SIR: Brigid Brophy (LRB, 7 October) says that I seem to have ‘a dislike of professionalism in art’. I don’t. I argue in The Politics of the Arts Council that ‘there is neither enough professionalism nor enough genuine amateurism’ in the arts. She says that I seem to believe that ‘culture is a class conspiracy.’ I don’t. I do imply that the Arts Council has helped to reinforce class divisions and try to show how it has done that; I also argue how and why the council’s choices of which art forms to support have been too narrowly based. But that doesn’t add up to advancing such a futile slogan as ‘culture is a class conspiracy.’
Brigid Brophy quotes my argument (derived from Jung and others) that ‘people have a need to express their grasp of the world of the senses,’ and then proceeds to equate this with (in her words) a ‘universal impulse’ to ‘fling paint or our limbs about’. Readers will judge for themselves whether that is a balanced equation.
In addition to indulging her paranoia about arts administrators, pursuing her laudable obsession with PLR, and giving an airing to an assortment of chips from her shoulder, Brigid Brophy asks some silly questions: ‘Is he urging the middle class out of the concert halls?’ No, he isn’t. But in a world of scarce resources it is worth pointing out how regressive a form of taxation public subsidy of the arts has turned out to be, and to question the ‘inevitability’ of the bias in arts funding towards those who least need it.
Brigid Brophy is wrong to suggest that ‘no wider electorate’ elects those responsible for running regional arts associations: most of the members of the governing bodies of RAAs have gained their seats, directly or indirectly, through elections. Brigid Brophy says that I take up the cry for a minister of culture. I don’t. She claims to be in favour of an imaginative arts policy, but any such policy will be pretty worthless unless it helps us transcend the professional narcissism and metropolitan complacency that articles like Brigid Brophy’s help to perpetuate.
SIR: Of the making of articles about Public Lending Right there is apparently no end. No doubt it would be frivolous to suggest that Brigid Brophy has earned more money by composing such pieces than she will through its present, gradual implementation. The merits or otherwise of such a system apart, it has become a tedious subject about which to read in general papers. It is to be hoped that in future the topic will be confined to the appropriate journals, such as the Author and the Bookseller, and that review pages can be left free for the discussion of books which the reader may then buy, borrow or ignore as he sees fit.
SIR: In the introduction to his review of Michael Millgate’s Thomas Hardy: A Biography (LRB, 7 October), Graham Hough describes some of the books on Hardy’s life published between 1928 and 1943, comments that ‘a completer picture than the one he issued himself has long been beginning to form,’ and concludes that ‘the full-scale biography has never been attempted till now.’ He may have retired in 1975, but did he really miss the full-scale two-volume biography by Robert Gittings published in 1975 and 1978? Or has he deliberately ignored the first serious attempt to tell the whole truth about the subject?
Graham Hough writes: It was quite inexcusable that I failed to mention Robert Gittings’s life of Hardy, so different from Michael Millgate’s, and valuable in another way. I was out of England when the first volume appeared, so missed the discussion it aroused. But to allow the whole work to slip from my mind in this way is a piece of culpable negligence for which I am sorry.
SIR: Recent invective launched against ‘New Accents’ through your letters column does no justice to a useful series that has produced some lively engagements with, and appropriations of, contemporary theoretical work. The dismissal of the entire enterprise through its characterisation as mere vulgar popularisation – the ‘hack-work’ of academics who should know better – reveals a cabbalistic attitude to the new knowledges which would restrict their circulation to those most able (for whatever reason) to invest in the extensive project of reading the ‘original thinkers’ in ‘authorised’ versions. Underlying this authentication through origins and authorities is a process of mystification and exclusion, where knowledge circulates only among those who ‘know’ or who are specially initiated – thus we preserve the sanctity of contemporary critical theory and maintain a ‘gold standard’ for knowledge. The corpus of critical theory is now substantial and the ‘New Accents’ series should be applauded, despite its unevenness, for providing a relatively cheap, available and accessible means of discussing, disseminating and applying this work. For some of us the ‘New Accents’ series has made a world of différance.
SIR: I find it stunning that, embedded in a harrowing account of British racism (LRB, 7 October), the idea of miscegenation should occur in the undoubtedly nasty list of ‘choked, killed, disgusted, swallowed, miscegenated’. Ironic, perhaps, but it is precisely that vague ambivalence that blurs and masks our racist consciousness. Clarity is crucial: if we are ‘fessing up’ to racial prejudice we must admit it; if we are laughing at Victorian perceptions (oh innocents) we should know it. We really shouldn’t let ourselves get away with anything.
I fully see that we really shouldn’t let ourselves get away with anything, but we were quite aware of the meaning to which Leslie Dick attends. She or he is easily stunned.
Editor, ‘London Review’
SIR: Readers of your review of Garry Wills’s book on the Kennedys (LRB, 7 October) may like to know that it is to be published in the United Kingdom by this company in April under the title The Kennedys: A Shattered Illusion.
Orbis Publishing Limited, London WC2