In his antic and meticulously-observed spoof of a puritan coming up to barking point over the National Lottery, David Runciman says that the popularity of the combination 1 2 3 4 5 6 is ‘truly baffling’ (LRB, 22 February). Since the Lottery started I have bought three tickets. The first two times I went for 1 2 3 4 5 6 as I thought that this was the combination least likely to be chosen by others, and that it would maximise my expected return by minimising the chance of my having to share any winnings. I then discovered that many other people reason as I had, and that 1 2 3 4 5 6 is consequently the most popular choice. I didn’t use it for my third ticket. David Runciman makes the same point when he says that one should ‘choose a sequence that is unlikely to be chosen by anyone else’. A Brazilian friend once told me that there is a non-random South American lottery based entirely on this principle. The winning tickets each week are the ones bearing that week’s least popular choices of numbers. This introduces a subtle, entertaining and competitive element of second-guessing into the game that perhaps Camelot should bear in mind. In the meantime I have adopted a strategy that guarantees a lottery win every week: I have decided to buy some shares in Camelot’s holding companies.
University of Bath
Terry Eagleton’s review of Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues (LRB, 7 March) is an intriguing performance: a strange mélange of patronising praise – Hall as the colonial immigrant who turns out to be plus anglais que les anglais – and of ignorant polemicising against Post-Modernism. The review turns, inevitably, into an indictment of Eagleton himself: for could it not once have been said of him that he was ‘a brilliant bricoleur’ who shared one of Hall’s ‘basic flaws’ – the ‘compulsion to be au courant’? But whereas Hall’s ‘compulsion’, if that is what it was, enabled him to keep up, Eagleton has dropped out of the race; instead of accepting defeat gracefully, however, he has sought to vent his frustration on those still in the running. His attack on Post-Modernism – and on a whole range of fruitful tendencies in modern cultural studies – is structured on a crude binary opposition of past and present, in which the past bears the stamp of authenticity and the present is found wanting. This is evident in his penchant for the image of the ‘veteran’. Within one sentence, we are told that Stuart Hall ‘is a veteran of Suez and Hungary’ who evinces ‘the subdued wisdom of the scarred veteran’, almost making it sound as if Hall parachuted into Port Said and sniped at Russian tanks on the streets of Budapest when he was not marching to Aldermaston or working in the office of the early New Left Review. One implication of Eagleton’s image is that he also is a scarred veteran – and it is doubtless the case that he does bear the marks of many life-or-death battles in examination rooms, seminars and lecture theatres. But lest this joint combat experience should imply an equality with Hall, Eagleton reminds us that Hall is of middle-class provenance; whereas Eagleton, as we know, is a working-class hero.
A key difference between them is not highlighted, however: a difference, not of provenance, but of professional location. Hall has done much admirable work at the Open University, an institution of higher education which, in contrast to Oxbridge, is genuinely open to all; and he has had to withstand direct government harassment, as a result of charges of left-wing bias in OU courses. Eagleton has stayed inside Oxbridge and has never ventured out in any sustained way into the wider and more difficult world of non-Oxbridge higher and further education. It is symptomatic that, in his review, he characterises Hall’s move to the Open University, not as a positive choice of involvement in democratic education, but as an escape from a putative ‘climate of ugly sectarianism’ at the Birmingham Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies.
To keep Hall the grizzled veteran company, Eagleton summons another old soldier: a ‘real-life’ Antonio Gramsci who helped to arm Italian workers and, for a time, supported the Stalinist line on Fascism. This rather unsavoury ‘reality’ is contrasted with a ‘fictional Gramsci constructed by cultural studies’ who is ‘a kind of Sardinian version of a London polytechnic lecturer in discourse theory’. After decades of epistemological and ontological questioning – some of which Eagleton himself helped to popularise – it is lamentable that he falls back into a naive contrast between the ‘real’ (or his own version of it) and the ‘fictional’. And note that invocation of ‘a polytechnic lecturer’, a signifier which, for Eagleton as much as Malcolm Bradbury or Kingsley Amis, has now clearly come to connote trendy inferiority. Eagleton used to instance the polytechnics as the fast tracks on which, in contrast to the rolling English roads of the traditional universities, cultural theory was eating up the miles. But the fuel then was his kind of Marxism: once the polys began to develop their own means of propulsion – for instance, heady mixtures of Post-Structuralism and high-octane feminism – the old snobberies re-emerged.
