by Mark Chmiel
I’m currently facilitating an on-line class, Be in Love with Yr Life, based on The Book of Mev, with 11 very special people. The other day, I posted a short response to a Barsamian/Chomsky book, and afterwards, going through my files, I found the following letter.
Wednesday 9 October 1996
Professor Noam Chomsky
I hope you are doing well these days. To refresh your memory, since I know you receive hundreds of letters, I invited you to speak at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley a couple of years ago (while a student at the Maryknoll School of Theology in 1990, I did a thesis on your Mideast work). Your visit then was just before the time that my wife Mev Puleo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Mev died this past January at the age of 32 after a long and excruciating deterioration here in St. Louis. Actually, she took pictures at your talk to us on “Intellectuals and Political Responsibility” — that was the last shooting she did before her surgery. (One of her photos appears in the enclosed review).
Anyway, I have been slow to resume my work since it has been quite difficult to face the loss of wife, partner, and best friend, in addition to someone whose commitment to solidarity was simply exemplary. I am hoping to finish soon my doctoral dissertation for the GTU on Elie Wiesel; your work has been immensely helpful to me as I examine the connections between Wiesel’s work of memory and his august status in the U.S. intellectual and political community. (I’ve recently written Professor Shahak to see if he had translations on Wiesel’s reception in Israel, to which you’ve referred). I am hoping to trace the evolution of Wiesel from “unworthy victim” to most “worthy victim,” in your and Ed Herman’s classification. You were the first person I’d ever read who dissented from the strong Christian consensus that Wiesel is a prophet of our times.
I received yesterday a fax from two friends in Brazil who helped my wife when she was doing research for her book on the Base Community movement there. Fr. João Xerri and Ms. Lilia Azevedo are dedicated mainstays of the Catholic solidarity movements in Brazil, and are good friends with Dom Pedro Casaldáliga. When Mev and I visited them six years ago, I told them about your political work; they had only heard of your linguistics. Anyway, they have since become acquainted with your analyses of U.S. power and they are very excited that you will be coming to Brazil next month. Because they know that I have occasionally corresponded with you, they asked me to kindly pass on the following message.
First, my friends hope that in your talks you could give the highest profile to the crucial situation in East Timor and the need for popular solidarity in Brazil, as well as pressure on the Brazilian government to make declarations of support for Timorese human rights and self-determination. They are requesting this, because they know of your long-standing work on behalf of the Timorese. Second, while my friends are happy that you are able to meet with Lula, they urge that it would also be extremely important and significant if you could meet with CUT — the Confederation of Trade Unions — and above all, the MST — the Movement of Landless Peasants whose rough counterpart João likened to the Zapatistas in Mexico. Any gesture or meeting would be most appreciated; Lilia and João would be happy to help make the connections for and with you, if your schedule permits.
I am taking the liberty of enclosing a review of some of your recent books that I had published in the NCR. Folks like João and Lilia, Mev and I, and countless others in progressive Catholic circles have benefited tremendously from your example of integrity and your unflagging research. I am so happy that our friends in Brazil will get to meet you and share concerns and information.
All the best and safe journey,
4525 Arco Avenue
Saint Louis, MO 63110