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Letters


Master/Slave

I wasn’t aware that there is an ‘increasing prevalence of a strict and severely enacted master/slave relationship among lesbian couples’, as Slavoj Žižek claims (LRB, 18 March). Was a survey done? It didn’t reach me and my chums here in Bristol. I am becoming aware, however, that academics attracted to psychoanalysis, and smutty magazines, like to depict and discuss a strict and severely enacted master/slave relationship among lesbian couples. Psychoanalysis is something intellectual to do with sex, isn’t it?

Verity Hawkes
Bristol


Whose Victory?

Charles Glass (LRB, 18 March) does not challenge Said Aburish’s account of ‘Arafat’s finest hour’ in the battle in the Jordan Valley in March 1968. He writes of Palestinian commandos achieving a moral victory similar to that of the Viet Cong in the Tet Offensive and quotes Aburish’s description of them fighting alone and inflicting heavy damage on the Israeli invasion force. This was not my impression when I covered the event for the Daily Telegraph on that day. The only forces I witnessed fighting were those of the Jordan Army, who carried on in the face of heavy Israeli air attacks and drove the Israelis back. The only Palestinian commandos I saw were those retreating back up the mountain towards Amman.

The centrepiece of the victory celebrations I attended that night in Amman’s main square was an Israeli tank captured by the Jordan Army and brought back to the capital. But such was the public capacity for self-delusion that the day was celebrated as a great victory for the commandos and the key role played by the Army was ignored.

Richard Beeston
London W6


Who owns John Sutherland?

I am in favour of electronic databases. I do not accept, however, Ferdinand Mount’s proposition that the TLS full-text electronic archive, ‘shorn of all the fancy language’, is ‘simply yet another way of making back numbers more easily available’ (Letters, 18 March). The TLS database has been subjected to three new processes (electronic scanning, SGML mark-up and digital conversion). The original issues have been reshaped. It is a different entity from surplus copies of the paper in the stock-room or microfiche facsimile reproductions.

Even if one accepted the proposition, the material point is that the TLS has sold on its contributors’ work to an independent commercial publisher, Chadwyck-Healey. This publisher is marketing ‘The Times Literary Supplement on CD-Rom’ under its name, in its brochures, for £295 (with annual updates). The reversionary subsidiary profits of this venture apparently stop at Admiral House. Nor, as far as I know, has permission to reproduce material been sought from contributors. To argue that the Chadwyck-Healey CD-Rom is covered by ‘first use of the material’ (or, in the prudent Michael Holroyd’s case, ‘First British Serial Rights’) is to argue black is blue.

The editor of the TLS conferred with the paper’s lawyers before embarking on the database project. It would have been a professional courtesy to have consulted authors’ representatives (the Society of Authors, the NUJ) as well. But I can see that it would have held the whole thing up frustratingly. The letter which was sent out to those contributors ‘who could be contacted’ seems to have been ineffective. Of the seven contributors to the TLS in the relevant period in my department none recalls receiving this letter.

I am grateful to papers like the TLS and the Guardian for undertaking the heavy start-up costs, and the tedious labour, of creating databases. In my view, the issue could be settled easily by prior agreements (such as one of the TLS’s sister papers is currently sending to contributors) and – if the proprietors were feeling generous – some token supplementary payment. Although, as Alan Rusbridger points out, the dividends for individual authors from any electronic exploitation of their material are currently negligible, it is not science fiction to project that in a few years they will be an important component in freelance authors’ earnings. If there still are freelance writers.

John Sutherland
English Department, University College London

The LRB and its correspondents are concerned with copyright and privacy but not, it seems, with fact-checking. First you allow Duncan Wu to air his misapprehensions about the TLS electronic archive and our index of the paper’s contributors in a letter which he then completely retracts (Letters, 18 March). In the same issue, John Sturrock – your Consulting Editor, no less, and (we hope he won’t mind our divulging) once a respected member of the TLS’s editorial staff – confides to your readers his anxiety at ‘the prospect of being compulsorily “outed”, forced from the closet in rough, Tatchellite fashion’, as the author of reviews published anonymously more than a quarter of a century ago, and his groundless assumption that, despite objecting, he’ll be ‘overridden’.

If Sturrock had kept up with the journal where he spent most of his career, or had just got in touch with us, he would have been spared his fears. Announcements of the index (TLS, 2 October 1998; 1 January 1999) have explicitly asked any anonymous contributor who wishes to remain unidentified to let us know. The invitation will be repeated at intervals as the project proceeds. Of course we would prefer the index to be complete, but we’ll respect the wishes of those who, for whatever reason, feel like Sturrock. He wonders how many of them there are. Of the thousands of living contributors involved, the number who have so far asked us to leave them unnamed is two.

In case any of your readers are more interested in consulting the TLS Centenary Archive than in publicising their wrong guesses about it, a trial site can be visited at www.psmedia-online.com. The first tranche (TLS nos 1-1000, 1902-21) will be available next month.

