Letters

Eisenberg’s Eye

I would like to commend you on “The Concerned Eye of Jack Eisenberg” in the Fall 2006 issue. Your discussion of his photography is most insightful; however, it is primarily Eisenberg’s photographs that now compel me to write.

While certainly in the tradition of Cartier-Bresson, as you pointed out, Eisenberg’s work has an energy and a complexity that remind me of the best of Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, and William Klein, and a delicious sense of irony not unlike that of Walker Evans. The article left me wanting to see more.

This is serious and engaging work, and it deserves a book.
Rodger Kingston
Belmont, MA
Rodger Kingston is a documentary photographer and photographic historian specializing in the work of Walker Evans.

Cheers for the spread of Jack Eisenberg’s photos.As a photographer myself, I found the pictures very moving. He has a splendid command of the black-and-white medium, so the tonality is just right for the subjects he chooses. His compositions are arresting without calling attention to themselves. He has an eye for the defining moment like that of Cartier-Bresson, and to this he adds a strong sense of compassion. The Web site is well worth the trip: alumni.columbia.edu/magazine/eisenberg.
Tom F. Driver ’57GSAS
New York, NY

Thank you for the cover story on Jack Eisenberg’s amazing photographs. The article and your Web site give a sense of the range and depth as well as the technical mastery of his work. But, for me, the real magic of Jack’s images, beyond the captured moment, is their capacity to trigger an empathetic connection to the person in the image that transcends barriers of race, social class, or ideology.

It is a pity that there seems so little place in the marketplace for photography that goes beyond the pretty or the newsmaking moment. Jack’s work deserves a wide audience, and you have done a great service publishing it. It’s appropriate that you do so, as Jack’s experience at Columbia is very much a part of what he does and the person he is.

I also enjoyed the article on Richard Hofstadter.When I was a graduate student in history at the University of Maryland, Hofstadter was a looming presence. Even to counter his interpretations required taking paths he laid out.
Michael S. Franch
Baltimore, MD

I cannot add to your smart and sensitive piece on Jack Eisenberg’s photographs because you so aptly caught Eisenberg’s distinctiveness — his ability to capture the moment and do it with artistry. Applause to Columbia magazine for presenting him to the audience he deserves. He should have been recognized eons ago, but I’m glad he is still alive to get the national attention now.
Lilly Rivlin
New York, NY

Thank you for your wonderful presentation of the photographs of Jack Eisenberg. I was gratified to see that this fine photographer, who to this point has been known mostly to Baltimoreans, is finally beginning to receive the wider recognition his work deserves.
Glenn McNatt
Baltimore,MD
Glenn McNatt is the art critic of the Baltimore Sun.

The Progressive Historian

In his article about Richard Hofstadter’s legacy, Eric Foner notes that following Adlai Stevenson’s 1952 presidential campaign, Hofstadter retreated altogether from politics.There were, however, times when Hofstadter took a public position on vital issues confronting American society. One such moment came on the final day of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March when he and other historians participated in the assemblage in front of Alabama’s State Capitol. The historians were near the front of the procession as Martin Luther King, Jr., called for a new day of democracy in the South.They had ridden from Atlanta on a bus provided by the Free For All Baptist Church to attend this historic event. Hofstadter did not seem well that day but he chose to be present when a great turning point in the life of this nation had arrived.
Herbert Shapiro ’58GSAS
Professor Emeritus
Department of History
University of Cincinnati

As an undergraduate at Queens College in the late ’70s, I was assigned Anti- Intellectualism in American Life as my book to prepare for individual presentations in a class on transcendentalism. My professor, the noted literary critic Charles Child Walcutt, flattered me by saying that I could handle it. He was more than right: The book has served as a paradigm, an inspiration, and even a solace for me in my 25 years as an educator.Thus I was overjoyed to see Eric Foner’s wonderful article. However, is Anti-Intellectualism really dated, as Foner suggests? Perhaps it is on some levels. But its brilliant understanding of American character shows that the sources of antipathy toward intellectualism are for the most part still present.

Critics today blame not only our schools but the influence of nonprint media, especially television, for dumbing down the American public, but Hofstadter shows us that our anti-intellectualism has much deeper roots than this. As a teacher I sometimes think I see examples of our hostility to intellectualism on an hourly basis.Yes, lip service is paid to the importance of getting a quality education, but this is usually just a practical consideration — it is about getting a good job, not so that one may enjoy the life of the mind or be an informed citizen in a participatory democracy.

