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Those Italians!

Edward Luttwak’s article (LRB, 19 August) about Italy’s ancien régime contains some dangerously misleading statements. I find quite surprising the way he minimises the impact of American support for precisely those political forces which degenerated during the corruption of the Eighties. Just as the USSR financed the Italian Communists (PCI) well beyond the ’68 break, so the USA supported the Mafia-connected Christian Democrats (DC) politically and financially even after the Red Danger was past. This support was given, it’s worth noting, against a PCI that had captured 30 per cent of the democratic vote, not against some small putchist faction. It is true that the PCI participated to some extent in the lottizzazione, or sharing-out of government posts and benefits among the ruling political parties. But how is it possible seriously to suggest that the PCI contributed to the catastrophic (and criminal) administration of this country when it was never accepted into the government? Opposition parties have responsibilities too; but are these comparable to the responsibilities of the ruling parties? The fact is that (contrary to what Professor Luttwak suggests), even if some Communist bureaucrats are today charged with bribery, the number of Christian Democrats and Socialists indicted is overwhelmingly superior. To put it bluntly: today’s criminals are yesterday’s friends of the Americans, not the friends of the Communists, nor the Communists themselves.

However, since the USA’s old protégé in Italy, the DC, is today undergoing meltdown, the influential Professor Luttwak is searching for a new political force to propose to the American establishment. What better, then, than to disavow old friends and support the separatist and racist-oriented Northern League, in order to ensure that Italy will become a normal, decentralised, modern country? How is it possible not to see that this is the same kind of irresponsible game as that played two years ago by some Western governments with respect to the former Yugoslav Federation, which is today of course a model of a decentralised country? Or is the milder (so far) fate of Czechoslovakia or the USSR considered suitable for Italy, and useful for the USA or for someone else?

Nicola Cufaro Petroni
University of Bari


Cold Feet

When you really get down to it Barbara Everett’s letter (Letters, 19 August) is about a single disputed reading in Donne’s ‘Valediction: of weeping’, so I will refrain from comment on her more general remarks and merely say why I think she is wrong about that reading. I do not know why the modernised text was ‘tendentious’, nor is any evidence adduced to suggest that it was. However, I surrender, and add an ‘e’ to ‘tear’ to put the whole matter on a properly scholarly footing.

The line in question reads either: 1. ‘When a teare falls, that thou falst which it bore’ or 2. ‘When a teare falls, that thou falls which it bore.’ Ms Everett, like Empson, strongly favours the first of these; the second she twice calls ‘Helen Gardner’s new reading’, though why she calls it that, when it occurs in numerous 17th-century manuscripts, some of them authoritative, I cannot tell. (Nor do I understand why it is thought that because I have differed from Dame Helen on other issues I must perforce do so on this one.)

However, it is true that the first edition of 1633 favours 1, and that Grierson’s great edition prefers it also. Yet Grierson’s paraphrase, as I remarked in passing, seems, strangely enough, to be based on 2: ‘For, as your image perishes in each tear that falls, so shall we perish.’ And I admit that I couldn’t see Empson’s defence of it as proceeding from anything more cogent than his strong desire to be disagreeable to Gardner.

Ms Everett, on the other hand, offers to give reasons that are not mere ‘textual quibbling’ but considerations of weight for preferring 1. They are, as I understand them, a. ‘that’, or ‘tht’, means ‘in that’ and also ‘lest that’. Against 2 it is argued that by turning ‘that’ into a demonstrative and ‘thou’ into ‘a new and difficult noun’, Gardner and her predecessors have ruined both meaning and rhythm. In fact they saw what the meaning was; and far from injuring the rhythm by substituting an ‘obstructive spondee’ for an ‘unstressed and breathless iamb’ they may be thought to have saved the poem from clumsiness or nonsense.

This difference about rhythm might be called a matter of opinion or ear. It is less a matter of opinion than of common sense to prefer the reading which takes ‘that thou’ as meaning ‘that image of you in the tear’ to one that is as uncharacteristically strained as Ms Everett’s must be; so far as I can see she shuns direct paraphrase but has in mind something like ‘When a tear falls in that thou fallest which it bear’, plus ‘When a tear falls lest that thou fallest’, a Pelion of nonsense on an Ossa of the same. It seems to me far more likely that somebody just misunderstood the slightly unusual use of ‘thou’ as a noun (see OED s.v., 2a), and therefore stupidly changed ‘falls’ to ‘falst’, than that anybody went the other way about and changed ‘falst’ to ‘fall’ in a burst of ‘colloquial modernising’. If anybody really did need to alter ‘falst’ to ‘fall’ he had it in mind to make sense of the line and was smart enough to guess what the poet must have written. But I daresay it will be argued that I am misunderstanding Ms Everett, and, almost as bad, Donne.

