THE MAORI STILL FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
Anatol Lieven [“Frontier Injustice,” Oct. 31] paints a totally different view of the Maori from that of many New Zealand historians (Ranganui Walker, Struggle Without End; Alan Ward, Unsettled History; Claudia Orange, An Illustrated History of the Waitangi Treaty; Michael King, Being Pakeha Now).
The colonial government did not honor the Waitangi Treaty of 1840. The treaty allowed the pakeha (white settlers) use of the land in return for helping the Maori develop economically. But that didn’t happen. Instead the Maori had to go to war for almost thirty years to protect themselves. The colonial government pointed its guns at the Maori rather than protecting them, as Lieven claims, from English settlers. When the Maori organized and named Te Wherowhero their king in 1858, the government seized more land from them.
With hardly any fertile land left, the Maori were in an impoverished state by the 1930s. Many sought jobs in urban areas where the white population was. Their educated children have continued their ancestors’ fight to make the pakeha honor the Treaty of Waitangi. The road to where the Maori are today was not as smooth as Lieven painted it. It is true that the Maori are “a powerful, growing…section of New Zealand society.” But this is due not to British benevolence but to the fighting spirit of the Maori people for justice.
I certainly wouldn’t suggest that the treatment of the Maori was just or generous–far from it. It was, however, vastly more so than the treatment of the Cherokee and the other “civilized tribes”–and this is demonstrated by the relative positions of the indigenous peoples of New Zealand and of the American South today.
THE STONES SPEAK THEIR NAMES
I recently had the same experience here in Berlin that Arthur Danto had in Cologne [“Mute Point,” Oct. 17]. Walking in my neighborhood, I noticed two 10×10 cm brass plaques embedded in the cobblestone sidewalk in front of Landauer Str. 3, engraved with the information that Paul and Minna Grünfeld had lived there and that they were deported and murdered by the Nazis in 1941. Interested to learn more, I Googled their names and quickly found the locations of about forty more memorial plaques in my area and a link to www.stolpersteine.com, the website for Stolpersteine (“stumbling blocks”). I learned that this admirable project was begun by artist Günter Demnig in 1996 and that he has so far placed some 5,500 plaques in ninety-seven German municipalities. The sites are self-selected; current residents can memorialize their victimized predecessors for 95 euros.
Danto is right that names speak volumes, as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial has eloquently demonstrated. As the Stolpersteine website asserts, “If the name is forgotten, so is the person.” Stolpersteine is decentralized, locally funded, continually expanding and is not limited to Jewish victims–additional points of contrast to Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the stark visual, physical and visceral vocabulary of which still owes much to his original collaborator, Richard Serra. It’s also a legible retort to Jochen Gerz’s Invisible Monument in Saarbrücken, in which the names of German-Jewish cemeteries are inscribed where they can’t be read, on the underside of the castle square’s cobblestones. Unfortunately, though, while I now know quite a bit about Stolpersteine and can make these comparisons to other memorials, I still don’t know anything more about the Grünfelds.
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Among the items Arthur Danto describes as “drenched in symbolism” associated with the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, he neglected to mention that the slabs are covered with an anti-grafitti substance made by Degussa, the same company that produced the Zyklon B poison used in the gas chambers. (I discovered this nasty fact at en.wikipedia.org.) How did this happen?
New York City
The claim is true. It was mentioned by various critics of the memorial. I think the cement used was made by the people who made bunkers. I didn’t think this especially figured in a critical analysis of the work, so I didn’t mention it.
ARTHUR C. DANTO
OTHER VOICES, OTHER VICTIMS
I was moved by Mark Anderson’s “Crime and Punishment” [Oct. 17]. I am one of those Germans whose grandfather got killed on the Eastern Front, who lost three uncles, whose father was driven out with his parents of what is Poland today and who has two uncles who fought on the Eastern Front and in Africa and came back messed up in their heads, messed up by the terrifying war memories. None of them were party members. They were ordinary people.
