Son of God
- Michelangelo by Robert Liebert
Yale, 447 pp, £25.00, January 1983, ISBN 0 300 02793 1
- The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse edited by Stephen Coote
Penguin, 410 pp, £3.95, March 1983, ISBN 0 14 042293 5
The heavenly ruler looked down, noted the inadequacy of Giotto and his successors and decided to dispatch Michelangelo to earth, there to demonstrate perfection in no fewer than four arts (drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture) and thus redeem mankind from errors of taste. So runs the exordium of Giorgio Vasari’s Life of Michelangelo. It would not surprise me if Vasari got this conceit from the source that provided much of his biographical information – namely, Michelangelo. Dr Liebert, a psychoanalyst, discerns that during his last twenty years Michelangelo ‘increasingly and deeply identified himself with Christ’. Certainly he inclined to treat Popes as vicars of Michelangelo. It may well be his own account of his mission, given narrative form by the fantasy underlying it, that Vasari recorded as a mini-myth which is in essence a de-Christianised and non-blasphemous version of the myth of the incarnation.
[*] Edited by H. Montgomery Hyde: 448 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 85013 346 9.
Vol. 5 No. 10 · 2 June 1983
SIR: Brigid Brophy’s review of Stephen Coote’s Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (LRB, 21 April) contains a reference to James Kirkup’s poem ‘The love that dares to speak its name’ which deserves expansion and explanation. She says that the book contains ‘a note simply stating why the text of the blasphemy-case poem is not printed’. The note is as follows: ‘Gay News was successfully prosecuted for blasphemous libel on publishing this poem. It therefore remains unavailable to the British public.’
It is true that if the poem were printed in a commercial magazine or book the publisher might be prosecuted, but it is not true that the poem has been unavailable since it was first published and suppressed seven years ago. The fact is that, although Gay News was indeed prosecuted in 1976, convicted in 1977, and lost its appeals in 1978 and 1979, the poem was available to the British public throughout this period. It was printed in several political papers (Young Liberal, socialist, pacifist, anarchist), it was reproduced by several student unions, and it was circulated by the Free Speech Movement in several leaflet versions, the last and largest in 1978 being signed by more than a hundred writers, editors, publishers, academics and similar people (including Brigid Brophy and myself). As in every previous blasphemy case, the trial led not to the suppression but to the continued and increased circulation of the offending item.