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Letters

Vol. 6 No. 2 · 2 February 1984

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Anti-anti-semitism

SIR: Lora Weinroth accuses me (Letters, 19 January) of a facile irony such as manifests anti-semitism. But I did not write that ‘“Jews could be forgiven …" for not deducing Oswald Mosley’s anti-semitism from his pronouncement that Jews stink worse than oil.’ The simple point was the opposite one, not of Mosley’s anti-semitic guilt but of his bogus claim to innocence: ‘To the end, Mosley claimed that he was not against Jews as such … Jews could be forgiven for not deducing this from Mosley’s cry that “stronger than even the stink of oil is the stink of the Jew." ’ Lora Weinroth was seeking a pretext for complaining that ‘ “we" are “us" and “Jews" are “them".’ Not that I think this an honest point either.

Since I am not Jewish, those who are Jewish must for me be they, which is not the same as their being ‘them’. There is nothing disrespectful about this; the disrespect would be in an act of appropriation that – even when the discussion was specifically of anti-semitism – would claim otherwise and would swallow others up in a false ‘we’.

Christopher Ricks
Cambridge

‘Letter to an Editor’

SIR: The verses on Robert Lowell attributed to W.H. Auden in Vol. 5, No 24 were in fact written by Chester Kallman around 1971. Your text is defective. Kallman wrote ‘As good as’ not ‘Better than’, and gave each of the two words in your third line a line to itself.

Edward Mendelson
New York

We are grateful for the correction. We did say that the ‘folk memory’ had attributed this little poem to Auden. It seems that the folk memory was not very far wrong.

Editor, ‘London Review’

Boy Gang

SIR:Peter Prince gets one detail and several emphases wrong in his sympathetic review of Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters (LRB, 19 January). It was the pioneer homosexual liberationist Ginsberg transcribing his own 1954 ‘Dream Letter from John Clellon Holmes’ into his journal, and not Holmes writing to Ginsberg, with the proposition that ‘the social organisation which is most true of itself to the artist is the boy gang.’ Holmes was by his own published accounts a then somewhat uptight heterosexual, and Ginsberg’s bias was not so much anti-girl or anti-woman but anti-bourgeois-conformist. Ms Johnson recalls that he ‘added sternly, “Not society’s perfum’d marriage" ’.

Her memoir is clearly true to her own experience of beat beginnings in New York City but it doesn’t, pace Prince, therefore follow that all ‘the women waited and watched the men with varying degrees of resignation and desperation’, or that ‘the most celebrated achievements of beat women seem to have been their deaths.’ The male Beat Generation writers whose works survive would be among the first to affirm the very real, deserved celebrity of the enduring oeuvres of their female comrades, most of whom are very much alive and kicking and writing as well as ever today: Diane di Prima, Joanne Kyger, Denise Levertov, Lyn Lifshin, Joni Mitchell, Sonia Sanchez, Patti Smith, Diane Wakoski, Anne Waldman, Joyce Johnson et al.

The fact that several of these are unheard of and only one or two at all widely published in Britain testifies to the inference that Little England’s literary establishment is still run by a profoundly bourgeois-conformist, if somewhat incelebrable and old boy gang.

Michael Horovitz
Bisley, Gloucestershire

Subjects

SIR:I agree with John Lucas (Letters, 17 November 1983). I think Craig Raine unduly hard on Tony Harrison (LRB, 6 October 1983 and Letters, 17 November 1983). The phrase, ‘What’s still between ’s’, exists on the plane of deliberate linguistic ambiguity which all dialect particularly enjoys, and serves to enhance the earlier ‘Your life’s all shattered into smithereens.’ Let me explain.

If Harrison were a modern Malherbe, he would not be allowed to elide at all, of course; but as he isn’t, he can: to confound academicians like Raine, he deploys common idioms which acknowledge, admittedly often unconsciously, time’s complexities – ‘What is still between us,’ ‘What was still between us,’ ‘What is still between is,’ or ‘What was still between was,’ or whatever, as the earlier ‘Your life’s all shattered into smithereens’ can be read as ‘Your life is all shattered into smithereens’ or ‘Your life was all shattered into smithereens.’ Such ambiguity exists in other common English idioms, which also serve to emphasise uncertainty, such as in ‘You’d’, for example, which can mean either ‘You should’ or ‘You would’.

