To the editors:
I found the essay by George Lipsitz ["Comment: What Counts as Culture?" August 10] to be both interesting and informative. However, I believe it was unfair of Mr. Lipsitz to characterize Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind as a right-wing document. Nowhere in the book does Mr. Bloom espouse "a very great narrowness," as implied by the quote included in Mr. Lipsitz's essay. On the contrary, he claims that all cultures merit careful study.
The point Bloom tries to make is that the students' enemy is not only the right-winger, who wants to stop them from studying non-European cultures, but also the cultural relativist, who preaches that one culture is as good as another. With this attitude, Bloom argues, students will have no desire to study any culture. He believes (as I do) that the desire to study other cultures stems primarily from a feeling that one will encounter something new, some hitherto unknown ideas or perspectives. If all cultures are equal, there will be nothing new in any of them, so why study?
Instead of having students assume that all cultures are the same, Bloom would have them look for the good and bad in each culture, including the "hallowed" European cultures. This approach is in complete agreement with the idea, described in Mr. Lipsitz's essay, of culture as a tapestry. We can marvel at the face of it, but to really study it means to turn it over and see how it is put together. Allan Bloom wants students to turn the tapestry over.