Letters - Winter 2009

Response to Our Autumn Issue

By Our Readers | December 1, 2008

Artists & Models

Leonard Bernstein’s comments in “Something Called Terrorism” (Autumn 2008) about the world situation and his criticism of U.S. foreign policy are quite illuminating. We sometimes make the mistake of expecting our artists only to entertain us, when they are sometimes also committed to improving their society. Artists have always pointed out the follies of their societies. Think of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and others. Have we forgotten the sympathy Liszt and Wagner had for the 1848 revolutions? And the persecution of artists under Hitler, Stalin, and even here during the McCarthy era? Today we see too much apathy among musical artists. Some years ago German conductor Gerd Albrecht was booed for making public speeches on U.S. foreign policy at concerts. Pablo Casals also used concerts to condemn war. We need more committed artists like these.

Jose Ortiz
(via e-mail)

Modified Interlinear

I have read with interest Ernest Blum’s essay “The New Old Way of Learning Languages,” in which Blum suggests that James Hamilton’s once-popular, now rarely employed interlinear system of reading the classical texts “could serve as a template for access to all of the world’s important texts in an era when these texts are in precipitous decline.” Although classical scholars have traditionally opposed the use of an interlinear (as Blum states), J. D. Ellsworth and I employ this device in our first-year textbooks—Ellsworth, in his Reading Ancient Greek: A Reasonable Approach, and I, in my own Reading Classical Latin: A Reasonable Approach. Our interlinear differs from the Hamiltonian in that the Greek and Latin word order is not rearranged to accommodate the English word order and the interlinear is gradually withdrawn as the student learns the rudiments of the language—the grammar and vocabulary needed to read it in the original. By using this modified interlinear, Ellsworth and I have a taken a step in the direction that Blum proposes, although we believe (despite our success with our own students) that most classical scholars will continue to resist the use of any kind of interlinear even though it may help the average student who can devote only a reasonable amount of time to learning the language.

Robert J. Ball
Honolulu, Hawaii

Supreme or Better

In the Autumn 2008 issue, on page 20, Learned Hand is referred to as a Supreme Court Justice. While many students of the law believe that his opinions were as good, if not better, than those of the Supreme Court, he never served there. He was a federal district court judge in New York and later served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Mark A. Jarboe
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Who Wood Have Guessed?

I enjoyed the Bruce McCall cartoons about possible new buildings for the National Mall. One of them was to be shaped like a giant redwood tree for the “U.S. Institute of Logging’s Museum of the Tree.” But did you know that a redwood tree building really did exist on the Mall a century ago? According to James M. Goode’s Capital Losses, the 2,000-year-old giant sequoia from California was installed on Jefferson Drive between 12th and 13th streets in 1894 and remained there until 1930. Many good photos of it exist, and one is available on the Web.

Heather Ewing
New York, New York

Would You Settle For Mean?

Did I subscribe to The American Scholar or The National Enquirer? I am sure the author of “The Torture Colony,” Bruce Falconer, never thought of Paul Schaefer as the “World’s Most Evil Man.” Does your editorial staff? A distinguished journal such as yours has no need to pander to the masses with misleading headlines. The truth is sensational enough.

David Jonas
Dighton, Massachusetts

Flat Wrong

God knows this is a minor point, but when Sarah L. Courteau, in her review of How Fiction Works, mentions “the famous distinction E. M. Forster made in Aspects of the Novel between one-dimensional or ‘flat’ characters and ‘round’ ones, which Forster elevated as superior,” that should be “two-dimensional.” One-dimensional would be not even flat but a mere line, a narrow depiction indeed. It’s also worth noting that Forster did not denigrate flat characters and in fact appreciated them for what they were, part of the useful architecture of any novel. On the other hand, a flat or static character as a protagonist might strain readers’ patience.

David Galef
Montclair, New Jersey

Stuck In 1896

Brian Boyd deserves belated praise for his article “Getting It All Wrong” (Autumn 2006), which argues for a biocultural perspective over Theory. I know the article is several years old, but it resonates with the frustration I feel as a graduate student muddling through a required four-unit seminar on “Critical Theory and Research.” The text is the five-pound brick also known as the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory. Boyd’s argument has been my argument since I was an undergraduate in English. At my orals I dared to bring up “The Sokal Hoax” and was penalized heavily by the department chair, who asserted that “academia lives and breathes through Theory!” Nobody at my institution seems to “get it,” and they are, indeed, stuck in the Cultural Studies turn of 1986.

Teresa Troutman
Long Beach, California

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