Deborah McVea and Jeremy Treglown
University of Warwick

John Sturrock writes: Two interpretations are possible of the fact that, to date, only two people have asked for their incognito to stay. One is the interpretation implied if not stated in Deborah McVea and Jeremy Treglown’s letter: that the great majority are either happy to be identified, or don’t care sufficiently to object. The other interpretation is that, like myself, weekly reader of the TLS though I am, they didn’t see either of the announcements McVea and Treglown refer to. Given that the index is being handsomely funded (and may presumably be sold on, once complete, to Chadwyck-Healey or whoever, as profitable CD-Rom fodder), perhaps the money should have run to a circular letter being sent to the rapidly dwindling band of veterans of anonymity – are there really ‘thousands’ of them? – many of whom may no longer be readers of the paper. There is an ethical issue after all, since anonymity was a principle, not an editorial aberration awaiting normalisation by a more enlightened generation coming after.


That Jokey Dr Black

Hippocrates’ cure for menstrual pain – sexual intercourse – was not an option when I was a teenager (‘Women at the Mercy of Men’, LRB, 4 March). Menstruation was an agonising process – one that my mother said was the ‘woman’s lot’ – whose cure was a hot-water bottle pressed so tightly against the pain it could raise blisters on one’s stomach. The Sixties took some time to reach our part of the world. ‘Sex’ was a word one didn’t see, neither of us knew four-letter words, and our doctor (a man fond of jokes, called Dr Black) did not suggest sexual intercourse when my mother rushed me round after I’d fainted down the stairs. He said, after he’d snapped my knicker elastic, that all would come right in a few years; after I’d had my first child. That would get me ‘open’. Then he slapped me playfully on my bottom – he’d been at my birth after all – and we both went blushing away. My mother was relieved that all was ‘normal’. But I must have made in the back of my mind some calculation of horrors to come, for I was later overwhelmed that childbirth was so swift and easy compared with the cramps I’d lived through.

What could I claim as to the effect this had? The vividness of the memory, and the resolve that my daughters, among others, should not have to go through the same experience, point to something. This particular ancient theory was right, perhaps.

H.T. Dixon
Richmond, Surrey


African Studies

Basil Davidson (LRB, 18 February) is right to criticise historians who ignore important source material, although it is singularly unsophisticated of him to regard as ‘African Studies’ only material contributed by someone of African race. His notion that history is merely a record of the opinions of participants in any particular historical happening is also simplistic. If re cord of contemporary opinion exists – and David son is right to cite the Armed Forces Movement’s proclamation in Guinea – of course it must be studied, but the historian is concerned with a much wider and deeper canvas. Are we to explain the entire First World War from the point of view of a handful of poets and visionaries who fought in the trenches?

Malcolm Jack
London N19


Moving the Gaolposts

Abdul Malik was, indeed, hanged in Port of Spain, as Sukhdev Sandhu writes (LRB, 4 February), but at the Royal Gaol, not Jail. Locally, the name of this execrable institution is pronounced, ‘Royal Goal’, as in football, so don’t try that ‘jail’ business.

Arlene Blade
Scarborough, Tobago


The Benes Problem

The burden of Hans Koning and Colin Armstrong’s criticisms of my review of Klimek and Zeman’s biography of Edvard Benes (Letters, 18 March) is that it did not give sufficient prominence to Nazi atrocities, underplayed the extent to which the Sudeten Germans were responsible for these and exaggerated what I called their ‘via dolorosa’. In fact, I had chided the two authors of this excellent book for not making more of Nazi crimes against the Czechs; and I criticised Benes for ‘generalising the undeniably high level of Sudeten involvement with the Nazi regime into the “collective guilt” of all Bohemian Germans’, whether they had supported Hitler or not. The suffering of the Sudeten Germans, guilty and innocent alike, who were murdered and deported in huge numbers in 1945, is not, I think, in dispute.

Brendan Simms
Peterhouse, Cambridge


Positively Evil

David Edgar’s piece about Brecht (LRB, 4 March) was primarily concerned with placing Brecht in relation to critical arguments with whose objectives and terminology I am not in tune: the expression ‘prefiguratively Post-Modern’ is a new one on me. But I have some responsibility for two of the books mentioned.

The Collected Works, of which I am co-editor, are not ‘new’: they started appearing in this country in 1970. I have tried to avoid going into details of Fuegi’s well-publicised exercise in demolition, which has done much damage here. James Lyon, Siegfried Mews, H.C. Nøregaard and I pulled it to bits in a 120-page ‘crimesheet’ published four years ago in the International Brecht Society Yearbook, No. 20. Unfortunately, neither David Edgar nor Fredric Jameson gives evidence of having read it.