I grew up behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany with the understanding that German suffering didn’t exist. Acknowledging it, mentioning it, seemed to equal denying the Holocaust and other German war crimes. But somebody like my grandfather, an ordinary man, was no criminal. He didn’t have a choice: He was drafted, and that was it. Only in recent years can one mention somebody like him as a victim without being accused of denying German responsibility for the war and crimes committed by the Germans. Thank you.
GRIP OF THE GRAMOPHONES
New York City
One thing unmentioned in Russell Platt’s review of Joseph Horowitz’s Classical Music in America [“New World Symphony,” Oct. 3] was the role of recordings in destroying a musical culture that produced great musicians. As soon as the first primitive recordings appeared, as scratchy as they sounded, many musicians realized their ability to earn a living would be adversely affected. Just one example: In New York City of 1900 many “classy” restaurants had live bands. In New York City of 2005 almost no restaurant, classy or otherwise, features live music. They still think music enhances the eating of food, but it is so easy to provide canned music of innumerable varieties that the expense and fuss of live music, not to mention the dining space it takes up, seems wasteful.
Recording also created a class of canonical performers. Of course, there were legendary performers before records. But when records came along, all of a sudden every new virtuoso had to compete with every previously recorded one, and music became consumed with imitating the past. Music, an art form that depends on re-creation of the printed page, was suddenly an art form of artifacts, like the fine arts.
These two factors–the lack of status of or need for the ordinary musician, along with the celebrity status of certain ones of extraordinary talent, and the accretion over time of an immense and overwhelming heritage–sapped the vitality of music. And not just classical music. If you ask any devotee of the myriad subgenres of popular music, they will tell you that it’s not real, because everything is driven by marketing. There is one 50 Cent where there used to be hundreds of kids doing improvised raps on the subway.
MASTERPIECE OR MESS?
William Deresiewicz’s review [“On Everything,” Oct. 3] of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty offers some candid observations about the advancement to fame of “beautiful young women novelists with Commonwealth roots.” Apparently we should stop gushing over Smith’s “dubious” gifts of beauty and “facility” and realize that her “mind that teems with characters, plots, situations, ideas” does not necessarily produce restrained, formally coherent fiction. Then we could decide whether a novel deserves the judgment of “undoubted masterpiece” (Roy’s God of Small Things) or “gigantic mess” (Smith’s White Teeth).
Or, we could resist rendering decisions based upon whether authors deserve their “billing.” Instead, we could criticize because we have a kind of disinterested public service to provide–a restrained attentiveness that we rightly feel authors and readers need. Deresiewicz’s complaints ironically yield a noticeably unrestrained, and often frankly ranting, review of Smith’s “dommage” to E.M. Forster’s Howards End. On Beauty‘s legacy of a painting–and of “beauty”–rather than a house, emphasizes the ways Howards End also addresses the desires for “beauty and adventure” that often spring up in those, like Leonard Bast, whose lives are conspicuously classed as sordid and boring. Forster’s troublesome resolution of this difficulty is: “Let Squalor be turned into Tragedy,” in that Bast’s child will, one hopes, inherit the “beauty and adventure that the world offers.”
One could argue that Forster’s formal economy is overly tidy here; Leonard Bast’s death-by-bookshelf-and-sword is darkly, unfairly, funny–an impatient dismissal of his tiresome, inappropriate insistence on beauty and adventure. I personally prefer Smith’s proliferation of Leonards. There’s just no killing Leonard Bast in On Beauty–another always pops in, eager for opportunity, refreshingly ungrateful and refusing adherence to the expectations of those who intervened on his behalf. Forster’s discrete characters get broken down and messily spread out over several of Smith’s, who seem like palimpsests of free-floating attributes: Jerome is both Helen Schlegel (early love affair, subsequent belief in things unseen) and Paul Wilcox (absent most of the action); Vee Kipps echoes both Evie Wilcox and, intriguingly, Jacky Bast; art historian Howard Belsey evokes Schlegel culture (theory-driven liberalism), Henry Wilcox (infidelities) and, finally, Leonard Bast–who now gets to close the novel. This is certainly confusing, but it also goes someplace Forster does not: the space between Squalor and Tragedy termed “Involvement,” in Smith’s White Teeth, the “tired, inevitable” realization that we are all simply too connected to deserve comfortably distinct lives.
