SIR: I wish I could answer satisfactorily Graham Martin’s question about the ‘political meaning’ of the Arts Council (Letters, 3 September). When I used that phrase, it was to make a point about the proper function of a government department in relation to that body. This is a subject in itself, and a legitimate one, but it is not, I gather, what interests Mr Martin. He seems to be raising a more general issue.
He asks if I could ‘be prevailed upon to let us all into the well-kept secret of the “political meaning" of the Arts Council’. The answer is that I easily could be, if I knew of any such secret, but I do not. That is not what I meant at all. ‘What sinister schemes,’ Mr Martin asks, ‘are being hatched behind the blandly well-meaning “front"?’ What indeed? Of course wherever public money – any money – is being given away, there are ‘sinister schemes’ afoot, to get hold of more of it, or a bigger share of it, or to use it for some purpose for which it was not originally intended. That is another subject on its own, or rather it is a series of particular questions, with which I have happily never been concerned, though I am sure that such matters must occupy a good deal of the time of people at the Arts Council and elsewhere, whose business it is to be concerned with them.
That said, I am perfectly prepared to maintain, and do in fact maintain, that the Arts Council and Unesco (the other body I mentioned in the same connection) have a ‘political meaning’. How could it be otherwise? The public funding of the arts raises a whole hornets’ nest of questions both for the health of the arts themselves and for the well-being of the res publica. There is nothing more ‘secret’ about that than about the fact that the public funding of universities, and indeed of education in general, raises political problems. When money comes, it does not come alone, as surely the most ingenuous academic must see by now. That is not to say that I am fool enough to suppose, in the case either of the arts or of education, that the problems would disappear if there were no public money involved: they would change. It seems to me that some of the most intractable questions in this general field, in recent years, have arisen from the injection of what is called private money into television.
SIR: Alan Hollinghurst’s examination of Craig Raine (LRB, 20 August) usefully emphasises a neglected aspect of his poetics – a degree of cultural sophistication often ignored in the critical fascination with his technique. But Raine goes beyond Imagist practice in his often value-laden metaphors. All of Raine’s images are interlocking, none exist in isolation. The most obvious parallel is with Stevens. ‘The Season in Scarborough’, from A Free Translaton, for example, is not only, as Hollinghurst suggests, ‘referential and knowing’, but conditioned by a kind of moral pattern which emerges frequently in his best work. It is quite true that Raine has not been ignored by the media, and that such attention has its dangers – mostly of deformity. But when attention finally shifts from technique to theme, he will not, I believe, be found to have been overvalued.
Georgetown University, Washington
SIR: Alan Hurst (Letters, 20 August) thinks it isn’t quite cricket to publish critical commentary upon one’s own novels. Perhaps he missed, or misread, your editorial note which explained that the article to which he objects, ‘A Catholic Novel’ (LRB, 4 June), was written as an introduction to a reissue, by Secker in July of this year, of my novel The British Museum is falling down, first published 16 years ago, and long out of print. (The references in it to a more recent novel are brief asides.) Such an exercise can hardly avoid being ‘rather self-absorbed’, but I fail to see anything unsporting about it, and there are plenty of precedents – some of them distinguished. Does Mr Hurst think Henry James was not quite playing the game when he published his incomparable Prefaces?
Department of English, University of Birmingham
SIR: Frank Kermode (LRB, 20 August) gives the impression that reviewers of David Lodge’s Working with Structuralism have been unanimous in their hostility to structuralism. It seems worth pointing out that this state of affairs exists more in his imagination than in reality. Of the six reviews of the book which I have seen, four have been written by critics who are avowedly sympathetic to structuralism (Terence Hawkes in the New Statesman, Terry Eagleton in New Society, Anthony Burgess in the Observer, and now Kermode himself in the LRB). It is certainly true that John Carey in the Sunday Times and Graham Hough in the TLS showed themselves a good deal less friendly, but since they are in a minority of two, since they both end by commending Lodge’s book, and since they both are, as Kermode puts it, ‘able and perceptive’, it makes no sense at all to write, as Kermode does, of ‘the jokes and sneers of the smart dismissive reviewers into whose hands anything of this kind is likely to fall’. Instead of peopling his world with imaginary enemies glibly chanting xenophobic slogans, Kermode would do well to recognise that the real arguments which have been put forward against structuralism are many and various and that they are usually advanced not in any spirit of intellectual ‘smartness’ but out of deeply felt convictions. These arguments demand to be answered. The protracted cry of injured self-righteousness uttered by Kermode is no substitute for argument – or for wit, which, while amply present in some of Carey’s remarks on structuralism, is sadly absent from Kermode’s reply to them.
SIR: We are interested in the work of Dorothy Edwards (1903-1934), author of the collection of short stories Rhapsody (1927) and the novel Winter Sonata (1928). I should be pleased to hear from any of your readers who could help me trace the literary executor of her estate.
Re Antoinette Burton’s letter (Letters, 20 August) referring to Angela Carter’s review of Lorna Tracy’s Amateur Passions (LRB, 2 July): this collection of short stories was published simultaneously in hardback (£7.95) and paperback (£3.50): 192 pp for £3.50 works out at almost 2 p a page. Lisa Alther’s novel weighs in at just over 1 p a page but she is an established writer and seller, Amateur Passions is Lorna Tracy’s first published work of fiction. The 500 hardback copies were printed for a. the dwindling number of libraries who, if they buy first novels at all, still insist on buying them in hardback, and b. for review purposes, it still being more difficult for an original paperback to receive review coverage than it is for the proverbial rich man etc, etc.
Managing Director, Virago Press, Ely House, 37 Dover Street, London W1
SIR: May I take this opportunity of informing readers of Mr Heaney’s important and moving essay on the Mandelstams (LRB, 20 August) that our edition of Chapter 42 – the chapter omitted by Max Hayward from the English-language editions of Hope against Hope – is still just about in print. The price is 75p.
The Menard Press, 8 The Oaks, Woodside Avenue, London N12