I love to start the Readers Write section at the bottom and try to figure out what the topic is by the time I reach the top. Sometimes my guess isn’t even close.
Rita Bernstein’s photograph on the inside back cover of the March 2002 issue is magnificent. She captured, in that moment of wonder and sensation, the face we all once wore: the warm sunshine radiating through the window, the young girl pondering a mystery as she cools herself with her handmade paper fan. Her picture is beauty and innocence.
Rita Bernstein’s photograph is pornography posing as art. I have an eight-year-old daughter, and she doesn’t like her own mother to see her without a shirt on. I highly doubt the young girl in Bernstein’s picture would feel any different, especially if she knew how many eyes had seen her.
I was horrified, disappointed, and sickened by Rita Bernstein’s picture of the little girl without her top on. I’ve loved your magazine for two years now, and the photographs to this point have always been beautiful and captivating. Her picture however, is obscene and undermines the artistic intent of your magazine.
That the editors would so thoughtlessly include such a photograph shows that they do not see it for what it really is: a sordid projection of adult fantasy onto a little girl. The girl in this picture can have no idea how cruelly she is being depicted. She is being used not for her inner twelve-year-old beauty, but as an object to gratify some twisted adult’s notion of sexuality.
I have not always liked what I read in The Sun, but I appreciated that it was there to challenge me. What makes this picture wholly unacceptable, and even repulsive, is that this challenge was presented at the expense of a girl who cannot consent to being used this way.
Rita Bernstein responds:
Viewers respond to photographs and other works of art through the prism of their own experiences, attitudes, and biases. In making this picture, I personally was moved by the beauty and innocence of a six-year-old girl enjoying the feel, on her bare skin, of a breeze created by a little paper fan she had made herself. Other interpretations, including sexual or sordid ones, lie in the eye of a different beholder.
When I first opened my March 2002 issue, I felt a moment of irritation because the contributors’ section had been changed. In the end, though, my annoyance made me realize how grateful I am for this magazine. To notice a small change in the biographical notes and to care? It must be true love.
I burn to read every word of The Sun and have even come to enjoy the dickering in Correspondence over whether the magazine is too depressing. For me, The Sun brings to mind a quote from Cornell West, who said that, instead of an optimistic view, he takes a “blues perspective,” one that sees the down side and the darkness, yet still holds forth some hope.
I was incensed by Virginia Irwin’s complaint [Correspondence, March 2002] regarding the “oppressive theme” of religion in the December 2001 issue of The Sun. Irwin complains that “there was no respite. Intelligent, plain thought was entirely absent.”
As a religious person, I am offended by the implication that any religious believer lacks intelligence. Although one may not agree with their ideas, it is difficult to deny the scholarly contributions theologians have made to humanity throughout the ages.
Not all writing about religion is “God dogma.” What I read in the December issue of The Sun were personal stories of faith representing a wide range of ideas and beliefs.
I’m a new subscriber and read each issue of The Sun from cover to cover. Antler’s poem “Skyscraper Apocalypse” [March 2002] was not worthy of your publication. Those images of rats eating corpses were utterly disturbing and, more important, unnecessary. “Not while I’m eating” indeed!
I didn’t read David James Duncan’s “Six Henry Stories” [March 2002], except to positively identify Henry Bugbee. I want to keep my memories as they are.
The professor and the dropout: Henry and me. I was thirty and he was sixty when we met. Upon learning that I was an upland game hunter, he immediately gave to me the fine English shotgun that had been his father’s. I used it for nearly twenty years, then returned it.
Henry and I exchanged letters over that twenty-year period. We lived on opposite ends of the beautiful Clearwater River: Henry near the source; I at the terminus. I often asked if I could visit him, and he often accommodated me. His interpretation of the classics was beyond description. He could transform himself into King Lear fronting the storm, Starbuck beseeching Ahab to let go his demon, or King Priam pleading for the return of the body of his son.
I have never successfully read Henry’s Inward Morning. He once tried to help me with it as I sat on the only good chair in his Orange Street apartment, a battered proof copy on the table before me, but to no avail. Henry rendered life, moment by moment, into philosophy. Henry’s life was a gift to me, though I did little to deserve his favor, and had nothing to offer him in return. I often wondered why he continued our friendship. Perhaps he believed that I would someday deliver on his expectations.
When I went to the nursing home to visit him for the last time — it had been nearly two years — I knew his mind was nearly gone, but I was sure that he would recognize and acknowledge me. So sure . . .
I departed wondering if he had felt the tears I spilled on his beautiful forehead.
I am the “crackpot” named in David James Duncan’s “Six Henry Stories.” In Montana, as in other places, a reverent posture toward a local icon is a prudent move if you’re ambitious and desire applause. A less prudent person, like myself, will play the gadfly and be called a crackpot for espousing an unpopular view. That’s life.
Our funky little radio call-in show, “Living in the Last Best Place: Exploring the Myths and Realities of Life in Montana,” succeeded because we let people talk, no matter how unpopular their view. We had faith in open dialogue. We called no one a crackpot. The most stimulating callers were often ranchers, millworkers, and homemakers who weren’t well-versed in the accepted perspectives. They helped us see things in new ways.
In discussing A River Runs Through It, I asked Montana listeners to consider how and why Norman Maclean mythologizes his dead brother Paul as the God of All Fly Fishermen. There are lessons to be learned in asking these hard questions. Or you can fail to learn and sling easy epithets at the questioner. Philosopher Henry Bugbee knew the value of divergent perspectives.
David James Duncan responds:
How great to hear from the guy on the radio show! And how interesting to see that nothing’s changed: even when we’re on the same page, we’re not quite on the same page. I hope we can at least agree that my essay called two people crackpots, and that one of them was me.
Our disagreement is understandable; A River Runs Through It is beautiful to me in part because I too lost a beloved but flawed brother, early, and felt the time, place, and people surrounding his death burned into my heart. On the day of his brother’s murder, Norman Maclean suffered such a burning. As a result, the Blackfoot River, in the sunlight and prose of his story, often looks “electric” or “on fire,” and the lost brother is often seen backlit by this fire. To me, this does not make Paul “the God of All Fly Fisherman.” Norman portrays Paul’s weaknesses, blindnesses, and arrogance in painful detail. It only means that, in Norman’s heart, the mystery of his brother’s short life and violent death still burns like fire.
In our May issue, the photograph on page 14 was incorrectly attributed to Cary Clifford. It was actually taken by T. Paige Dalporto.
Also, photographer Cindy Schäfer’s name was misspelled on the Contributors page.