Individual Consciousness, Lengthy Biographies and Other Letters to the Editor – The New York Times

Posted By on January 28, 2021

Seeing the Light

To the Editor:

In her review of Andrea Pitzers Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the Word (Jan. 10), Rachel Slade concludes by writing: Icebound is a reminder that there was once a time when things were unknown. And when their ships bumped up against the edge of the Arctic, the Europeans gazed with horror and awe at the sparkling ice and wondered what Edens lay beyond, waiting to be discovered.

Discovered? Is that what Icebound and the history of human conquest of nature reveal? Or is it rather plundered and annihilated? Before this interpretation, we read that the 16th-century Dutchmen didnt hesitate to shoot, maim, club, collar and impale whatever they saw. Slaughter emerged as the instinctive Dutch response to the Arctic landscape, a new theater that would see the same performance again and again with every European wave of arrivals, Pitzer notes.

But that was then, some still say, now we know a great deal more. What shall we then make of The Times Magazines section in the same week, Witness to an Extinction, by Sam Anderson? Mass extinction is the ultimate crisis, doom of all dooms, the disaster toward which all other disasters flow, Anderson writes. What could humans do that would be worse than killing the life all around us, irreversibly, at scale?

We do know more now, but obviously not enough to know that we are inextricably enmeshed in a great web of life; killing swaths of our biosphere will in time kill perhaps all of it, all of us.

Peter London Davis, Calif.

To the Editor:

In his review of Himalaya, by Ed Douglas (Jan. 10), Jeffrey Gettleman approvingly quotes Douglass statement, Its easy to see why a philosophy stressing the illusory nature of an individual consciousness, as Buddhism does, might prosper here.

But its even easier to see that it takes an individual consciousness to believe that individual consciousness is illusory.

Felicia Nimue Ackerman Providence, R.I.

To the Editor:

I am puzzled how anyone can review The Orchard, by David Hopen (Dec. 13), without mentioning the paradigm Orchard or Pardes story appearing in the Talmud. Clearly, Hopen had this reference in mind.

Phyllis ShapiroSt. Louis

To the Editor:

The first thing I read in the Book Review each week is the Letters page. It is such a lively, interesting and literate discussion.

This weeks letters (Jan. 10) made me wish I had paid more attention to Daphne Merkins review of Heather Clarks new look at Sylvia Plaths troubled life.

I was also delighted by Barbara Matusows confession, reflecting the feelings of many readers (including myself), that long books doorstops, she calls them put off readers and discourage potential readers of biography.

And I was nodding my head as I read David Myerss letter about the poetry in Michael Cunninghams essay on Virginia Woolf. I then wanted to go back and reread that essay after reading Richard Gerbers assessment of it.

David TillyerNew York

To the Editor:

Au contraire to Barbara Matusows lament about lengthy biographies. Would she ignore Robert Caros majestic volumes on Lyndon Johnson? Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.s 1,000-plus pages on the 1,000 days of J.F.K.? The 1,152 pages by Andrew Roberts that bring Churchill to life?

Rather than judgment based on a books heft, a read of the opening chapter provides a superior clue to the splendor that may lurk within.

David Smollar San Diego

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Individual Consciousness, Lengthy Biographies and Other Letters to the Editor - The New York Times

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