Eagleton’s attempts to infiltrate feminism have foundered on women’s resistance; but he manfully assumes the authority to discern which male leftists ‘have been genuinely rather than notionally transformed by feminism’ (Staurt Hall passes the test, as presumably does Eagleton himself). This authority also perhaps grants him the right to dismiss Angela McRobbie, whose informed, self-reflexive and sensitive work (first emerging from the matrix of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies) is a contribution to a burgeoning body of analysis which seeks to suggest that shopping, for instance, is a complex activity that cannot simply be dismissed as ‘choosing between fancy brand-names’ – certainly not for the majority of the population, who are much less well-paid than Eagleton, and for whom shopping may well entail a difficult range of choices, calculations and decisions within a broader network of cultural, social and economic relationships.
This inability constructively to assimilate revisionist assessments of consumerism is one index of how far Eagleton has failed, in his own work, to practise the widening of literary studies into cultural studies which he formally advocates. An especially significant moment in his review is his invocation, in passing, of the Internet, which is implicitly associated with a Post-Modernist evasion of the earthy realities represented by ‘the Somme’ and by revolutionary politics. In this invocation, any sense of the importance of studying the cultural forms of new technologies is elided. But the failure to understand such forms, like the failure to understand consumerism, has been one of the repeated errors of the Left, which, in its attitude to science as to shopping, has oscillated between fastidious eschewal and fervent embracement.
Seaford, East Sussex
As an examiner some years ago for the London University BA Honours in French we had a marking scheme: three marks off for a serious grammatical mistake, two for something less heinous and one – or was it a mere half-mark? – for the omission of an accent. My co-examiner, overriding my objections, was adamant that one exception be made to this rule. Omission of the circumflex (LRB, 4 January) on the past subjunctive (il mît) which distinguishes it from the simple past (il mit) must entail the forfeit of the full three marks.
A small further twist to Christopher Prendergast’s piece (LRB, 7 March) on André Breton. Walking in the allée of that name when it was still partly under construction, I noticed that an urban commentator had neatly obliterated the letter r from the surname. Poésie concrète, perhaps?
In his review of my book The Lost Victory (LRB, 7 March), David Edgerton writes that I don’t ‘like’ full employment ‘because of its inflationary effect, and the strength it gives to the trade unions’. Yet my chapter on full employment cites as a key text an analysis by Hugh Gaitskell as Chancellor of the Exchequer in December 1950 in which he specifically makes these two points. It is therefore absurd and irrelevant for Edgerton to accuse me of not ‘liking’ full employment.
This is only one example of David Edgerton’s wholesale misrepresentation – misunderstanding perhaps – of my book. He acknowledges that it is based ‘almost entirely on research in the files of the Labour Cabinet and cabinet committees’ and yet fails to acknowledge that my judgments are tightly anchored to the content of these files. For instance, if, as he contends, the new welfare state (including the National Health Service) did not constitute a grievous burden on the Exchequer, why do we find a Labour Chancellor striving to cap expenditure on it?
He cites Jose Harris’s comment that in 1950 other European countries (specifically, though Edgerton does not say so, Germany, Austria and Belgium) were spending a higher proportion of GNP on welfare than Britain. But Dr Harris took no note of the fact that Britain was also spending some 7 per cent of GNP on defence (rising to more than 12 per cent after the outbreak of the Korean War), and therefore carrying a double burden, whereas neither Germany nor Austria were spending a penny on defence. Moreover, Germany’s major postwar reform of welfare schemes inherited from Bismarck and the Weimar Republic dates from 1957, when her ‘economic miracle’ was complete. Which other country chose, like Britain, to award itself a new welfare state at a time of national bankruptcy and when living off foreign tick?
