Dear trick-or-treater,

I picture you scowling, “What’s that wiseacre bellyaching about? Didn’t I spell his name correctly? Didn’t I say his dancing leaves had ‘elegance and vivacity?’ And didn’t I dub his Wespeaks well-nigh habit-forming?”

Yes, you did (“Curmudgeonly Benjamin ’57 Unveils Sensitive Art Exhibit,” Feb. 27, 2009, Vol. CXLV, No. 9). “She’s hooked!” I ejaculated – alas, prematurely. Branding iron in one hand and box-cutter in the other, you turned me into a cardboard cutout (a “rant”-writing “kook”) who bears the BIGOT brand. If that’s what yours truly is, what would his defamer be? She came unglued and blurbed: “His Wespeaks are weirdly fascinating and almost impossible to quit reading once you’ve started.”

Liz, I know how it is. You had to get back on the nasty track before your friends and colleagues, assuming the worst, accused you of sleeping with the enemy.

(Oh, and after the gallons of ink I’d spilled in a years-long battle to turn myself into South College’s ugliest nightmare, you called me “normal-looking.” That, you brute, was the most unkindest cut of all.)

My assertion that Malcolm X House represented “the reactionary restoration of segregation,” you quoted to illustrate my bigotry. If opposition to segregation is bigotry, Martin Luther King and the freedom riders, murdered by segregationists, must have been bigots too. A lily-white house on High would not be tolerated, but Malcolm X gets a pass; apartheid, thy name is Diversity. Attorney General Eric Holder accused us of being too cowardly to talk about race. How is that talk facilitated when those of one race won’t tolerate those of another race under their roof?

Not to beat a dead horse, Liz, but “bigot” is a ritual smear now long in the tooth; it’s lost its bite. And couldn’t you show a little leg, a little verbal panache? Ad hominem being the weapon you favor, call me a hominid or, better yet, a homo faber.

You said that I ranted about “Obama’s terrorist leanings.” Show me where. You said I compared Doug Bennet’s diversity training sessions to The Great Leap Forward. I did? Let’s go to the instant replay, my March 25, 2005 open letter to Dear Doug: “…I need to ask you … whether diversity training’s consciousness-raising techniques in any way pique your interest in Mao’s M.O. His friendly persuasions, as you know, comprised a great leap forward in consciousness-raising. …” Your reading: “The Great Leap Forward.” Nice try.

You quoted my thumbnail sketch of Bennet: “…an ideologue in drag, a dude who masquerades as an educator.” What’s more, he passed the mask to Tweedledum, his theory-minded successor. Don’t get me wrong – what’s not to like about “theory?” Is it not the Feast of Fools in the banquet halls of learning? (Read “Bonfire of the Humanities.”)  

Yes, I called Wes women Rodney Dangerfields. Comic Dangerfield’s riff was “I get no respect.” The women of “new-and-improved” Wes get no respect. The consolation prize they get: South-College-led marches to take back the night. ’Tis passing strange that President Roth, who has so much to say – about everything from serial abuses at Abu Ghraib to the Bush Administration’s “undermin[ing of] our Constitution” – has nothing to say about the serial abuses inflicted upon the emotions of Wesleyan women, not to mention the undermining of their morale, by Wes’s third rail (don’t touch it, Martin!), the culture of easy come, easy go.

It came on the scene in the Sixties, the decade that Michael admires above all. Free love was its name. Now you and your sisters are paying for it. He won’t decry that culture (it wouldn’t be cool, and the man in South College would sooner lose his congenital jewels than lose his jolly cool), so I must. But I do not decry alone. Read “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” by Ariel Levy ’96. A right-wing kook? A left-wing American Studies major.

I seem to imply, you said, that “women are academically inferior.” Women? I’m not in the habit of viewing women in the altogether … I mean, in the aggregate: I root for every scholar, whatever her personal handicap, to be at the top of her game. But how is this possible, given the deeply bruising liaisons I touched upon above? Liaisons only a singer of the blues could love.

You’re mystified by my aversion to talking about myself. Granted, modesty on High would be an abnormality, but show me an artist who calls attention to himself instead of to his oeuvre, and I’ll show you a self-enamored fake.

The one question I asked you – “Which exhibit would YOU rather focus on: mine, or the rice exhibit?” – you parried by asking me for the answer. But if I’d replied that the mounds of rice were global warming propaganda masquerading as art (cf. exhibitor Felshin), I fear reviewer Tung would have pounced, her lips adrip with scorn: “The rant of a jealous rival artist, and, by the way, an unpublished writer.” But Liz, you had no dog in that fight, no need to duck the question. Yet somehow I’M the clam! 

Ms. Tongue-Tied will get the last word. A heretofore highly-regarded professor has urged me to publish my Wespeaks. If there were world enough, and time. Still, it would be a crime to let a prime-time blurb go to waste.

  • Dan Dan O’Sullivan

    Mr. Benjamin:

    I enjoy your Wespeaks. However, “apartheid, Thy name is diversity”? Malcolm X House may be more racially focused than, say, German Haus or Russian House, but the aim to foster community based on shared ethnic/cultural experiences seems comparable. I haven’t had much experience there, but it seems like Malcolm X House tolerates people of many races under its roof; it’s just particularly dedicated to the needs of students of color. I think there is a difference between providing a space where some black people can choose to live together and engage with their heritage and forcing black people as a whole to stay out of the way of white people (or vice versa). Maybe “engaging with your heritage” is just liberal arts hooey to you, but all the same, acknowledging race is not necessarily the same as racism. Right?

    However, there are some great sentences in this one. I particularly enjoyed “I fear reviewer Tung would have pounced, her lips adrip with scorn.”

  • Dan Dan O’Sullivan

    (I don’t mean to suggest that the “lips adrip with scorn” sentence is an accurate assessment of Liz Tung, whose article about Benjamin seemed pretty accurate and respectful to me, especially considering that much of her audience finds him enraging and/or laughable. I just like the way it sounds.)