Green Iran–Long May It Wave

Riverside, Calif.

Robert Dreyfuss’s “Iran’s Green Wave” [July 20/27] is excellent and gives us the mindset of the various groups in Iran. It provides the kind of information leaders need before entering into negotiations or making policy decisions. I share Dreyfuss’s belief that the colored revolutions in the Russian sphere of influence and Lebanon had foreign influences, but I have no suspicions that the opposition candidates in this election had connections with foreigners.


Men on Adultery


Thank you, thank you, JoAnn Wypijewski. You made me see my tittering over the Sanford affair as misanthropic sneering–not that I regret it in light of the fact that Sanford is a Republican [“Carnal Knowledge,” July 20/27]. What a shame it would have been if The Nation ran the usual mainstream feminist demand for compulsory monogamy. You made the magazine a place where radicals can take liberals head-on.


Naperville, Ill.

It is sickening to watch even liberal journalists inveigh against the adultery of men like Governor Mark Sanford. Their tone of moral condemnation comes so easily because condemnation of marital infidelity is, along with blind patriotism in wartime, among the most stubborn of our orthodoxies. Liberals and progressives needn’t talk of the “sin” of adultery; they point to the deception, the breaking of the marital vow to love and honor until death. Rather than promising to love each other forever, couples should swear that they feel today that they will. That’s all people can honestly do. Then marriage is on solid, rational footing–a project to be worked at by imperfect, changing people who love each other.


Michael Jackson

Oakland, Calif.

Tributes to Michael Jackson are important, but so is a frank look at the tragic and troubling aspects of who he was and what he did. As she does so often, Patricia Williams has zeroed in on something key in “Mirror Man” [“Diary of a Mad Law Professor,” July 20/27]. Her insights about the lengths to which Jackson went to produce light-skinned children tell us a great deal about the man and his life. They are also important pointers to prejudices that we need to leave behind us, and to the future of high-tech reproduction, which we need to approach with a great deal of caution. For a related comment about Jackson and reproductive technologies, see

Center for Genetics and Society

James on Bill on Vivian on James on…

Cambridge, Mass.

William Deresiewicz is right to be bemused by Vivian Gornick’s bizarre outburst against both him and me [“Exchange,” June 8]. I couldn’t make much sense of it: I’m not sure, for instance, what Gornick means when she says that my criticism is “not grounded in the emotional undercurrents of its own moment.” Essentially, the idea is that Gornick is somehow more in the real world than I am and is more politically radical than I am, even though she knows nothing about my politics, and even though if she did, we would likely have very little to argue about.

And what is she talking about when she claims me as “a champion of the now painfully inadequate realist novel”? On the contrary, I am no great lover of realism and think there is too much realism in American fiction. I have sharply criticized Tom Wolfe, Robert Stone, John Updike, John Irving and many others on that score and have, perhaps somewhat too evangelically, tried to extirpate realism where it is not obviously on display. For instance, my critique of hysterical realism was in part precisely a critique of one kind of American realism, in its information-loving, fact-gathering mode. Seen in this light, David Foster Wallace was, despite his literary radicalism, a kind of American social-realist, stuffing his texts with facts and figures and brand names; and one problem with a novelist like Richard Powers is that the grammar of his lumbering and conservative realism (his style) cannot keep pace with the advance guard of his ideas.

So who does Gornick mean? Perhaps she is referring to Aleksandar Hemon, or Norman Rush, or Rivka Galchen, or José Saramago, or Kazuo Ishiguro, or someone else I have written about in the last few years? The two writers who come to mind–I have indeed praised Joseph O’Neill and Marilynne Robinson–are hardly straightforward examples of realists and don’t strike me, or thousands of others, as “painfully inadequate.”

Despite their differences–or rather, despite Gornick’s strenuous efforts to construct a phantom set of differences–Gornick and Deresiewicz agree on one thing: they both idolize, in different ways, a golden age of criticism, located somewhere between 1940 and 1965, of which I am a poor echo. Not only does this nostalgia privilege a certain tradition of politically engaged literary criticism at the expense of a tradition more formalist and aesthetic in nature (Empson, Jarrell, Nabokov, Barthes, Sontag, Ricks, Vendler, Pritchett, Kermode, Bloom, say); it does a disservice to what Gornick might call our contemporary emotional undercurrent, which is that we are currently in a golden age of journalistic literary criticism.

Newspapers, of course, are in deep trouble, but if we look at the quality and intellectual rigor of the long essays being written in the pages of The Nation, The New Republic, Bookforum, Harper’s, The New York Review, n+1, The London Review of Books, to name only a few mainstream print journals and magazines, we have no right whatever to bemoan our current literary state, or to look fondly backward to the lost days of Kazin and Rahv. Why Gornick and Deresiewicz, who are themselves examples of this current journalistic vitality, would want to do so is anyone’s guess. But it might have something to do with me…


Three Cheers for ‘Ten Things’

Santa Cruz, Calif.

Kudos to Walter Mosley and his researchers for the June 29 “Ten Things You Can Do to Stimulate a New Economy” and for drawing attention to small, local financial institutions, particularly CDFIs.

The piece doesn’t specifically mention community development credit unions. CDCUs offer a lifeline to low-income communities abandoned by commercial banks and targeted by high-priced check cashers and predatory lenders. And credit union members are the owners of their credit union by virtue of the democratic credit union structure–one member, one vote. I urge all your readers to find a nearby CDCU and become a member–find one online at

One correction: in item 1 the correct name is Coalition of Community Development Financial Institutions (

Santa Cruz Community Credit Union (a triple bottom-line CDFI and CDCU)

San Diego

I love “Ten Things”–simple and empowering. I was disappointed, however, that none of the socially responsible banks mentioned have the most essential service: ATMs!



Your advice in “Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets” [August 3/10] was timely, wise and compelling.

Admit it–you probably suspect that a majority of your readers are educated and are, therefore, solvent. To print something that clearly implies that your readers may not, in fact, be immune to this type of peril illustrates perfectly what many of us would never have expected to confront. And since I am unemployed but still reasonably safe from homelessness, it’s a powerful call to help. Once I got over the shock–and the fear–I was, once again, inspired by The Nation.


I Before E…

In Jonathan Schell’s “Remembering Robert McNamara” [August 3/10], the i and the e in Jerome Wiesner’s name were reversed.