My Hard Graft
Several fans who first read my work in your pages have written to ask if I am still writing poetry. I would like the chance to explain the reason for my apparent silence. I am still producing as many good poems as before. The only reason I seem to have disappeared from the scene is that almost no one has the courage to publish my work any longer. There are occasional acceptances, but the poems rarely end up in print.
In the mid-Eighties I managed to break into the clique-ridden world of English poetry and my Sky Ray Lolly was a runaway success. Those who’ve been to my readings will attest that I’m also an entertaining performer. Eight collections of poems have been published, two travel books, a book of essays, a novel, a novella and two anthologies. I am a hardworking and productive writer, facts that are not acknowledged by the Establishment which is so keen to shut me out again. Last November, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson accepted two volumes of poetry: a fat selected poems and a slimmer new collection. These were to be published over the next two years. Unfortunately, the managing director of Reed Consumer Books has now decided to axe the entire poetry list, including my two books. To add to my problems, no paying magazine or newspaper seems willing to print my poems at the moment. I have also offered my services as an adjudicator on competitions. To date, both the Poetry Society and the Arvon Foundation have not given me the basic courtesy of a reply. These are the reasons for my apparent ‘silence’. I would like to appeal for help to those among your readers who have enjoyed my work in the past. For instance, if any editor of a magazine that pays for contributions would like to solicit poems from me I can send him or her some unpublished ones. If, also, any academics or literary persons could nominate me for the sort of awards I can’t enter myself for, they would earn my lifelong gratitude. I am simply seeking some sort of recognition both for the quality of my work and the hard graft across the years. I believe I deserve it.
Advice to the Palestinians
Recent articles in the LRB by Ian Gilmour (LRB, 22 December 1994), Avi Shlaim (LRB, 9 June 1994) and Robert Fisk (LRB, 23 February) focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, several inaccuracies can be found in these articles. To mention two: Fisk quotes Lebanese sources as ‘acknowledging that, without Assad’s stewardship, their country would have been eaten up with unacceptable concessions by the peace process.’ Israel has repeatedly made it clear that she has no territorial claims on Lebanon and will withdraw her forces when the Lebanese Government disbands the terrorist organisations that pose a threat to Israel. What is so unacceptable about this? Fisk further claims that the Christian Lebanese militiamen who perpetrated the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut were sent by the Israelis. To the contrary, when it became apparent to Israeli commanders what was happening, they stopped the massacre, saving untold Palestinian lives. Palestinian propagandists turned the story around, blaming the Israelis.
My father, Arthur Ruppin, was a Zionist leader from 1907, when he came to Palestine as the representative of the Zionist Organisation. He founded Brit Shalom, a society to further peace between Jews and Arabs. The basis of Brit Shalom was that neither group should seek political dominance. Thus, each people would elect half the members of a common Parliament. Jewish and Arab immigration would continue, but not to the detriment or displacement of the existing population. Many, although not all, Zionist leaders agreed with these principles. No Arab leader ever did. Expulsion of Jews from Palestine was an integral part of Arab policy. The Palestinians, aided by armies from Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, tried to expel the Jews in 1948. Expulsion still figures in the PLO charter, which notwithstanding Arafat’s obligation to abrogate it under the Oslo agreement, is still in force because a majority of the PLO’s leadership is not willing to part with the dream of evicting the Jews from Israel. Given the tension between Arabs and Jews before 1948, and the Arab desire to evict Jews from Israel, it is hardly surprising that similar dreams were evoked among some Jews for removal of the Arabs. Some translated these dreams into a plan modelled on the Graeco-Turkish population exchange after the Graeco-Turkish War in the early Twenties. The transfer idea was never adopted by the Zionist Organisation.
