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  • Remarks on Dan Walden's Retirement (Even Though He Is Tireless and Didn't Retire and Never Will!)
  • Cynthia Ozick

It is a consummate privilege of heartfelt love and esteem to celebrate the distinguished life and work of Dan Walden, who for many brilliant decades has both mentored and contributed to American letters. Long ago, when I was just out of graduate school (whence, let it be noted, I emerged doctorateless), it was my habit to attend the midwinter meetings of the Modern Language Association in New York. This was known, in the formal academic argot of the time, as "cruising." My intent was simply to hang out, imbibe ideas, and tentatively tread, so to speak, the road not taken. And there, in a cavernous and professorially mobbed hotel, I discovered Dan Walden, a fellow cruiser, and though as an established academic he had come on university business, still we cruised and schmoozed together, Dan and I and his delightful Bea and a crew of highly degreed vagrants. I recall drinking cup after cup of tea (tea, mind you, not booze) at cafeteria tables, talking Literature, which really meant gossiping madly and meanly. All this took place in that antediluvian era when gender applied solely to French and German tables and chairs, books had not yet become texts, and gay was a synonym for jolly.

In those wild early years, Dan and all the rest of those cruisers and schmoozers could not have predicted that he would found, ex nihilo, that unique and remarkable enterprise, Studies in American Jewish Literature, a pioneering publication—the very first serious critical journal to consider the Jewish component in American literary culture. Its thesis was neither what we have [End Page 260] been compelled to endure under the oversold rubric of multiculturalism, with its rivalrous victims, nor the fashionable groupthink of so-called ethnicity, a term much trampled on by competitive zealots. What Dan aspired to interrogate was the idea of literature, as expressed in a heritage that coalesced its influences at least four thousand years before the arrival of Emerson, Hawthorne, and Melville. Incontrovertibly, this vision is light years distant from sociological notions of "minority fiction." In genuine literature there are no minorities; and in pursuing the study of American Jewish writers, Dan's standard was literature itself.

Dan Walden has given us a lifetime of dazzling scholarly generosity. His colleagues, his students, his devoted friends, and his grateful community all know their good fortune. And what began as a carefree and boisterous cruise has matured into a glorious intellectual voyage.

Kol ha-kavod! [End Page 261]



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