Frank Kermode
Cambridge


Unfaithful to Wagner

Regarding the transfer of Palestinian Arabs, by what possible logic does Edward Said conclude (Letters, 22 April) that I am an advocate, ‘open’ or otherwise, of the transfer of Arabs from Israel? My letter simply pointed out – without approving them – that Israeli transfer proposals relate to hostile Arab populations, whereas Wagner’s proposal of expulsion referred to a Jewish community that was loyal to the German state.

Professor Said challenges me to supply evidence of Arab intentions (‘there were none,’ he asserts) to expel the Jews of Palestine. The historical record shows, however, a continuity of Arab national demands to remove the Jews from Palestine throughout this century. In March 1920, the Palestinian Arab leadership demanded of the Mandatory Government: ‘Either us or the Zionists. There is no room for both elements struggling in the same area.’ In April that year, Taher Aboul Seoud and other influential Arabs requested the British Military Governor to order ‘the immediate expulsion of all Jewish soldiers from the country … Considering the fact that the Zionists are foreigners in this land … [your] ruling be made effective and thus expelling [sic] the Zionists.’ In the same month Mohammed Derweesh, Director of the Arab Club, wrote to Allenby: ‘We declare that we cannot accept the Jews in our country … We declare that we do not accept the Jews neither [sic] as guests nor as neighbours in Palestine.’ In June 1921, the Arab Executive Committee rejected Herbert Samuel’s placatory speech about Arab-Jewish coexistence: ‘Peace and tranquillity would be the rule in Palestine only so long as it was inhabited by one people, possessing one language, one nationality and one interest.’ From its inception, the Palestinian national movement has been mired in this basically rejectionist – or rather, transferrist – mentality, which, alas, hasn’t changed much in the last seventy years, whether one looks at the Palestinian National Covenant or recalls the Arab students’ chants of ‘Transfer the Jews’ at the University of Haifa in 1989. Moreover, as Professor Said well knows, Israel’s Arab neighbours either hold their Jewish populations hostage or, like Jordan, are wholly judenrein states in which Jews cannot by law be citizens or even residents.

Paul Lawrence Rose
Penn State University, Philadelphia

Edward Said writes: Paul Lawrence Rose’s false claims and spurious logic require one last response. All the Palestinians he cites – and neither Taher Aboul Seoud nor Mohammed Derweesh was, or is, well-known – speak as natives watching a wave of European colonists arriving from abroad who were fully intent on settling land that was never theirs. This is very different from those same Jews wishing to transfer the natives out of Palestine. Beginning with Theodor Herzl, who spoke about ‘spiriting the natives away’, the concept of transfer has been a mainstay of Zionist thought and even theory; this is at the opposite extreme from cries of alarm voiced by Palestinians as Jewish colonists brought in by the British appeared more and more to be threatening Palestinians’ existence. Of course the Palestinians were right. Regrettably, Professor Rose, like most Zionists, simply refuses to see these facts and the moral differences in the Palestinian and Zionist positions: it is this that permits him to make the most literally preposterous allegations whereby the victims of Zionist exclusion and oppression are suddenly transformed into terrorists and anti-semites. To make matters worse, Professor Rose speaks of Arab students in Haifa in 1989, where they constitute an embattled and disadvantaged minority in the Jewish state, as if their protests were equal in power and authority to the plans and actions of Israeli transfer-advocates like Rafael Eytan and Meir Kahane, or Rabin and Netanyahu for that matter. General Rabin, one needs to recall, was personally responsible in 1948 for the forced expulsion of over fifty thousand Palestinians from the Lydda and Ramlé area.