Over the years I have discussed Hofstadter’s ideas with students. We often have meaningful discussions about the purpose, real and imagined, of education and intellectualism in American society. But there’s one riddle: How does a country with a history of anti-intellectualism produce great intellectuals such as Richard Hofstadter?
Paul Salerni ’79GSAS
Flushing, NY

Richard Hofstadter was the mentor for our thesis seminar, which included Judith Mogil, Herbert Gutman ’50GSAS, and Irving Widaen ’50GSAS, a lively, even contentious group, which Hofstadter tactfully guided in our discussions.

He remarked more than once that Marx and Hume were significant influences in his thinking and he recommended that I read Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England as an example of the need to rely upon primary sources when they were available. The thesis seminar had an unusually opinionated composition. Herb Gutman went on to get a PhD and wrote seminal works on labor history and slave revolts. Irv Widaen, who had an Orthodox Jewish background, elected to specialize in Irish history.

I also have vivid memories of other stellar teachers at the time, such as Henry Steele Commager, Robert Lynd, and Richard Morris.
Terence E. Carroll ’5OGSAS
Reston,VA

Their Finest Hour

I was impressed by the collective humility of those six brave men who served in the army and navy during World War II (“Six Who Served,” Fall 2005). Each story was wonderful on its own, but what was most remarkable was feeling that their experiences shaped them into the successful men they became. I would recommend that President Bollinger keep in mind those six men and the proud history of Columbia and the military as he reconsiders the University’s ban on reestablishing ROTC on campus.
J. Gary Condon ’71BUS
Ridgefield, CT

As one of Wm.Theodore de Bary’s former students, I hope he will forgive me for questioning two of his assertions about World War II in the Fall issue.

To portray the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 simply as one that “left Hitler free to attack Great Britain and the Jews” is misleading. From 1936 to 1939, the Soviet Union pushed unsuccessfully for a firm Western alliance against the Axis. The Soviet Union opposed the Western nations’ policy of appeasement and the Munich Pact, and it alone had provided aid to Spain’s war against Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini. In contrast, the “Western democracies,” seduced by the anti-Soviet stance of the Axis, embraced an anticommunist isolation of the Soviet Union and an appeasement of fascism that betrayed Czechoslovakia and Spain.When the Nazi threat to Poland did prompt negotiations in the summer of 1939 for an antifascist alliance, neither Britain nor France could offer meaningful commitments, while Poland even refused to sanction Soviet passage over its territory in the event of war. Stalin believed the Soviets were being asked to risk an immediate war with Hitler for which they were unprepared and in which they would largely stand alone.The Soviets saw time as their only hope, and with the Pact of 1939 they obtained almost two years as well as a 100-mile buffer against the Nazi onslaught of 1941.

De Bary also asserts that by neglecting Japanese peace feelers the Soviet Union was responsible for prolonging the war and thus for Hiroshima.Actually, President Truman was fully aware of Japanese peace feelers, and as early as May 1945, he began rejecting advice that he encourage Japan to surrender by agreeing to the continuation of its constitutional monarchy. The U.S. warning issued to Japan prior to Hiroshima was prepared without Stalin’s knowledge and mentioned neither the atomic bomb nor imminent Soviet entry into the war, either of which could have encouraged a surrender. It was Truman, not Stalin, who stood in the way of a negotiated end to the war in the Pacific, and it was he and Churchill who welcomed the opportunity to use this terrible new weapon.
Otto H. Olsen ’57CC
Gainesville, FL
Otto H. Olsen is a retired professor of history, Northern Illinois University

I read with great interest and respect the account of Wm.Theodore de Bary’s participation in World War II. However, I must correct him on the role of the Soviets. It would have been next to impossible for them to negotiate with the Japanese. The Soviet Union broke off its relationship with Japan on April 5, 1945. That afternoon Molotov received the Japanese ambassador, Naotake Sato, and denounced the neutrality pact that they had signed four years previously. The news was announced on all Soviet radio stations that same evening.
Susan Butler ’73GSAS
Lake Wales, FL

