On January 26, 1948, Davidman wrote to Aaron Kramer, “I appreciate very much the compliment you have paid me in asking my opinion on your pamphlet. It seems to me that the best return I can make is to tell you the complete truth as I see it…In consequence, this letter is going to be not only a stringent criticism but something of a treatise on aesthetics. If your real desire is not to do the best possible work but only to get personal self-satisfaction out of whatever work you do, then you had better not read past this paragraph, which I shall close by inviting you and your family up here to visit us.” [Page 55, Out of My Bone – The Letters of Joy Davidman, edited by Don W. King, Eerdmans, 2009.]
This letter is one of many reasons King’s book is worth the purchase price, it shows Davidman at her direct best, no cotton candy, no soft touch – she was asked to critique Kramer’s writing and she’s going to honor his request. She is also going to construct a context for her critique, she is going to teach, to explore; she is going to engage in stringent criticism, she is going to write something of a treatise on aesthetics.
Effective teachers teach within context, they help the student view things within a framework, to see how ideas relate to each other, to appreciate the interconnectedness of the parts of the whole and to see that the whole is greater than the aggregate number of the parts. Davidman could have provided a point-by-point machine-gun critique and then gone on to other things in her life, but she didn’t. She took Kramer’s request seriously, she took it as a compliment, she thought about how best to respond, and she wrote something of a treatise within a thought-out letter.
It is one thing to give a person an answer; it is another thing to help the person understand the answer.