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Letters


Come again?

Marjorie Garber (LRB, 19 August) makes many shrewd and entertaining observations about the hold that sequels have over those of us who crave them as well as those who supply them, our craving as consumers nicely lining the pockets of the contented suppliers. One of the examples that Garber gave puzzled me, however. She talks about Gérard Genette’s notion of the ‘autographic sequel’ – ‘which is not an imitation but a prolongation’ – and exemplifies it from Scott, Fenimore Cooper and Balzac. To refer to the Comédie humaine in these terms is pretty strange, as if the entire mighty corpus were somehow a ‘prolongation’ of itself. it’s true that there are bits of the Comédie – the volumes containing the story of Lucien de Rubempré, say – that fit into such a category, but the structure as a whole fails completely to meet the temporal requirements of a sequel or prolongation, because it extends so widely in time and place as to be able to encompass events that don’t precede or follow one another but take place more or less simultaneously. it’s well known that Balzac had already published a fair amount of what we now read as the Comédie humaine before he hit on the device by which to integrate its hitherto miscellaneous contents: I mean the systematic reintroduction of the same characters. This is too vast, unusual and obsessive an enterprise to be enlisted in any typology such as Garber is proposing.

Brian Instone
London SW3


It’s the Plunge that Counts

The crawl stroke was not ‘born in a backwater near Grantchester meadow’, as Heathcote Williams writes (LRB, 19 August). It is the natural style of South Sea islanders and other untaught swimmers and was developed into a competition style by Australians in the 1890s.

Andrew Harrison
Swanage, Dorset


The Stephen Lawrence Case

I must disagree with Norman Cho on nearly every point he raises in response to my article (Letters, 19 August). The police took statements from Duwayne Brooks on numerous occasions. How does Mr Cho suggest that Imran Khan’s statement-taking improved the quality of the investigation? Surely it is obvious that a solicitor acting for the family of a victim in a murder (or any other) case should not also act as an adviser to a witness whose evidence is crucial to the conviction of the suspects. Does Mr Cho not think that there is at least the possibility of a conflict of interest arising in these circumstances? I would certainly be interested to know how he explains the existence of evidence suggesting that Imran Khan showed Duwayne Brooks descriptions of Lawrence’s attackers given by other witnesses before he attended identification parades and coached him by telephone while he was at those parades.

Mr Cho goes on to remark that it is not unusual for a prosecution case to be mounted on the strength of the uncorroborated evidence of one witness alone – in the Lawrence case that of Duwayne Brooks. It is disappointing, given Mr Cho’s experience, that he fails to see that Brooks’s evidence falls into a special category of evidence concerning identification. Visual identification has been an area of concern in the law since the misidentification of Alfred Beck by 15 witnesses led to a Committee of Enquiry in 1905 and the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907. The definitive case is R. v. Turnbull and others, which deals directly with the problem of a witness’s uncorroborated identification evidence: ‘When, in the judgment of the trial judge, the quality of the identifying evidence is poor as, for example, when it depends solely on a fleeting glance or on a longer observation made in difficult conditions’ – Duwayne Brooks had the worst of both worlds, a fleeting glance in difficult conditions – ‘the situation is very different. The judge should then withdraw the case from the jury and direct an acquittal unless there is other evidence that goes to support the correctness of the identification.’ This appears to be directly at odds with Mr Cho’s version of the rules of evidence.

I did not suggest, contrary to what Mr Cho seems to think, that the case against the five suspects was weak because the Crown Prosecution Service were of the opinion it was weak. It is my view that the CPS were correct in identifying it as a weak case, their opinion coinciding with the only correct assessment of the evidence possible. I am grateful to Mr Cho for pointing out that it is not unusual for the court, defence and prosecution to take different views of the same evidence. I hesitate to suggest a name for this phenomenon but perhaps I could put forward the phrase ‘criminal trial’ to describe it.

Finally, Mr Cho does not say that I have wrongly accused Michael Mansfield of sharp practice in attempting to secure the eventual convictions of the five defendants, merely that it is unfair to level criticism at him because manipulation of the rules of evidence is the essence of advocacy. Here is Paragraph 11.1 of the Bar Code of Conduct: ‘Prosecuting Counsel should not attempt to obtain a conviction by all means at his command. He should not regard himself as appearing for a party. He should lay before the court fairly and impartially the whole of the facts that comprise the case for the prosecution and should assist the Court in all matters of law applicable to the case.’