Dr Edgerton reckons that I should have emphasised that, in comparison with the prewar era, British expenditure on defence rose far more than on welfare in 1945-50. But this is doubly irrelevant. In the first place, I argue that postwar defence expenditure up to June 1950 would have been limited to about 3.5 per cent of GNP (more or less the figure for the mid-Thirties) if Britain had restricted itself to the essential defence of Western Europe against the threat of direct Soviet attack. As it was, something like half the defence budget in 1945-50 related to Britain’s nostalgic attempt to go on playing the world and Commonwealth power, with expensive armed forces spread all the way through the Middle East and Far East. Second, it does not matter whether or not expenditure on defence rose more than on welfare in relation to before the war. What matters is that the combined demands of the ‘world-power’ role and ‘New Jerusalem’ squeezed back much-needed investment in modernising Britain’s industries and infrastructure, and indeed determined British use (or waste) of Marshall Aid. If this is not the case, why do the files of the Cabinet Economic Policy, Production and Investment Programmes committees record a continuing agonised debate about competing pressures on national resources, and, year by year, a consequent strict rationing of investment in industry (especially nationalised industry) and infrastructure?
In the light of the evidence in the Whitehall files, I find completely incredible, and indeed perverse, Edgerton’s contention that ‘the instruments of industrial policy [were] much more powerful’ than before the war, and that ‘the results were impressive’. What the records cited in my book reveal is that in 1946-50 the Labour Government’s attempts to improve productive efficiency were feeble both in concept and effect; and that meanwhile Britain was for the most part shovelling out ill-designed, ill-made, unsuitable, often old-fashioned and certainly over-priced goods to markets that had never been properly researched, with the result that just as soon as our European rivals began to pick themselves up again (i.e. as soon as Britain lost her monopoly position), the foreign buyer began to switch his custom.
When Edgerton chides me for failing to provide equally detailed data about German or French investment as about British, I would remind him that a book is like a battle: it must be delivered at a required date with the material then available. Since 1983 I have researched, written and published three major books, all largely based on primary sources, and all generally well-received. By contrast, Edgerton has written a single book, Britain and the Aeroplane, apparently NOT based on the Whitehall records, plus a few articles in the academic trade press. I therefore do not regard him as qualified to indict me for failing to write a comparative history of European industrial, defence and foreign policies in the immediate postwar era.
Am I mistaken in detecting a hint of professional resentment in Edgerton’s comment that ‘the fact that [I] was wrong about so much’ in The Audit of War ‘has not stopped the Economic and Social Research Council from commissioning a sequel’, as also in his further comment that I have never shown ‘any interest in what [my] academic critics say’? As he must know, the ESRC only awards a research contract after the most rigorous ‘peer-group’ scrutiny of the tender.
Dr Edgerton knows that what the ESRC usually gets from historians for its money is a ‘report’, or shelf-fodder, of 5000 words, and possibly an article or two in The Historiographers’ Intelligencer and Foot-Noters’ Gazette or similar trade journals. If a book does emerge, it will be from a publisher’s ‘academic’ list, which means a print order of probably less than a thousand copies, some of which will probably be later remaindered. By contrast, my own tender for an ESRC contract to carry out research for The Lost Victory made clear my intention that the book should be widely read in Whitehall, Westminster and industry, and therefore have an impact in the real world. This undertaking has been successfully fulfilled in the event.