When I was asked by Columbia magazine to recollect my World War II experience as a member of the class of 1941, I recalled the influence on me, as a young student and antiwar protester, of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a reason why I did not follow those on campus who opposed aid to Britain, but came to support Roosevelt’s lend-lease program. This experience was a defining moment for me and many of my contemporaries, torn by conflicting sympathies. Obviously, however, it was an event that might be seen from other angles and in a larger perspective, as Otto Olsen notes. As regards the Japanese readiness to surrender even before the dropping of the atom bomb, Mr. Olsen has obviously learned things about it that I could not have known on the battlefield of Okinawa, which is why I was loath to second- guess President Truman’s decision at the time. As regards Susan Butler’s point, the Japanese officials we talked to on Okinawa had left Japan prior to April 1, 1945, and were reporting on events prior to Molotov’s denunciation of the Neutrality Pact, but also on a stance consistent with the Soviets’ interest in joining the war. Other evidence moreover con- firms that the Soviets did receive the Japanese peace feeler and failed to act on it.This was all before the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Wm.Theodore de Bary ’41CC, ’53GSAS, ’94HON
John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University and Provost Emeritus
Special Service Professor

Columbia magazine is an impressive and informative publication, and as such I was more than a little surprised that “Six Who Served” omits the veterans who served during World War II and then attended the University, not just those associated with the College.We were a large group who fueled the early days of GS, if for no other reason than that the College could not absorb such numbers.The group also established a record for seriousness of purpose and breadth and depth of academic accomplishment. I believe that you should take some care to avoid giving the impression that the College is the total University and the University is, in toto, the College.
William M. Carson ’50GS
Forest Grove, OR

Not Fit to Print?

Eric McHenry’s article,“The Not-So-Gray Lady,” on the role played by Columbia College alumna Jodi Kantor ’96CC in the transformation of the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times, is surely one of the most puerile pieces of journalism ever to appear in Columbia magazine (Fall 2005). The transformation and dumbing down of the Times has nowhere been more apparent than in the pages of its Arts & Leisure section. The metamorphosis of this once-magisterial section, from a responsible and literate publication, offering a wide variety of excellent articles on classical music and its sister arts, to one espousing an egregious, hortatory, politicized, and jejune “multiculturalism” — most shamefully expressed in its proclamation of the artistic and moral equivalency of classical music and rock, and in its militant and equally shameful espousal of the perverse and the perverted, along with what may charitably be called “alternate lifestyles” — stands as a sad exemplar of the disgraceful failure of a formerly great newspaper to uphold its former high standards and the highest values of the civilization that nurtured it. Those persons responsible for these changes must bear a heavy responsibility for the decline in the public mind of classical music today, and for the perceived decline of the arts in general from a spiritual necessity to a commodity. I confess to being shocked to learn that one of the key figures in this transformation was a Columbia graduate — and equally shocked that this phase of her career could be afforded so glowing and biased an account in the pages of an official Columbia University publication.
Daniel Waitzman ’65CC, ’68GSAS
Flushing, NY

Thank you for picturing Jodi Kantor pregnant and proud in “The Not-So- Gray Lady.” How lovely to see a working mom portrayed in such a positive light. Deanna Chappell Belcher
Coordinator
The School at Columbia University

Sans Souci

I just finished reading Charlie Saydah’s beautiful piece (“High Notes on the Heights,” Fall 2005). As a former WKCR staffer, I recall the sign-off, and Saydah captured perfectly the haunting experience of hearing it in the middle of the night. I also remember Music Humanities, taught by a nervous, young grad student named Peter Bergquist. I got a C.
|
Music Hum class required us to attend and write about two concerts. As usual, I put off writing the first one until the day before it was due.On my way to my parttime job at WNEW, I passed by Carnegie Hall.Van Cliburn was playing that night, with the Symphony of the Air.There was one ticket left, an $18 floor seat. I had $18 and a subway token in my pocket, and after my WNEW shift, I went to hear Cliburn play Liszt’s First Piano Concerto and the orchestra play Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. It was spectacular.

Summers, I worked for the Knickerbocker News, the evening paper in Albany, and through that connection was able to get tickets to the Musica Aeterna series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It turned out to be unbelievable date bait for ravishing graduate students who couldn’t get into the series on their own. I will never forget hearing violinist Henryk Szeryng playing a Bach fugue as an encore, and having to take time to catch my breath afterward.
Andrew Fisher ’65CC
Denville, NJ

Charles Saydah fondly recalls WKCRFM signing off with “Sans Souci.” WKCR played an important role in music at Columbia in the late 1950s, recording and broadcasting classical, jazz, and folk music, as well as Glee Club concerts at Town Hall, and it presented its own Music Humanities review, which got many of us through that course.
John B. Pegram ’60CC
Brooklyn, NY

As a fellow member of the College class of ’67 and someone who sang with him in “Oats” Harvey’s Glee Club, I relished Charlie Saydah’s reminiscences of music on the Heights. His only slight inaccuracy was the memory of “The Heavens Are Telling” emanating from Hartley Hall. It came from Livingston — from my window on the ninth floor. He’s absolutely spot-on, however, in his recollection of that first glorious day of spring.

