In her review of Andrew Stephen’s book (LRB, 10 November 1988) Susannah Clapp raises a number of points on which she might be interested in a word of explanation. We objected to the book for a number of reasons, including inaccuracy and facts taken out of context. My wife’s letters to Suzy after she had disappeared were intensely personal and were only published after persuasion by the Evening Standard (as was clear from the headnote which I asked them to print). We were anxious to do anything – as are other parents in these circumstances – that might lead to Suzy being found. We gave the letters to the author on the assumption that the context of what was said in them would be properly explained – it needed sensitivity and understanding; our assumption was, we thought, covered by our contractual right to require amendment. In the interests of accuracy – our principal concern! – could I just add that we did not in fact approach the publishers with the idea for a book: they suggested it and strongly encouraged us to have it written. We certainly did not expect this book!
Also, we did leave home to avoid as much hype as we could (we were advised to do so by Victim Support), but unfortunately we could not be away for as long as we would have liked due to our various commitments. We were of course particularly concerned about accuracy in regard to Suzy’s personality and character. Susannah Clapp refers to her QE2 Diary. This must be some evidence of what she was really like, but, sadly, it was not accurately reflected in the book.
People can judge my wife for themselves, and in regard to the period covered by the book, from what she has achieved through the Trust in its two years and from her book Beating aggression, and another book on fitness at work, both of which were written within the two years that Suzy disappeared. The second book will be published by Thorson Books.
Mary-Kay Wilmers’s memory is as long as it is false. Reviewing the Faber Book of Seductions (LRB, 10 November 1988), she ‘was reminded of Christopher Ricks saying twenty years ago, in an article about the sexual revolution of the Sixties, that he was against the whole thing on the ground that the new free-for-all was unfair to plain women. (What about plain men? Are women pleased to get any old bugger? …).’ My review of Richard Neville’s Play Power in 1970 was not worth resurrecting, but since I don’t like distortion and the smear of sexism, I want to quote the paragraph which she had in mind or somewhere:
The emancipated young are right to think that prurience and envy play some part in middle-aged reproof; but the middle-aged are right to think that the emancipation has often been seen to promise less than it performs, and that bourgeois respectability does not entail one particular cruelty which lurks in emancipation’s promiscuity: promiscuity’s cruelty to those whom even promiscuity would reject. It is all very well for a Yippy pamphlet to proclaim that people should have ‘all the time, anytime, whomever they wish’. But what about those whom nobody wishes? The world of Play Power is a fantasy world in which all men and women (but especially women, since it is a man’s world) are beautiful people – or, to put it bleakly, where nobody is sexually unattractive. It will take more than freedom from inhibition plus weird clothes to turn this fantasy world into the world. Meanwhile the non-promiscuous respectable society does manage to convert some of its properties into a protective customariness: nobody is forced to face the iciest of tests, whether he or she would be wanted even if given away.
‘He or she’ does not say ‘unfair to plain women’; nor do my words ‘those whom even promiscuity would reject’, ‘people’, ‘those whom nobody wishes’, ‘men and women’, and ‘where nobody is sexually attractive’. Granted, I wrote the words ‘but especially all women’, but I did so explicitly to deplore the male chauvinism of the deplorable book: ‘The world of Play Power is a fantasy world in which all men and women (but especially women, since it is a man’s world) are beautiful people.’
I hope that Ms Wilmers the Editor of LRB is more scrupulous than Ms Wilmers the insufficiently edited contributor to her pages.
Mary-Kay Wilmers writes: Christopher Ricks is right to chastise me for not looking up what he said, though I’m sorry he has taken the lapse so darkly to heart. I remembered the remark because I don’t quite see the connection that Professor Ricks seems to see between good looks and good times; I misremembered it because I think of good looks as something that men have required of women but which women have required only of themselves. On the other hand, to go back to Professor Ricks’s text, I’m not sure even now whether we are to understand ‘it is a man’s world’ as a reference to the ‘fantasy world’ which Richard Neville describes or more generally. Either way, Professor Ricks’s letter does nothing to disabuse me of the belief that it is a man’s world that we live in, just as it is a man’s world that most of the items in the Faber anthology address.
Until reading the Diary of 27 October by Edward Mendelson, it had been my impression that the controversy surrounding Gabler’s Ulysses was not theoretical but historical. John Kidd’s allegations, voiced in ‘The Scandal of Ulysses’ (New York Review of Books, 30 June 1988), appear to be directed at Gabler’s violations of his own editorial principles and not the principles themselves.
Mesmerised by theory, nowhere does Mendelson reveal that Gabler has made some monstrous blunders. In 1984 Gabler labelled his Ulysses as the 11th typesetting; it was actually the 18th. While Mendelson muses over Kidd’s discovery of the Byronic allusion lodged in a certain Dubliner’s name, he neglects to inform us that the Dubliner, Captain Buller, makes a unique and unprecedented appearance as ‘Culler’ in Gabler’s Ulysses. Likewise, Dublin’s Harry Thrift has been altered to ‘Shrift’.
Kidd also balks at the two thousand emendations by Gabler that have no authorial basis. (That is, Gabler follows the typists and printers instead of his purported ‘Ulysses as James Joyce Wrote It’.) Since Gabler gives authority to any variant that appears in Joyce’s hand, his heavy dependence on facsimiles seems enough to undermine his own approach. Mendelson laments the loss of the Modernist typography in the ‘Aeolus’ episode and is justified. Gabler ignored this message, in Joyce’s hand, to the French printers: Est-il possible d’employer des types plus foncé …? Incidentally, the type Joyce commented on was already significantly darker and larger than Gabler’s headlines.
Kidd does not champion the 1922 Ulysses for history’s sake (a nightmare from which he is trying to awake), but requires that ‘errors’ remain only where Joyce actively incorporated them in his ongoing revision, as in the paragraph referred to by Mendelson. And while Mendelson appropriately protests Gabler’s liberties with the passage, he neglects to mention Kidd’s point of last June: on that page alone Gabler overrules Joyce’s final manuscript seven times.
John Lloyd has an interesting political trajectory. From dynamic editor of the Oz offshoot Ink, through Time Out, industrial reporter for the Financial Times, editor of the New Statesman and now the Financial Times’s Moscow correspondent. I would argue that he has been moving to the right politically all the while, and has become much less interesting, although no worse a journalist, as a result. I did not therefore have high expectations of his review of Benn’s diaries (LRB, 24 November 1988). But I was wrong: Lloyd quite accurately shows them to be the fascinating document that they are, and places them in a more or less accurate political context. In doing so, he has achieved more than most reviewers, and shows that whatever else he may have been doing, he has been paying attention, these twenty years.
Something sharper could and should have been provided, however. Firstly, Benn writes, not just as a politician, but as a historian, for posterity. The really interesting thing about the diaries is not what he thought about Harold Wislon (sic) or whether or not George Brown was drunk again, but how Benn moved from the quite right-wing Cabinet Minister of 1964 to the leadership candidate of the Hard Left of 1988. Lloyd uses the analogy of building blocks to indicate that the reconstruction of Benn was always, and perhaps still is, a work in progress. The analogy is too crude. What Benn shows us is the experience of a socialist trying to administer a capitalist state and realising that the reality does not match the image. Benn’s courage lies in his pursuit of this problematic, where the more opportunistic or pragmatic have just gone along with it. Of course what you can learn from experience, while it may be of great value, is of no lasting use without theory. This may explain why, although Benn has moved far to the left in the last twenty-five years he still accepts the parameters of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Architect and Bee, as someone or other once said.
It is a pleasure, perhaps even a pleasure tinged with eroticism, to pick up the gauntlet thrown down so forcefully by Dr Nokes (Letters, 27 October 1988). He repeats the charges made in his initial review of my book, Eros Revived, and merely admits his vague use of several terms (‘erotic’, ‘bawdy’, ‘pornographic’). Again, he brings the accusation against my book that it is pornography disguised as a scholarly study.
Since Dr Nokes has complained about my ‘side-stepping’ his ‘specific points’, I should like to comment in detail about these points while trying to explain some misunderstandings. In his review of my book Dr Nokes revealed an amazing if puzzling gift for misreadings and misrepresentations that come out again in his letter. Apparently, he has read my letter as carefully as he has read my book: Pat Rogers did not review Eros Revived, but rather the editions of Fanny Hill Peter Sabor and I published in 1985. I used the adjective ‘elderly’ with a question-mark, and I doubt if Pat Rogers would like to be seen in a group containing a scholar like Dr Nokes who rejoices at the thought of being put on one level with Messrs Enright and Powell and passes off some of my ideas about pornography and politics (in the chapter on anti-aristocratic satire) as if they were his own. I do not know about English scholarly habits – but I have been taught in Germany and France that that kind of ‘theft’ is one of the most dishonest acts that can be committed by a scholar. This is not a ‘crude ad hominem speculation’, but a sad fact, as any reader can find out when comparing Chapter Three of my book and the second column of Dr Nokes’s review.
A careful reading of my letter (and of the dust-jacket of the book), would also have told Dr Nokes that the Sorbonne did not give me a PhD for the book published by Secker, which is, as I wrote, an abbreviated and slightly altered version of my Sorbonne dissertation of 1986. Secker does not publish doctoral dissertations. But if Dr Nokes had cared to compare Eros Revived with the dissertation (available from the Atelier National de Reproduction de Thèses in Lille) he would have discovered that the book version has preserved the structure and substance of the academic original, including the huge bibliography. Since the book and the dissertation are so similar, I think it is also an insult to the four professors who assessed my dissertation (with the final top-verdict: mention très bien) to be saying that I have written a book that pretends to be scholarly but is essentially pornographic.
I do realise that I run the risk again of being called a show-off who ‘flourishes his academic credentials’. I do feel, however, that I should point out to Dr Nokes that one cannot hold a PhD ‘from Saarland’. The Saarland has got one university, which is in Saarbrücken – if Nokes happens to have an atlas around, he could check up on this. Also, it is customary, and indeed polite, to acknowledge the help of friends and institutions in a book that was in preparation for more than eight years.
Dr Nokes would have preferred clear-cut (or cut-and-dried) answers about the nature and function of pornography, and about the ideological relationship between pornography and politics. Again, a close reading of my book will prove that a number of careful answers and suggestions have been provided. Dr Nokes does not seem to be able to understand that 18th-century erotica could be multi-functional (e.g. alleviating and pornographic and revolutionary): for him, it must be either/or. It is this intricate and elusive aspect of erotica that I have tried to describe as ‘chameleon’. I would have been happy, of course, to provide simple answers (and solutions) after sifting through a century of licentious books, but alas, I did not find them.
My last point relates again to the dualistic, black-and-white Weltanschauung which he imposes on my book and, eventually, on myself. Although I have been teaching at a Catholic university for several years, I do not, as a rule, distinguish between the good guys (researchers into erotica) and the bad guys (puritan reactionaries and prudes). I have never replied to reviews of my previous books (sorry to show off again): what provoked me about his critique was not the fact that he found fault with technical-scholarly aspects of Eros Revived but his unproven allegation that my book is pornography. In my previous letter, I argued that such a procedure is a typically convenient manoeuvre for the kind of conservative critic I have repeatedly found in England (not in France and the United States). Instead of focusing on important technical and ideological issues, such critics will, from the very beginning, tell you that the very research into an admittedly ambiguous field is bound to produce a dirty book. What is a dirty book? My fellow-countrymen, Wolfgang Iser and H. R. Jauss, if Dr Nokes has cared to read their books, have proved beyond doubt that there is something called ‘reception’ which goes on in readers’ heads. It is difficult to describe, let alone to control, that reception. In the case of erotic books, it would be safe to predict, however, that a prostitute’s reactions will be different from a nun’s or a priest’s. It also seems that studies of erotica (since they are bound to contain erotic material) are apt to lead to different reactions in the scholarly world: I should mention, for the record’s sake, that Eros Revived has found favour in the eyes of younger English and American critics who have perceived scholarship, analysis and helpful research where Dr Nokes has discovered pornography. It is, in other words, virtually impossible to discuss erotica without being accused of insincere intentions by people like Dr Nokes who equate erotica with pornography, and pornography with dirt and smut that is bound to rub off on anyone who attempts an analysis.
Catholic University, Eichstätt, West Germany
Why does Ian Gilmour (LRB, 24 November 1988) think that ‘thousands of White Russians’ were sent to their ‘certain death’ at the hands of Stalin? The figure of two to three thousand émigrés usually cited (out of about 45,000 handed over) is pure conjecture. More to the point, there are eye-witness accounts that the Cossack officers were given sentences of up to 25 years in the Gulag. Brutal perhaps, but still not ‘certain death’, much less a massacre.
Ian Gilmour writes: Apologies. Mr Knight is correct. ‘Uncertain death’ would perhaps have been better. Mr Horne’s account runs: ‘Some of those repatriated committed suicide; some were summarily executed; most were despatched to labour camps, where many did not survive the abominable conditions. Krasnov, Shkuro and some of the other old émigrés were eventually executed after a period of imprisonment.’ Unfortunately I can’t find Tolstoy’s book at present.
MacDiarmid may be ‘the countryman of a number of more recent poets’ (LRB, 10 November 1988), but I’m sure that if he were alive today he would not waste his time or energy leaving Biggar to visit ‘the tactician of Little Sparta’ nearby; nor, for that matter, would the ‘tactician’ visit the Lucky Poet himself. Has Robert Crawford forgotten that in 1962 MacDiarmid tarred and feathered Hamilton Finlay as one of ‘the ugly birds without wings’, pecking back at Finlay’s cheeps about MacDiarmid’s ‘anachronistic propaganda’, and ‘everyone under the age of forty being bored stiff by Mr MacDiarmid’, with squawks of ‘old hat, barbarism, villainy and ignorance’? Perhaps these statements could also be set in discrete concrete blocks – one in Little Sparta, the other in Biggar? – the issue of which set where to be decided on by the Scottish Arts Council?
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