John Upton
London NW1


How to make a Greek god smile

Assuming Mr Hewett means Op. 59, No 2 (one of the three Beethoven quartets dedicated to Count Rasumovsky, but the one in which the first violin part comes closest to his description), I confess my shock was somethat less than visceral – Letters, 29 July. My ear is however hardly a cultivated one, so I consulted Martin Brody, a composer and music theorist, who found the passage ingenious, but too subtly anticipated to be shocking. (How about the doubly wondrous – both about a wonder and in itself a wonder – setting of ‘and there was light’ in the first chorus of Haydn’s Creation? One man’s wonder is another’s raised eyebrow? I would be happy with this account of wonder as specific to time, place and person. But I suspect that while Ivan Hewett and Philip Fisher disagree about what exactly provokes wonder, they are in fundamental agreement about its being an absolute – and therefore the potential basis for an aesthetics without history.

Lorraine Daston
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin


Tennis Lessons

I’m not so sure about the ‘unbridgeable gulf’ between amateur and professional tennis players proposed by Edward Said and endorsed by Don Coles (Letters, 19 August). The amateur game has improved by leaps and bounds, just as the professional one has. Walk around any tennis complex and watch the teens and twenties blasting hell out of the ball, hitting lines and corners, volleying brilliantly, returning the unreturnable. The best of them would give any middle-order pro a good game. Beamed back into the past, I suspect that the ferocity of their strokes would astound anyone between Tilden and Santana – though it’s always tricky putting one era up against another. All they lack is consistency and the desire to empty their lives of everything but tennis. The great consolation for amateurs, if consolation is needed, is that their game breeds enjoyment as naturally as it breeds curses and errors. (I await the space-age racquet that can be hurled at walls while retaining all its magic properties.) What we live for is the once-in-a-season moment of perfection, the topspin backhand that comes off, the perfect lob-volley, the forehand down the line. What professionals live for is points, money, sponsors, sore shoulders, thrashed tendons, glamorous girlfriends and the sickness unto early retirement, from which many of them never recover.

William Scammell
Aspatria, Cumbria

Edward Said’s mention of Budge Patty dates both him and me. I met Patty in the winter of 1960 when we were both members of the Tennis Club of Paris. My one lasting memory of him was when he lost to the Dane Kurt Nielsen in that winter’s indoor championships, which were played at our club. He came to our contiguous lockers and said: ‘I hate it! I hate it!’ I suppose he meant that he hated to lose.

Jeremy Bernstein
New York

Has anyone else noticed that most good tennis players (professional and weekend) are pigeon-toed?

John Clayton
Bangkok


Grotesquerie

I was astonished to learn from Dan Jacobson's review of the Collected Works (LRB, 1 July) that Bruno Schulz wrote exclusively in English. The other possibility, that neither Dan Jacobson nor the LRB consider literary translators worthy of mention, is of course grotesque.

Simon Darragh
Alonnisos, Greece

Editor, ‘London Review’ writes: The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass were translated by Celina Wieniewska; the rest of the material by Walter Arndt, Victoria Nelson, Alexander Fiut and Wiesieck Powaga.


Anyone for tip-cat?

It is likely that parallel evolution can best account for the origins of tip-cat and gulli-danda (Letters, 19 August). Almost identical versions of these games were to be found until quite recently in the North of England, where it was called ‘knurr and spell’, and in the Hebrides, where it was known as ‘speilean’, ‘iomart air speil’ or ‘cat and bat’. It is possible that these games spread around Britain (their names indicate as much), less likely that they travelled between here and the Indian subcontinent.

George Chowdharay-Best is correct to say that lacrosse was stolen from native Americans. They called it ‘baggataway’, until the 18th-century French pioneer Charlevoix noticed a contest in Algonquin country and renamed the game after the bishop’s crozier which the sport’s curved stick brought to his mind. However, the game was definitively legislated by the English Lacrosse Association in London in 1868 (‘these rules are greatly superior to the Canadian, and … they are the best which English experience has yet been able to devise’).

And Subaltern Neville Chamberlain and his colleagues did indeed while away the monsoon afternoons at Jubbulpore in 1875 playing a game which they christened ‘snooker’, after the slang term for a first-year army cadet (from the French for ‘novice’). Chamberlain later left the Devonshires, however, and following injury he took the game to the hill-station of Ootacamund, where snooker was further refined. The snooker room at the Ootacamund Club still advertises itself as the birthplace of the game.

Roger Hutchinson
Isle of Skye


Mother Germaine

I agree with Linda Colley (LRB, 15 July) that there is serious work to be done on pressing New Labour on the issue of equality, but I still prefer Greer to the ’68ers – some of the German Greens, for example – who have become establishment politicians. They supported the Balkans War and Greer opposed it, which shows that whatever she is doing on her smallholding in Saffron Walden she can still spot imperialism when it rears its ugly head.

Keith Flett
London N17


Coming Attraction

After Ian Gilmour’s amusing remark (LRB, 15 July) that Queen Charlotte’s ‘faithfulness was never threatened, her ugliness putting adultery out of the question’, I do so look forward to articles by Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning in future issues.

Christopher Campbell
London N16