Stalker & Co
SIR: I was interested to read Damian Grant’s piece on Deputy Chief Constable Stalker (LRB, 20 November), with its salutary reminder of the political importance of memory. References to Orwell and Kundera are knock-out on this score.
Dr Grant also refers to a certain amount of material published at the time of the revelations about the cases of Steven Shaw and Sarah Hollis. But, in his anxiety to show that Stalker was the victim in the RUC affair, he omits to mention that Stalker was among the officers who publicly denied that there was anything worth investigating in the students’ complaints. In making this allegation, I am relying on my recollection of a spot of Guardian-reading I did in March. If I am wrong in thinking that Dr Grant has omitted something material, should I have checked back-copies of the newspaper in a library? And can I be sure that Winston Smith isn’t doing his normal job of work in the library I check with?
Trinity College, Cambridge
A Conservative Disposition
SIR: Maurice Cowling protests (Letters, 6 November) that I ‘totally misunderstand’ his political opinions. He is not, he claims, ‘out of step’ with the Conservative Party, but on the contrary blends Biffenite scepticism with Thatcherite conviction. He also claims that I have attributed to him religious beliefs that he does not hold. Although, he explains, he has adopted certain Tractarian or Anglican postures, he has done so for purposes of ‘heuristic satire’ that conceal his current religious opinions. My principal criticisms of Mr Cowling’s book had nothing to do with the character of his opinions. But let that pass. As a close student of Mr Cowling’s writings over the past twenty years or so, I am very familiar with the labyrinth of ambiguity and contradiction he constructs around his judgments. In writing of modern England, Mr Cowling holds three opinions simultaneously. As a reactionary, he measures the present by the standards of the past and finds the present corrupt. As a realist, he accepts that for the time being life must be lived according to the rules of a secularised liberal society he despises. As a relativist, he recognises that his own ideas have no more claim to objective truth than anyone else’s.
If I had wished to write an unfair review, I would have argued that these three opinions cancel one another out. But I believe Mr Cowling to be a coherent reactionary who admits with remarkable honesty the difficulties inherent in his position. I recognise the Biffenite scepticism in his writing and assume that, as in Biffen’s case, Mr Cowling is quietly amused by many of the enthusiasms that animate the Conservative Party. As for convictions, my reading of Mr Cowling leads me to suppose that his beliefs are closer to those of Enoch Powell, the anti-American heretic, than to those of Margaret Thatcher.
These were some of the considerations I took into account in describing Mr Cowling as out of step with the Conservative Party. But the main reason was the one I put forward in my review. Mr Cowling abhors the secular, materialist mind and calls up the Tractarians and others as witnesses for the prosecution. Fair enough. But which of our political parties today is the most aggressive champion of valueless, anti-intellectual materialism? Which party is dominated by a business school philosophy of converting England into a mid-Atlantic enterprise culture in which the bottom line is just that – the bottom line? Which party has the biggest financial stake in the expansion of multi-channel junk TV, video-nasties, tabloid yobbishness, and other such developments by no means conducive to the revival of a truly Christian Conservatism? Which has the least respect for Oxbridge dons devoted to useless learning and the swilling of port at the taxpayer’s expense?
In view of the state of England today, I can well understand someone who prefers the past to the present. But what I find incongruous is the attachment of English cultural reactionaries to the party of free market capitalism. Having for decades resented the condescension of the liberal intelligentsia, they naturally rejoice at the prospect of its overthrow. But immersed as they are in parochial disputes, our declining gentry seem to have little appreciation of the consequences of abandoning England to the unchallenged sovereignty of international market forces. They are reminiscent in a way of the Vichy French, who welcomed the German occupation as a means of turning the tables on the Popular Front. In writing my review, I was inclined to credit Mr Cowling with some awareness of this contradiction, and some anxiety about it. But it is present whether he is aware of it or not.
University of Edinburgh
All right: at Raine’s prolonged inciting
I’ll take his challenge to a flyting:
but not his weapons: may the biting
Scots form maintain
my verse with force of centuries’ fighting
the Sassenach reign.
Craig will reply in half my time:
although his Martian muse sublime
mostly disdains an easy chime,
as coup de grâce
in Rich he stuffs his richest rhyme
up Verlaine’s verse.