The contention that the Jewish leadership engineered the exodus of Palestinians in 1948 is quite ludicrous. After the UN Partition Resolution, the Palestinian Arabs perpetrated country-wide attacks upon Jews. Arab leaders decided to invade the Jewish state following the British withdrawal and promised the annihilation of Palestine’s Jewish population. Arabs living in predominantly Jewish areas were advised to leave their homes and move to Arab areas temporarily until the victorious Arab armies liquidated the Jews. The Jewish Agency tried to stem the exodus. I can attest to this from personal experience. I lived in the village of Michmoret in a predominantly Jewish area. Nearby was an Arab village, A-Nufiat, with which we had good relations. In April 1948 we were informed that the Arab villagers were preparing to flee. Following a Jewish Agency directive to counter the Arab exodus, I went to A-Nufiat to talk with the village head. He said they had been told to flee by an emissary of the Mufti, who warned that the Jews were planning to kill them. I reassured them that no Jew intended them harm. However, two weeks later they disappeared. One old man who stayed behind recounted that an emissary came to A-Nufiat and announced that by midnight the Jews would arrive slaughtering all the inhabitants. When the villagers repeated my assurances, the emissary retorted that this was a Jewish trick – to catch the unsuspecting. Had they heeded my advice, they would still be in their village.
In Robert Fisk’s article, the story recounted by Selma Tawil, who left her home in Haifa for Lebanon three months after the occupation of the city by Jewish forces in April 1948, is another example of misguided action. The story of the Arab exodus from Haifa, where the Jewish mayor begged the Arabs not to flee, is amply documented. Mrs Tawil obeyed the advice of the Arab leadership to leave, despite the fact that she had three months to see that no Arabs were harmed after the Jewish victory. Unfortunately she, like the villagers of A-Nufiat, was badly used by the Arab leadership, and they have paid dearly in consequence. Many Arabs did stay in their homes and villages, where they have lived peacefully to this day. Indeed, Arabs constitute almost 20 per cent of Israel’s current population.
Though the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian refugees left because of directives by the Arab leadership, some, during the 1948 war, were forcibly expelled. This occurred when the Arab population posed a strategic threat, as, for example, in Lydda and Ramla – two Arab towns on the road linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These towns were taken by the Israeli Army and the towns’ leadership capitulated. A few hours later the townspeople opened fire on our forces, entailing a costly reconquest followed by the expulsion of most of the Arab population.
It is to the credit of the Israeli public that notwithstanding widespread Arab terrorism, the Kach Party – which advocates expulsion of Palestinians from Israel – got only about 1 per cent of the vote in the elections in 1984. The Party has since been outlawed. Contrary to Shlaim’s allegations, the political party Moledet does not advocate mass expulsion of Palestinians. ‘Transfer’ in Moledet’s definition is persuasion of Palestinians, by money and other positive inducements, to emigrate. The Israeli public has rejected transfer in any form. Moledet has never received more than 3 per cent of the vote.
Avi Shlaim, reviewing Benny Morris’s book on Israel’s Border Wars 1949-56, describes Arab refugees infiltrating into Israel ‘looking for relatives, returning to their homes, looking for their possessions, tending their fields’. He cites Morris as showing that ‘the governments of the neighbouring Arab states were opposed to the cross-border forays into Israel for most of the period under discussion.’ The Palestinian exodus took place in 1948. Armistice agreements were signed in 1949, forbidding cross-border incursions. Heavy Arab infiltration started in the early Fifties when there were no possessions left to retrieve. At first the infiltrators concentrated on theft of Jewish property – mainly livestock and farming equipment. Afterwards came sabotage, then murder.
Arab states, except Lebanon, never opposed infiltration into Israel, though they tried to document opposition to avoid accusations of breaking the armistice agreement. Later they (predominantly Egypt) aided infiltrators. Israel’s border contains no natural impediments to infiltration. To protect its citizens, the Israeli Government retaliated. At first, retaliatory raids moved Nasser to intensify feyadeen activity. Only after Suez, Israel’s biggest retaliatory act, did Nasser change course, and infiltration stopped. Similarly, retaliatory raids stopped terrorist infiltration from Jordan. To call Israel’s only possible line of defence ‘dirty’ is mere name-calling.