Churchill College, Cambridge
Michael Corris (Letters, 7 March) may well be right in thinking me confused, but at least in the matter of left-handedness (a sinistrality he and I apparently share) his confusion is as great as mine. Though intuitively it might seem that left-handers simply have reversed dominance of their cerebral hemispheres – in the gauche case left side good, right side bad – the research shows a muckier picture. According to Richard Gregory in the Oxford Companion to the Mind:
Cerebral specialisation and dominance in sinistrals is less clear cut than in dextrals. Speech is still represented in the left hemisphere in 70 per cent of left and mixed-handers, but 15 per cent have right-hemisphere language and 15 per cent bilateral representation. Sinistrals may suffetaphasia from damage to either hemisphere, but recover from it better than do dextrals. Similarly equivocal results are found for other skills, suggesting a bilateral brain involvement in all mental functions.
This might mean that left-handers would be well advised to scratch with both hands if they want to be sure of coming up with a truly creative result. Or it might not.
Jenny Diski should know (LRB, 22 February) that Mont Cervin and the Matterhorn are one and the same: French/German. Any snow frosting the one will frost the other.
The impulse to self-justification, common to us all, has made Timothy Garton Ash unneccesarily irritable (Letters, 7 March). The issues in our exchange were these:
1. Was it sensible or equitable in 1991 to urge that EC aid be reserved for the three best-off East European countries – Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary – and that they be rapidly inducted, ahead of all others, into the Community? Garton Ash points out that he and his fellow authors did not exclude other countries receiving comparable treatment later on, and defends their proposal on grounds of urgency: ‘Our article was trying to get the EC to do something for post-Communist Europe’ at a time when there was a danger of ‘more internal fiddling’ while ‘post-Communist Europe burnt.’ But why should poorer countries be put to the back of the queue for help – like worse-off citizens under Thatcher and Reagan, promised ultimate benefits from immediate hand-outs to the well-off; and what was the only region of Eastern Europe where the fuse was lit in late 1991? To call for emergency care to be rushed to the Visegrad states within a few months of the conflagration in Yugoslavia, can, without misrepresentation, be described as myopic.
2. What is the effect of Carton Ash’s current proposal that the European Union jettison a single currency and abandon the acquis communautaire, in favour of wide-scale enlargement to the East and differential categories of membership without any uniform rights or obligations? Affinities between this scheme and long-standing Conservative objectives are fairly plain, and it is puzzling that Garton Ash should be reticent about them. On the other hand, the balance of motives behind each is not quite the same. For Conservative leaders, the strategic aim is to dilute integration in Western Europe: the Eastern card, notwithstanding genuine pride in the pupils of privatisation, is a tactical means to that end. For Garton Ash the opposite holds. A passionate champion of countries and causes in East Europe, in the tradition of R.W. Seton-Watson, for him it is rapid enlargement that is the essential goal: disposing of monetary union and unwinding the acquis communautaire are simply seen, with good logic, as conditions of it. Once foreign editor of the Spectator, Garton Ash is unlikely ever to have warmed to European federalism, but concern with Brussels has never been a primary preoccupation. Perhaps this explains why he seems disconcerted that his proposals could be thought inimical to the Union. But he is mistaken if he thinks that the principle of the acquis communautaire, instinctively disliked but little understood in London, was anything other than central to the architects of integration.
3. Still, he asks, what is wrong with his plan for redesigning Europe in the sceptical but radical spirit of the British genius? The answer is straightforward. Garton Ash proposes to scrap the architrave of the institutional unity that the Community, with all its limitations, has historically achieved, in order to extend a status to former Communist states in the East that would, he makes clear, include no share in either CAP or the structural funds, let alone the privilege of ‘qualified minority acting’ reserved for Britain, Germany and France. What they would receive, however, is honorific promotion to the West. The order of priorities here was candidly indicated by Garton Ash in 1991, when he urged that Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia should participate in elections to the European Parliament without even being members of the Community – ‘this would be a powerful symbol,’ he wrote, ‘although the exact status of their Euro-MPs would have to be worked out.’ such blitheness is not pragmatic. It answers to a politics of gesture, in which not institutional reality but symbolic satisfaction is at stake.
