SIR: I know it is a shame to spoil a good story but if we let the record stand concerning James Fenton’s first book, Terminal Moraine, as so engagingly related by Blake Morrison (LRB, 10 January), we might look even more unsuccessful at persuading the British public to buy poetry than we actually are. Anyone who has visited our Soho basement will know that, with something like six hundred different titles in print, there is no way we could possibly have kept there the stocks of any book at all, even one as distinguished as the first volume of poetry Anthony Thwaite and I ever published; if Blake Morrison managed to pick up a copy there, then he is a clever fellow indeed. He obviously also knows more about what goes on in our house than we do, referring as he does to ‘the thousand copies of his first book … many of which lay throughout the decade in the basement …’ The fact is that we printed a combined hardcover and paperback edition of 2000 copies – clearly an extravagant gesture but hardly a lack of faith – and sold 513 in hardcover and 697 in paperback at full price and a few hundred more at a reduced price. We also kept the book in print for nine years. Thus, while the figures make grim reading, they are, as any publisher of poetry will confirm, not at all bad for anyone’s first slim volume.
All congratulations to James Fenton for the quality of the new book, which happily contains quite a few poems from Terminal Moraine, and to Salamander for a splendid publishing job: but James Fenton’s current success after many years in the journalistic public eye is, while thoroughly deserved, not necessarily a stick with which to beat us for misdeeds we have not committed. Authorial tales of publishers’ incompetence are always fun, often justified, but in this case just not true.
Chairman, Secker, London W1
SIR: It is now three months since my release from prison, thanks to the intervention of the President of France, François Mitterrand. It was a lengthy struggle, involving governments like those of Venezuela and Sweden, international organisations, intellectuals and the press, which created the conditions for my release. I was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. I received the ‘Liberty’ prize given by the PEN Club, and committees were created to fight for my freedom. Since my departure, I have denounced the criminal and merciless system which enslaves the Cuban people and which tortures and murders my friends in prison. I was guest of honour of the American Ambassador before the United Nations, Mrs Jeane Kirkpatrick, during a lunch in the Press Club in Washington and also before the US Congress, where I gave testimony before various commissions to tell the truth about Cuba. This has unleashed a campaign of calumnies against me, with the purpose of discrediting and frightening me into silence.
I am not a terrorist and I was not sent to prison for a criminal offence. They had me under house arrest, and they never found arms, explosives, or any evidence that could compromise me. In two interrogations by officers of the Political Police they told me that, although they did not have any material evidence against me, they were convinced that I was a potential enemy of the Revolution. This was due to the fact that I expressed my dislike of Communism in the Ministry of Posts, which is where I worked. I was imprisoned for expressing my ideas verbally, and not for any other reason. I was not a member of the Secret Police during Batista (Letters, 30 December 1982). If I had been, when the Revolution took power I would surely have been shot or sent to prison, and could never have been a functionary of the Revolutionary Government. I did work for a branch of the Batista Government, however. I was in charge of interviewing the civilians who wanted to enrol in the National Police, in order to judge the educational level of the candidates. My job was therefore of an administrative nature; I never chased after thieves or revolutionaries.
To the campaign of lies mounted against me I answer as follows. Since the forces of Castro seized power in 1959, Cuba has been under martial law. There is no definite limit to the powers of the State. The present Cuban constitution stales that you cannot exercise any rights that are contrary to the objectives of the Marxist Government. Cuba has approximately ten million inhabitants, and about one million Cubans are overseas, in order to escape Communism. In Cuba there is a brutal dictatorship. Castro remains in power thanks to his tanks, guns and the terror of the Political Police, who don’t even flinch from torturing old ladies like my poor mother, whom Colonel Manuel Blanco Fernandez and Major Guido forced to write a confession, dictated by them, in which she said that I was an enemy of the people and deserved to be punished: this confession they brought to me in prison in order to demoralise me. All human freedom has been suppressed in Cuba: freedom of speech, freedom of thought, the right to assemble, religious freedom, the right to organise or join an independent union, the right to move about within the country or to travel abroad, the freedom to leave prison after sentence has been completed. As a result of this repression, thousands of Cubans have been executed, tens of thousands imprisoned, and hundreds of thousands have fled abroad.