But I don’t have his rhyming vein;
against my grain, industrious pain
strains slow lines from my hard-bound brain;
drained, I complain
my failure’s driving me insane:
what rhymes with ‘Raine’?
To turn to my poetic betters,
Ben Jonson found rhyme ‘drowning letters,
fastening vowels, as with fetters
they were bound’,
thought meanings unrequited debtors,
sense loaned to sound.
But in that loss he found some gain:
he didn’t in the end maintain
the classical humanist campaign
Phoebus to his crown again …
To right wrongs traced back to St Peter,
they made their English vowels ring sweeter,
marrying their sounds to Latin metre,
(though since accomplished so much neater by Peter Reading).
That rhyme’s no mere mechanical count
but offers poets ‘wings to mount’
was a truth recognised as ‘blunt’
by Samuel Daniel;
though Dryden warned them not to hunt
with Fancy’s spaniel.
Jonson used rhymes, though each but twice:
they made his meaning more concise;
but rhymeless verse seemed too ‘precise’:
might (as in Milton) grow the vice of Innovation.
Milton, more daring from the first,
began with intricate rhyme that burst
the couplets Cavaliers rehearsed;
then freed from rhyme
(his cause’s fortunes now reversed)
His printer feared the Town would grumble:
his blank verse made his readers ‘stumble’;
but Milton freed his Muse to humble
not just because he couldn’t fumble
out rhymes for ‘fruit’.
Stumbled, Court and Craig withhold applause
from the long-drawn line and cunning pause,
the metrics of the Good Old Cause,
not less demanding that its laws
came from within.
Shall I go on? Or have I said
enough to lodge in Craig Raine’s head?
Brecht and MacDiarmid, writing red
in years of crisis,
turned to austere free verse instead
of glib devices.
The New World’s Muse had been less static:
Whitman found blank verse autocratic,
shook free his wild locks democratic
from rhyme’s frilled bonnet;
and Williams, though a bit less vatic,
scorned the ‘fascist’ sonnet.
Pound smashed pentameters with delight:
a radical, though of the right,
the chap was beastly impolite
to my College, Magdalen:
about which all he found to write
was ‘rhyming dawdlin”.
Radicals, then, may represent
rhyme as clothes, prison, ornament,
signs of those forces that prevent
by the killing letter
the rational spirit’s long ascent
from custom’s fetter.
Yet these dichotomies won’t do:
the spirit has its tyrannies too,
Milton, despite Craig’s blinkered view,
was no eccentric,
but I will grant his theories grew
Rejecting rhyme, Reason must blame
‘woman’, ‘body’, ‘savage’: any name
for the Other it must needs defame.
Milton helped sound
the taut ‘iambic drums’ to claim
Ireland’s burnt ground.
Rhyme’s not just reason’s foe, Tradition:
such endless rounds of repetition
are what create our speech-position:
rhyme’s infinite mine
reminds me of my words’ condition:
my I’s not mine.
Language speaks us: its body’s trace
grants poets their good luck or grace:
though Ego quest transcendent space
past Power and Time,
that Echo mocks Narcissus’ face
with bonding rhyme.
So rhyme betrays my half-caste state:
my plump south vowels half-suffocate
sharper-edged sounds that yet vibrate
from a keener air:
these drawling fat-arsed rhymes still grate
on my one Scots ear.
No ‘free verse’ is entirely free:
culture is still barbarity.
Yet although, form-bound, poetry
is not transcendent,
that strange implicit honesty
is its best defendant.
Rhymes may proliferate like weed,
and blank verse may be blank indeed;
but a few poems sow the seed
of something urgent,
articulations of a need
Though my studies seem immoral earning
to Thatcher, hacking the tree of learning,
who hails Victorian worth returning
with Jeffrey Archer:
or fiddling while Chernobyl’s burning
to the peace marcher,
that impulse fuels my dated aim
of finding canons to reclaim:
the multi-tongued equivocal flame
whose formal tightening
entitles verse to Shelley’s name:
Milton knew form’s bonds, in a free state,
are freedom: prose might vindicate
his cause; verse could insinuate
truth with a skill
so ‘simple, sensuous, passionate’
its pulse beats still.
But wait: in this respected forum
I find I’m failing true decorum.
