ISAAC B. SINGER & G.G.
Shaker Heights, Ohio
A half-century ago, I discovered Graham Greene and Isaac Bashevis Singer at about the same time. I got the feeling that I was reading two interchangeable novelists, each describing the same predicament, one from a Jewish vantage point, the other Catholic. I must have read The End of the Affair and The Magician of Lublin at about the same time. Both describe "the problem" exquisitely well, the agonies of lost faith, love and even hope. Both were equally unable to resolve the crises except by making a kind of shaky nod to their respective traditions.
In The Magician of Lublin, Yasha the magician, traversing the well-trodden ground of the desired shiksa, the mendacity of business whether gangster or upright and the fall from faith, finally resolves it all by bricking himself up and becoming Yasha the penitent.
Thus it was that I was stunned to read Vivian Gornick’s review of Florence Noiville’s biography of Isaac Bashevis Singer ["Before the Law," March 5] and find a recap of those long-ago thoughts. I have no idea whether the comparison has been made elsewhere. I’d like to think it’s just Ms. Gornick and me.
I have read a lot of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories and always end up with a feeling of utter despair. What I have always kept from Singer is a comment he made at the start of his story "Shosha": His people had lived in Poland for almost a thousand years yet spoke hardly any Polish. Their lives were regulated by two dead languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, and all thought was devoted to knowing the rituals appropriate for a temple that had ceased to exist 1,900 years earlier. This is the culture Arnold Toynbee called a fossil, for which he was attacked as an anti-Semite. But any attempt to make this fossilized culture meaningful is doomed to failure. Singer knew this.
New York City
Vivian Gornick writes that Isaac Bashevis Singer "never allowed his work in book form to be published in Yiddish. Everyone in the world read him either in or from the English translation." She is mistaken. While it is true that some of his Yiddish works have never been published in book form, the YIVO library has ten books of his in Yiddish–five novels and five collections of short stories.
Der sotn in goray was published in Warsaw in 1935. The last original edition in his lifetime, according to our catalogue, was Der bal-tshuve (The Penitent) in 1974.
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
New York City
Paul Glasser is, of course, right. There are many Singer stories and novels in Yiddish. What I meant to say, but said badly, is that it was after Singer was "discovered" by his American translators in the mid-1950s that he stopped all publication of his work in Yiddish in book form. Except for the stories that appeared in the Yiddish newspaper the Forward, from then on all of Singer’s work appeared in English.
ANTI-IMMIGRANT AD AROUSES IRE
I received your May 14 issue just after watching the LAPD attack immigrants’ rights demonstrators. When I saw the advertisement on the back cover I was taken aback. Then when I heard one of your writers, Max Blumenthal, on Democracy Now! exposing the close ties between the anti-immigrant movement and white supremacists, I was outraged. A short Google search of the Coalition for the Future American Worker (CFAW) showed it as a creation of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the American Immigration Control, which has ties to the white supremacist Pioneer Fund. The ad made its pitch using an African-American "civil rights leader," who by the way was Jeb Bush’s frontman for the attempt to privatize Florida’s schools through the use of vouchers. CFAW is not simply an organization concerned about H-1B visas, and you should know that, so why run that advertisement–which shows tacit approval of CFAW? What’s next: ads from Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative action group, the American Civil Rights Institute?
The Nation‘s position on immigration is not that of CFAW. Over the past 140 years of publishing we have printed more than 2,700 pieces discussing immigration issues from a progressive perspective, including, most recently, a February 26 cover story, March 5 and May 7 editorials and an editorial on page 8 of this issue. The May 14 ad is not an endorsement of CFAW; we hope readers understand that an ad on immigration (or any topic) does not imply the magazine’s endorsement of the ad’s content.
In 1979 The Nation established its advertising acceptability policy (see www.thenation.com/mediakit/policy). It says, in part: "We accept [advertising] not to further the views of The Nation but to help pay the costs of publishing. We start, therefore, with the presumption that we will accept advertising even if the views expressed are repugnant to the editors…."