The Cuban regime has extended the working week to a six-day week. The five-day week, which had been one of the achievements of the Union movement in Cuba, has been abolished. The Cuban workers work six days a week and on Sunday they have to do what is called ‘voluntary labour’. A worker who did not do any would be accused of lacking revolutionary fervour and taken before a Labour Council, who would administer very humiliating public warnings: he could be transferred to an inferior badly-paid job and even be sacked. It is demanded that a worker has to put in a ten, 12 and even 14-hour day in many of the factories and even in the building trade. Since 1962, the regime has decreed a rationing system which gives the people only four and a half pounds of meat and coffee per year. Even the sugar is rationed.
There is no outside means of information available in Cuba: the only papers in circulation are the official ones. The allegations of equality in the Cuban regime are also false. The Government Directive, the Central Committee of the Party, the Colonels of the Political Police, and other high-ranking functionaries, do not live in the same way as the rest of the Cuban people. All of them form a ‘new class’. They shop in special places.
In Cuba there are approximately one hundred and forty thousand prisoners, including ordinary prisoners and political ones. There are 68 prisons in the provinces – in other words, there are four for each province. There are also concentration camps, barracks with high barbed-wire fences, guards with machine-guns, searchlights and guard dogs. In addition, there are hordes of prisoners who are serving short sentences of who are about to complete their sentences. They die all over the island building roads, stables and buildings. The tourists see these men doing this work and do not realise that they are prisoners. But the worst of all of these are the so-called maximum security prisons – where I was for 22 years. They beat you up regularly, you are allowed no visitors, letters, medical assistance, sun. Right now there are hundreds of my colleagues living like this, and when they complete their sentences they aren’t released.
SIR: I am grateful to Professor Davies (Letters, 17 February) for his spirited defence of his collaborator, and greatly regret that I am crossing swords with him. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with some of his judgments. As to the point on the Ukraine, one difficulty – and it recurs – is that Carr’s vast work said rather different things at different times. The basis of my own accusations as to his ignorance of the Ukraine lay in Socialism in One Country, I, 214, where we hear that in the Ukraine the commune ‘was obsolescent, since the Stolypin reform had made far greater progress here than elsewhere’. In other words, no differentiation between east and west; and is the assertion even true for much of the western Ukraine? I did not feel, on balance, that Carr really knew much about Tsarist Russia, and I quoted several instances in that respect. In the context of his three-volume Revolution, to devote three pages to the Stolypin reform, a central issue, is tantamount to ‘a few sentences’; his referring to the reform as occurring in 1908, not 1906, occurred in a quite separate place (a review of Shanin) and I did not feel he deserved the benefit of the doubt of a misprint. I did feel that he overweighted Stavropol as an instance in his analysis of the grain problem: to base quite a high proportion of his evidence on an untypical area was surely an error, even though I do, to some extent, take Professor Davies’s point. Then again, if Carr regarded the Tambov peasant upheavals as vital for the making of NEP, why did he discuss them in such a very neglectful way? The impact of Kronstadt is surely a matter of opinion, or at least of legitimate disagreement, though I do bow to Professor Davies’s knowledge. Again, I find that Carr’s concentration on the political centre makes the reader strangely unaware of the vastness beyond, and – always, of course, relatively to the enormous size of the work – the sense of place or place-names appears to me deficient. It is, of course, a matter of opinion; so is Carr’s style, which strikes me, and many others, as a grim and plodding degeneration from his good days in the Thirties.
When we come on to problems of collectivisation, we are into very difficult country indeed. One difficulty about Carr’s book, as noted above, is that it has many and sometimes contradictory aspects. In attempting to unravel these, and to suggest ways in which the problem might be re-examined, I incur the hostility of Professors Davies and Hobsbawm. Again, we are dealing in interpretations rather than matters of detail, and I do not quite see what Professor Hobsbawm is trying to say.
