SIR: I liked Colin McGinn’s review of Oliver Sacks’s The Man who mistook his wife for a hat (LRB, 23 January), but I wonder if he was not a bit swift in saying goodbye to the soul. If the ‘soul’ turns out to be a description of some facet of the neural tissue itself, then piecemeal degeneration of that tissue does indeed see the piecemeal degeneration of the soul, and death sees its end, because the soul is dependent on the neural tissue for its existence. But the question still remains: is it or isn’t it? And the neurological cases he cites do nothing to clear the matter up. If I switch on the Nine o’Clock news and find the top of Mrs Thatcher’s head missing, it may be that a terrible accident has happened to the Prime Minister, but the chances are that it is just my set that’s on the blink. Similarly, it is still open to those who do not believe that the soul is in the neural tissue any more than Mrs Thatcher is in my television set (though she spends a lot of time on it) to argue that it is the instrument of the soul’s expression, not the soul itself, that has been impaired when the functioning of the brain is disturbed. They may, of course, be wrong, but the argument is not advanced one way or the other by the sort of evidence Sacks’s patients provide. Indeed, the fact that nervous tissue will, given the opportunity, reorganise itself so that neurones that have performed one sort of function come to perform the task of some quite other neural tissue that has been irretrievably destroyed suggests that the ordinary machine model needs adapting. It is not, of course, in itself an argument for the existence of the soul, but it suggests to me that all is not quite as simple as McGinn appears to believe. The question of the soul’s survival may itself prove long-lived.
All Souls College, Oxford
SIR: Since I have not yet read Clive Hart’s The Prehistory of Flight I am at something of a disadvantage. However, I must take issue with some of Jonathan Barnes’s contentions (LRB, 23 January). ‘A flying machine must be both light enough to get lift and powerful enough to achieve thrust.’ Well, yes, up to a point. But lift is in fact a function of both weight and aerodynamic efficiency. The greater the forward speed of the aircraft, and the more efficient its wings, then the greater its lift. Weight is not the overriding factor. And it was the lack of any engine with a decent power-to-weight ratio that held back heavier-than-air flight for so long.
He also claims that it is ‘a familiar fact that birds glide and soar with wings outstretched and immobile.’ As a fact, this is not at all familiar. Even though they may not be beating their wings, the wings are in fact constantly changing shape and camber to take advantage of winds and improve their aerodynamic efficiency. It is worth noting that many modern combat aircraft emulate this feat. The F 14 Tomcat has wings of variable sweep which are computer-controlled to achieve the best possible angle for any flight conditions. And the F 16 has a tilting leading edge to its wings, similarly computer-controlled, to vary the angle of attack for maximum efficiency.
He also wonders why, when men had long conquered the sea, it took them so much longer to take to the air. The answer to this must surely be painfully obvious to all but philosophers. Walk into the sea, and you stand a fair chance of floating. Walk off a cliff, and the laws of gravity bring themselves to your attention with some force. It was never a dull imagination that kept men grounded. Imagination has always soared. It was surely the lack of an appropriate technology. Once that was invented, then man began to approach the heights of his imagination.
Film Editor, Time Out, London WC2
SIR: Just my luck to have Ironside reviewed by Andrew Gurr (LRB, 6 February), who can’t even see that the More Hand D scene is by Shakespeare. John Kerrigan admits that my 70 parallels with Titus Andronicus prove either the same author or plagiarism. But he begins by ruling out the former. So, since Titus was written by 1594, and Shakespeare cannot be the plagiarist, Ironside may safely be labelled ‘1595-1600’ and replaced, none too gently, on the shelf. To other academics, this will seem reasonable, even self-evident. To at least one layman it represents a depressingly typical blend of complacent assumption and reckless invention, whereby historical fact is conveniently inferred from literary opinion.
If Kerrigan truly believed that ‘everything hangs on the date,’ he would have begun with that question, not ended with it; and in the spirit of science, not omniscience. Then he might have asked himself whether his imaginary ‘1595-1600’ really outweighs my 14 pages of evidence and argument in favour of 1588. He might also have wondered whether it is really scholarly, or even rational, to postulate a dull and inept Tudor playwright whose sole discernible skill consisted in stealing occasional ideas from an early anonymous play. This puzzling practice was so unobtrusive that it remained unrecorded for 360 years. Yet it was so comprehensive as to include not only the 50 Titus parallels noticed by Kerrigan but 150 from the Henry VI trilogy (first published 1632), 80 from the Richard plays, and hundreds more from the canon at large. Sadly, I had no space to tabulate all of them: so it is only the Titus sample spread at pages 34-37 that catches the eye. But readers, if not reviewers, will readily find the rest; and not everyone will feel free to invent unverifiable entities and corollaries just in order to explain away those appearances as non-Shakespearean.