Our class may not really have been the cleverest in the world, but we had dibs on the best music of just about any class in history. Our years at Columbia spanned the interval between the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (in February of our freshman year), and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Lonely Hearts Club Band (released the week we graduated).Within that frame, the music never died: the Stones, Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel (who could occasionally be spotted at V&T Pizza) — Doors opened, Dead were born — and so much more!

Standing and singing to our left in the bass section of the Glee Club was none other than Jon Baumann, who would later transmogrify into Bowzer. The Columbia Kingsmen, who delighted us at our orientation with their send-ups of the rock of our early adolescence, of course, became Sha Na Na, whose “Grease Under the Stars” concert on the steps of Low Library took place exactly a year after the ’68 bust.Three months later, they performed at Woodstock.
Rey Buono ’67CC
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Tilting at Harry

The Fall issue was great. Even so, Harry Bauld’s “Tilting at Cervantes” (College Walk) was an especially stupid article and should never have been printed.
Alvin Golub ’57PH
Brooklyn, NY

Call Me Zelda

If the turkey mentioned in Paul Hond’s “Return of the Native” (College Walk) has been acting tame, then possibly she does have a name. She may be Zelda, who spent a couple of years in Battery Park, where she learned to hang out with pigeons and take handouts from tourists, office workers, and parkdwelling derelicts. I have not seen her since work began on a new fountain and other amenities. The barriers and the noise and mayhem must have driven her away. Perhaps she has not given up on the city altogether.
Joanna Greenspon ’73SLS
New York, NY

Global Misreading

The reply of Mildred C. Kuner ’53GSAS (Fall 2005) to my letter (Spring 2005) warrants a response because of its misunderstanding of an important issue and its deprecating tone.

Kuner correctly notes that ancient civilizations made many important discoveries that were of great value to the growth of modern Western civilization. Because of the stifling effect of autocratic regimes and regressive religions, as well as the lack of an integrative, naturalistic worldview, they were, however, unable to fully exploit them.Western civilization had the fortunate combination of political freedom, entrepreneurial spirit, and scientific curiosity that enabled it to achieve on a remarkable scale. The recent success of China and India rests on their adoption of this model rather than a reliance on their own legacies.

My complaint is that the current multiculturalist and diversity stance of Columbia and other major academic centers obscures the recognition of the exceptional development by the West that facilitated the integration of political, economic, and intellectual resources to a degree unparalled in history. Kuner rightfully warns against arrogance. I only plead for a justifiable pride and awareness that will enable us and others to develop further the fruitful aspects of this mindset and share its benefits with the rest of the world.
Grover Wald ’56CC
San Francisco, CA

Keep Left

I agree wholeheartedly with the substance of Diana V. Mundy’s letter to the editor in the Fall 2005 issue criticizing today’s sloppy journalism, particularly its inaccuracies. But Mundy is herself inaccurate when she writes that “nowhere in the United States does traffic drive on the left.” On St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, traffic still stays to the left, a vestige of the custom at the time the United States took over the island from Denmark.
Alden Mesrop ’52CC, ’57LAW
Vernon, NY

Further Thoughts

I read with great interest Irwin Redlener’s “Katrina, Rita, and the Failure of Imagination” in the Fall issue.

The current formula for suburban development as applied by builders, architectural designers, home builders, and the TV do-it-yourselfers has unwittingly set in place major disease time bombs.These have been detonating silently and insidiously for several years at great cost to the nation, with the obesity epidemic and the co-morbid conditions that go along with it being the most visible and costly. The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences has begun uncovering significant evidence that the built environment in which we live,work, and play has a measurable impact on our health and well-being. SUV-oriented developments miles from new strip malls, streets that go nowhere, and neighborhoods that physically incarcerate their residents unless they have a car directly discourage physical activity, and thus unwittingly feed obesity’s spread.

In rebuilding whole communities after Katrina, we should take the opportunity to liberate imagination and turn not to developers and well-intentioned amateur builders, but to the very best in the design and engineering professions to develop solutions that work for us and for future generations.
Phil Allsopp ’79APP
Plano,Texas