Turning now to Messrs Barber and Haslam, their contribution in the same issue contains an important correction in points 4 and 5. I had situated Carr’s conversion from Hitler to Stalin around January 1942, and accept the correction that it occurred earlier. My information came from people who had known him at the time: either I misunderstood them, or they themselves did not quite remember. Carr certainly opposed the war in 1939, and especially the guarantee to Poland. As to the rest, it was always easy for Carr, like Deutscher, to put in a sentence or two to say that Stalin was terrible. In that way, he could cover his tracks against a possible charge of Stalinism (which I make, I think, largely indirectly). In the days when I knew Carr, he certainly endorsed the killing-peasants view of Progress, and that emerges in his New Left interview. As to Messrs Barber and Haslam’s other points, I think they have misunderstood me. My point in discussing the Carr account of politics in the Twenties was largely to suggest that it was unreadably intricate, with main factors obscured – though of course mentioned, as Messrs Barber and Haslam can demonstrate. The rest of their letter is about opinions, and we have simply to disagree.
Trinity College, Cambridge
SIR: I met E.H. Carr (who was 40 years my senior) fairly frequently between the mid-Fifties and the mid-Seventies. The relationship began with Carr (still at Balliol) agreeing to see me to discuss my Cambridge PhD thesis on the early German Social Democrats. He continued to give generous advice as I completed it; introduced me to other specialists, to my great benefit; acted as a sympathetic examiner when the thesis was submitted (although he was very far from being in personal agreement with my approach or conclusions); recommended the work for publication by the Cambridge University Press, and me for a lectureship in his old department in Aberystwyth; continued to exchange arguments about many subjects (including Soviet-German relations in the Twenties, while I was working in this field); entertained me several times at the High Table at Trinity (what can one say of Stone’s ‘he was also, it is said, very mean’?); acted with scrupulousness and generosity in the case of another Cambridge PhD which we examined together; and – in his mid-eighties – invited my family and me to tea and gave friendly advice to one of my sons who was interested in history degree courses.
It is not true, as Stone says, that Carr ‘disliked talking to anyone with whom basic principles had not been agreed’. He knew that my own explanation of the differences between the rival groups in the German labour movement in the 1860s gave much less weight to economic factors than his own: yet we discussed the subject amicably on many occasions, and his review of the book (in the TLS in July 1965) was kind and favourable. Stone’s assertion that as a reviewer ‘he never sympathised’ is untrue. Carr and I disagreed, again, about why German heavy industry invested in the Soviet Union in the Twenties: although his original assumption was that the economic motive must have been predominant, he accepted the evidence of my research in the German diplomatic archives, which showed that German industrialists were pressed into Soviet ventures to support the political aims of Stresemann’s foreign policy, and sometimes undertook them only reluctantly.
For a professional historian Stone is amazingly ready to write of Carr from hearsay: his phrase ‘he was also, it is said, very mean’ is echoed throughout the article by ‘it would appear’, ‘it is said’, ‘apparently’, ‘perhaps’, ‘he seems’ and, a third time, ‘it is said’. And what can one make of Stone’s assertion that the Nonconformists of Aberystwyth objected to Carr’s ‘affair with one (or perhaps more) of their professors’ wives’? For the record, Carr was warmly welcomed back by the University of Wales when the Aberystwyth Department celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1969. As for the truly astonishing statement that ‘it is said’ (again!) ‘that Richard Pipes … is not impressed by Carr’s scholarship,’ Stone might be advised to make a practice of verifying his statements by the interview method (or by correspondence), as well as preaching it at Carr.
Stone makes it appear that Carr’s statement in The Foundations of a Planned Economy about ‘the oddly distorted amalgam of bourgeois and sociallist revolutions’ was the result of pressure he was ‘clearly’ (sic) under ‘to make statements as to the proletarian or socialist content of the Revolution’. This totally ignores Carr’s long-standing fascination with the ambiguous distinctions between democratic and socialist revolutions, reflected in more than one of the essays in the much earlier book Studies in Revolution (1950), one of the works – like the life of Marx (1934) and several others – which Stone ignores.