In case I am accused of unfairness to academics in calling Kerrigan typical, I should add that Richard Proudfoot, Stanley Wells, John Wilders and John Jones, so far, have all approached Ironside from exactly the same angle. They too know a priori that it is not by Shakespeare. Yet they cannot deny the close and copious affinities. So they select among whatever they happen to notice, and then proceed to shield Shakespeare from any suspicion of complicity. For them, too, this entails inventing otherwise unknown playwrights who write like Shakespeare, and adjusting history accordingly. Of course the resulting dates and details differ widely, but no one troubles over such trifles. It will not be mere coincidence that precisely these same procedures, complete with built-in contradictions, are habitually used to supply Bad Quarto mythology with its sole support. First assume that the early Ironside-like versions of e.g. 2 and 3 Henry VI are not by Shakespeare. Then conjure up a whole troupe of strolling plagiarists who hide Shakespearean gems among their own crude paste so cunningly that only a specially-trained expert can tell the difference. These hypotheses in turn enable the 1623 Folio texts to be imaginatively redated c.1590. Again history obliges with a properly deferential reaction to one’s own opinions.
It is now time to challenge those opinions. As the entire world has recently had cause to notice, the trained Shakespeareans cannot agree about what he actually wrote, let alone when. Kerrigan and Gurr further illustrate this for me by their various views on ‘Shall I die?’, Edward III and Sir Thomas More as well as Ironside. Such questions should now be handed over to trained logicians and historians. Meanwhile the layman can make a contribution just by keeping an open mind. So far, I have seen only one lay review of my Ironside edition, by Anthony Burgess in the Observer. So far, he alone feels no compulsion to invent any date for that play, or to deny that it could be by Shakespeare. Could it be that his literary perceptions are even keener than Kerrigan’s?
SIR: Gathering material, as it emerges, for his ‘friendly, informal’ column (LRB, 6 February), John Kerrigan rang me up in a friendly, informal way and asked me, among other things, why we should not be including the anonymously published Edward III – for which he displays so touching an affection – in the forthcoming Complete Oxford Shakespeare. My friendly, informal reply may have made him think that the decision is based on the mindless whirrings of a computer, but in fact it depends on the cogitations of a human brain whose thought processes will be concisely revealed when the edition is published.
France under threat
SIR: Jacques Beauroy, in his comments (Letters, 20 February) on my article on the French election (LRB, 23 January) is, of course, quite right to say that issues other than immigration will count in the election – and, of course, in saying that there is no shortage of issues on which to criticise the Socialist Government. The opinion polls give no support at all, however, to his contention that ‘the key issues … are … Libéralisme, Anti-Etatisme, Régionalisation, Privatisation, Autonomie.’ This is certainly what a relatively small number of right-wing intellectuals would like the election to be all about, but the polls show, repeatedly and overwhelmingly, that not one of these themes rates any popular mention at all and that when people are asked which themes matter to them, only unemployment and the standard of living compete at all successfully with immigration, either in a straightforward sense or in its coded form of ‘law and order’. Thus the SOFRES poll of 23-28 January (Le Monde, 6 February) shows sécurité to be the overwhelming issue for Parisians (60 per cent mentioning it), with another 32 per cent mentioning ‘the immigrant problem’. None of the issues mentioned by M. Beauroy makes any appearance at all.
There is also no doubt at all that PR is amplifying the importance of the immigration/law-and-order issue. Thus the latest poll for the Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseilles) region also shows these two issues way out ahead of all others – and shows the Front National at 17 per cent and Chirac’s RPR at just 7 per cent. Under the old electoral system the FN would have got no seat with 17 per cent: now they seem likely to get three seats there. Similarly, there is no doubt at all that PR has hugely amplified the opportunities open to M. Hersant. M. Beauroy may feel I gave too much weight to M. Hersant, but the ability of a single right-wing press baron to constitute almost a party of his own did seem to me an extraordinary phenomenon. I would recommend him to look at the recent Nouvel Observateur feature on ‘Hersant, the real boss of the Right’. PR will not, of course, produce a ‘catastrophe’ or ‘disaster’ (M. Beauroy’s words, not mine). Life will go on; my point was not to argue for or against the ‘fairness’ of any electoral system (I’m agnostic about that), but simply to point out the real consequences of choosing one rather than another.
Some of M. Beauroy’s points are simply partisan. He is not wrong to describe the RPR-UDF as a ‘liberal democratic’ opposition – but it remains the case that it was the Opposition’s opportunistic use of the race issue in the 1983 municipal elections which prepared the ground for Le Pen. Similarly, he may regard the nationalisations of 1982 as ‘ineffective and ruinous’, but the fact remains that many of those industries were then in deficit while now, thanks to massive state investment, almost all of them are making enormous profits. Indeed, this is why the Opposition are backing away from some of their earlier privatisation commitments, as they realise the sheer impossibility of the small French stockmarket being able to absorb the enormous flotations which would be involved. To take one example, Rhône Poulenc was worth Fr.3 billion when it was nationalised, but is valued at Fr.13 billion now. M. Beauroy may term all this ‘ineffective and ruinous’ if he wants, but British voters would be thrilled if nationalisation had resulted so quickly in such a massive return to profitability.