Ian Gilmour, Robert Fisk and Edward Said (LRB, 20 October 1994) criticise the Oslo agreement, which is described as badly negotiated, humiliating and unfavourable. Israel is accused of delaying and not implementing its commitments to the Palestinians.
The basis of the Oslo agreement is the ending of terrorism, to be replaced by co-operation and reconciliation. Arafat and his PLO have failed completely in this basic aspect. Arab terrorism has increased since Oslo. Gaza and Jericho have become safe havens for terrorists, murderers and thieves. The PLO police does little to apprehend these criminals. Indeed, many of the cars used by the Palestinian police have been stolen in Israel. Hate propaganda continues under the guise of freedom of speech. The Palestinian Autonomy teems with armed gangs belonging to organisations rejecting the notion of peace. Arafat does little to curb their activities. When suicide bombers exploded buses in Hadera, Afula, Tel Aviv and Netanya, Gazans danced in the streets. Arafat only accused television crews of misleading the public. In his speeches he has compared the current agreements to Mohammed’s agreement with the Kureish Tribe. Mohammed signed a peace treaty with the Kureish only later to turn on them and slaughter them all. The Oslo agreement was a test of Palestinian resolve to turn a new page in their relationship with their Jewish neighbours. They failed in that test. The Israeli Government, mindful of the security of Israel’s population, cannot be expected to withdraw from other Arab regions, creating new safe havens for terrorists. Recently, under intense Israeli pressure, Arafat took steps to curb terrorist activity based on Gaza, but his effort fell short of disarming the out-spoken terrorist movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad and has so far produced no tangible results.
Gilmour quotes Shlaim accusing Israel of being responsible for Arab violence by insisting on the continuation and increase of the settlements. But Palestinian terrorism did not abate even during the first days following Oslo. Hamas and Islamic Jihad declare that their aim is to scuttle the peace process and continue their war against Israel’s very existence. For them there is no difference between a West Bank settlement and Tel Aviv. Said’s accusation that ‘the Israelis deliberately destroyed the infrastructure’ of the occupied territories is far from the truth. Israel invested much more than any previous occupying power in infrastructure and economic development. Income per capita has risen dramatically, and were it not for Palestinian violence, would have risen further. Reporting on Hebron, Said criticises the security measures enforced on visitors to the Hebron mosque. The arrangement, designed to allow both Jews and Muslims to pray at the site, he describes as ‘one monotheistic faith intruding itself on the religious practices of another’. He forgets that this ‘mosque’ is a converted synagogue, built by King Herod over the tomb of the Patriarchs, only one of whom (Abraham) is claimed by the Arabs as their ancestor. He also forgets to mention that this site, holy to the Jews, was closed to them from the Arab conquest in the seventh century to 1967, when the IDF occupied Hebron. Said also mentions the existence of a ‘small rabbinical school located at the back of the mosque that had been unused for generations’. He fails to mention that the rabbinical school was used until 1929, when the Arabs in Hebron massacred the Jewish community that had lived in the city for centuries. In all, it would seem that the monotheistic faith intruding itself on the practices of another was Islam.
All the above-mentioned authors are clearly opposed to the current peace process but fail to propose a realistic alternative. Fisk, for example, berates the Israelis and others for their changed attitudes toward Arafat after the Oslo agreement. Arafat’s sins have not been forgotten. But he is the only recognised Palestinian leader who has been willing to work for peace, however flawed. This is something that calls for a changed attitude. The Oslo agreement is depicted as unjust because many difficult issues (settlements, the status of Jerusalem, the status of refugees) were postponed to a later stage in the negotiations. It was not unreasonably hoped that solution of these issues would be easier after an interval of peaceful relations.
The Palestinians seem to have forgotten that their real weapons in the conflict with Israel are peace, friendship and reconciliation. Pressure on Israel does not work and usually backfires. The Palestinians would be well advised if, instead of blaming Israel for their every misfortune, they were to concentrate their efforts on constructively tackling their problems, and building positive bridges with the Israelis. This will be the only route to achieving their goals of prosperity, independence and dignity.
