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Letters

Vol. 16 No. 7 · 7 April 1994

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Lauraphobia

I was at the party when Laura Riding jumped out of the window (LRB, 10 March). It was a party of big names in the Arts and I was escaping from one of the top portrait painters. I would have liked to be seen for ever young and lovely, but if it meant going to bed with him – no. Then there was a wild row going on and Laura Riding jumped out of the window and Robert Graves jumped after her, but sensibly ran downstairs so that it was an easy jump. I disliked Laura so much that I would have preferred her to have been bashed to bits, but not at a party.

Naomi Mitchison
Carradale, Argyll

During the winter of 1937-8 my wife and I shared a Surrey house with the two refugees from Majorca. Laura was in the habit of pronouncing: ‘Bodies have had their day.’ Now that she and Graves no longer shared a bed this was a useful stick to beat him with. Two years later, in America, she issues from a bedroom (in which she and Schuyler Jackson have spent 48 hours together with the door locked) to announce to the inmates of Nimrod’s Rise: ‘Schuyler and I do.’ Mythology? No, fact. No wonder Riding was allergic to biography! At Ewhurst, I am reminded, Laura tried to persuade my wife to give up sharing her husband’s bed; but Alix politely told Laura to mind her own business. Alix and I knew nothing at this time of the crazy three-life and four-life passages that had led to Riding’s attempted suicide – a crime in those days, for which she might well have been deported, had not Graves got his friend Sir Edward Marsh to persuade the Home Office not to prosecute.

Riding quarrelled with all her major contributors to Epilogue: John Cullen, Jacob Bronowski, Norman Cameron, James Reeves, Alan Hodge and myself, and finally with Graves – who lost heavily on the Epilogue enterprise. According to Jenny Turner, this ‘mythology’ can best be viewed as a ‘set of stories which do quite a bit to illuminate the culture in which they were formed’. Alternatively, one might judge: Laura Riding was congenitally incapable of conducting herself as a poet among poets. Norman Cameron, for example, gave up building himself a house in Deya when he realised to his ‘horror’ that Riding was promoting a competition for her affections between himself and Graves. Norman was incorruptible. He handed her the house, and 10,000 pesetas to complete it, as the price of his escape. His superb poem, entitled ‘The Wanton’s Death’, commemorates the episode. The poem stands on its own feet, of course; but its reference to Riding adds a spice to its conclusion:

Her relics rot on the sea-wasted foreshore,
Half-wooed, half-spurned by the land-tainted spindrift.

Riding the novelist was a failure. At Ewhurst the subject of I, Claudius was taboo, though Riding was quite content to live off the proceeds. Her novel, A Trojan Ending, written in jealousy with the aim of putting Graves’s literary success in the shade, was a flop. Riding the poet was all Jenny Turner says of her.

After his dismissal in 1940, Graves (having supported Riding and her writings for 13 years) gallantly announced that she had ‘wiped the slate clean’. At his death, Riding wrote to the Times of ‘this figure of outsize proportions who, intensely in his later decades, treated literature as his own private theatre of the transcendental grotesque … the lie his method of truth’.

The abusive letters Riding wrote to me from Wabasso, between 1940 and her death in 1991, have been placed in an Exeter University archive, pending the expiry of her copyright. They should one day make interesting reading in the matter of the contribution to 20th-century culture of this formidable but very wicked woman.

Harry Kemp
Crediton, Devon

Born in Bombay

I hadn’t been intending to mention it, but since Gerald Moore (Letters, 24 March) is kind enough to ask, my father, a Delhi man born and bred, chose our family name there in his youth, not in ‘what is now Pakistan’.

For the record, while I’m at it, Christopher Hitchens’s tough-minded and heartening Diary (LRB, 24 February) contained a couple of other small, but not insignificant, inaccuracies. The volume Pour Rushdie (now published as For Rushdie by the US house Braziller but still, as far as I know, without a British publisher) contains articles by 100, not ‘almost two dozen’, of the ‘leading novelists, poets and essayists of the Arab and Muslim world’. The writers’ attitude to my work ranges from favourable to dismissive, but all of them express complete solidarity with the principle of freedom of expression. The declaration of Iranian intellectuals to which he refers has 162 signatories, not 57.

Both these corrections serve to emphasise his argument that the ‘Rushdie case’ is one manifestation of ‘a contest, bitter and subtle, within Islam’. Since many multiculturalists (with whom, as he rightly says, ‘it is impossible to be sufficiently irritated’) have been acting as the fundamentalists’ fellow-travellers by peddling the notion that this is an East-West quarrel, I’m grateful to the Hitch for pointing out that many of us persons of the tinted persuasion care about human rights and artistic freedom too.

