Paul Mitchinson's article dealing with my works ["The Shostakovich Variations," May/June] omits or distorts facts that do not fit his preconceptions.
Mitchinson largely dismisses Shostakovich Reconsidered, a volume edited by Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov, which marshaled a huge amount of evidence in support of the authenticity of Testimony, Dmitri Shostakovich's memoirs, which I ghostwrote. This brief letter is no place to recount the contents of the exhaustively researched 787-page book -- it speaks for itself.
My objection lies elsewhere: Mitchinson tries to create the impression that all my collaborative books were published after the deaths of their subjects, thereby casting doubt on their provenance. He never tells the reader that my book with Nathan Milstein appeared when the great violinist was alive and well and met with his full approval. Mitchinson also fails to mention another of my books of interviews, Yuri Lyubimov in America, published in 1992. Its subject, the famous Russian director, happily is still working in the theater at eighty-three.
Mitchinson doesn't report that my book of interviews with George Balanchine was endorsed by the choreographer's closest associates, such as Lincoln Kirstein and Barbara Horgan, the executor of Balanchine's estate. He also ignores the fact that my conversations with Joseph Brodsky -- over thirteen years on at least fourteen occasions -- appeared in print during the poet's lifetime, twice in book form. Brodsky was notoriously contentious, never shy to express his displeasure publicly, yet he voiced no complaints about these publications. He considered this endeavor my project, not his.
Conversations With Joseph Brodsky received support from such old friends of the poet as Anatoly Nayman, Yakov Gordin, and Vyacheslav Ivanov (the last two contributing introductions to the Russian-language editions of the book). It seems that the only person who objects is the poet's widow, Maria Sozzani-Brodsky, via the Brodsky estate. And that is a dispute not about provenance -- it is about interpreting the poet's life.
New York, NY
Paul Mitchinson responds: In 1987, Joseph Brodsky wrote that there was a "MASS of purely stylistic RUBBISH" in Solomon Volkov's published interviews with him. It seems fair to call this a complaint.
As for Shostakovich, the central question still remains unanswered, both by Volkov and Shostakovich Reconsidered: What is Testimony? Is it one of Volkov's "collaborative books"? Is it "my project, not his," like Conversations With Joseph Brodsky? Or is it, as the dust jacket declares, the "memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich"?
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES
While discussing Oliver Stone's USA and the dialogue that takes place within it ["Natural Born Historian," Inside Publishing, April], Paul Mitchinson manages to misquote me in a very fundamental way. The crux of his criticism claims that I "told the Dallas Morning News the film would be 'a history lesson'" -- which would seem a contradiction of my self-description as a "dramatist" and not a "historian."
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In checking out the Dallas Morning News, we find the actual context of the quotes is: "I'm not doing a school lesson here, and I don't have a documentarian's responsibilities. I have a dramatist's responsibilities to an audience"; and "I was out in Dallas the other night and talking to two young, beautiful girls of 21, 22 -- intelligent. They did not know who Jack Ruby or Lee Oswald was. They did not. It's shocking. It's important that we get this history lesson out there." In other words, the issue lies not with my being a historian but in the younger generation's ignorance.
I really don't believe your reviewer was operating in any good faith, other than to misrepresent what I was saying. When you read the entire book, I don't think you will miss my larger point.
Santa Monica, CA
DEATH OF UTOPIA GREATLY EXAGGERATED
In her otherwise agreeable review of Robert Fogarty's latest book on the Oneida Community ["All in the Family," April], Barbara Packer implies that Oneida is the only community that "stands out for its long life and prosperity" amid an American landscape "littered with the bones of failed utopian communities." That conclusion ignores such examples as the Icarian communities (life span 58 years), the Amana Society (89 years), the Harmony Society (100 years, with a larger membership and greater economic prosperity than Oneida), the Shakers (over 200 years), and the Hutterites (472 years, 126 of them in North America, and thriving today). More than eighty intentional communities active today have been around longer than Oneida's 32 years. I would invite Professor Packer to attend the next annual meeting of the Communal Studies Association to learn more about communal life spans and prosperity.
Professor and Chair
Department of Religious Studies
University of Kansas
In his discussion of Esperanto ["A Farewell to Esperanto?" May/June], Hal Cohen makes three statements about C.K. Ogden's Basic English and three errors: (1) George Orwell did not make sport of Basic with his Newspeak. Quite the opposite: He went on record in support of it, giving talks on the radio in Basic. (2) Basic was not "essentially English" but English with new rules to keep the sense of any statement made in it under control. (It is because of this that Cohen and others see Newspeak as an attack on Basic.) (3) Cohen says that "Basic never caught on," but in fact there were schools and organizations for teaching it in thirty countries in the 1930s.
"Standard English speakers felt constrained by Basic," says Cohen. This is a natural reaction, but getting past it has its rewards: clear talk and clear writing. Is Basic hard or simple, strange or natural? You be the judge. All we have said here is in Basic English.
W. Terrence Gordon
Professor of French
Eric W. Robinson
Hal Cohen responds: The possibilities of Basic English did intrigue Orwell in the early 1940s. Many commentators have also noted the similarities between Basic and Newspeak. Perhaps he had second thoughts.
THE NEW LEFT'S FAVORITE NAZI
Saul Anton's story on the love affair of the left with the writings of Carl Schmitt ["Enemies: A Love Story," Inside Publishing, May/June] is long overdue but, while well intentioned, slightly wide of the mark. It is not despite but because of Schmitt's reactionary record that "a number of leftists have taken a shine to him."
For some left-wing advocates of the leading Nazi jurist, it is not that Schmitt was a "smart" adversary from whom we can still learn but that he was a confirmed (a) totalitarian, (b) anti-Semite, (c) statist, and (d) above all, enemy to liberal democracy. By hanging on to the coattails of Herr Schmitt, certain elements in the far left have found common cause with kinsmen in the far right. This coming together full circle is simply the intellectual excretion of the Lenora Fulani–Pat Buchanan alliance at the political level.
Irving Louis Horowitz
Hannah Arendt Distinguished
Professor of Sociology and Political Science