Please, LRB readers, don’t accept Terry Castle’s judgment (LRB, 23 February) of Eliza Fenwick’s Secresy as ‘sublimely bad’. Read the novel yourselves: you’ll see. Having edited it, I admit to prejudice, but I am not alone in my admiration. As it happens, I read Castle’s review just the day after spending a three-hour session on Secresy with a group of highly critical graduate students – the second time in four years I have had that experience. Emboldened by the responses of these students (various and hotly debated in detail, but uniform in their respect), I find Castle’s dismissal reminds me of a famous thumbs-down by a critic I respect even more than I have hitherto respected her: Johnson’s ‘Tristram Shandy did not last.’
How can Terry Castle have written a review like this? She is not usually prone to sloppy misreading and ideological parti pris. We know from her work on Richardson that she can appreciate sensibility, and from her work on Burney that (despite what this review might suggest) she is capable of admiring novels by women. Perhaps she reckons herself allergic to Gothic? Something, in any case, has produced a weird blindness to Secresy’s complex and convincing characters, its politically-charged situations, its inexorably unfolding plot, and its range of wholly unstilted prose styles, from flashes of hilarity to the most powerfully restrained emotive passages in the language since Clarissa. I rest my case in the file marked ‘pending: posterity’.
University of Alberta
What’s It All About?
Tom Lubbock’s article on the current situation in the British art world seems to be about right (LRB, 6 April), but it raises two or more questions. Why would British champions of painting continue to identify themselves wholeheartedly with the ideas of Clement Greenberg? A great deal has gone on since the mighty Clem first put forward a theory for meaning-production in painting which could, in retrospect at least, be compared in its fundamentals to Jakobson’s idea about the literariness of language. I know lots of non-representational painters who don’t spend much time thinking about Greenberg, not least because they don’t agree with what he said about painting. Aren’t there any in Britain?
There’s something revealing and, in that, distressing about the British seeing the conflict as one between Duchamp and Greenberg rather than between Duchamp and Matisse. This, to my mind, suggests that the most profound disabilities of the British tradition in painting are still alive and well – they still won’t let it be about anything but a good idea. One must simultaneously be struck by the absence of any interest in revising, or otherwise expressing scepticism towards, Duchamp-Warhol. After twenty-five years of the hegemony of Pop-Conceptual historicism, which has culminated in an international style whose British version Lubbock describes, I think, pretty accurately, is there no stirring, in Newcastle or Notting Hill, of any scepticism towards the present dogma which is not itself a return to an earlier one?
Santa Monica, California
Christopher Small’s letter (Letters, 20 April), about the sexual significance of zip-fasteners, recalls Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, 1932) describing how ‘super-pneumatic Lenina stepped alluringly from her unzipped zippicami-knicks.’ Here Huxley is surely writing in fantasy rather than from experience. Camiknickers at that time were cut on the cross and fitted perfectly without fastenings. (Indeed, it is puzzling to work out where a zip could have been put.) A slim girl might slip into or out of them. Lenina might have had to pour them, softest silk satin, over her head. They could have been secured, if necessary, in her crotch by two or four small press-studs.
I am warmly grateful for W.B. Carnochan’s handsome remarks on my book Satire and Sentiment 1660-1830 (LRB, 23 February). In the course of them, however, he ascribes to me a ‘Tory interpretation of history as decline and fall’ and a sense of being in ‘the dark and latter days of empire’. Since I’ve never knowingly proposed a Tory interpretation of anything, and thought I’d kept my nostalgia for empire under wraps, I’m led to wonder how a reading of the actual book could have led to such an impression. Some twenty years ago, in another friendly review, Carnochan ascribed to me, equally bafflingly, a Whig interpretation of history. My views were roughly the same as now. But times have changed, and Carnochan’s cultural shadow-boxing seems to be keeping in step with something or other.
