting out of control, too big to repair. Like the banks; they didn’t get stitched in time.
Richard Wolin’s “Democracy and Education” [May 21] referred to John Henry Newman as a “nineteenth-century American educator.” Newman was English.