The Morgen Freiheit

Wynnewood, Pa.

I appreciate Eric Alterman’s column “Putting Stories Into the World” [Jan. 21]. But let me make a small but meaningful correction about the Morgen Freiheit, which I read from the mid-1960s, when I was not yet a teenager, until its last issue in the ’80s. Everything Alterman wrote was true about the pre-1956 Freiheit. The Daily Worker lost 90 percent of its readership when the truth of Stalin’s atrocities became known in 1956 but it didn’t change its position. Not the Freiheit, whose editors were shocked and horrified. It stated that its ideals of socialism and justice would remain the same despite its misplaced faith in the Soviet Union. Its work for a better America and for Yiddish culture in America would not change. The newspaper would pursue truth with open eyes, starting anew.

The easy thing would have been to close shop, but the Freiheit chose to be an agent of change by fostering the Yiddish culture: Yiddish schools, which I went to, Yiddish choruses, publishing Yiddish books via the Yidisher Kultur Farband, etc. The Morgen Freiheit became an independent militant socialist newspaper that did not agree with the Soviet Union on many if not most of the crucial issues, such as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Paul Novick, the editor in chief, was so independent he was expelled from the Communist Party, as was most of the editorial board. The loss of the Morgen Freiheit of the ’60s on was a terrible loss to all independent liberals and socialists.


Clarification From Eric Alterman

New York City

I used the term “Likud quislings” in my January 28 column to refer to Americans who do the bidding of the Israeli right wing. I did not realize at the time that the word has Nazi associations, which I certainly did not intend. A better choice would have been “Likud acolytes.”


Let’s Get Real on Cuba

Oakland, Calif.

Please add to the short list of “Questions for Kerry” [Jan. 21]: Do you see any reason to continue the failed US policy toward Cuba, especially in view of Cuba’s liberalization of its economy and, unlike the United States, granting freedom to travel between the two countries to its citizens? (The Florida vote is no excuse, since over half the Cuban-Americans there voted for President Obama in the last election.)


Bach: Not a ‘Project’

New York City

Michael O’Donnell’s review of my recent book makes a category mistake that unfairly shapes the review as a whole [“Off-Key,” Jan. 21]. Reinventing Bach is not a book that presents a supposed “project” of listening to Bach. That’s exactly what it is not. I’ve read many of those “project” books, and it’s my view that Bach, and our society’s vast shared experience of his music, calls for something different. So I wrote something different: a work of narrative criticism in which we see the music of Bach affecting performers and listeners, myself among them, across a hundred years. My aim was the “celebratory criticism” that Susan Sontag called for.

The nature of the book might have been made clear in the review through a comparison with my first book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, which got an enthusiastic review in The Nation but which O’Donnell passes over altogether. In that book—a group portrait of four American Catholic writers—I take up the question of how we encounter the work of our literary predecessors and make it our own. In Reinventing Bach, I take up the ways musical influence is communicated in our time, especially through the distinctly modern medium of recordings.

I enter the narrative of Reinventing Bach as a participant on page 328, four-fifths of the way through the book, in a section about hearing Glenn Gould’s second Goldberg Variations recording after his death, in 1982, and my personal experience of Bach’s music figures into the story only intermittently after that. Nineteen eighty-four (when I heard that recording) was twenty-nine years ago, and my encounter with Bach has gone on ever since through dozens of live performances as well as hundreds of recordings.

I think it would be overweening to try to reduce the music of Bach to my own experience, or anybody’s. So I sought to fit my experience as a listener into the grand story of Bach’s music and to interpret the music the way a performer or recording artist would; and, after a quarter-century of listening, I wound up doing so in something like “a thousand and one nights” of concentrated writing. I knew there was a risk in refusing to contrive a project or to state my qualifications up front; and O’Donnell’s review, with its condescending reduction of book and author, shows that I was right.


Lawrence, Kan.

Michael O’Donnell has a point: Paul Elie’s Reinventing Bach kind of missed out on the unique experience provided by live performance. But O’Donnell also kind of missed out on something. Recording, especially high-fidelity recording, has changed the qualitative nature of human solidarity. From now on, as long as human civilization survives, there will be, I think, people who listen to Glenn Gould’s Bach while knowing that countless prior and future generations did, and will, share much the same experience. That is something new and important under the sun.



Katha Pollitt’s February 4 “Subject to Debate” column mistakenly attributed the creation of the pro-choice Tumblr “Not in Her Shoes” to Planned Parenthood. The Tumblr was created by the National Women’s Law Center.

Rose Aguilar’s article “Old, Female and Homeless” [Feb. 11] stated that the United States had 40,750 homeless people age 62 or older in 2010. The year was 2012.