FLATTENED BY FLATTERY
I don’t expect a critic with no feel for popular culture to appreciate an analysis of its mechanisms–or to recognize a parody of its gestures. But I do expect him to read my book, which Russell Jacoby evidently failed to do when he reviewed Mediated [“Game Theory,” June 27]. After saying that it “consists of loosely connected vignettes and observations,” Jacoby adds, “To the extent he has an argument, his best chapter, on ‘The Cult of the Child,’ bears little relationship to it, which de Zengotita coolly admits. The sanctification of children seems ‘to sit strangely’ amid a society of mediation.”
Ah, the convenient quote excerpt. What I actually “admitted” (!) was that it “seems to sit strangely alongside all that ironic parenting,” the very specific topic of a previous section– and even then the clear emphasis is on “seems,” and reconciliation follows.
One of the book’s basic arguments, reiterated throughout, involves the “flattery of representation”–meaning the effect media have simply by virtue of addressing us. The book is an account of how that flattery intensifies as media multiply. The introduction focuses on the “God’s eye view” contemporary media provide. The concluding chapter (Jedermensch ein Ubermensch) ends with a riff on cloning, the ultimate self-flattering representation of a God-like self-maker. Other chapters and sections show how performers (who flatter us) replaced heroes (who challenged us), how a “virtual revolution” of reality shows and blogs enable flattered fans to displace celebrities, how nature became a setting for our performances–and the chapter on children shows how modernist child-centeredness (Dewey, Piaget) gave way to postmodern child-centeredness as we educated generations of more flattered (=mediated) youngsters.
This fundamental argument, impossible to miss if you read the book, eluded Jacoby. And then he says I don’t have one. “Loosely connected vignettes and observations” is right–but that’s a description of his review, not my book.
THOMAS DE ZENGOTITA
Thomas de Zengotita’s book is a half-written grab bag of half-interesting observations on popular culture; the mantra of “flattery of representation” does not save it. What does the “cult of the child” or Bush’s foreign policy have to do with media flattery? De Zengotita gives it a try, but turns flip or trite. He dubs “Justin’s Helmet Principle” the belief of anxious parents that their little Justin should sport a gargantuan helmet while tricycling. Why are they so obsessed? Media flattery? Unlikely. Is this the “ironic parenting” that de Zengotita believes dominates society? Doubtful. Unfortunately, he can’t figure it out. Why does society sanctify children? “Another ironic doubling is at work, get used to it.” The only thing we have to get used to is de Zengotita’s general befuddlement. In his riff on the twenty-four-hour Weather Channel (“Hey, if weather is your thing you have such access!”), de Zengotita allows that he keeps it on while he writes. A message from someone who lacks the “feel” for popular culture to Mr. Plugged-In: Consider clicking off the set the next time you write a book.
In his review of The Power of Nightmares [“Beware the Holy War,” June 20], Peter Bergen reports that Sayyid Qutb was shocked to hear “a secular love song”–“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”–played at a dance in the local church hall. But that doesn’t tell the half of it. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was considered quite risqué when it came out, and radio stations were at first hesitant to play it. Many Americans would have shared Qutb’s reaction.
ROSE ANN & GETúLIO, WE’RE SORRY
In Marc Cooper’s “Arnold Show: Canceled” [Nov. 28], the name of Rose Ann DeMoro, head of the California Nurses Association, was misspelled. (This in no way reduces the majesty of the nurses’ total victory.)
In Hilary Wainright’s “Corruption of Hope in Brazil” [Nov. 14], an editing error placed Getúlio Vargas of Brazil in Colombia.