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Letters


Intellectual Pedigrees

SIR: I have not yet read Garry Wills’s Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence – my health and my academic duties preventing me. But I have long thought, and been confirmed by over twenty years’ study, that the role of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ in the making of the mind of Thomas Jefferson and in the shaping of America’s constitutional establishment was far greater than any direct influence of either Locke or Montesquieu. That, however, is not why I write.

Professor MacIntyre (LRB, 6 November) may be right on many matters in his review of Wills. On two he is wrong. Hutcheson, we are told, ‘ closely … followed’ Hume. Now Hutcheson (1694-1746) published nothing of importance in his lifetime after An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions in 1728. Hume was. Cod knows, precocious. He was born in 1711. He asked Hutcheson for advice on the draft of A Treatise of Human Nature of 1734. Clearly something is wrong with Professor MacIntyre’s account. A.O. Lovejoy is perhaps now little read but whatever else it is about, there can be no history of ideas that neglects his methodological prescriptions and does not establish ‘intellectual pedigrees and inheritances’. Of course that is not all the enterprise may entail, but that it must involve. Wills cannot be at fault in this concern.

It is perhaps to cavil, given Hutcheson’s long commitment to the philosophical city of Glasgow, to add that he was an Ulsterman. To pursue that point would be to raise issues not pertinent to MacIntyre’s review, though necessary to our understanding of the Scottish mind in the 18th century.

Donald MacRae
London School of Economics


Prostitutes

SIR: Rosemary Dinnage in her review of Prostitutes: Our Life (LRB, 18 September) does not escape society’s puritanism. Thus she confuses prostitution with prostitutes, and morality with the law. Despite compassion and a great effort to be balanced, she cannot hide her disgust and her distance from women who are not so different from the rest of us.

The English Collective of Prostitutes is at pains to explain in their Introduction to the book that ‘we are not our work.’ A woman from the Salvation Army, attending Baroness Joan Vickers’ debate on prostitution in 1977, declared: ‘We hate the sin but love the sinner.’ Slavery is disgusting, but are slaves? The truths they tell most certainly are but that is not an argument for romantic lies, prostitutes describe men with their pants down, and the view is not necessarily elevating. Because it is not some women in the book are turned off men. But Ms Dinnage must be aware that women not in the book and not on the game are increasingly critical of men sexually as they are able to make their way independently of them financially. There are more single mothers, more women taking lovers and refusing marriage, more women publicly lesbian. While prostitutes are charging, ‘good women’, like nurses, are supposed to be ‘putting up with strangers’ disgusting bodies … happily … for low pay’. But they’re not; not happily putting up with low pay in any job. That’s why there are so many nurses and ex-nurses on the game. Prostitution is a profession which attracts all kinds of women, including women who are not willing to wait for equal pay.

If we wind ourselves into moral knots we sidestep the obvious: that in general women sell and men buy because women have less money than men. This is the basic formula for the degradation of both sexes. What then are we to do with a society where it is expected that women will be at the sexual (and other) service of men; where men and women are locked into a power relation the key to which is money? Prostitutes: Our Life begins here and exposes a sexuality which is shaped by finances and disparity of power. It also exposes the laws which protect this sexuality and in the name of morality attack the women who are expected but who refuse to be its passive victims. It’s true that women who rent their bodies to give their children a better start in life may end up by losing custody of those children. But surely the laws that make that happen are to be assailed, not the mother’s efforts! Elsewhere the English Collective of Prostitutes has written: ‘If going on the game is violence in itself, it’s also a fight against violence, the violence of poverty.’ The prostitutes in the book don’t claim that ‘much larger allowances for single women with children’ or ‘better pay for women’ by themselves will end prostitution, but they will most certainly increase options.

Prostitution will end when we can all give everything away out of love and plenty. Meanwhile, let’s get the laws off our backs; they frame the morality which judges and divides us. Once the barriers begin to fall, we can find out what we have in common. For those of us not prostitutes, that will mean a long hard look at our own lives in all the places we live them – down a mine, in an army, in a typing-pool, at the writing-desk or in a bed.

Selma James
English Collective of Prostitutes, London NW6


Hallo Dad

SIR: Did Professor Ricks intend to write ‘Hello Dad’ in his reply to Thomas Hinde (Letters, 6 November) and did he intend anything by it? Are there now to be three textual readings for the last words of Mr Nicholas and if so may I respectfully suggest a fourth? If the difference between ‘Hallo Dad’ and ‘Hello dad’ is that the second word of the latter would ‘withhold the customary respect that would upper-case your father’ (LRB, 2 October), would not ‘Hello’, so much the cheekier, have to be followed by ‘dad’, not ‘Dad’?

Paula Neuss
Birkbeck College


Translating Frege

SIR: A very brief note will suffice on Professor Dummett’s further remarks on the Geach-Black volume of selections from Frege (Letters, 20 November). It would be mere quibbling to dispute whether there are few or many changes of renderings in the new edition apart from those dictated by the new glossary. A quick look at ‘On Concept and Object’ would show that there are a dozen there, and the changes are significant: we have deliberately avoided ‘assert, assertion’ for aussagen, Aussage to avoid confusion with behaupten, Behauptung – it’s a pity Dummett failed to notice this; I do not see what his past services to the translation have to do with his present carelessness – they are in any case still acknowledged in this third edition.

My first letter explained why Black and I originally chose our renderings of bedeuten. Bedeutung and why we have now dropped these renderings. A selection’s being ‘popular’, as I hope ours may continue to be, is no reason why it should perpetuate renderings that have by now acquired misleading suggestions. The renderings we now adopt have of course been familiar to generations of young students from John Austin’s use of them in his translation of the Grundlagen, and they will now no longer be puzzled unnecessarily by a switch to other renderings in our selection.

