I find it amazing to suddenly think that I live in a puritanical society. "Here But Not Here" by Lillian Ross is a very special love story. What bothers Jeremy Bernstein (Book Review, May 17) most is that Lillian Ross is writing about a deep and penetrating and lasting love that became her life. Hers is the passionate story of two extremely shy and brilliant lovers who slowly evolve into each other and become that one person that all two people want to become. It is a private story, now made courageously public, which gives the reader the hope and happiness of existing love. Not all people are capable of such love. That is the book's undeniable beauty. It is the sort of love that insists on itself and must live--despite all the values that seek to deny it. A great love affair is high art.
Lillian Ross, as most people know, is a marvelous writer, and the late William Shawn was the best American editor ever. It is an act of bravery for very good writers to share their private emotional life with the world--a world that is very often cold and mean-spirited. To have found such a love and lived it is an art all its own. Her sharing that discovery and that life is an act of generosity, not self-aggrandizement. Her story of a love lived against all the odds fills one with happiness that it happened and sadness that, like life itself, it had to end. But her story of the love she shared with William Shawn is life-enhancing, and I, for one, am grateful. It makes life worth living.
Carol Matthau, Pacific Palisades
To the Editor:
In reviewing Norman G. Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn's "A Nation on Trial" (Book Review, May 10), Neal Ascherson neglected to mention the following:
Finkelstein cannot read German so he cannot evaluate many of the sources on which he pretends to pass judgment. Since most of the material on the nature of German anti-Semitism is in German, Finkelstein could not possibly show that my book's analysis of it is wrong.
Finkelstein, a well known anti-Zionist agitator who has likened those who support Israel to the "Gestapo," has now, for the first time, written about scholarship on the Holocaust, to which he, by and large, objects because in his ideological view its purpose is to legitimize Israel's policies so that Israel can "smash" the "Arab hordes." Thus he declares that "Holocaust studies" is "mainly a propaganda enterprise," is a "circus" and is part of Zionist conspiracy. Until now such views had been confined to the publications of fringe elements. It is no wonder that more than one major German newspaper has declared the cynical decision to use Finkelstein to attack my book "poisonous," with Die Zeit calling Finkelstein's piece "infamous."
I have published extensive documentation of both Finkelstein's and Birn's systematic falsification of evidence. When such distortions are removed from their book, all that is left are some general criticisms of my book, to which I have replied many times. All of this can be found on the Internet at http://www.goldhagen.com
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Cambridge, Mass.
To the Editor:
I am surprised and puzzled by Roger Shattuck's misreading of my edition, "The Annotated Lolita," in his piece, "The Alibi of Art" (Book Review, April 26). My "postmodern annotations," as Shattuck calls them, are largely devoted to fixing the taxonomic truth about literary allusions and other references, the opposite of the "indeterminacy" of language and meaning so central to postmodern theorizing. Shattuck accuses me of rejecting reality and doing a Tarantino on "Lolita," thereby pulping me into an amoral, nihilistic celebrant of mayhem and pain. Nothing could be further from my position on literature and life. As I wrote near the end of my introduction:
"Simultaneous with these games is a fully novelistic process that shows Humbert traveling much further than the 27,000 miles he and Lolita literally traverse. Foolish John Ray [in his Forward to 'Lolita'] describes Humbert's as 'a tragic tale tending unswervingly to nothing less than a moral apotheosis' and, amazingly enough, he turns out to be right. The reader sees Humbert move beyond his obsessional passion to a not altogether straightforward declaration of genuine love and, finally, to a realization of the loss suffered not by him but by Lolita. It is expressed on the next to the last page in a long and eloquent passage that, for the first time in the novel, is in no way undercut by parody or qualified by irony. Midway through this 'last mirage of wonder and hopelessness,' the reader is invoked again, because Humbert's moral apotheosis, so uniquely straightforward, constitutes the end game and Nabokov's final trompe l'oeil. If the reader has long since decided that there is no 'moral reality' in the novel, and in his sophisticated way has accepted that, he may well miss this unexpected move in the farthest corner of the board and lose the game after all."
Alfred Appel Jr., Wilmette, Ill.
Roger Shattuck replies:
Alfred Appel's introduction and notes in "The Annotated Lolita" render a useful service in identifying many of the literary allusions and narrative games the novel revels in.
But Nabokov's wonderfully sly playfulness leads Appel to believe that in its deepest significance, "Lolita" tells us that "all is a fiction," that authors must face "the fictional mature of reality." This is why I used the adjective "postmodern" to describe Appel's general approach to "Lolita."
I also believe it is naive to understand Humbert's anecdote about himself on the next to last page of his narrative as a "moral apotheosis" on the sense of understanding and repenting his guilt. He tells us himself he is trying to save his soul by means of the "refuges of art." And if that redeeming vision of things "from my lofty slope" ever happened, it did not deter Humbert from proceeding to the ritualized murder of his arch-rival, Quilty. I see no redemption in Humbert. The purport of the book as a whole is a different matter, which my review proposes to clarify.