Greater Croatia

Replying to Mark Thompson, Joan Phillips of Living Marxism claims that the latter is ‘neither pro-Serb nor anti-Croat’ (Letters, 19 August). Yet it was the same Joan Phillips who in the March 1993 issue of Living Marxism portrayed the Serbian destruction of Vukovar as simply a response to Croatian oppression of Serbs, and complained that because of media bias the public was ‘left to conclude that the Serbian forces who laid waste to Vukovar were evil men.’ In the March 1992 issue, Phillips claimed that ‘Croatian politicians have succeeded in inventing a national identity which did not exist a few years ago.’ In the January 1992 issue, she claimed that ‘what we have in Yugoslavia is the invention of ethnic differences by Croatian nationalists who want to justify their claim to independent nationhood … Not all that long ago, most people in Yugoslavia would have identified themselves as Yugoslavian, not Croatian or Serbian.’ These statements, self-evidently anti-Croat, are factually untrue: every Yugoslav constitution from the founding of Communist Yugoslavia until its break-up recognised the Croats and Serbs as different nations, while the Census of 1981 shows that only 8.2 per cent of Croatian citizens and 4.8 per cent of Serbian citizens identified themselves as Yugoslavs rather than as Serbs, Croats or members of the ethnic minorities (the figures for the 1961 Census are 0.4 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively).

Living Marxism also accepts the interpretation of the Second World War in Yugoslavia favoured by Serbian racists. In the April 1993 issue, Phillips described the view that large numbers of Croats as well as Serbs joined the Anti-Fascist struggle as putting an ‘undeserved positive sheen on the reputation of Croatia’. According to Phillips, ‘some Anti-Fascist Croats certainly did join the Partisans, but they were always a very small minority.’ This despite the fact that in late 1943, in the middle of the war, 11 out of the Partisans’ 26 divisions were Croatian and composed mostly of Croats. Phillips even goes so far as to suggest that Serbian Fascists were essentially blameless with regard to the extermination of Serbia’s Jews during World War Two, describing reports to the contrary as Croatian nationalist propaganda. Equal numbers of Jews were killed in wartime Serbia and wartime Croatia – 24,000 and 23,000 respectively – and the Serbian Nazi quisling regime of Milan Nedic participated enthusiastically in the holocaust and indeed built its own death camps, such as the Banjica camp in Belgrade, which was staffed by Serbs. Thus Living Marxism tars the whole Croat nation with the fascist brush yet actually denies the crimes of Serbian Fascism. How much more anti-Croat can one get?

Whatever the intentions of Phillips, Living Marxism is little better than a propaganda sheet for right-wing Serbian nationalism. That this is so was made clear in the spring of this year, when it organised the transfer to Britain of an exhibition funded by the Serbian Government which had previously been on display in Belgrade. This exhibition showed pictures of Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide during World War Two alongside pictures of Serb – and only Serb victims of the present war, in a perverse attempt to equate the two.

Attila Hoare
Robinson College, Cambridge


The British Library will survive

The British Library management might have a slightly less tarnished reputation if it had been fortunate enough over the last few years to have had a spokesman of the calibre of Sir Anthony Kenny, whose letter appears in your issue of 19 August. But admirable as his defence is, it does beg a number of questions. Whether the reader of the British Library’s Plan for the period till 2000 is impressed or irritated by the document, there is no doubt its photographs are both artful and uninformative and its tone that of a public-relations, fundraising, glossy brochure. Nowhere is anyone to be seen carrying out such an old-fashioned act as handling a book. The Plan represents a lost opportunity to guide the British Library out of the appalling situation in which it now finds itself back into its once exalted position as the greatest library in the world.

To take the points, as Sir Anthony has done, one by one, I deal first with the vexed question of seating. Although Professor Sutherland got his sums wrong or misread the Plan, there can be no doubt that what is being discussed is the ‘average seat occupancy’. Most regular readers are unhappily aware of the inconsistency of this seemingly stable phrase. For while ‘66 per cent average seating occupancy’ on a bleak and wet February Saturday morning may mean vistas of blank desks, in July and August, when British and foreign university academics flock to the library, it means that readers are shoulder to shoulder, lucky to have found a space large enough on which to rest their papers and luckier still to find a seat. Whatever will 85 per cent average seat occupancy be like? Suffice to quote the apt letter from Keith Flett which follows Sir Anthony’s: ‘In due course … it will dawn on the BL that the only way to make St Pancras work is to pay the staff who do the work a lot more money and to keep the Round Reading Room open to ensure adequate seating capacity’ – a sentiment wholeheartedly endorsed by the Regular Readers’ Group.