Tony Harrison has realised dialect’s often unconsciously acknowledged potential for never actually locating a specific event at a specific time in a specific tense. Such potential is lost within the more formal framework of, say, the alexandrine, where there is a tendency to cram all syllables into an exact metre, thereby defining a precise tense, and consequently masking or, if you like, apostrophising time’s darker accents.

As for the inclusion of ‘all’ and ‘shattered’ in the line ‘Your life’s all shattered into smithereens,’ this indicates only the necessity for the poet to be continually experimenting (attempting new ‘tricks’, if you like, which the audience may or may not appreciate) which even Malherbe, I feel sure, with his obsessive desire for perfection, would have understood – and if this is to be seen as ‘padding’, or even ‘cheating’, then it may help to recall that it is only in fairly recent times that boxers have taken to wearing gloves!

William Milne
London SW18

Disarming

SIR:Allow me to comment on A.J.P. Taylor’s diary (LRB, 17 November 1983). First, I can think of no reason for my ever going to Britain. I visit foreign countries either for the buildings or for the food. Neither of these reasons would justify a visit to Britain.

Second, I applaud the fact that Mr Taylor has ‘a record as a champion for CND that goes back over twenty years’. I regret, however, that Mr Taylor seems to be unaware of the fact that on the Continent, and especially in my country, peace demonstrations have attracted hundreds and thousands of people. On 21 November 1982, over four hundred thousand people demonstrated against the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe. On 29 October 1983, over five hundred thousand people demonstrated once more in The Hague. It is unjust to say that ‘CND has just had its greatest demonstration ever, both here and on the Continent.’

Like Mr Taylor, I deplore the unwillingness of world leaders to disarm, bringing the world to the verge of nuclear disaster. I find it hard to believe that a historian with the renown of Mr Taylor should have ‘closed his mind to the problem’. After World War Two Europeans, and especially those who see themselves as champions of the peace movement, have, in the unchallenged tradition of men like Sir Bertrand Russell and the Greenham Common women, unceasingly pointed out that their leaders’ policies concerning nuclear armament lead to disaster. The mass mobilisation of popular sentiment in Holland over the past three years has led Mr Lubbers, the Prime Minister, to suggest that only 16 of the original 48 Cruise missiles may eventually be deployed here. I understand that in Britain things are slightly different.

Robert Dorsman
Rotterdam

‘In Youth is Pleasure’

SIR:I have only recently seen your issue of 20 October and, so, P.N. Furbank’s review of the recent reissues of Maiden Voyage and A Voice Through a Cloud by Denton Welch. In his review, Mr Furbank probably devoted as much attention to Welch’s In Youth is Pleasure. Your readers may be interested to know that this is available in paperback, with an introduction by John Lehmann, in Oxford’s series of ‘Twentieth-Century Classics’.

Will Sulkin
Oxford University Press

Tatlin

SIR:The bibliography you provided for the cover photograph of Validmir Tatlin (LRB, Vol. 5, No 19) omits an important source: Guy Davenport’s Tatlin! and Other Stories, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in 1978 and reprinted in 1982.

Gregory McNamee
Tucson

Philip K. Dick

SIR: For a biography of American SF writer Philip K. Dick commissioned by Bluejay Books, New York and Editions Denoel, Paris and being written with the full knowledge of the author’s estate and literary executor, I would appreciate hearing from anyone who knew him or corresponded with him and has information about his life. Interviews can be conducted later in 1984 in the USA or through correspondence/exchange of tapes.

Maxim Jakubowski
95 Finchley Lane, London NW4 1BY

In Pursuit of Truth

In Pursuit of Truth: Essays in Honour of Karl Popper’s 80th Birthday, edited by Paul Levinson, and reviewed by Paul Seabright in the last issue, is no longer being published in this country by Harvester Press. Copies are available from Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey 07716.

Editors, ‘London Review’

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