Flyters must strike at those who bore’em,
pouring a curse on all
and do their level best to gore’em
(it’s nothing personal):
Muse, spit disdain with might and main
at the addle-brain, whose stains profane
republican art to gain cheap vainglory: sustain
my strained strengths past that last quatrain:
rain bane on Raine.
 Craig Raine, ‘Arsehole’.
 Ben Jonson, ‘A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme’.
 For the claim that 17th-century readers must have been too ‘naive’ to understand that ‘formal restrictions can stimulate invention’ see Craig Raine, LRB, 9 October and 20 November; and cf. Samuel Daniel, ‘A Defence of Ryme’ (1603): ‘In an eminent spirit whome Nature hath fitted for that mysterie, Ryme is no impediment to his conceit, but rather giues him wings to mount and carries him, not out of his course, but as it were beyond his power to a farre happier flight.’
 Dryden, Epistle Dedicatory of The Rival Ladies.
 Pound, Canto LXXIV.
 Seamus Heaney, ‘Ocean’s Love to Ireland’; cf. Terry Eagleton, review of Tom Paulin, The Faber Book of Political Verse, New Left Review 158.
 Shelley, ‘A Defence of Poetry’.
 Milton, ‘Of Education’.
Magdalen College, Oxford
Craig Raine’s quarrel doesn’t seem a
Subject fit for terza rima:
Still less to brag about in buskin
Courtesy of Alex Pushkin.
Apollonian fires and fetters
Are out of place in readers’ letters.
Brash Hudibrastics better fit
To tell him: put a sock in it!
University of Manchester
A bombing that went wrong
SIR: In his review of a number of books on terrorism (LRB, 23 October) Ian Gilmour mentions one of his authors, Benjamin Netanyahu, using ‘the RAF’s hitting of a hospital in Copenhagen in 1944’ as an example of ‘a bombing going tragically wrong’. The tragedy in fact occurred in 1945, and what was hit was a primary school.
In the winter of 1944-45, the Gestapo in Copenhagen were on the verge of breaking up the Resistance organisation on Zealand, greatly helped by Danish informers who had infiltrated the movement. Through their representatives in London the Resistance leaders requested the RAF to bomb the Gestapo Headquarters in the centre of Copenhagen in order to destroy the Gestapo files on members of the organisation. The attack came on 21 March 1945 at midday and was carried out by 18 Mosquito bombers escorted by 28 Mustang fighters. The planes flew in at a very low altitude and released their bombs in such a way as to hit the lower storeys of the building. The attack was a complete success: the building was destroyed and all the Gestapo files with it.
The joy felt in Copenhagen and elsewhere in Denmark at the destruction of the dreaded Gestapo Headquarters was marred only by the tragedy which followed. As the aircraft had to fly very low, one of them accidentally hit a tall signal mast in the Central Railway Station and crashed into the French School, a Roman Catholic primary school run by nuns, at a time when classes were in progress. Some of the bombers in the last wave of attack, seeing the fire and smoke resulting from the crash, mistook the school for the target and dropped their bombs on it; some also hit the surrounding residential area. Although casualties were low compared to air bombardments generally in the Second World War, they were felt to be frightful in the circumstances: 112 people killed, of whom 88 were schoolchildren, and 304 wounded. The RAF had 12 airmen killed and one taken prisoner. The RAF officer who commanded the action visited the school after the war and laid a wreath at the site, expressing the sorrow and regret of the surviving airmen.
Sociology in Cambridge
SIR: I understand Aidan Foster-Carter’s puzzle (Letters, 4 December). Perhaps I ran too many arguments too closely together. There is, as Foster-Carter says, a distance between social theory and much of what’s done as ‘sociology’. Nevertheless, the two enterprises have shared the conviction that there are distinctively social explanations of the goings-on that interest us; and however plausible this may once have been, I don’t believe that, now, it is. It’s not conceptually refined enough, and even if it were, it wouldn’t fit the modern world. The social theorists, no one of whom represents the others, but some of whom are more indicative than others, inadvertently make this clear: they tend to be dogmatic, or to confuse the social with the blandly total, or to retreat to the economic, or to the independently political, or to some other sort of thing. Likewise, the old ambition of a ‘social ethics’ now demands a grasp of arguments – in moral philosophy, for instance, and political theory – which sociologists have hitherto thought they could avoid. (Isn’t it revealing that Habermas and Rawls have leapt back over social theory altogether to start again with Kant?) This is my main reason for believing that now to separate sociology off still further is an intellectual and academic mistake.
