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Mosaic

From the Shelf

By Raymond A. Sokolov. jr.

It is in the nature of things that the great bulk of student writing in literary magazines should fall below professional standards, and yet it is very important that editors have the courage to print the work of promising, but as yet unpolished, authors. However, the reader of the winter Mosaic ought to humble himself before the rampant audacity of the editorial board that has chosen to print Jonathan Shay's I'm Here, Are You There? The editors deserve blame because they, as men in some command over their intellects, have allowed a person with none over his to expose his inadequacy in public.

To say that Shay cannot write coherent English, or to castigate him for his benighted views on Christianity would be valid, but not to the point. Likewise, it is altogether true but unnecessary to mention that he exercises incredible pretension in trying to encompass three or four religions, psychoanalysis, existentialism and the consciousness-expanding drugs all in ten pages.

But the truly repugnant aspect of this article is that it reveals the author's mental chaos so candidly. It is all very well to follow Martin Buber in advocating free and untrammeled dialogue between human beings; nevertheless, no one ought to have the right to use a public forum for raving mistakenly (and without any solid basis) about other men's religion or to foist his own halfbaked and embarrassingly intimate worldview on strangers. The University provides, at great expense, an outlet for students who need this kind of audience.

It was a relief to find that the other two articles in in this issue did not follow Mr. Shay's pattern of insobriety. But here the relief ended. Charles Vernoff's Defense of Neo-Hasidism answers Judith Kegan's diatribe against halfway-Hasids, which appeared in Mosaic last spring. Miss Kegan, says Vernoff, overstates her case when she debunks students who are only superficially enchanted with traditional Jewish mysticism. He argues instead that these spiritual dabblers ought to be encouraged, since they may eventually find true faith. Writing from palpable ignorance on this subject. I am unable to say whether Vernoff speaks truth, but, either way, his evangelical style offers the reader some unparalleled moments of exoticism. Speaking of God, he remarks: "Only He can count the pairs of ears, delirious with Indian ragas or the twang of the koto, which really long for the lilt of a good Chassidic niggun!" He speaks of the "irresolute student who apparently wishes to lick the icing of identification without eating the cake of commitment," and, in his final paragraph, he addresses the neo-Hasids directly: "To all of vou neo-Hasids, including myself, I bequeath a Bris [circumcision] with the dull blade of superficiality..."

In another article, Ellen Kramer summarizes Will Herberg's Judaeo-existential thought well enough so that one has no need to go to the original, but she hardly contributes enough of her own views to reward plowing through her careful resume.

Buried away in this welter of polemics, a beautiful and well-modulated voice cries out for your attention. Stephen Sandy has written two new poems. The first, The Castor Bean Garden, is easily the most worthwhile item in this Mosaic, and also the most competent, well-pruned poem I have read in a Harvard publication. Sandy's intricate patterns of internal rhyme and his lush, but controlled alliteration give his poem just the the right form to complement his subject matter, which is the opposition of careful symmetry and undisciplined luxuriance. His second piece, Shoppers' World, struck me as slightly out of focus, but it still shows enough skill to outdistance the work submitted by three other poets: Chana Faerstein, Bruce Bennett and George Blecher.

Judah Stampfer, an assistant professor of English at New York State University, who should know better, has written a grievously long short-story entitled Jonah. Stampfer clearly understands how to construct English sentences; he does not, however, know when to stop. Nor does he comprehend the least thing about plotting a story.

If it were not for Sandy's poems and the excellent trio of reviews at the end, this number of Mosaic could hardly justify its existence. Still, past issues of this magazine have all met a higher standard, and the new editorial board, which will plan the spring edition, can comfort itself with its vast opportunities for improvement.

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