It was strongly hinted that a sudden flood of new readers as a result of lowering the minimum admission age was the source of recent grave problems which beset the Library. Long queues formed at all book delivery counters. Book retrieval was badly delayed and at one point readers were rationed to only six books a day. Admittedly the problems were compounded by stringent and unacceptable staff regrading at the Library’s busiest time of year. But the large influx of new readers – obvious to regular readers, but not officially confirmed – continued.

‘It is difficult to make an overwhelming case for extending the reading rooms in the new building when the present average seat occupancy is only 66 per cent,’ writes Sir Anthony. Would it not have been better before rushing to impress Government with numbers of new readers in the forlorn hope of obtaining extra funds for increasing seat capacity at St Pancras, to consider the wisdom of Mr Flett’s suggestion of keeping the Reading Room, so solving current and future seating problems? Professor Sutherland was quite right to read into the Plan’s Paragraph 11 doubt that the British Library will continue to provide free access to reading rooms. It is stated that there is ‘no intention of introducing charges’, but is the Board likely to resist pressure to do so?

Sir Anthony’s defence of the BL’s grandiose plans for investment in information technology seems to be based on grounds nearly as shaky as those he considers the basis for Professor Sutherland’s attack on it. He concedes that a big question mark hangs over readers’ future use of the new technology but pins his faith merely on the fact that ‘the demand for electronic information is on the increase.’ Surely what is needed is a thorough study (going far beyond Information UK2000) which examines the BL management’s right to alter the British Library’s traditional role as a provider of public reading rooms to that of a depot supplying books in electronic form to universities and public libraries for a fee. It is a policy which completely destroys the basis for scholarly work: that is, the creation of original work from primary sources.

Too many questions have been raised about the wisdom of such blanket faith and total investment in information technology. Robin Alston, Professor of Library, Archive and Information Studies at University College London and a member of the British Library Board, asks what the proven benefits of library computerisation are, believing – as Professor Sutherland points out – that the community of librarians was hoodwinked into computerisation by the microcomputer industry a couple of decades ago. Alarming allegations have also been made concerning the conduct of software companies. One manual warns of the planting of deliberate mistakes to show up illicit copying. What sort of a basis is this for serious study?

Sir Anthony himself voiced serious concern in his 1992 British Library Research Lecture. He pointed out the dangers of the computer becoming a substitute for the human researcher. But more important are his views on what he terms ‘diversion of funding’. He accurately exposes the current dismal trend of human values when he writes:

Because there is pressure on departments in humanistic subjects to appear up to date and efficient, it is much easier to persuade funding bodies to give money for computers and software than to buy manuscripts, rare books, or second and third copies of frequently used library texts. After a few years a department may be left with serious gaps in its library and a load of superannuated computer equipment.

Like Professor Sutherland, the Regular Readers’ Group does not like the British Library’s strategy, but unlike Professor Sutherland the RRG does have a strategy of its own: keep the Bloomsbury reading rooms and associated storage space (held rent-free by the BL) which will not only make good the shortfall in reader facilities but also solve the storage restraints at St Pancras.

Sir Anthony has demonstrated his ability to defend the BL Board’s latest position. Can we hope he will now be able to persuade the Board to a reconsideration of all aspects of current policy and to induce the Government to produce the necessary funds so that St Pancras in tandem with Bloomsbury can once again provide the cultural centre worthy of this country?

Etrenne Lymbery
Regular Readers’ Group, London SW4


Trots and Tories

Paul Foot writes of Alan Clark’s diary that ‘its chief merit is its utter contempt for civil servants, businessmen, military officers’ and Tory politicians (LRB, ). Since Paul Foot has spent a long political career expressing contempt for exactly the same people, one might have expected a sympathetic review. But no. The public-school, Oxbridge gentlemen who occupy such a large part of English political life just love having digs at each other, beginning in their fourth-form debating societies and going on into dotage. Upper-class Trots and Tories, united against the wankers who try and get anything done.

David Barker
London SW6


Jihad

F.T. Prince’s Collected Poems 1935-1992 is such a big book that even James Wood (LRB, 5 August) can’t quite sum it up in a review of 155 words (plus one quotation). The attempt seems rather pointless. Wood begins well, with criticism of Poems (1938): the poetry doesn’t sound like Auden, which is good, but it does sound like Yeats, which is bad, but then again it has a ‘soft glitter’(?), and so on. But turning to Soldiers Bathing (1954), Wood tells us only that it ‘was a sad failure’, and makes two strictures (with which I personally agree) on the first six lines of the title-poem.

