Commonweal’s eighty-fifth anniversary was brilliantly celebrated, as the pictures in the December 4, 2009 issue attest (“85th Anniversary Party”). The accompanying text was justifiably full of good feeling and gratitude for the distinguished speakers, honorees, table hosts, and all those who came from afar to celebrate. Praise was even heaped on the venue, Chelsea Piers. Could you not have done this without taking a potshot at the great state of New Jersey (“Even New Jersey looked lovelier than usual that evening”)? Has the magazine that published Merton, Day, Lowell, and O’Faolain stooped to the rank prejudice of anti-Jerseyism? Was it perhaps retaliatory pique at being unable to get tickets for Bruce Springsteen’s last concert at the Meadowlands? This was a low blow. For shame, editors.
(Jersey Girl) Lauretta O’Connor
MORE THAN MARGINALLY
It is a privilege to publish in Commonweal, but I must take issue with the choice of the title “A Marginal Jew” for my review of Hans Jonas’s Memoirs and Benjamin Lazier’s God Interrupted (January 29, 2010). I assume that the title’s intended implication was that, as a Jew, Jonas was marginalized in the Germany of his youth. Unfortunately, the title might also be taken to imply that Jonas was only marginally Jewish, or not fully Jewish in some sense—a suggestion that could be offensive not only to his memory, but to his family and friends. Ironically, my review emphasized the profoundly Jewish roots of Jonas’s thought.
Bernard G. Prusak
It’s wonderful to have Commonweal publishing fiction again, with lovely stories like Jean Sulivan’s “Misery Will Never End” (December 18, 2009) and Alice McDermott’s “I Am Awake” (July 17, 2009). I have a weakness for spare, parable-like tales like these. “Misery Will Never End” reminds me of Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” except that in Sulivan’s story the central figure’s epiphany occurs in time for it to change the rest of his life. Come to think of it, that is something it also has in common with “I Am Awake.” Both excellent choices, so thanks to whoever on the staff selected them.
Thanks also to Sulivan’s translator, Joseph Cunneen, who first introduced us Gannons to Sulivan’s work long ago, and to whom we are forever indebted for the eye-opening, mind-changing journal Cross Currents, which he edited with his late wife Sally.
Susan R. Gannon
New York, N.Y.
PILGRIM OF THE ABSOLUTE
Jerry Ryan’s Short Take “Unlikely Prophets” (December 18, 2009) brought me back to the liberal Catholic underground of the 1940s and ’50s. Jacques and Raïssa Maritain were living in Greenwich Village and had edited the anthology Léon Bloy: Pilgrim of the Absolute, which is filled with many powerful excerpts from his writings that had not previously been translated into English. Bloy’s most famous work, The Woman Who Was Poor, created quite a stir when the English translation was published in 1947. The final sentence has been quoted many times, often with false attribution: “There is only one misery and that is—not to be saints.”
Bloy profoundly influenced the psychological and spiritual novels of Bernanos and Mauriac, which unfortunately seem to have gone out of fashion. They have much to say to the comfortable materialism of contemporary Catholics.
Aaron W. Godfrey
Stony Brook, N.Y.