Carnochan is a distinguished student of Swift, who has evidently instructed him in the art of getting ‘a thorough Insight into the Index, by which the whole book is governed and turned, like Fishes by the Tail’. The advantage of thus entering ‘by the Back-Door’, Swift continues, is that the front way requires ‘an Expence of Time and Forms’. To be fair, Carnochan does seem to have made some attempt at frontal penetration, by way of the table of contents, but got most of it wrong: thus, there are not three chapters on mock-heroic but two; the book is divided not into two sections, but three; Burke does not ‘come under the rubric of satire’, and so on.
So the index was evidently a better bet, and Carnochan correctly notices that it has no entries for ‘satire’ or ‘sentiment’ (but not that it lists only proper names), and also that it has four entries for Norman Mailer. Carnochan has for years been attentive to my mentions of Mailer, and now devotes five paragraphs to two of these. They discuss a particular mode of self-consciousness which Swift described as ‘modern’ and which in my view, expressed in passing, reaches a sort of nadir in Advertisements for Myself: it is this which classes me as a Tory in the latter days of empire, which on his account of my account must have been progressively darkening since some early 18th-century (and I would have thought preimperial) heyday. He also notes that ‘Flaubert and Yeats are frequent presences,’ but without reporting whether my discussions of them register a similar feeling of progressive decline. But then the index entries to these run to considerably more than four and must have been troublesome to follow up.
The closing words of the present review commend the book, as well as my earlier work, for their ‘long-standing attention to the 18th-century past as prologue’ and for heeding ‘the things that matter most’. But Carnochan’s single-minded harping on post-Augustan analogies runs contrary to the explicit emphasis of the book, its Preface and even its blurb, which state that my interest is in the 18th century as part of a continuous tradition that runs from the Classical past to the present. Its three central chapters contain detailed discussions of works by Homer, Lucan, Erasmus, Rabelais, Montaigne and Milton on heroic and military themes, and by some pre-18th-century authors on theories of style. You wouldn’t guess any of this from the review, least of all that modern instances, supposedly a trademark of mine, are more or less recessive presences throughout the book, though I wouldn’t dream of disowning them.
I rejoice to concur with Carnochan in his opposition to a pedantry, once endemic in 18th-century studies, which insisted that the only scholarly way to study the period was in terms of an earlier past. But I can’t help seeing his oddly skewed approval as the flipside of the same conservative discomfort with the outrageous (or eccentrically distinctive) idea that later authors like Mailer or Flaubert might throw light on Swift or Richardson, who after all (ha!) hadn’t read them. The assumption of my book, right or wrong, is that these authors, and Lucan and Erasmus and Montaigne, throw light on one another, and on the literary tradition as a whole, through difference as well as resemblance. I accept that it’s ungracious to respond in this way to kind words, but I’d have preferred to be disagreed with for a position I really hold than praised for one that I don’t.
Yale University, Connecticut
In reviewing Adrian Desmond’s Huxley: The Devil’s Disciple John Sutherland makes a strange set of criticisms (LRB, 23 March). He castigates Desmond for using words anachronistically. For example: ‘Huxley rides on Victorian trains with “commuters” (a coinage that originates in America in the 1950s).’ And: ‘Rottweiler (a breed that did not exist in the 19th century)’. These are only two examples. If what we term ‘commuting’ took place before the word was coined, it seems perfectly reasonable to apply it retrospectively. Are biographers expected to confine themselves to the vocabulary their subject might have used or known? Difficult if you are writing about Chaucer. Sutherland has got it all wrong anyway. ‘Commuter’ is recorded in exactly the sense in question during Huxley’s lifetime, while the first recorded reference to ‘Rottweiler’ is in 1907 and implies that the breed was well established by then.
Beverley Charles Rowe
Ready for Anything
R.W. Johnson’s review of Will Hutton’s book, The State We’re In (LRB, 9 March), shows how ill-informed he and Mr Hutton are about our ownership of British Ever Ready. Johnson says that having bought Ever Ready in 1982 we sold its European division to its main competitor Duracell, pushed up prices, surrendered market share and after ten years sold the remaining shell of a company to another competitor. This was alleged to be ‘nothing but vandalism’. The facts are these. We acquired British Ever Ready in 1982 for £95 million, at a time when its market share was in free fall and it had seen its profits halve in a five-year period. We and the management of Ever Ready rescued the company and its capacity to continue as the only significant UK producer of dry-cell batteries. We did indeed sell the overseas loss-makers, which were rapidly bringing the company towards bankruptcy.