Twenty years ago, this was not so clear. Twenty years ago, however, and for less principled reasons, Cambridge equivocated. It agreed only to a holding company of several human sciences. Now, it has declined to take advantage of the openness – by advancing to some analogue, for instance, of its Natural Sciences Tripos, or of arrangements at Oxford – and foreclosed. The ironies are obvious.
Fred Inglis, in the same issue, is wrong to think that I’ve only just discovered these views. I’ve been boring my colleagues for years with my case – a principled case and a practical one – for a looser, wider and, as he would put it, more ‘ecumenical’ conception of the human sciences in Cambridge. The electors to the chair may have known that and – other considerations apart – agreed that it was not appropriate. This would not have been irrational, and I am not in a huff.
SIR: In an otherwise insightful and graceful essay in your issue of 6 November, Geoffrey Hawthorn implies that the search for lawfulness in human behavior is nostalgic. I fail to understand, however, why a small group of philosophers and social scientists became churlish when they learned that because language necessarily distorts the coherence of events we call reality there can be no certainty in description. Rather than accommodate to that insight, as physicists did after Heisenberg, they have thrown a tantrum declaring that all we have is language. I doubt that they would celebrate as wise an observer who, on a November morning, being unable to decide if what was falling was rain or snow, suddenly declared that the sun was shining. Physical scientists took Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty and went on to build new and better theory. In sad contrast, a group of sociologists and philosophers have declared that if they cannot have it all they wish to claim nothing.
Department of Psychology, Harvard University
The Strange Death of Mehmet Shehu
SIR: In his reply to my letter Jon Halliday (Letters, 20 November) has shifted his ground. He now tells us he believes that there was a second, unattested, visit to the London PRO and that it was on that occasion that the evidence fatal to Shehu was discovered. Whether this visit was made by Arben Puto and his colleague or by someone else, he does not say. If it was made by someone else, Puto’s book, written long before, ceases to be relevant to Shehu’s death and we are in the realm of speculation. But clearly Halliday still thinks it is relevant, for he emphasises the fact that it differs from the Nëntori articles of 1972-3. Indeed it does – but only in correcting slight errors and adding references. Otherwise it claims to rest essentially (‘im wesentlichen’) on those articles. And it contains no archival material later than 1944. The German version, like the English, contains an introduction as well as the preface dated to 1976. That introduction Jon Halliday dates ‘on internal evidence’ to 1980, but he doesn’t indicate what that evidence is. Personally I should be very surprised if both the English and German editions are not direct translations of an Albanian original, for which the 1976 date was relevant.
No one will be surprised to learn that the PRO records on Albania are selective. But since we are concerned with what they contain, not what they omit, their shortcomings (for the historian) have no bearing oil the death of Mehmet Shehu. As regards this, Jon Halliday’s new formulation seems to me even more hypothetical and no more convincing than the old one.
SIR: In a subject as controversial as the Korean Airlines disaster, careful attention to facts is an essential starting-point. And although R.W. Johnson in his review of Seymour Hersh’s book (LRB, 23 October) asserted that he meant to ‘work academically from established facts’, my own investigations have convinced me that this has not happened. Instead, we have seen the manufacture of a flock of ‘factoids’ from which artificial logical structures are assembled. But those consequent structures are counterfeit, and the activity is a parody of true scholarship. An example of a factoid is Foot’s assertion, in his slavishly affectionate review for you of Johnson’s book Shootdown (LRB, 24 July), that there is a string of radio beacon stations arrayed continuously along the North Pacific airline flight path, and that automatic equipment aboard airliners receives these signals and instantly sounds a cockpit alarm if any course deviation occurs. No such string of beacons and no such automatic alarm exist.