Auden’s remark about Brecht’s being ‘positively evil’ is quoted from my book. I am surprised that Edgar didn’t say so – it was in a letter I got in 1975 from Auden’s publisher – or name the other two ‘literary men’ whom Auden grouped with Brecht: Frost and Yeats. Let alone mention my efforts to find out the reason for it.

Edgar seems to agree with Jameson in saying nothing about Brecht’s poetry. Or about his practice of montage, surely the most important structural innovation to emerge from Dada. Brecht applied it not only in the articulation of his plays, but right across the theatrical media, for instance by his principle of Trennung der Elemente or ‘separation of the elements’. Jameson calls this simply Trennung, and concentrates on the intervening spaces. But this is not what matters in a montage; rather, it is a question of taking the essential bits and balancing or editing them so as to make a work of art.

Such a misunderstanding shows the danger of trying to assimilate foreign terminology in literary criticism; one runs comparable risks with the Brechtian terms Gestus and Verfremdung. The first is not necessarily a physical gesture, and the second, I agree, is not best rendered by ‘alienation’, though I’m not sure that ‘estrangement’ is all that much better. Edgar could have found my apologetic uncertainties set out in the second of my ‘political excursions’.

John Willett
London NW3


Moderation or Death

Mark Lilly (Letters, 18 February)refers to the Guardian’s ‘support for supernaturalism’. More needs to be said here. Institutionalised homophobia is given a spurious respectability by the pronouncements on sexual matters of bishops, rabbis and mullahs. British intellectuals, afraid of being accused of ‘religious intolerance’, have rarely embraced the robust anti-clericalism of their European counterparts, so that religious leaders are usually treated courteously, however outrageous their pronouncements. After Cardinal Basil Hume had published a document moderating the anathematising stance of British Catholicism towards gays (broadly, loving friendship is now okay, but sex is still taboo), the Guardian’s leader argued that the Cardinal could not be expected to embrace equality tout court, because that ‘would have been to make a nonsense of centuries of teaching’. This preposterous reasoning was not invoked when the same paper urged the Anglican Church to accept women priests. Any radical reform is going to ‘make a nonsense’ of the arrangements it replaces.

Abla Mouhawi
Bromley, Kent


The spuggies are fledged

If August Kleinzahler, an American poet acquaintance of mine at the University of Victoria many years ago, is the person of the same name who reviewed The Poet as Spy (LRB, 21 January), he should know that Basil Bunting spent the year 1970-71 in Victoria on Vancouver Island and not in Vancouver. Knowing that Bunting was short of money, Robin Skelton, head of the creative writing section of the University of Victoria's English department, had invited him to apply to teach. The story went that the committee (all non-writers) reviewing applications had turfed out Bunting's at once on the grounds that they had never heard of him. It may have been Bunting himself who later told the story that he had been turned down, similarly, for a Guggenheim many years before when the committee refused to recognise the validity of references from Yeats, Eliot and Pound. In any case, once that embarrassment was out of the way, Bunting arrived to lead what was by all accounts an inspired class, although he was quoted in the local press, to Robin's great chagrin, as saying that creative writing could not be taught.

Bunting was always courteous, if not courtly, and often wore a blue tweed jacket that brought out the blaze of his eyes. I am surprised that Kleinzahler didn't comment on his eyebrows, unlike any I have seen before or since. It wasn't just their size – each the wing of a small bird – but that they were groomed and waxed, predatory and, well, sexy. They gave me shivers: odd, I thought then, when he was such an old man, although it doesn't seem so odd now.

Marilyn Bowering
Sooke, British Columbia


Mesmerised

In her review of Alison Winter’s inquiry into Mesmerism and the Victorians (LRB, 4 February), Rosemary Dinnage asserts that psychoanalysts have yet to grasp the obvious analogies between the hypnotic and nursing scenarios. Pace Dinnage, it was often theorised during my psychoanalytic training that the lulled state of the nursing infant might constitute a paradigm for the hypnotic trance – all-powerful analyst substituting for all-powerful nursing mother. I don’t know who first conceived this notion (one would think Freud himself, but no joy). Research by the American psychiatrist Herbert Spiegel has shown that induction of the hypnotic state requires the subject to mobilise a formidable degree of ‘attentive receptive concentration’ which, in turn, requires a reasonably mature neurological apparatus. When I spoke to him recently, Spiegel assured me that a suckling babe’s immature cerebrum would be utterly incapable of marshalling the cognitive competence needed for anything like trance to occur.

Harvey Roy Greenberg
New York City


Bennett-Biz

Alan Bennett’s English sensibilities (Letters, 18 February) belong in the world of John Major’s warm beer and ladies cycling to church. There is a difference in degree between the experience of waiting at the check-out in a supermarket and that of standing outside a prison gate where one’s son, husband, lover, is being held at the whim of a tyranny. Akhmatova records the woman’s reaction when she said she could indeed write about what they had lived through together. ‘A kind of smile,’ she writes, ‘flitted across what had once been her face.’

Stuart Hood
Brighton