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We regret that some ads offend our readers. Ads pay our bills. They do not reflect our editorial position. –The Editors
Yellow Springs, Ohio
Poetry editor John Palattella has the soul of one who truly understands anguish. His review of three Palestinian poets’ work, "Lines of Resistance" [Feb. 19], so spoke to me that I kept rereading paragraphs to make certain of the poets’ lines. I also underlined such phrases of Palattella’s prose poetry as "escape from the prison of nationalism"; "open-air cell of sadness, melancholy and absurdity"; a style that "flowers furiously into a bittersweet and melancholy song"; "the incantatory music quickens"; "a sadness deeper than sadness." As one who was raised a Protestant Zionist Evangelical, I grew out of it from reading and hearing such Jewish critics as Balfour Brickner, I.F. Stone, Israel Shahak and Michael Lerner. You are to be commended for steadfastly continuing the critique of US-Israeli policies.
GORDON A. CHAPMAN
John Palattella reviews Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry in English translation and tries to define Darwish’s standing in the world of Palestinian poetry. This leaves the reader with a restricted view of Darwish’s body of work. Palattella painted Darwish with the brush of the "heroic" and "defiant" poet of "resistance." The history of the evolution of Darwish’s poetry is too versatile and encompassing for such a limited description. The poems that defined Darwish’s stature in modern world poetry have been of the epic, personal, love, theatrical, conversational, witness, diary poem forms, to name some. Darwish’s eminence as a modern poet crossed the borders of Palestine long ago. The universality of his poems, especially in the 1980s and beyond, cannot be reduced to a description of what his early poems were.
HANA EL SAHLY
WELCOME TO THE ‘COUNTRY’ CLUB
Having served twenty years with the UN, I found Perry Anderson’s review of books on the UN ["Made in USA," April 2] particularly incisive but somewhat wanting on three points. First, while Kofi Annan deified his position, the UN Secretary General is nothing more than his job description in the UN Charter, namely the "chief administrative officer of the organization." Hence his function is to administer, a job Annan did singularly badly. Everything else is smoke, albeit smoke that sold well.
Second, writing that Ban Ki-moon’s election "required Chinese assent" is disingenuous, as all Secretary Generals require Chinese assent, not to mention that of the other four permanent members of the Security Council.
Finally, the UN is a club. One member, the United States, pays about 23 percent of the dues. Three members–the United States, Germany and Japan–pay some 50 percent. Twelve members pay some 80 percent, which means that the remaining 180 members pay less than 1 percent each, on average. The UN will cease to be a tool of the West and a forum for the rest the day the costs are more evenly spread–an unlikely event that would probably make for an even worse UN.
YES I SAID YES I WILL YES…
Stephen Gillers’s "Free the Ulysses Two" [Feb. 19] notes lawyer John Quinn’s lack of enthusiasm in his defense of Ulysses as published in The Little Review in 1921. Quinn thought the case was hopeless. It is true that during the 1920s, the NY Society for the Suppression of Vice did begin to lose obscenity cases when a book’s literary value was established. However, when it lost, as with the case Gillers mentions regarding Lawrence, Freud and Schnitzler, the Vice Society had a grand jury indict the publisher of those three authors on the same charges. After two and a half years of lost time and money, the publisher had to give up the fight.
Not only had Ezra Pound expurgated Ulysses passages before the "Ulysses Two" printed excerpts; the book was under special customs surveillance as subversive, probably because The Little Review had published anarchist writers. If Pound himself thought Joyce’s frankness regarding defecation, masturbation and intercourse hopeless, it is no wonder Ulysses was not the right book to challenge the era’s moral entrepreneurs. It took the genius, and connections, of Morris Ernst to de-censor Ulysses, in 1934. The influence of the father-in-law of Joyce’s son, the wealthy stockbroker Robert Kastor, in preparing the way for this event is an imponderable.
JAY A. GERTZMAN, author
Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940