- Visions and Blueprints: Avant-Garde Culture and Radical Politics in Early 20th-century Europe edited by Edward Timms and Peter Collier
Manchester, 328 pp, £29.50, February 1988, ISBN 0 7190 2260 6
Memories would seem to come in waves. Just now the Twenties and the Thirties have taken on a vivid presence. Their music, their arts, their decorative styles and fashions are being rediscovered and imitated. Vintage cars out of those two decades have become emblematic of a lost nerve and ostentatious brio. There may be pretty obvious reasons for this mode. Our bourses and currencies are haunted by intimations of the previous crash and of the turmoil and recession which ensued. Our sense of the inward connections between the two world wars and of the decline of Europe looks to the armistice of the inter-war years with a new scrutiny. Could saner accommodations have been found? Could the palpable lessons of Armageddon have been learnt in time? And if we now find ourselves, more or less convincingly, at the twilight of Modernism in sensibility, in experimental form, is it not natural that we should seek out the sources and attempt a balance-sheet? But these could well be rationalisations. Shifts of taste, of mimetic focus, are obscure phenomena. The tango is back, and so is scotch.
Vol. 10 No. 11 · 2 June 1988
In reviewing Visions and Blueprints, edited by P. Collier and Edward Timms (LRB, 5 May), George Steiner expresses his distaste for my chapter on ‘Left Review, New Writing and the Broad Alliance against Fascism’. ‘How poignant,’ he writes, ‘are the remnants of party discipline which enable this testimony to omit, from the list of significant British writers involved in the Spanish cockpit, the very name of George Orwell.’ This might be poignant if his statement were true, but it is not. Anyone who consults my list of contributors to New Writing who served in the Spanish war, printed on page 136, will see that it includes the name of George Orwell. I don’t expect Steiner to apologise, but when he tries to convict other writers of bad faith he should perhaps read what they have written more carefully first.
George Steiner writes: I do owe Margot Heinemann an apology. It is correct that the name of George Orwell appears in a footnote. The word ‘poignant’ seems to me a courteous description of this placement (inevitably reminiscent of Stalinist habits).
Vol. 10 No. 13 · 7 July 1988
I don’t think I have previously seen a reviewer admit to a mistaken criticism, accept that the facts are the opposite of what he has alleged and then apply to them an enhanced version of his original slight (Letters, 2 June). George Steiner’s interesting failure to notice Orwell among the writers listed by Margot Heinemann as having fought in Spain makes his references to party discipline and Stalinist habits – to use his own epithet – rather poignant. Margot Heinemann is a writer who more than most on the left has stood out against the habit of thinking to order, a quality which George Steiner might perhaps have recognised in the essay he criticises. The message, I take it, is that Orwell has been declared an unperson by what Steiner regards as the Stalinist Left. In 1984 Lawrence and Wishart, whom he would presumably locate in that region, published a volume of essays, Orwell: Inside the Myth, which look at Orwell seriously and critically. The essays undoubtedly part company with the reverential school of Orwell criticism, but they give no support to the weary suggestion that Orwell is being written out of history by those on the left who disagree with him. Steiner’s sarcastic apology is a useful reminder that old ways of thought nevertheless die hard.