To say that The Twenty Years’ Crisis was later ‘published with a different title’ is wrong: to dismiss this profound and subtle work on the nature of international politics as a mere tract in favour of appeasing Hitler is ridiculous, and also unhistorical in ignoring the historical context of utopian writing against which Carr was reacting. (Perhaps Stone is just ignorant of it: he even gets the title of the Oxford Chair of International Relations wrong.) For Stone to quote Carr’s own plea for ‘a compromise’ (my emphasis) ‘between the Utopian concept of right and the realistic conception of a mechanical adjustment to a changed equilibrium of forces’, and then to chip in with ‘in other words, if a state has power, recognise the fact,’ needs no comment.
If Stone is qualified to criticise Carr’s interpretation of Russian history, it would have been more seemly for him to use your columns for doing so (and perhaps to devote a line or two to the work whose title appears at the head of his ‘review’, and of which he presumably received a copy) than for producing the spiteful and in many particulars mendacious piece you printed.
Policy Studies Unit, SW1
Wild, Fierce Yale
SIR: Professor Earl Miner (Letters, 10 January) defends Jonathan Culler against what he sees as a needlessly ad hominem attack in my book Deconstruction: Theory and Practice. I have to protest that Culler is not cast as ‘villain’ of the piece, or as a ‘traitor within the gates’ of recent literary theory. My book treats his Structuralist Poetics as an exemplary case of those conceptual problems and paradoxes which deconstruction would claim to have uncovered in the structuralist project at large. Indeed, I could think of no better text by which to bring out the difference between structuralism, in its quest for some ultimate validating method, and deconstruction in its principled mistrust of all such totalising claims. This will not, I hope, seem a backhanded compliment, especially since Culler has himself moved on toward the deconstructionist standpoint obliquely essayed in The Pursuit of Signs (1981) and powerfully argued in his On Deconstruction (1983). To have ignored this development would indeed stand as a culpable omission had my book merely picked on Culler as a personalised embodiment of ‘structuralist’ thinking. In fact – as I try to make clear – deconstruction has come about very largely through the rigorous questioning of structuralist ideas, a process in which Culler’s text has played its own significant role.
Professor Miner goes on to deplore the kind of intellectual one-upmanship (including my own ‘puritanical high tone’) which he finds so offensive in the acolytes of Yale deconstruction. ‘Much may be forgiven for intellectual power,’ he writes, ‘but the questions are how much is to be forgiven in context, and whether power is to be identified with intellect alone?’ I can only reply – with good deconstructionist warrant – that critical exchange can and must be carried on without conjuring up suspicions of personal animus. Oddly enough, it is precisely his appeal to a larger, humanising context – an antidote to the rigours of Yale deconstruction – that leads Professor Miner to construct this scenario of naked ‘intellectual’ aggression. Equally odd is the fact that he selects Harold Bloom – most fiercely embattled of the critics at Yale – not only as a ‘structuralist’ (which term scarcely fits), but as a countervailing voice against his colleagues’ will-to-power over texts. Yet it is Bloom who openly proclaims the necessity of ‘strong’ (creative) misreadings and the struggle for mastery that critics – as well as poets – must face if they are to throw off their burden of ‘belatedness’ vis-à-vis their great precursors.
‘What kind of principle is it,’ Miner demands, ‘that privileges the critic from the instability, the non-meaning attributed to writers who (many of us think) are greater than these brilliant individuals?’ Not, certainly, the position of a purist deconstructor like Paul de Man, who argues precisely that criticism is deluded if it seeks a secure theoretical vantage-point outside and above the exemplary aberrations – the interplay of ‘blindness’ and ‘insight’ – that characterise literary language. What Bloom indicts as the ‘serene linguistic nihilism’ of his deconstructing colleagues is rather (in his view) a lack than a surplus of will-to-power over texts. Professor Miner is quite right in suggesting that my own account of deconstructionist criticism tends to favour conceptual rhetoricians like de Man, those whose relation to their texts, if not ‘serene’ or ‘nihilistic’, is at least capable of a certain sobriety and epistemological tact. And this has a bearing on my treatment of Culler’s Structuralist Poetics. Culler is far enough from claiming a role in the personalised agon of revisionary ratios which Bloom embraces as the critic’s elective destiny. To deconstruct Culler’s text is to take it as worth deconstructing, and not to engage in any kind of private or ritual-professional rivalry.