Salman Rushdie

Naming the devil

Malcolm Bull has written a most interesting article around my book Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come (LRB, 10 March). His comments on this, and indeed on my historical writings as a whole, are thoughtful and much to the point. And his interpretation of the catastrophe at Waco is the most illuminating of any that have come my way. However, I am certain that he is mistaken on one important matter: when and how Christianity came under Zoroastrian influence.

Bull suggests that Zoroastrian influence may have reached Christianity via Manicheism. Chronology is against him. The Gnostic religion known as Manicheism was founded in the third century AD – and everything that Jewish and Christian apocalyptic has in common with Zoroastrianism can be traced back many centuries before that. The vision of a world created by a good god, and itself essentially good, but invaded and harassed by an immense, supernatural power of evil; the sense of incessant struggle between the forces allied with the good god and the forces allied with the evil power; the conviction that the good god will achieve a final and total victory, which will purify the world for ever and ever – all this is to he found already in the Book of Daniel, which was composed between 169 and 165 BC. Even more explicitly, it is to be found in the Book of Revelation, which dates from the end of the first century AD. Augustine was able to draw on the great vision, in Revelation 18, of the fall of that embodiment of evil, ‘Babylon the great’; and so, alas (as Bull indicates), was Koresh of Waco.

There is more specific evidence that apocalyptic Jewish sects did indeed owe much to Zoroastrianism. The precise correspondence of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2.40 sq. with the Zoroastrian apocalypse known as vahman Yasht would surely be proof enough by itself; and so would certain passages in the Community Rule from Qumran. As for the absence of Iranian loan-words in Hebrew – I can only say that it impresses me much less than it seems to impress Bull. In cases of culture contact it is quite normal to adapt words in one’s own language to express new concepts. Why, after all, should Jews call the evil power by the Zoroastrian name Ahriman when they could so easily adapt the good old Hebrew words Satan (‘adversary’ or ‘accuser’) or mastema (‘hostility’), or else diabolos (the Greek equivalent of satan, and the origin of our ‘devil’)? Which is what they did.

What matters, surely, is the fact that the dualism and the eschatology that one finds in Jewish and Christian apocalypses are quite alien to the ancient Israelite religion as one meets it in the Old Testament – whereas they are central to Zoroastrianism. It remains to explore the channels through which Zoroastrian influence penetrated into Judaism – or rather, into certain branches of Judaism. That is now being done. In the Hellenistic period Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian intellectuals will have had no difficulty in communicating, since they had a common language, Greek. The circumstances which brought them together have been investigated, not only by the Iranian Mary Boyce but, more recently and over a wider area, by the Professor of Religious Studies in the School of Oriental and African Studies, John Hinnells.

It is becoming ever more apparent how lively, widespread and long-lasting Zoroastrian-Jewish contacts were. And for my part, I become ever more convinced that (if I may quote myself) ‘amongst the fringe groups in Judaism the Jesus sect was the one that was most exposed to Zoroastrian influence.’

Norman Cohn
Wood End, Hertfordshire

Licence to kill

In his piece on the Scott Inquiry (LRB, 10 February), Paul Foot does an injustice to Carlos Cardoen, ‘the Chilean Cluster Bomb King’ and arms supplier to Iraq, when he describes him as having ‘only two heroes, Pinochet and Saddam Hussein’. In fact, Latin America’s most notorious private arms manufacturer has proved himself far cannier than this. Certainly, his success story began under Pinochet, when Army contacts in the late Seventies allowed him to branch out from his existing small mining explosives business. But in the mid-Eighties, at the height of his cluster bomb bonanza, he fell out with the General and became a leading backer of the Christian Democrat and centre-left opposition; he was probably the most outspoken business dissident at the time. When elections came finally in 1989, he was a major funder of opposition leader Patricio Aylwin’s victorious Presidential campaign. Since then – having, he says, given up arms production for fruit exports and other activities – he has funded a leading leftwing magazine, done business in Cuba (food products, apparently) and continued to sponsor cultural projects, such as an arts centre on Easter Island.