Finally, both M. Beauroy and Boyd Tonkin are right to bring up the role of SOS-Racisme. Unfortunately, Tonkin’s characterisation of this movement as having ‘few friends at court’ is far more accurate than M. Beauroy’s claim of a significant anti-racist mood bridging Right and Left. The missing dimension to what M. Beauroy says is the extent to which a quite opposite mood has led almost all the leaders of the ‘liberal democratic’ Opposition to compromise their claims to principled non-racism. What is one otherwise to make of M. Chirac’s wish to make the family allowance system discriminatory against immigrants? Or of his famous characterisation of immigrants in Paris in 1983 as ‘men of the sack and the cord’? Or of Mme Veil’s unhappy admission in the 1984 European elections that while she was Jewish, M. Hersant, also running on her list, was an anti-semite? Or of M. Barre’s well-publicised meetings with Le Pen when the latter first burst onto the scene, or his recent resuscitation of the old Vichy slogan of Patrie, Travail, Famille? This is not to quarrel with M. Beauroy’s characterisation of Chirac, Veil and Barre as ‘liberal and democratic’, but it does illustrate the pressures under which even such politicians now have to operate – and why SOS-Racisme has ‘few friends at court’.
SIR: I’m not sure why Claude Rawson (LRB, 6 February) felt it necessary to make sniffy remarks about the title of a book he was not reviewing at the end of a review which had long wandered off into the realms of sexual fantasy: but anyhow on the subject of ‘From Hoggart to Gramsci’ he is wrong. It is true that Gramsci died in 1937, and it is true furthermore that Richard Hoggart is very much alive. But Gramsci’s works were not published in his life-time and he was not widely read in the English-speaking world until the 1970s. Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy came out in hardback in 1957 and became a best-selling Pelican a couple of years later. Its author then went on to become the first director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. In 1957 Gramsci was known in Britain only through a slim volume of his writings on politics entitled The Modern Prince. A fuller and more representative selection of his Prison Notebooks came out in English only in 1971. Gramsci’s writings specifically on culture were in fact not published in English until 1985 and their appearance even then was not noted in the London Review of Books.
There is therefore nothing absurd in subtitling a book ‘From Hoggart to Gramsci’. It may be anti-alphabetical but it is not necessarily anti-historical, since that is the order in which the two authors became known and studied in this country. It is possible to object to the way Hoggart was fashionably dropped by the Kulturtheoretiker of the 1970s and the way Gramsci was adopted as a Marxist-for-all-seasons even though many of his relevant writings were still unread. But that is another story.
I seem to remember that Rawson tried out the same little boutade on the readers of another journal, the Times Literary Supplement I think, a year or so ago. Each to his own jouissance.
SIR: May I please remove an infelicity from my reference to Harold Rosenberg (LRB, 6 February)? In The Tradition of the New he referred to Crèvecoeur’s notion that ‘the American is a new man who acts on new principles: he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions.’ Rosenberg’s comment was: ‘Crèvecoeur’s mistake lay in assuming that every American was aware that he had to begin anew. His determinism took it for granted that if a man is in a given situation his consciousness will be there with him.’ ‘Consciousness’, not ‘conscious’.
SIR: After Professor Terence Hawkes’s suggestion of a negative correlation between library size and interest in critical theory (Letters, 21 November 1985), Professor Peter Thomas of Cardiff presents evidence to the contrary (Letters, 23 January). May I submit a converse counter-example? Yale University is the seat of the so-called Yale school of deconstructionism etc: yet it is also the possessor of the second-largest academic library collection on the continent. This is not to say there are no literary historians on the faculty, but the university is hardly known as a hotbed of Rezeptionsforschung.
Yale University Library, New Haven
SIR: A.N. Wilson is right and Nicolas Walter is wrong about two things (Letters, 6 February). First, Addison was certainly a hymn-writer (e.g. ‘The Lord my pasture shall prepare,’ ‘How are thy servants blest, O Lord’). Secondly, Mrs Humphry Ward was the daughter of Tom Arnold, one of Dr Thomas Arnold’s sons. Nicolas Walter is also wrong about the Cornhill, which began publication in 1860, not 1869. As he correctly points out, The Virginians appeared in monthly parts in 1857-59, but Thackeray’s Lovel the Widower, Philip and Denis Duval were all serialised in the magazine.
Department of Language and Literature, Polytechnic of North London, London NW5
SIR: I have been a regular reader of the LRB for four years. When I opened the issue of 6 February I was dismayed to find pride of place and more than four full columns devoted to a competent piece of domestic political journalism, surely more suited to a newspaper or one of the many weeklies. Is this an indication of a change in your policy, a waning of interest in books both scholarly and literary, to be replaced with articles on the ephemera of domestic political quarrels? The only compensation for your apparent change in direction was the inclusion of that excellent contribution by Peter Burke. For once you allowed space for reference to an important piece of European scholarship. If you intend to adulterate the Review with journalistic articles, please warn us.
We have always published some pieces which make no mention of books. In the issue before the Paul Foot article mentioned by E.W. Cohen there was a piece of the same Cohen-repellant kind, and in the issue before that, Frank Field’s heartfelt piece about the state of Liverpool referred very little to publications.
Editor, ‘London Review’
SIR: I have been commissioned to write a biography of Aldous Huxley and would be glad to receive letters, information, memorabilia, photographs concerning the writer.
Worcester College, Oxford, OX1 2HB