As regards everything published after 1954, i.e. three-quarters of the book, 221 out of 291 pages, Wood’s entire comment reads: ‘About Prince’s later poetry there is a damp [?] defeatism.’ One is dazzled by the Webernian density of this, but unfortunately it’s wrong. The main theme in this poetry, as in much of the earlier, is attempted self-transcendence through love for God and for other people. Prince’s attitude towards such attempts is consistent and clear: he’s for them. I can’t think of a less ‘defeatist’ modern poet.

W.G. Shepherd
London N14


Frenchifying

Terry Eagleton and Freddy Hurdis-Jones (Letters, 19 August) both appear to be unaware that Prunty, Brunty, Pronty, Prenty and Brontë are all Anglicisations – of varying degrees of fancy – of the Irish Ó Pronntaigh (variant: Ó Proinntigh), the surname of an 18th-century literary family in east Ulster. Pronntach, from which the name derives, means ‘generous’, ‘given to giving gifts’, and is cognate with its more widespread synonym bronntach. Patrick’s dieresis, I would like to think, is an exotic token of the ancient world of the imagination he had left behind. Scholars of Old Irish might call it ‘compensatory lengthening’.

Liam Mac Cóil
Baile Atha Buí, Co. na Mí


It knows what it means

Glad as I am to see the fairy tale getting attention (LRB, 22 July), I think one or two of John Bayley’s remarks somewhat misleading. It is certainly very tempting to think that the ‘old’ fairy tale neither ‘knows nor cares what it means’, since in prehistoric oral form it probably did not. But we have no direct access to that form, and in the hands of the three collectors whose volumes are the source of the best-known fairy tales in English – Charles Perrault, the brothers Grimm and Hans Andersen – the fairy tale does know very well what it means. Perrault attached to it playful morals, Wilhelm Grimm revised his stories through seven editions to ensure that they carried messages he approved of, and many of Hans Andersen’s tales are parables. Carter’s ‘unperplexedness’ needs glossing differently.

Judith Terry
University of Victoria,


Where is he now?

Adam Phillips recounts (LRB, 5 August) that Ernest Jones, when his son was born, decided to ‘amplify’ his name to Beddow-Jones, but withdrew the idea in the face of Freud’s scorn. However, I believe the son was later called Beddow-Jones; I was at school with him, at Arnold House Preparatory School, St John’s Wood, between 1933 and 1935 or so. He was a bright, jolly, intelligent little boy, who tried to convert me to Welsh nationalism on the grounds of my being a Jones also; and his main enthusiasm was for the true Cambrian slate-mining dwellers of the North, as compared with the contemptible Silurian coalminers of the South. We were great friends, and even wrote some doggerel together about King John’s loss of his jewels in the Wash. I have no idea what happened to him – doubtless his father sent him to Bedales or Dartington – but I would be very interested to hear further details of his life.

Freddy Hurdis-Jones
Malta


Bad

Adrian Bowyer (Letters, 19 August) can hardly contain his excitement at the prospect of obliging me to eat the 38 William books. Although my knife and fork were polished and at the ready and stomach pumps were on standby at a local hospital, the huge quantity of unsolicited mail and telephoned messages of support which followed the Independent’s coverage of the ‘was William a cat killer?’ controversy meant the challenge to my literary appetite was lifted. Besides, William did not deliberately or maliciously kill Hector. He was ‘aghast’ at what had happened. What is more, he found a replacement cat for his neighbour.

The cake enquiries, which were reported in the Independent, were the result of a disreputable journalist taking advantage of my trusting nature over some celebratory refreshment in Croydon’s premier French restaurant, the Petit Jacques.

David Townsend
Social Services Department, London Borough of Croydon

All power to Adrian Bowyer for defending the reputation of Richmal Crompton. I think she’s wonderful too, and so I suspect does Mr Townsend, only he wasn’t man enough to declare his addiction straight off. But Townsend is right in essence about the cat: it was killed accidentally and not in malice, though several grown-ups cheerfully wished it dead (Mr Townsend’s point, originally).

All this surely heralds the formation of a Crompton Club – with annual gatherings for ale and marzipan.

John Roe
University of York