The Breakfast Table

Don’t Let the Door Hit You in the Butt, Bill

So, dear Margo,

We have written each other eight missives during these four days for a total of 16. I still think talking on the telephone is easier. But, since you interrupt so much on the phone, this medium allows for a straighter narrative. Before I used e-mail as habitually as I do now, many of my friends were already its masters. I asked Roger Rosenblatt–yes, the RR of the Lehrer show on PBS and of Time magazine–whether he thought the Internet would provoke a revival of letter writing. He had told me that he had just written an e-mail to our friend Walter Kaiser, the director of Harvard’s Villa I Tatti, Bernard Berenson’s old estate in Settignano out side Florence. I suppose I imagined a letter about Piero della Francesca and the Medicis, something elevated, something uplifting, something you couldn’t talk about–or wouldn’t–on the phone. Well, Roger said, “No, the Internet will not revive the art of letter writing, and in any case, I e-mailed Walter to ask when we were going to meet for lunch at the Knickerbocker Club in New York.” Well, in the old days, this would have been a phone call. It is now an e-mail, which of course is a letter, literally speaking. So the Internet saves people the cost of phone calls. But then phone calls, even calls from New York to Florence, are now also very inexpensive. So the historic jury is still out on e-mail and letter writing. Would Rebecca West, a wonderful letter writer, have found this form agreeable? I don’t know. Is there yet a collection of someone’s e-mails? I don’t know. But you’ve been at this Slate chat format for some time. Why don’t you publish your e-mail letters?  Of course, the first question would be: Would you e-publish them (which is a bit redundant), or would you put them between hard covers and make them a hard copy?

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The great intellectual skeptic about the computer culture is himself a professor of computer sciences at Yale, David Gelernter. (In Yiddish, the word gelernter means the learned one, and learned he is.) Alas, Gelernter first came to public attention when he was a victim of one of the Unibomber’s bombs. But he is alive and well and writing continuously. There’s an interesting article by him in the current Commentary (January), called “Computers and the Pursuit of Happiness,” in which he restates–with rather startling argument–that life won’t have changed as much we imagine because of these new technologies. Something to talk about on the phone after we’re done writing e-mails.

I tell you I can’t wait for the moment when Bill Clinton is no longer president. There is all the tacky stuff, of course, and you were right this morning to observe that that Jesse Jackson mess is an appropriate coda to the Clinton presidency. What I am relieved at is that there will be no “peace agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians. Not that I don’t want peace. But this agreement–the one that Clinton has been peddling and that Ehud Barak has been so desperate to be able to sign if only Arafat would actually take what he’s been asking for–is only an agreement, and it will bring death and devastation to Israel. This is a monument to Clinton’s vanity. There is nothing he won’t conscript into his self-love. So, God willing, on Jan. 20 we are done with this very dangerous nonsense. But, on the plane home from New York, I read in the Forward–the weekly English-language newspaper that descends from the Yiddish Forverts, which your bubba and zayde probably read in Eau Claire, Wis.–that Clinton is hoping that President Bush will allow him to continue with the Middle East peace process. It has some attractions for Bush. It will be Clinton who will end up tangling with the Jews and not him nor Colin Powell. And it would so absorb Clinton that maybe Bill wouldn’t have time to make other troubles for George W. Clinton would count something like this as a statement by his successor that he–Clinton–was indispensable. On the other hand, maybe Dubya will do Clinton a different favor: pardon him.

Bye-bye
Marty

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