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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Dear Sir: F*** You

For reasons that, every two weeks, continue to confuse me, I am a subscriber to the New York Review of Books.  (And, usually, a reader.)  I am always on the verge of non-renewal.  But one section that always strikes me as particularly entertaining is the letters section.  Happily, the NYRB contains full responses to letters by the writers of the original piece.  Unhappily, but to my general amusement, the exchanges are usually nasty, brutish, and long.  Nowhere else -- not even at faculty meetings -- do such low stakes produce such hot language.  Usually, moreover, the writers argue at such cross-purposes that the likelihood that truth will emerge from the exchange approaches, and passes, the point of randomness.  The exchange from the last issue, concerning a report on Rathergate, is a fair illustration.  In this case, I think Thornburgh and Boccardi have the better of the exchange, but mostly because, after having read Goodale's reply, I find it difficult to imagine that he read their letter for any other purpose than carefully finding ways to evade it.  It's only a fair illustration, though, because it lacks the true venom, calumny, and turf-protectiveness, couched in not-quite-polite language, that represents the exchange of views in the NYRB by academics. 

Always entertaining, as I say, and easily the second-best part of the NYRB -- after the personals.  (They always call to mind for me the line from Annie Hall, as Alvy reacts to another couple in the same movie line: "Probably met by answering an ad in the New York Review of Books.  'Thirtyish academic wishes to meet woman who's interested in Mozart, James Joyce and sodomy.'")

Posted by Paul Horwitz on May 5, 2005 at 04:42 PM in Culture | Permalink


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