Thursday, 1 October 2009
Sarah Ruden And Yale University Press

A letter written to the editors of The New Criterion: 


To the Editors:

With reference to “Yale & Danish Cartoons” (“Notes & Comments,” September 2009), I believe that some expression of solidarity on the part of other Yale Press authors like myself is essential. It was just too outrageous that the Yale and Yale University Press administrations cut the images from Jytte Klausen's book The Cartoons that Shook the World—a book about images and a dispassionate, useful book that could be objectionable only to radical Islam.

For my own part, I have already banned the Press from bidding on further books of mine. This is, first of all, a self-protective move. I don't think there's any coffee good enough that I'd enjoy being told over it that my finished, fully edited manuscript is going to be neutered because of a report I'm not allowed to see without swearing secrecy. Since I write about politics and religion, such a scene is a likely danger for me. But I would urge all authors who are even considering a relationship with the Press to stay away from this non-publisher. A doctor who prostitutes a patient, selling her body, shouldn't be called a doctor anymore but a pimp. Yale Press, after breaking a crucial relationship of trust with an author's mind and work, should be called a lickspittle of fanatics and forfeit any respect or consideration from other authors.

Perhaps those of us already under contract with the Press should follow its own example to show the full implications of its decision. My translation of the Aeneid, which has been out for over a year, is doing well, but shouldn't this alarm me? This epic poem is arrogantly pro-Western, advocating the Roman conquest of the world in the interest of peace and justice and denigrating Middle Eastern cultures. Shouldn't I, in the “prudential” interest of “preventing violence,” stop promoting this book that could offend Muslims? Shouldn't I form my own confidential team of advisers and demand the removal of the inflammatory passages? And what about my book in progress, a translation of a Roman novel (The Golden Ass of Apuleius) that includes a scene of sexual congress with a donkey? How could I in good conscience do the work I contracted to and hand Yale Press an unexpurgated manuscript?

Sarah Ruden


Posted on 10/01/2009 10:49 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
1 Oct 2009
Hugh Fitzgerald

Sarah Ruden's letter of rupture with Yale University Press makes me think of Gogol, writing to Pogodin in December 1835, declaring that he was through with the university, and the university was also through with him. As Englished by Nabokov, in his book on Gogol, the two sentences became,?if Memory serves ("Ich Dien" should rightly be Mnemosyne's motto)? "We spit and parted, the university and I. I am again a carefree Cossack.."Nabokov took a single verb - razplevalis' -- and made it into two ("we spit and parted"), a version of hendiadys for verbs rather than the usual nouns.

Well, Yale University Press, and the levins and lorimers of Yale University itself, and their loyalists among students and faculty, aren't? spitting back at Sarah Ruden. They don't dare. And she must bother them. They must surely? wish that she hadn't written that letter and taken such a firm stand, and expressed herself so forcefully anhd well. It makes them look silly. It makes them look pusillanimous. It makes them look bad.

Tant pis.

Oh, and don't forget this:?Sarah Ruden spent a decade teaching in a black township in South Africa. And that means far more to most denizens of the modern, degraded university (see J. Barzun, passim) than her ho-hum excellence as a translator of Virgil, For god's sake, who is Virgil and what is he, that all these old fogies still adore him? In the thoroughly-modern university, such as Yale, Sarah Ruden can not be ignored. It's not her work, but her days, that count -- the days, the months, the years she spent in South Africa, when she did more than merely propitiate the Idols of the Age with words. It is that, and not her translations, that earn her the kind of street cred that means so much on occasions like this. Yes, she earned her street cred, especially if that street runs quite near, or even right into,?Bishop Tutu's Corner.

2 Oct 2009
Send an emailMary Jackson

What a pleasure to read and what a contrast between this clear statement of the truth and the cowardly evasions of the appeasers.

In another post I wrote that all the Sarahs I had come across had been drippy. Not this one.