Peter Geach
University of Leeds


Colette

SIR. In an issue which features some admirably vituperative criticism of outright shoddy writing (I am thinking especially of Miss Brigid Brophy’s review of Deliberate Regression by Mr Robert Harbison) and a depressingly apt piece by Mr Michael Sissons on the current publishing scene, I am (mildly) astounded that one of the recurrent themes in Miss Angela Carter’s review of Colette: A Biography was permitted to pass without at least the raising of one eyebrow. Miss Carter treats it as if it were a patch of itchy skin, endlessly irritating, yearning to be scratched until the blood has run so persistent is she in her references to what she might call The Problem of Colette’s Name.

Without warning, she begins by bringing in Virginia Woolf sometimes a very bad sign indeed. ‘Colette,’ writes Miss Carter, ‘is possibly the only well-known woman writer of modern times who is universally referred to simply by her surname, tout court. Woolf hasn’t made it even after all these years.’ No she hasn’t made it, but then, unlike Colette, she did not choose to call herself Woolf, lout court. Miss Carter seems to see in this some sinister, albeit unconscious, urge on her subject’s pan to appropriate ‘the form of address of both masculine respect and masculine intimacy of her period’. If there is a point to this, I, for one fail to see It.

Yet she continues to scratch. ‘Her third marriage,’ continues Miss Carter, ‘some ten years later, never made her dwindle into Colette Goudeket, even though Colette was not her own but her father’s name.’ It is common knowledge that one inherits, for better or for worse, one’s patronymic, just as one’s father inherited his. Whether one wishes to take on the name of one’s husband is a private, and, to the rest of the world, altogether insignificant, matter. Even if Virginia Woolf called herself, simply, Stephen, there would be no cause for alarm except, perhaps, amongst the lunatic fringe of American doctoral candidates ‘minoring’ in psychology.

‘Her achievement as a whole was extraordinary, though – apart from the Chéri novels and one or two others – not in a literary sense,’ writes Miss Carter. ‘She forged a career out of the kind of narcissistic self-obsession which is supposed, in a woman, to lead to tears before bedtime, in a man to lead to the peaks. Good for her.’ (Do I detect a note of envy in that brief schoolroom retort?) ‘I’ve got a god-daughter named after her. Or rather, such are the contradictions inherent in all this, named after Captain Jules-Joseph Colette, one-legged tax-gatherer and bankrupt.’ The contradictions have been sown by the reviewer. Perhaps the real point is that while husbands came and went, as one music-hall stage began to look like the last, Colette had one thing which remained static and which, like her books, would live after her: her name. This, in the light of what she wrote, is sublimely unimportant

J.P. Smith
Cambridge


Kurt Weill

SIR: David Drew is strictly correct, no doubt, in saying (LRB, 18 September) that Kurt Weill’s Firebrand of Florence is unrecorded. However, the composer himself and his lyricist, Ira Gershwin, did make a non-commercial recording of the bulk of the score on acetate discs. Weill accompanied Gershwin at the piano, and even joined in himself. This recording was issued commercially in 1975 by Mark 56 Records of Anaheim, California, on two of the lour sides of a set entitled ‘Ira Gershwin loves to rhyme’. A third side contains Weill and Gershwin playing and singing from the 1945 musical on which they collaborated. Where do we go from here?

Alan Andrews
Associate Professor of Theatre, Dalhousie University


War and Peace

SIR: It is odd that A.J.P. Taylor (LRB, 2 October) fails to criticise Mr Best on the issue of the history of area bombing during the Second World War. It may well be true that the Trenchard doctrine laid the basis for this terrible form of warfare; it is not true that Britain was the first to put it into effective practice. The Nazi Luftwaffe tried it very effectively on Warsaw in 1939, then in 1940 further truly effective perfection came to poor Rotterdam, after which Goering tooled up to try it out on London and fortunately failed, though bringing further perfection to Coventry. Bomber Harris merely amplified what the Nazi Luftwaffe had started. How ineffectual that effort was. Freeman Dyson recently described in Disturbing the Universe. That is no reason, though, to practise contrition to the point of implying a whitewashing of the Nazi Luftwaffe. As long as the generation is alive that lived through those days in England, we must not allow historians to get away with corriger la fortune for the sake of proving their theory.

Henry Bondi
Maennedorf. Switzerland


Anthony Blunt and the British Academy

SIR: I hate to prolong this wretched business by a single day, but I must thank you for publishing (Letters, 18 September) Sir Dennis Proctor’s letter about Professor Anthony Blunt in the very number in which Mr Boyle was concocting once again his witches’ brew. Not only is it a humane letter: its scrupulous concern for the distinction between fact and conjecture, evidence and hearsay, does a lot to restore one’s faith in the human intelligence. Those who have written most dogmatically on this subject are clearly unaware that such distinctions exist.

‘Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?’ I have no doubt what will be the judgment of history on Anthony Blunt; on the work of a great scholar; on a lifetime’s devotion to what was once called ‘the common good’; on a man of honour and a man of peace. Let us be clear that the bitter personal attack on him has been made, not in the name of justice (it was made clear at once that the law had no case to bring), but viciously and often, it would seem, with the grossest motive – personal aggrandisement and personal gain. As Dryden says, and he, alas, had good reason to know it: ‘We have no moral right on the reputation of other men. ’Tis taking from them what we cannot restore to them.’ If it is the duty of Anthony Blunt’s friends – and I am proud to be one of them – to try to shift this monster that has been foisted upon him so it is our right, in the name of common humanity, to say: ‘enough’.

Elizabeth Mackenzie
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford