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Letters

Vol. 9 No. 22 · 10 December 1987

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Wrong Analogy

SIR: Professor Edward Said (Letters, 26 November) does not dispute my contention about internal Palestinian Arab terrorism during 1936-39: where we disagree is about the number of Palestinian moderates murdered by their compatriots. While I mentioned the figure of thousands (LRB, 1 October), Said maintains that only ‘a few, perhaps a few hundred’, were killed. I will not dwell on the apparent moral callousness on the part of a person of Professor Said’s stature in referring to a few hundred people murdered as ‘a few’. The point it that all historians of the period – including Yehoshua Porat, whom Said cites – agree that the Mufti and his supporters conducted a systematic campaign of intimidation and assassination against those moderate Arab leaders in Palestine who did not go along with their policies. That it is difficult to ascertain the exact figures of those assassinated and wounded is only natural in a situation of internal civil war: it is very difficult to assess the exact figure of people killed in the last decade in the Lebanese civil war. But there is no doubt that internal Arab Palestinian terrorism was a widespread phenomenon. Among those assassinated by the Mufti’s supporters were Khalil Taha, Chairman of the Arab National Committee of Haifa; Nasser ed-Din, Deputy Mayor of Hebron, and Michel Mitri, Secretary of the Arab Workers Association of Jaffa.

There were unsuccessful assassination attempts on many other moderate leaders, who subsequently were forced to flee to neighbouring countries. Among them were the Mayor of Haifa, Hassan Shukry, and two of the most prominent leaders of Nablus, Ahmed Shak’a and Suleiman Abdul Razak Toukan. In the collective memory of Palestinian Arabs this bloody phase of their history is deeply ingrained, and still casts its shadow over the present willingness of Arab moderates on the West Bank to come out into the open. My criticism of David, Shipler’s account of the Palestinian consciousness was his total ignorance of this dimension of the collective memory of the Palestinian Arab community.

In making the analogy with a hypothetical book about post-World War Two Germany, I said that ‘all analogies have their limits and the Palestinians are obviously not the occupied Germans.’ I wonder why a person of Edward Said’s acquaintance with textual analysis chose so cavalierly to overlook this explicit statement. I would similarly suggest to Said that he study more carefully the statements I myself made during the Lebanon War, which admittedly put many of us in Israel in a difficult position. I would certainly not claim that all of us made the right choices all the time. But my own views were clearly stated in a number of articles, both in Israel and abroad (in Ma’ariv of 4 July 1982 and 26 August 1982, and in the Los Angeles Times of 20 August 1982). I said explicitly that I had grave doubts about the war and that I would not have started it, but that whatever its outcome, but especially if the PLO would have to give up its ‘state within a state’ in South Lebanon, Israel should now offer the Palestinians a peace based on an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.

Professor Said is one of the more eloquent and sensitive spokesmen for the Palestinian cause, and as such he commands a lot of respect among those Israelis who look for conciliation and compromise. Personally I hold him in great esteem as a scholar and a patriot. It was therefore with a saddened heart and great disappointment that I read his strident letter: it unfortunately gave expression to the same moral absolutism which led the Palestinians to their tragedy under the Mufti in 1947-48. Those of us in Israel who look for a compromise with our Palestinian neighbours know that nobody holds a monopoly of being absolutely in the right in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Edward Said, on the other hand, feels that the Israelis can do no right and the Palestinians can do no wrong. Such a Manichaean view does not lead to peace and reconciliation, but tends to exacerbate hatred and discord. I pray for the day on which Edward Said and other Palestinian intellectuals of his stature would occasionally be as critical of some aspects of Palestinian policy as many of us in Israel are critical of many aspects of our own country’s policies, past and present.

Shlomo Avineri
Hebrew University, Jerusalem

SIR: The evident bad faith with which Shlomo Avineri (LRB, 1 October) proffers his preposterous analogy – the dispossessed Palestinians as the Germans of Europe in 1945, with the Mufti of Jerusalem as their Hitler – betrays the desperate need of Zionists to sustain an exculpatory mythology in the face of the public’s growing awareness of the nature of their ideology and its practices, past and present. In such mythography, the slaughters by the Zionist terror gangs, with their avowed program of the dispossession of a native people, and later the massive IDF onslaughts against a refugee population, can ethically be cancelled out by the fragmented and ill-equipped reprisals of the dispossessed against their oppressors: much as if the actions of the European underground movements were to be equated with those of the Wehrmacht. Avineri tries not to demonise the victims of Zionism, but he is in much the position of Claudius trying to pray in Hamlet. He deplores Zionist terrorism but, as an Israeli, is ‘still possessed/Of those effects for which’ the terrorists and the IDF performed their terrorism. His claim of equivalence for the actions of oppressors and oppressed, occupiers and occupied, reveals that he inhabits the same realm of ethical casuistry and historical distortion more crassly colonised by Zionism’s less discreet apologists.

Brian Johnston
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh

Aphrodite Street

SIR: Recently in your journal (LRB, 29 October) I read with many degrees of disgust ‘Aphrodite Street’ by Les A. Murray: a smug, holier-than-thou casting of the first stone. I have a number of homosexual friends who, whilst having neither Aids nor its antibodies, have given up much of their time to help and counsel those who have. I know a number of homosexuals who have the Aids antibodies. I certainly have a bisexual friend with the disease. Obviously Les A. Murray knows no one in these categories, for behind all the attempt at artifice (an attempt which I find collapses into doggerel) simply lies the stark vision of what we Australians term ‘poofter-bashing’. Faith, hope and love matter little with this man, it seems: for by ‘Aphrodite Street’s’ standards there’s nothing like kicking a person, group, race or nation when they’re down; or worse still, a poet attempting to play God, cheering on the kickers.

Many an obese glutton has died of a cardiac arrest, or related heart disease. Perhaps I should write a poem on this topic. Would you publish it?

Alan Wearne
Paris

I couldn’t say whether we would publish the poem described by Alan Wearne – author of a verse-novel, The Nightmarkets, about Australia’s experience of the freedoms of the Sixties and Seventies, together with its involvement in the Vietnam War. Les Murray’s poem is entitled ‘Liberated Plague’, a more ominous name than ‘Aphrodite Street’, from some points of view. But we did not read the poem as a persecution of homosexuals. Les Murray will respond to this letter in the next issue.

Editor, ‘London Review’

Unbelievable Horse

SIR: Like St Mawr, the horse in your recent story, ‘Home Place’ by Guy Vanderhaege (LRB, 12 November), is used as a metaphor for human emotions: a cipher of the resentment of a farmer’s son for his father. But Lawrence’s equine details are accurate, so that St Mawr is a real animal and smoothly carries out his role of manifesting Lou’s lack of respect for the husband who is thrown and maimed. The creature in your story completely fails to convince. He is ridden by the well-known type of plains farmer out West somewhere who will not let his son divorce a hated wife because she would get half the land. Assisting the farmer in fence-mending, the horse stops for several seconds before unseating his rider and bolting. No horse will freeze, then buck, then bolt; it might pause before taking off but if it was going to buck it would give no warning other than the sudden lowering of its neck. The old man knows this animal for a spirited beast, yet he uses it on a job that will require a loose rein. We read that the horse runs until winded, dragging the farmer, whom it then kicks twice for good measure and ignores until the old man has bled to death. When the man is dead the horse looks at him. The idea that even (or only) the horsey consciousness knows that the only anal old land-hoarding farmer worth considering is a dead one is weakened through being purveyed by such an unbelievable horse. Had it run until it had to stop for breath, the man would have already been dead or at least senseless. More likely the startled creature galloped until it felt sure there was enough space between it and the source of its fear. Had it been of such evil temperament as to then gratuitously kick its rider, it would have been the kind of horse no farmer would buy, and if he had bred one such it would straight away have gone for dogmeat. When St Mawr kicks Edward and Lou feels he conveys her own feelings, the symbolism is effortless – unforced. Having reared and fallen, the animal is trying to get up; Edward goes to grab the reins and it is easy to see how he could have got caught by a flailing hoof.

After Guy Vanderhaeghe has carefully built a veritably bucolic atmosphere, using a sort of American Gothic ethnic realism, the horse which then appears is a surrealist jolt. It shocks the reader out of serious contemplation of the notion that the bleeding to death of the old man parallels the stream of moral blackmail which he had poured into his son’s ears the night before. Proudhon would have approved the literary device that for his devotion to property the old man must die. But he should have gone in a less contrived way. Our villain could well have been dragged by his stirrup-iron in the traditional manner. Instead, we are asked to conceive him becoming tangled up in the single strand of wire with which he is trying to mend the fence, paying out the wire from a bale slung over his saddle horn. ‘It was bad luck to get tangled up in the wire.’ It was more than that. It was surely impossible.

Susanna Merry
London W12

Droppings

SIR: Craig Raine’s review of Saul Bellow’s More die of heartbreak (LRB, 12 November) is an interesting sighting of the fully padded verbosceros, an animal whose natural habitat, the literary bitch parlours of London, Oxford and occasionally Cambridge, has, unusually for our age, expanded recently, to encompass the pages of yours and other similar magazines. The dung or spoor by which this animal can be tracked are to be found at very frequent intervals as they pursue their meandering, myopic, irritable course across the virgin paper. These droppings are produced in the form of names, frequently of other writers past or present, which even the highly corrosive bile of the animal has been unable to break down, and thus it drops. The dunging rate exhibited by Mr Raine’s example (one dropping per 1.72 column inches, mean average) is quite astonishing, even for this species. I suggest, sir, that measures should speedily be taken, either to improve the diet of the animal in question or to drive it to some less prominent’ pasture. Slurry of this kind should not be spread over the pages of your magazine.

Martin Wilkinson
Clunton, Shropshire

Hurricane Craig

SIR: I was flattered when my friend Julian Barnes put forward my name for a natural phenomenon as subtle as a hurricane (LRB, 12 November). If I may, I’d like to thank him publicly.

On an entirely different matter, are readers of the LRB familiar with this passage in Primo Levi’s If this is a man? ‘“Il y a Jules à attraper par les oreilles." “Jules" was the lavatory bucket, which every morning had to be taken by its handles, carried outside and emptied into the cess pool.’ Heh, heh.

Craig Raine
Oxford

Oxford and Labour

SIR: Now that he is settling down to over-fed middle age as a fellow of Oxford’s most desirable college, R.W. Johnson seems to be under some sort of compulsion to create the myth of a revolutionary Oxford in the Sixties (Letters, 12 November). He says that sit-ins and occupations were fairly common: he does not mention that much the largest such manifestation, the storming of the Clarendon Building, involved less than 5 per cent of the undergraduates then in residence. He talks of a Union dominated by left-wingers like Tariq Ali but does not mention the Union’s declining prestige and increasingly marginal role in undergraduate life, or the even greater weight people like William Waldegrave and Gyles Brandreth had in Union affairs. He says, ‘The whole era was the most wonderful fun, enjoyed by large numbers of students who were not English public school products,’ but he does not mention the even larger number – including practically everyone I met while an undergraduate 1966-1969 – who were bored, frustrated and above all disillusioned by an Oxford that was so much more mundane than their school daydreams. He no doubt recalls the political graffiti covering the walls of Balliol but ignores the predominantly right-wing tone of colleges like St John’s, Keble, Teddy Hall etc, or the snobbishness and social polarisation. All this is brilliantly evoked in Leo Bellingham’s Oxford, The Novel which has a particularly savage chapter dealing with the undergraduate Left. Even in those days they thought Oxford was the English university counterpart of Paris ’68. Perhaps one should be grateful that the naive fantasies of nearly twenty years ago have not lost their magic, but one would like to know what it is that R.W. Johnson is teaching to his predominantly public-school-educated pupils at Magdalen: is it History and Politics or is it the Art of the Fairy Story?

A.D. Harvey
London N16

Anti-Anti-Racism

SIR: As the editor of the much-maligned Anti-Racism – An Assault on Education and Value, I must take issue with the accusation levelled at me by Professor Paul Hirst (Letters, 12 November). Professor Hirst refers to what he calls Ann Dummett’s ‘carefully presented criticisms’ and suggests that I have attempted to defend my book against them by making a false claim about the Swann Committee. Not only does he therefore ignore the many ‘carefully presented’ answers I have given to Ann Dummett (as indeed in her misleading answers does Ms Dummett herself) but he is quite incorrect to say that the committee did not suppress its own research into the possible reasons, other than racism, for the under-achievement of West Indian pupils. The committee originally commissioned Dr Mortimer to pursue research into the fortunes of successful black pupils. But when it was discovered that his research proposals included an attempt to evaluate the influence of family values and backgrounds there was uproar. As Lord Swann himself clearly states on pages 8-9 of his brief summary to Education for All: ‘Unfortunately, however, the project aroused hostility in various circles and had to be abandoned, leaving the committee with little chance of deciding with certainty the relative importance of the many factors in the educational system and outside it that might be, or are held to be, crucial.’ And, writing in the TES, 25 July 1982, one of the instigators of the Swann enquiry, Professor Alan Little, warned: ‘If, however, the study is prevented by threat of veto, then this can only undermine the credibility of the whole report.’ It is understandable that an ex-member of the Swann Committee should feel embarrassed by this serious shortcoming, but Professor Hirst’s accusation that I have falsified the matter must be exposed for the untruth that it is.