Ever Ready was eventually sold to Ralston Purina, the owner of the Eveready battery business in the United States, for £132 million (hardly the price for a ‘shell’), thus providing a vastly improved business with another good home. The business was hardly ‘in decline’ or ‘behind the times’. The reference to a ‘pretty thin infrastructure’ is more a comment on Ralston’s own management structure than that of Ever Ready.
The rescue of Ever Ready gave improved value to Hanson shareholders, who not only retained the £132 million proceeds but also remained owners of two other first-class businesses – Eveready South Africa and Crabtree, which were both part of the Ever Ready business acquired in 1982. These two businesses alone now earn three times the pretax profits of the whole of British Ever Ready at the time we acquired it.
In her Diary on the Modern Language Association’s San Diego convention (LRB, 9 February) Elaine Showalter refers to ‘a cluster of good bookstores among the bodegas and funky coffee-bars in a district misleadingly called Normal Heights’. I’m not sure about what she thinks is abnormal about this neighbourhood, long known to many of its inhabitants as Barrio Normal. But it certainly would not be a normal California community if it included any bodegas. Such stores are Caribbean Hispanic, mainly Puerto Rican, retail establishments both common in and peculiar to large East Coast US cities such as New York, Newark and, I suppose, the Princeton-based Showalter’s nearby Trenton. In the predominantly Mexican and Central American West Coast Latino areas such as San Diego’s Normal and Logan barrios, East Los Angeles (where I reside) and San Francisco’s Mission District, the little neighbourhood stores are all known as tiendas and mercados.
Instead of selling Malta soft drinks and Pan francés, tiendas and mercados sell Penafiel and tortillas.
Christopher Prendergast (LRB, 9 March) gives short shrift to the publisher Maurice Girodias in his review of three books on the Paris literary scene in the Fifties. Yet he praises the Merlin group for publishing Beckett, apparently ignorant of the fact that Girodias played a vital role in publishing not only Watt but also Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable. The Merlin group came to Girodias because they needed a French manager to be able to publish at all, and because Girodias, who admired Beckett’s work, was prepared to provide the necessary financing. Girodias and his Olympia Press then went on to publish the first editions of Nabokov’s Lolita, Donleavy’s The Ginger Man and Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, as well as the first English translations of works by Apollinaire, Bataille and Genet and Dominique Aury’s Story of O.
Christopher Prendergast also gives my book, The Good Ship Venus, short shrift, dismissing it in a single phrase. That is his prerogative as a reviewer. But it does raise questions. Surely fairness demands a modicum of explanation – an example or two would do.
John de St Jorre
One Is Enough
Ian Hamilton’s review (LRB, 9 March) of Jon Stallworthy’s biography of Louis MacNeice is enjoyable and informative. However, he makes only one passing comment on MacNeice’s plays: ‘numerous, now unreadable verse plays’. Few have read them all, and few are in verse. Omitting ‘numerous’ radio features (some of merit), there are 41 plays: two verse play translations (Agamemnon and Faust), six original stage plays (with two farces), 25 original radio plays (most very readable), eight radio adaptations. Verse is scattered through some prose plays; but most plays are entirely in prose, whether for stage or for radio. Further, an ‘auditory imagination’ helps in reading radio drama, by ear, to listen to the sounds of voices in dialogue, quite different from stage and TV drama, where the visual component is of equal or more importance. ‘Performance poetry’ has been recognised as such. Perhaps ‘performance drama’ might be recognised in radio plays written for actors’ voices? As co-editor of MacNeice’s Selected Plays(1993), I failed to make a point of an ‘auditory imagination’ in reading the plays; therefore, I may have discouraged potential readers from reading some very readable MacNeice plays – by ear.