Letters - Autumn 2015

Responses to Our Summer 2015 Issue

By Our readers | September 7, 2015

 

Mind Games

There are two kinds of truth: factual and narrative (James McWilliams, “The Examined Lie,” Summer 2015). Factual truths are simple and static; narrative truths are dynamic and complex. Facts are either true or false; narratives are neither true nor false but both, depending on your point of view. You can view facts objectively, but to tell whether a narrative rings true, you have to insert yourself into the story. The ring of truth is the net result of multiple interactions and points of view. A good storyteller confabulates but lies truthfully—and we all have a story to tell.

Derek Roche
from our website

George Steiner’s statement that “the human capacity to utter falsehood, to lie, to negate what is the case, stands at the heart of speech” should be countered with Mark Twain’s comment that neither truth nor facts should get in the way of a good story.

James A. Solo
Southbury, Connecticut


A Time to Kvell

Phyllis Rose’s “My Mother’s Yiddish” is a wonderful piece, bringing me back to my Brooklyn childhood—and the slow discovery of what Yiddish expressions meant. The etymology of some Yiddish phrases remains cloudy. Kein ayin hora may translate to “may there be no evil eye”—especially when accompanied by feigned spitting over the shoulder—but can just as likely derive from the Hebrew k’ayn ha’ ra, meaning “may there be no evil.” The pronunciation—kunnahurra—doesn’t much provide a clue as to whether the ayin is “eye” or “no,” but in the end it hardly matters since the meaning is perfectly clear.

Zhenya Senyak
from our website

My father, who recently passed away, was born in 1931, in the region of Galicia in Poland, and miraculously survived the war in Hungary, as did his parents and sister. My parents spoke Polish at home to each other. However, when I was growing up in New York City in the 1960s and ’70s, I heard him use almost all the phrases Rose mentions. She nailed the meanings dead on. How many times had he called me a shlemiel, and when I would drop something or spill a drink at the table, he would cry, Erlicht shoyn! I don’t know how to spell it, or exactly what it means, but the essence was: “Predictable disaster, not a second too soon!” Thanks for this wonderful recollection.

Larry N. Mayer
from our website


An Inkling of Self-absorption
As always, I found much of value in the Summer 2015 issue. I was, however, disappointed by Jan Morris’s review of The Fellowship (“Fantastic Four,” Books). Over the years, I have thought a lot about reviewing and have concluded that there is an asceticism to it—the review is of the book before you. It isn’t about you or your agenda. I am no fan of the Inklings and won’t read the book (although I have read and admired other books by Philip and Carol Zaleski). Still, it is disappointing that Morris has not reviewed the book as much as given us anecdotes about her attitude toward “generic Tolkienism and its effect upon our literature.” That is not a book review; it is an exercise in self-absorption.

Rachelle Linner
Medford, Massachusetts


Solitary Theorists

The thesis that lone science is over is inaccurate and overdone (“It Takes a Laboratory,” Sam Kean, Books). Big physics proofs may come from ever-larger accelerators, but the theories that inspire the searches for these proofs frequently still come from lone theorists—for example, Alan Guth and inflation theory and Peter Higgs and his boson. Decades of searching for proof of the Higgs boson inspired the important recent work at the Large Hadron Collider. Guth’s theory has inspired some of the most important observation programs with advanced telescopes. The imagination of the theorist is still crucial to physics—it is what puts these large teams of experimenters to work.

Charles Zigmund
from our website

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