Savage acts

Readers respond to articles about Ralph Ellison, rape-victim memoirs and the true story of mutiny on a whaling ship


Letters to the Editor
May 10, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Read Charles Taylor's reviews of "Aftermath" and "Where the River Bends."

I appreciate the effort given to writing and reviewing books on such a difficult subject. I question the reviewer wherein he perceives author Susan J. Brison as dismissing those who say "It can't happen to me" as being in denial. They are. As a martial artist, a teacher of women's self-defense, and a trained rape crisis counselor, I believe that the reality is that anybody can be "gotten." Essentially, one seeks to make it as difficult as possible. As a trained big bad male street fighter, I still know I can get gotten. But the one(s) who get me are going to have to be very good.

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Recognizing the reality that it can happen opens us to dealing with such a situation. We can put a face on our fear, confront it and beat it.

On the other side of the coin, I am appalled at the congratulatory attitude of the reviewer of the Raine book. It seems that chivalry is dead, stepping up for others is passé, and understanding the universe of one's own feelings paramount. Maybe the author would have died that night had he tried something beyond a kick in the crotch. (And where were the other boys???) Maybe he would not. But we owe it to our women, ourselves and our society to risk ourselves now and again in the face of thugs and bullies, or the thugs and bullies wind up running things. Implicit sexism notwithstanding, as males we have to confront rapists and sexual predators and say and act in a way that communicates, "Not on my watch."

In my experience, both in fights I've had and fights I have avoided, what mattered most was the conclusion in my heart and my assailant's that I was always the more willing and more willing to be extreme than he/they were. The review suggests that such was not the mindset of anyone but Catherine, a courageous woman who after attack, took the stand and endured it again.

I wish her and Professor Brison Godspeed.

-- R. Craig Henderson

When I read the lead-in ("Two writers -- a philosopher and a working-class Southern man -- describe the horror of violent rape and their long journeys back from darkness") for the article "The Ultimate Violation," I assumed the perspectives would be from people who had been raped. It does happen to men and I was hoping that I would finally read something acknowledging that reality. I was disappointed to see that this was not the case. While Mr. Raine's experience was most vile it does not fit into the same category as that of Ms. Brison. Mr. Raine observed torture in helpless horror. Ms. Brison was raped, beaten and strangled. The differences are myriad and infinite.

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-- Ebony Smith

Read Greg Thomas' "'Invisible Man' at 50."

Sixteen years ago I took 20th century American lit from John Callahan (editor of Ellison's posthumous "Juneteenth.") The reason I remember this is because Callahan was on fire for Ralph Ellison. A generation born more than a decade after the publication of "Invisible Man," I'm sure our small class was successful in exasperating the professor in our inability to fully appreciate the struggles of the civil rights movement and our nation's inability to reconcile the disparate flavors of its peoples.

But I will never forget Ellison's story and the chilling conclusion of his novel. I know this: It changed my life.

Thank you to Greg Thomas for his magnificent defense of Ellison.

-- Christopher Naze

In this reader's opinion, Ellison's text constitutes the strongest fictional treatment created by a 20th century writer of any race, color or creed, and I've read it three times so far. Baraka's rants -- I mean, writings -- I've also read; but I've never felt the least desire to go back and read them again.

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-- Ed Adams

Read Stephanie Zacharek's review of "Mutiny on the Globe."

I enjoyed Stephanie Zacharek's review, but as a "savage" native of the South Pacific I can't help fuming quietly at her description of the people of Mili as "capricious and dangerous." No society is "capricious," and one surviving on a marginal environment like an atoll less so than most. I suspect that what Ms. Zacharek meant was that the two Europeans, unaware of the rules and processes of the Mili people, made mistakes that had dangerous consequences for them.

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I know it's a small matter, but it disappointed this constant reader that Salon, which addresses issues of cultural conflict so well, should unconsciously succumb to the Kipling-esque idea of the irrational savage "without the law." I'm not from the Marshall Islands, but I feel that my ancestral cousins deserve better.

-- Keriata Stuart


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