It would be wrong to hold Garton Ash responsible for this. There is a deep craving in much of Eastern Europe for such solace, to which his new scheme can be seen as a generous reaction. Yet in these societies themselves, local wits can already be heard likening the fixation with quick membership of the EU, no matter how second-class, to a cargo cult. The real needs of the region lie elsewhere. Today, cancellation of the heavy burden of debt left by their former rulers would be of much greater material benefit to the populations of Eastern Europe than any number of native politicians sitting in on the Council of Ministers. So far only Poland, as the enfant doré of German-American goodwill, has been favoured with a serious reduction of its liabilities. Impartial and general relief, to ease fiscal pressures and stimulate employment, would be preferable. A steady job and a square meal are worth more than a mere glimpse of the high table. Much to his credit, Garton Ash has criticised the politics of personal prestige, even in the leaders – Havel and Walesa – he has most admired. Mutatis mutandis, there is a lesson for national welfare, too. It is not speed but solidity of construction that a less spatially and socially divided Europe requires.
What’s his problem?
Why the gratuitous ‘self’ in Ian Sansom’s allusion (LRB, 7 March) to ‘what is clearly and self-consciously a re-establishing of what Faber is calling its “American Connection” ’? What is so ‘modish’ about the ‘modern art’ which appears on the covers of the books in question – widely different and, I should have thought, rather off-beat works by Max Ernst, Red Grooms and Bill Traylor? How does Sansom justify wasting space on a reading of jacket photographs which he himself declares irrelevant to an understanding of the poetry? Does he have a purpose in confusing the way books are presented with ‘editorial policy’? The snide and itchy tone of his remarks really does need explaining. What’s his problem? Apart, I mean, from his inability to get to grips with Charles Simic’s Frightening Toys. ‘Simic’s is a poetry which invariably takes place on dull and damp afternoons,’ he says. Literally and demonstrably untrue, this is typical of his style of hazy critical impressionism. But then the whole paragraph seems less concerned with throwing light than with getting in the mood for the anti-Faber gripes which follow.
‘We’ must be ‘they’
Adam Phillips (Letters, 22 February) has now put right those readers who mistakenly read his ‘we’ as referring to men only, with his explanation that when he wrote about ‘everyone’ grudging a woman her independence he was referring to our ‘thoughts from childhood’. Of course children of both sexes have a mother. Do we need to have that corroborated ‘from a psychoanalytic point of view’? Some people, however, think that there is a difference – or multiple differences – between the relations that the two sexes have with their mothers; and that if both women and men are ambivalent about women having lives of their own, then they are ambivalent in different ways.
From a psychoanalytic point of view (as from any other) it is undeniable that ‘children of both sexes have a mother’ and that women, in infancy and childhood, are as prone to feel frustrated by their mother’s intermittent ‘unavailability’ as men are at that age. If Adam Phillips really intended us to read his misunderstood passage in this way, perhaps he should have rephrased it. He asked us to consider whether we had never thought, as Wittels did, that ‘if women weren’t people we would all be free.’ A woman who is other than a person would be useless, in a psychological and emotional sense, to a child of either sex. More to the point of the current argument, it is ‘more or less generally agreed’ that adult men’s responses to women’s real or imagined unavailability are of quite a different order from women’s equally complex responses to other women’s autonomy. Phillips was discussing a man whom he accurately described as ‘crass’ and ‘misogynist’ in his writings about relations between the sexes. The article was titled, no doubt provocatively, ‘Women: what are they for?’ The author of it might do well to consider whether he as a man has not sometimes had the thought that ‘if women weren’t people we’ (men, that is) ‘would all be free.’ As the denial of women’s personhood is the focal point of misogyny, I don’t think he can cite observations of his male and female patients’ thoughts about their mothers without reflecting that men’s perceptions and fantasies about women can never be free from the misogynist baggage that our culture has been carrying around for the past few millennia and that has infused much psychoanalytic thinking since Freud’s time. If women do ever consider that if we ‘weren’t people we would all be free’, this thought cannot possibly be the same one that Adam Phillips attributes to all of us, but actually addresses to his fellow men.