University of Wales, Cardiff
Jesus and Cain
SIR: Many thanks to Edmund Leach for giving me a good laugh (Letters, 3 February). Not only does he regard himself as the Grand Panjandrum of anthropology (a subject which, he imagines, has a body of theory equal in certainty to the propositions of Euclidean geometry), but he can even put the Hebrew scholars right. His remarks would not impose on a first-year student of Hebrew. He claims that he is entitled to equate words like Rechab and Rahab because they are ‘alternative spellings’ like ‘Leach’ and ‘Leech’. On such equations he has based far-fetched structuralist theories. In a language in which only the consonants are written down, and every consonant has a unique pronunciation, the opportunities for alternative spellings are reduced to nil. The reason certain Hebrew words come out misleadingly similar in English transliteration is that some of the Hebrew gutturals (originally pronounced distinctively, as Arabic shows) were elided or simplified in later pronunciation. Thus, Leach’s blunder of equating Rechab with Rahab involves confusing the guttural khaf with the guttural het – not a question of spelling the same word in two different ways, but of two words from entirely dissociated tri-literal roots, with different meanings: Rechab from a root meaning ‘to ride’ and Rahab from a root meaning ‘to be broad’. This must have been explained to Leach a dozen times, but he persists in defending his infallibility. This feat of charlatanry comes from the man who accused me of ‘phoney scholarship’!
I note that Leach avoids comment on the issue of the Christian origins of anti-semitism – the main topic of both my book and my letter. He still asserts that my reading stops at 1885. As a matter of fact, the most helpful work that I found on Hebrew sacrifice was by Jacob Milgrom, and was published in 1980. I wonder if Leach has read this?
Leach describes himself in his review as a ‘hardnosed gentile’: but, on the evidence of his letter, I think the adjective ‘soft-headed’ would be more appropriate.
Leo Baeck College, London N3
SIR: One-up-manship is the spice of academic reviewing, even if one may think that it is often more amusing for the reviewer than for his readers. But this good, clean fun gets a little soiled when it becomes the vehicle for pompous announcements about an author’s lack of competence to deal with the subject about which he has written his book, just because he has made a couple of slips. Blair Worden is right to point out the slips in Gerhard Oestreich’s book (LRB, 10 January), and, as its editor, I fully admit that I should have spotted Oestreich’s mistakes about Hobbes’s reference to Lipsius and about Bodin’s inclusion in a list of Calvinist writers. Of course Oestreich did not really think Bodin was a Calvinist. He gives no sign of such a notion on the twenty-odd other occasions he refers to him in his long book. In the two pages of his own review Worden has failed to spot a similar slip. Lipsius, he says, ‘switched to Lutheranism in 1572, when a professorship at Leiden offered him an escape from his troubled homeland’. Of course Lipsius did not become a Lutheran to go to Leiden, and of course Leiden was not a Lutheran university, as this quotation would suggest, and of course a scholar of Dr Worden’s standing does not think so either. He just made a slip in writing ‘Leiden’ for ‘Jena’.
As to Worden’s other point of scandal, Oestreich’s sentence that, ‘the strict Calvinist … favoured the idea of popular sovereignty,’ it is perfectly clear from the context that Oestreich did not mean every strict Calvinist. How could he, when he was precisely opposing this view to the attitude of the monarchical electors of Brandenburg who certainly thought of themselves as good Calvinists? But many, perhaps most, strict Calvinists in the Netherlands did believe in popular sovereignty. So did Althusius and so, in a sense, did the author of the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos. The word ‘popular’ meant different things to different people: but it certainly never meant ‘monarchical’, and that was Oestreich’s point.
The rest of Worden’s criticisms of Neostoicism and the Early Modern State amount to little more than an elaboration of the fact that he found it a ‘strange book’ and that he would have written it differently if he had written it himself. He doesn’t even mention that half of Oestreich’s book is largely about the constitutional development of the Holy Roman Empire and the German states in the 17th and 18th centuries, a subject about which there is very little literature in English.
