After the Bomb
SIR: Lawrence Gowing’s relief at the mildness of the Arts Council’s purgative draught has overstimulated him (LRB, 19 April). The Romanesque exhibition is splendid, as he says, but two exhibitions of Oriental rugs and carpets had already proved that the Hayward Gallery was, as an exhibition space at least, too swiftly denigrated. Moreover, while the activities of the Serpentine Gallery are worth fighting for, Gowing’s advance puff for the Caro exhibition will give pause to the many who have heard, in the chatter which rose when the bomb had exploded with less loss of cultural life than expected, more relief at the shoring-up of a hermetic sensibility than concern for the generality of intelligent gallery-goers. This point only seems worth making because Gowing’s plea for evening-institute drawing classes is a reminder of a more broadly based interest in picture-making. Surely the threat of a cut in public funding might have led a teacher and painter of Gowing’s abilities and stature to be a little less bland in his implied affirmation of the health of English art.
SIR: How pleasing to find one Nobel Laureate, reviewing the biography of another – M.F. Perutz on David Wilson’s Rutherford (LRB, 19 April) – who, unlike Sir Peter Medawar (LRB, 16 February), doesn’t need to assert that a book about a great scientist will not be read by ‘literary intellectuals’.
SIR: Over the past few years I have been counselling couples who are interested in donor insemination as a solution to their infertility problem. Few couples seem willing to confide in the child, preferring him or her to grow up in the belief that the husband is the biological father. On the other hand, a number of our couples have already confided in parents, siblings or close friends, which could lead to the child becoming aware of a mystery attaching to its paternity.
It has been suggested that children reared by substitute parents are prone to grow up in a state of ‘genealogical bewilderment’. The evidence to date is largely anecdotal, but with further information I am preparing to write a paper on the subject. I would therefore be grateful to any of your readers who might be able to direct me to a novel or other work of literature in which one of the central characters has grown up with a similar state of uncertainty as a result of being illegitimate, or conceived through an extra-marital liaison.
The AID child, whose existence derives from the public-spiritedness of our medical students, is of course in a somewhat different situation, but I think there is probably enough common ground with the illegitimate child of fiction to make my inquiry worthwhile.
Department of Psychology, St George’s Hospital Medical School, Jenner Wing, Cranmer Terrace, Fountain Road, London SW17
SIR: Roger Knight’s letter in the last issue infuriated me. I thought J.I.M. Stewart’s piece (Letters, 3 May) absolutely marvellous, and because of it ordered Ann Thwaite’s biography straight away from the library.
SIR: Mr Shenker believes Professor Said is mistaken about discrimination against Palestinians in Israel’s Association of Sheepraisers (Letters, 15 March). But if he wants his opinions to be taken seriously, he will have to do better than require us to trust in his unnamed sources. In Israel? In the Government? A special adviser on Palestinian affairs? Or a member of the Association of Sheepraisers? Did Mr Shenker check what he was told with Palestinian shepherds? Perhaps he never thought of doing so; maybe he does not know any? As it happens, he does not tell us. He claims to know that ‘Arabs have been invited to join the association,’ but he does not say when, or how many; or whether they were only invited to join around the time the association was persuaded by the Israeli Government to become a vehicle for levying a form of taxation.
Incompetent reporting or propaganda? Either way inquiries this scrupulous do not inspire confidence. Sure enough, when Mr Shenker moves on to criticise Professor Said for not condemning violations of human rights by Arab governments, he ducks the symmetrical obligation that falls on him vis-à-vis Israel. All he says is: ‘To the extent that such violations exist, any condemnation that he [Professor Said] voices is justified.’ Here Mr Shenker’s allegedly excellent sources fall silent. Does he accept that violations of human rights occur in Israel or not? Mr Shenker stays mum, so we do not know whether he adds his voice in condemnation, or merely would add it if he were better-informed.
The price of Dean Swift, the third volume of Irvin Ehrenpreis’s biography Swift: The Man, his Works and the Age, was omitted from Christopher Ricks’s review in the last issue. It is £40. To coincide with publication of Dean Swift on 15 December Methuen reissued the two earlier volumes: Vol. I: Mr Swift and his Contemporaries (294 pp., £20, 0 416 64340 X); Vol. II: Dr Swift (782 pp., £30, 0 416 27730 6). IIya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers’s Order out of Chaos: The Evolutionary Paradigm and the Physical Sciences, reviewed by John Maynard Smith in the last issue, will be published by Heinemann on 6 August.
Editors, ‘London Review’