In his review of my book Plant Here the Standard (LRB, 25 January), Anthony Howard writes: ‘in 1916 the decision was finally taken by the Standard’s new owner, Sir Edward Hulton, to end its 60-year career as a morning paper.’ Not so. In May 1915, Hulton purchased only the Evening Standard from Davison Dalziel. He did not buy the Standard. Davison Dalziel retained ownership of the Standard until the paper was put up for auction on 23 February 1916. With no buyers, the paper – thanks to a group of Cardiff businessmen – struggled on for a further three weeks before ceasing publication on 17 March. Sir Edward Hulton was not involved.
Howard also claims that Beaverbrook ‘took a particular interest in its strongest regular feature, Londoner’s Diary (his own invention)’. Not so. Londoner’s Diary was introduced into the Evening Standard by A.H. Mann, editor 1915-19. Beaverbrook did not assume ownership until 1923.
Howard’s ‘principal criticism of this house history has to be that it does not give anything like full credit to Beaverbrook. It is easy to understand the dilemma in which a house-trained author may find himself; the paper is after all today (and has been since 1985) the sole property of Associated Newspapers, the company now controlled by the third Viscount Rothermere – and no proud proprietor likes to see too much praise being given to a predecessor. Nevertheless, to speak of the present Lord Rothermere – or, worse, of Sir Jocelyn Stevens or the late Lord (“Whelks”) Matthews – in the same tone of voice as Beaverbrook is a substantial affront to natural justice.’ Within a text of 376 pages, Beaverbrook is featured on 108 pages, some 29 per cent. This hardly smacks of not giving Beaverbrook ‘anything like full credit’. After all, the book, covering a period of more than three hundred years, is a history of the Evening Standard, and not a biography of Beaverbrook.
Plant Here the Standard is not a ‘house history’ as Howard claims. It is not the history of the ‘house’ of Beaverbrook or Rothermere but of one newspaper – decades in the making, owned by many and read by millions. As for Howard’s allegation of the ‘house-trained author’, I have never worked for Associated Newspapers. When I was production director of the Evening Standard, I also held a similar role for the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Daily Star – all as an employee of either Beaverbrook Newspapers or Express Newspapers. The book was commissioned by Macmillan, following my editorship of the Encyclopedia of the British Press for that company, and almost ten years after I had left Fleet Street. I should add that, in the writing of the Evening Standard history, I was accorded every courtesy and consideration from past and present editors, proprietors, management, journalists and others – and was in no way pressured to put in or leave out any material. And the result is mine, and mine alone.
God in the Body
As the first translator and annotator of Nijinsky’s unexpurgated Notebooks (my draft English version, though unpublished, has been available to researchers since the Eighties), I would like to say how much I enjoyed Anne Hollander’s review of the Notebooks’ French translation (LRB, 25 January). Her review contains only one factual error and that through no fault of hers: she has been misled by the French publishers into thinking that the ‘text has been translated directly into French from the Russian manuscripts.’ It was not. It appears to have been translated from a typed transcript of the manuscript, which, like most transcripts, contains a number of errors, omissions and other deviations from the original. On occasion the transcriber, unable to decipher a passage from the manuscript, has, on his own admission, retranslated my draft English version back into Russian and incorporated it into the Russian text, to be duly translated (without acknowledgment) by the French translators. The same applies to my explanatory notes included in my draft English version. My correct final version will be published this year by Farrar, Straus.
As joint publishers with the Tate Gallery of the Collected Edition of Blake’s Illuminated Books, we must be grateful for Iain Sinclair’s commendation of the ‘sumptuous facsimiles’ as not ‘the real thing, but … as near as most of us will ever come’ (LRB, 22 February). But at the risk of seeming churlish we do rather regret that Mr Sinclair, in an article of over eight thousand words purporting in part to review the six volumes of the Collected Edition, chose to offer no critical comment on, or response to, the insight, understanding and authority that seven leading Blake scholars have brought to the editing of the 14 illuminated books.
William Blake Trust