I wish Worden would write a book on Neostoicism. Most of his review is in fact an elegant essay on Neostoicism in England which I enjoyed reading. If he finds much of Neostoic belief unsympathetic and the character of Lipsius repellent, I share these feelings and so did Gerhard Oestreich. But the subject is strange only in the academic form it took in the 17th century. Who, at the present time, would say that Lipsius’s precepts for rulers and their subjects are not still a powerful force, or that Constantia, fortitudo and disciplina do not still have their prophets, admirers and even mass following?
King’s College, London
SIR: Philip Booth’s mention of Nadia Boulanger’s opposition to Schoenberg and his circle (LRB, 30 December 1982) brings to mind the fact that the other side did not show much sympathy for her either. It must be Nadia Boulanger of whom Theodor Adorno thinks when in the Introduction to his Philosophie der Neuen Musik he mentions ‘die quicken Zöglinge der pädagogischen Statthalterin Strawinskys’. The point is unfortunately lost in the English translation by Mitchell and Blomster (Philosophy of Modern Music, London 1973, page 7) where the clause reads quite incorrectly as ‘the facile pupils of Stravinsky’s pedagogical supervision’. Adorno’s involved and cryptic German would be better translated as ‘the nifty pupils of the lady who is Stravinsky’s pedagogical deputy’.
Magdalen College, Oxford
SIR: Why should Donald Davie have thought it a helpful tactic for promoting Ivor Gurney (LRB, 3 February) to assert that ‘beside his achievement, Wilfred Owen’s and Edward Thomas’s seem slender at best’? Poetic achievement is a matter of the success of poems: Professor Davie at any rate has appeared to think so for three decades, and his comparison is the more curious in view of the statement elsewhere in his review, that Gurney wrote no poem that succeeds as a whole. Or, as Professor Davie puts it, he was simply ‘too big a poet to bother about perfection’, but produced instead ‘magnificent torsos, passages of breathtaking mastery’, etc.
This sort of down-the-line Longinian praise will be unexpected to every reader of Professor Davie’s criticism till this review. It has been his practice (as it was Leavis’s and Winters’s) to name the poems that warrant the judgment (whether the poet is Wesley or Pound). The game of demoting some poets for the sake of promoting others is worth resisting. But since Professor Davie has chosen to start playing it, he owes his readers a list of the poems by Gurney that he believes will easily eclipse in their affections and in their memory such poems as the following by Thomas and Owen: ‘The Owl’, ‘Blenheim Oranges’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Rain’, ‘Roads’, ‘The Show’, ‘Strange Meeting’.
Donald Davie writes: Mr Abramovitch reads carelessly. Nowhere did I say that ‘Gurney wrote no poem that succeeds as a whole.’ And I specifically dismissed as piffle the notion that Gurney was ‘too big a poet to bother about perfection’. In my review I specified by title no less than 36 poems by Gurney, and of these specified ten (which I would augment to 15) as ‘perfected’.
SIR: A shame that our worthy Anglophile Joseph Ginsburg (Letters, 10 January) should have been deceived by A.J.P. Taylor’s legerdemain. Under the guise of suspending all comment on all matters connected with Israel or the Jews (for fear of retribution: LRB, Vol. 4, No 20), Taylor is of course saying a great deal. He is saying that he considers the Jews to be a neurotic people, incapable of accepting criticism, eager to be offended, and typically given to frenetic and impertinent campaigns against the objective discriminating intellect; this persecution is co-ordinated in order to impede the much-needed task (in the words of your deferential correspondent) of reminding the Jews ‘where they came from and who they are’. To anticipate a reply from the Disinterested Intellect, may I say that mailers would hardly be improved were he to claim that his views of the Jews’ Middle Eastern cousins were identical. If this is indeed all that Professor Taylor has to say, he has already said too much.
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
We apologise for a mistake which occurred in the Blackwell advertisement on page 2 of LRB, Vol. 5, No 2, in which the titles of two books, Morality and Language by G.J. Warnock and Science and Moral Priority by Roger Sperry, were transposed.
Editors, ‘London Review’