Among the last things Daniel wrote for us was a review of some books about Sartre. In it he quoted a friend's son on the day of the philosopher's funeral. Asked where he had been, the boy said he was coming "from the demo against the death of Sartre." Quoting those words in his Nation obit, we added, "We'd like to join a demo against the death of Daniel. Better, though, would be one celebrating the life of our valued colleague."
Today we do celebrate his life but in doing so, we inevitably remind ourselves, as the shock of losing him last December was starting to numb, of how painful that loss was, of how much we will miss Daniel.
I was Daniel's editor at The Nation, on and off, for nearly twenty years. I suppose that just as no man is a hero to his valet, no writer is a hero to his editor. That's because we approach his manuscript with a cold eye, constantly scrabbling for flaws -- in order to make the article better, of course. Over transatlantic phone calls, we'd have the usual fights -- over words, or cuts, or obscurities.
Such a relationship becomes over time like that of a bickering old married couple inured to each other's quirks and foibles and too up close and personal to see the each other whole.
So only now that he is gone am I coming to realize what a great soul Daniel was. Oh, I always considered him my friend but I never really granted him his true stature. I suppose it is his integrity and courage I admired most. Inspiriting his life and his writings was an abiding faith in the socialist vision of a better world. We can see it in an eloquent essay in the issue of June 22, 1970, where he speaks of how the European left was rebelling against the American model of dynamic capitalism then coming into vogue among intellectuals on the Continent. He sums up: "The most frightening prospect, the American nightmare, is that with so much wealth man should not be able to build a different kind of society." And in the very last words he wrote for the magazine before his death he said that a Rosa Luxemburg socialist, as he styled himself, "could not resign himself to the idea that with the technological genius at our disposal we are unable to build a different world."
Each of his articles ended with the same vision but in each one he seemed to renew and refresh the vision. He was keenly alert to changes in the world. He wrote with a strong sense of history, arising out of his own long experience covering the European scene and also out of a theory of History, capital H. Each story he covered ended up being part of the long march -- sometimes forward, sometimes backward--toward that better world.
Daniel knew well the fragility of life. When he wrote an article forThe Nation about a journey back to the Warsaw ghetto where he spent his childhood, he was full of trepidation because it was unusual for him to write so personally. I remember him anxiously soliciting my reaction. In the article he evokes the sounds and sights of the once-vibrant world, a center of Jewish culture, that was swept away by the Holocaust. And he writes about how narrow his own escape from the Holocaust had been: "If it had not been for a stroke of luck -- a doctor recommended the Mediterranean climate for my sinus trouble and father, a successful journalist, was able to send me, my sister and my mother to the French Riviera in the summer of 1929 -- I probably would have followed the bulk of both my parents' families to the gas chamber of Treblinka. I nearly wrote 'should have followed,' since I quite often see myself as a deserter from death."
Now he has joined the ranks. And I am left with memories of his vibrant life. Of the way he said, with pleased surprise every time I called him: "Richard!" And the way he would close the conversation by saying, "All the best." All the best, Daniel. May your better world come.Tributes * danielsinger.org