I do not seek to attribute to Ms Dummett views she does not hold, but have been more concerned to elicit what she does believe – not an easy task, since she shifts her ground (LRB, 9 July). She claims to disassociate herself from definitions of ‘racism’ she admits to be misleading and dishonest, yet fails to enlighten us about what she considers ‘racism’ to be. If she eschews definitions which are predicated upon the assumption that Britain is a racist society – a view that attributes a moral and institutional defect to a whole people – then she is left with a more modest thesis upon her hands, and one that does not justify overturning the whole of the British educational system. Anything that Ms Dummett is likely to mean by ‘educating people about racism’ still violates the principle that education is an end in itself, not an anti-racist instrument. She seems to be unable or unwilling to consider the difference between education and social engineering. I have presented detailed arguments for distinguishing the two in a chapter which is apparently so far removed from Ms Dummett’s own predilections that she refuses even to consider them. And she is so determined to accuse me of lumping all anti-racists together that she ignores passages in the introduction which acknowledge that a number of antiracists are well-meaning (though, in my view, mistaken). Ms Dummett’s comments on Roger Scruton’s chapter remain bizarre. She still defends the view that he ‘side-steps’ the issue of race. But given that his chapter is about cultural relativism, and given that she acknowledges that ‘race and culture are different things,’ it is a matter of exquisite curiosity that he can be accused of evading the issue of race, as he seeks to defend a curriculum which is so often sloganised as being ‘racist’. Indeed, in complaining that there seems to be no common agreement as to what a ‘multicultural curriculum’ might be, she makes our point for us.

Ms Dummett admits that she opposed Dr Mortimer’s research and argues that it was more appropriate to start the research from the schools’ end than from the Caribbean children’s. There is no possible justification for any ‘research’ that excludes ab initio the possibility of reaching conclusions not consonant with what anti-racists believe already.

Frank Palmer
Twickenham

Men in Love

SIR: John Worthen (Letters, 12 November) says that the revisions to the first English edition of Women in Love ‘were made by Lawrence himself, and no textual edition can ignore them.’ My point is simply that this rule should apply to the revisions preceding the first printed edition as much as to the ones following it. Indeed, there is far too much material to reproduce in a single volume – which requires the editors to have a clear sense of priorities (based on literary values) and to provide a coherent summary of materials they can’t print in full. This is what Charles Ross’s book does and the Cambridge edition doesn’t.

With regard to the ‘editorial crux’ of Lawrence’s discarded homoerotic Prologue: the OED defines ‘crux’ as ‘a difficulty which it torments or troubles one greatly to interpret’. My review does not say that Lawrence was ‘running away from his own homoeroticism’: it says that in the novel’s development there was a complex mixture of self-censorship and spontaneous emotional evolution – and that the editors should have done more to help Lawrence’s readers understand how Women in Love was shaped by this struggle.

Paul Delany
Simon Fraser University, British Columbia

Lowellship

SIR: I am grateful to John Bayley for devoting so much attention in his review of Robert Lowell: Essays on the Poetry (LRB, 17 September) to my essay ‘Poètes Maudits of the Genteel Tradition’. But there are two errors your readers should know about. First, Bayley refers to my reference to Lowell as a ‘Mayflower screwball’ as ‘a satisfying oxymoron out of [Ian] Hamilton’; the fact is, of course, that the oxymoron is Lowell’s own:

There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church,

from ‘Waking in the Blue’, one of the key poems in Life Studies.

The second error is more serious. Bayley writes: ‘The heart of Perloff’s attack is that Lowell lacks the Continental, Jewish-type cosmopolitanism proper to an American intellectual.’ My essay says nothing whatever about Jewish or ‘Jewish-type’ cosmopolitanism: on the contrary, my argument was that Lowell’s Establishment bent (a bent, incidentally, that brought him in close contact with the largely Jewish establishment of the Partisan Review, although this is not something I discuss in my essay) made him less than adventurous vis-à-vis the New York avant-garde art world of the Sixties, the names I cite-Jasper Johns and Willem de Kooning – being neither Jewish nor, I should think, ‘Jewish-type’ cosmopolitan ‘American intellectuals’. Why the word ‘Jewish’ appears in Bayley’s review is thus a mystery to me.

Marjorie Perloff
Stanford University, California

Tony and Caroline

SIR: Alas, in my review of Tony Benn’s diary (LRB, 26 November) I exaggerated his prowess as a record-keeper by a factor of ten. Regular diary-keeping for four decades suggests a far-from-paltry total of approximately 14,000 entries – not 140,000, which was the figure given.

Ben Pimlott
Birkbeck College, London

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