MAYBE IT`S just me, but I think that Brian Fawcett`s treatment of Michael Kaufman in "Men`s Movement" (April) is considerably more of a personal assault than a book review. Fawcett decontextualizes Kaufman`s work and criticizes it chiefly through the construction of a weak analogy between what Kaufman is attempting to do and what advertisers are doing in the socalled "infomercial." However, what Fawcett can`t quite decide is whether he dislikes Kaufman`s writing because it is "a devotional religious meditation" or because it is trying to "sell" something to its readers. These are two distinct forms of ideology construction whose difference of intent should be noted.
Fawcett`s attempt to correct the perceived flaws in Kaufman`s work is to suggest a retrograde return to pragmatic science or, in his words, I want to go on record as demanding that books like this should either be asked to operate by the rules of science or art, or be identified as what they are: merely devotional writings."
Now, I haven`t read this particular book of Kaufman`s but I have read much of his other work and I have a problem with Fawcett`s approach, which I find to be shallow and superficial at best and insulting to both author and reader at worst. Here are a few of the important bits of information that Fawcett left out. First, he operates from the assumption that we all know enough about the so-called ((men`s movement" and its relation to feminism to understand that Kaufman`s position is the polar opposite of Robert Bly`s. Second, he neglects to mention that the entire 11 men`s movement" suffers from the same problem that plagued the women`s movement for many years: a vision that is predominantly white and middle class. Third, if we are to ask the Michael Kaufmans to legitimate their work by quantification of it then should we not ask the same of the Robert Blys, who bury their ideology in literary fairy tales for adult men?
As a woman who considers herself a feminist, I often object to the men`s movement on many different grounds. Still, if there is going to be such movement I am glad there are individuals like Michael Kaufman who try to present a position from which negotiation and reconciliation of our differences may be approached. I do not share Brian Fawcett`s opinion that this writing should be stifled by a set of rules that he knows as well as I do are just as suspect and just as universally white and male as is the "men`s movement" that he seeks to discredit.
Fawcett may object to Kaufman`s
essentializing of masculinity, but I object to Fawcett`s essentializing of the "men`s movement." In my opinion, when someone like Kaufman pursues a goal of discovery he deserves more than a glib phrase and a facile analogy from his reviewers.
Jill Smith Tamworth, Ont.
THE FOLLOWING has nothing to do with Michael Kaufman`s book Cracking the Armour, which I have not read, but is rather a friendly criticism of Brian Fawcett`s thoughts on "middle-class people`s tinkering with neuroses as self-improvement or voluntary recreation."
His comments hit me like a fist in the stomach. Not only am I middle class, I am also middle-aged and in the middle of "tinkering with neuroses." Only five years ago, or maybe even just three, I would have agreed with Fawcett 110 per cent. Until then I had always brushed my neuroses away by shaming myself into believing that only the hungry, the war-torn, the suppressed, and the tortured had genuine problems, and that the solution to my own problems was to get out there and help.
The only problem (adding to all the other ones) was that I didn`t have a clue, not to mention a plan, as to how to go about it. Then, a few years ago, I fell into my "black hole," where I was finally forced to confront myself and was astonished to learn that all of my sorry feelings for the " genuine problem people" were directed towards myself. I do indeed feel sorry for the child nestled in my navel, and I do indeed have to rescue that child, before I can reach out and rescue others.
"Tinkering with neuroses" can be crucial to the survival of civilization, and should not be scorned.
THE THREE letters in your April issue concerning Heather Robertson`s alleged hatchet job on the late Bronwen Wallace simply cried out for a response from Robertson. I find it difficult to believe a) that you failed to invite such a response or b) that if invited Robertson declined. The editors of, say, Commentary or the New York Review of Books would not have let the angry reactions of your correspondents go unchallenged by their target. This is why their letters sections are so much more lively and stimulating than your own. I feel that even though Robertson remained silent, surely it was incumbent upon BiC to make an editorial comment. After all, it was your journal that printed what at least three people consider to be a cowardly attack on a widely admired writer who is no longer able to defend herself.
Norm Barrett Brossard, Que.
a) We invited Heather Robertson to respond. b) She declined to do so. c) Some publications like to argue with their readers. We prefer to listen to ours.
Lewis in Canada
WAYNE GRADY`S review article "Tourists in Our Own Land" (December), an otherwise sensible survey of the season`s gift books, contains one solecism that deserves a wee wrist-slap. It may seem a small point, but in fact it`s significant that there`s no hyphen, pace Grady, in the title of Wyndham Lewis`s scarifying portrait of wartime Toronto, Self Condemned. What the removal or absence of the punctuation does is inform us that it is the self - the solipsistic ego - that is being condemned, rather than that the protagonist is blaming himself for his troubles.
Secondly, Lewis spent more time in Canada than the "dismal year" mentioned by your reviewer. He arrived in Toronto in September 1939, stayed until October, then headed for New York, where he hoped to spend the war; but the expiry of his US visa forced him to return to Toronto. There he remained from November 1940 to the late spring of 1943, holed up at the ratty Tudor Hotel on Sherbourne, the model for the Hotel Blundell of Self Condemned, whose spectacular destruction by fire was inspired by the actual burning down of the wing of the Tudor inhabited by Lewis and his wife. From June 1943 to May 1945 he was in Windsor, Ontario, teaching at Assumption College (where he met Marshall McLuhan, in whose fertile brain he planted the idea of the global village), and making side-excursions to St. Louis in search of portrait commissions.
Thirdly, Grady`s description of Lewis as a "foreign" novelist is misleading. Although he had lived in England from the age of six, he was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, in 1888, and retained his Canadian citizenship all his life, a factor that may literally have saved his life: it got him out of the trenches in the First World War and into the uniform of an official war artist in Max Aitken`s Canadian War Memorials, and it made it possible for him to escape the Blitz in the Second.
Letters may be edited for length or to delete potentially libellous statements. Except in extraordinary circumstances, letters of more than 500 words will not be accepted for publication.