Johnson uses similar factoids in his book and in his review. A few examples may demonstrate the flavour. The ‘fact’ that Captain Chun’s scribbles on the flight plan show he had pre-planned the course deviation is actually a factoid: Chun’s scribbles show reference to the Equal Time Point, where (usually for mechanical or passenger health emergencies) he could quickly press on to the nearest Japanese airport rather than return to Anchorage, and that ETP was exactly proper for the standard R-20 route – Johnson simply asserts (incorrectly) that it wasn’t. The ‘fact’ that Chun took on 10,000 extra pounds of fuel was originally a mistake, in that analysis of the loading manifests shows that there never was such an extra amount, but that Chun made an arithmetic error in one column of his figures; Hersh reports this, Johnson in his review misreports it, having obviously misunderstood the passage. The ‘company rules’ about using weather radar in the ‘ground-mapping mode’ is another factoid: there is no such rule. The ‘fact’ of evasive manoeuvres is a factoid, since the released Japanese radar data are entirely consistent with the announced KAL 007 manoeuvres, with proper consideration of inherent radar inaccuracies which Johnson evidently never understands (so the pilot was not ‘lying to his ground controllers’, nor had he ‘dived’, as Johnson claims – even a descent as reported by raw Japanese radar would have been on a one-degree angle, hardly a ‘dive’ for evasion).
Another major factoid is ‘the mystery of why 007 left paying cargo behind at Anchorage’. Here Johnson in his review of Hersh may have slipped across the hazy boundary between mere enthusiastic academic carelessness and intentional deception. There never was any such cargo, as has been demonstrated by experts and communicated to Johnson in correspondence many months ago. The mystery ‘1200 pounds’ (not 1800, as reported in his book) is labeled ‘6 D/H’, and was entered into one line in the weight manifest items, crossed out, and entered directly below in its proper location. It refers to the six ‘dead-heading’ (that is, staff passengers) KAL pilots and engineers on the flight. On this simple bookkeeping foul-up, Johnson has conjured up a picture of deliberate intention to prepare for ‘action’ – yet he neither checked with any aviation experts on this question, nor, when he had been personally told of the true innocent reason for the manifest citations, did he dispute it or attempt to rebut it. Instead, he promulgated it in your journal as if it were still a fact. I have prepared a 100-page critique of Shootdown which shows upwards of five hundred cases of such factoids and clear distortions: many involve mere careless ignorance, but many others involve key arguments and assertions. Johnson routinely twists documented evidence, makes up non-existent ‘expert testimony’, changes cited assertions and maps, reverses the meanings and intents of original sources, smears dissenters (such as myself), and in general completely and consistently confuses his evidence. The pattern is so overwhelming it seems impossible not to notice: see, for example, how Johnson twists and distorts my article in the January-February 1985 Defence Attaché.
R.W. Johnson writes: Mr Oberg, who describes himself as an ‘imagineer, triviologist and expert in astro folklore’, has been pursuing me for some time now, writing to newspapers, demanding to review my book, sending me abusive letters. I have repeatedly asked him for a copy of his long critique of Shootdown – to no avail. LRB readers must forgive me for not replying in detail to Mr Oberg’s points – his last letter to me sought my help in his quest to have me fired from my job.
On a Chinese Mountain
SIR: If I may add a point of information to Frank Kermode’s illuminating review (LRB, 20 November), there is one major Empson work which has not yet been published: the long essay on Marlowe’s Dr Faustus in which he expounds his theory that the play was censored and suggests a plan of reconstruction. The theme occupied him extensively throughout the last ten years of his life; the result of his labours was 600 typescript pages, in great disarray, comprising numerous part-paginated drafts. In the mid-Seventies he was evidently working towards a complete book on Marlowe but the project became centred more and more on Dr Faustus and the surviving MS was written to fulfil his promise of an appendix for my translation of the 1587 German Faust-book. Fortunately I have been able to restore this essay (90,000 words) in a form which I believe cannot be far from his intention. The result is to be published next year at the same time as the Faust-book translation, to mark the 400th anniversary of the German Faust-book.
John Henry Jones
SIR: A.M. Ludovici called himself ‘pro-feminine’ and jeered irascibly at ‘the quack-cure of feminism’ with its ‘ideal of complete emancipation from the thraldom of sex’, and at the ‘monorchid and shallow-minded men’ who had ‘gone over’ to it. ‘Ludovici was also a feminist,’ says Frank Kermode. Also? Not so.