The full story of Cardoen’s conflict with Pinochet has never emerged. His undoubted sensitivity to the direction of the political wind probably had much to do with it. He is also known to have criticised the quality of the Chilean Army’s ordnance products. But one incident, triggered by the Iran-Iraq War and the arms supply networks Paul Foot discusses, was certainly important. Presumably lured by the millions being pulled in by Cardoen’s sale of his cheap, efficient and very nasty cluster bombs to Iraq, a company linked to the Chilean Army attempted to get in on the act by selling another such bomb to Iran, in a triangular deal through Nigeria. The attempt ended in farce, as a sample bomb blew up in the air in tests carried out in Iran, reportedly destroying an Iranian Air Force plane and risking bloody reprisals against the Chileans involved in the project. The middleman between Chile and Iran, Bernard Stroiazzo, claimed to have been held captive by the Iranian Government for 18 months and later sued Pinochet’s Government, alleging it had reneged on a deal to compensate him by allowing his British-based company, Were International Ltd, to process toxic waste in the Atacama Desert. Cardoen, meanwhile, sued the Army-linked company, Ferrimar, for industrial espionage, alleging that one of his executives had decamped to it with his cluster bomb plans. The officer involved in developing the rival cluster bomb, Colonel Carlos Carreño, was later kidnapped by the Chilean left-wing armed group, the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, in one of its more spectacular hits against the Pinochet regime, and smuggled to Brazil, where he was released.

All of which is only a footnote to the vast and repulsive story told in Paul Foot’s article, but corrects the widespread and over-neat impression of Cardoen merely as a Pinochet acolyte. The unpalatable fact is that part of Chile’s campaign to return to democracy (albeit a democracy where Pinochet continues as Army commander-in-chief) was bankrolled by the profits from some of the more hideous deaths in the Middle East.

The next instalment to the Cardoen saga is likely to be an extradition request by the Miami courts to have him face charges brought by US Customs of illegal arms trading with Iraq. The request will almost certainly be turned down by the Chilean Supreme Court, a decision which will be generally applauded in Chile, despite the Court’s deep unpopularity due to its craven record when called on to defend human rights under Pinochet and the general feeling of embarrassment at Cardoen’s activities. In this case, however, Cardoen is seen as a relatively small Third World player being scapegoated by the US Government to distract attention from its own far vaster role in the game of supplying Saddam – an interpretation, as Paul Foot’s piece serves to emphasise, with which it is hard not to sympathise.

Malcolm Coad
Santiago, Chile

Whose hubris?

John Lloyd got only some of it right in reviewing Paul Routledge’s biography of Arthur Scargill (LRB, 10 March). Unsurprisingly, his comments are most accurate when focused on the 1984-85 strike period and its aftermath, which he covered for the Financial Times. But while the loss of most jobs and the majority of pits was inevitable because of the technological revolution that began in the industry in the late Seventies, the death of the coal industry itself is by no means inevitable. In 1972 a group of us from Bradford University showed the NUM Executive how 80 per cent of miners’ jobs were at risk, while current output could be maintained if the Coal Board applied all its new technology. The jobs went as did the pits, but even in 1992 nearly 70 percent of deep mine capacity remained.

By that year the majority of the remaining deep mines were already competitive with their cheapest competitor fuel, imported coal, at their main market – Britain’s huge inland coal-fired power stations. These mines were finally squeezed out of this market by the policy decisions of Lord Wakeham (the former Energy Secretary, who was brought back to lead the Cabinet through the final coal crisis in October 1992). He made sure that the ‘dash for gas’ in power generation went ahead, in spite of his previous promises to the contrary to the Energy Select Committee.

Wakeham had assured the Committee that if gas-fired power stations were more expensive than coal stations, the coal stations would remain open. His appointee, Professor Stephen Littlechild, the electricity regulator, made sure that this would not happen, even though he knew, as we all did, that the existing coal stations were cheaper than most of the proposed gas stations. After all, it was not just the NUM research department – which I headed at the time – that was saying so but the Major Energy Users Council and the big generating companies themselves.

The death of Britain’s coal industry is not a question of the geopolitics of energy. Quite simply it is a manifestation of brutal politics. The country now has only 17 large British coal mines left operating. Some of these are to close over the next months. Quite a few others have been mothballed or been put up for sale as licensed mines. No more of these mines should be allowed to close. The real geopolitics of energy, determined by present events in Russia (which supplies 10 per cent of the European Union’s energy), Algeria (which supplies 12 per cent of the EU’s gas) and the Middle East (which supplies most of the EU’s oil), could lead very quickly to a new energy crisis. This is foreshadowed by the Ukraine cutting the supply of gas to the West in a dispute with Russia over payment, but would explode on the arrival of an ultra-nationalist regime in Russia that renewed its military ties with Iraq. Then not only Britain but Western Europe as a whole would need every tonne of British coal it could get.

Dave Feickert
Sheffield

John Lloyd’s criticism of Arthur Scargill is to be commended for a generosity of spirit usually lacking in similar pieces. He is, however, particularly wrong to defend Kim Howells’s successful move to call off the 1984-85 strike without a settlement: in effect, to surrender for fear of a worse defeat. I do not doubt the honour of Dr Howells’s motivation. The fact remains that not only did this leave hundreds of victimised miners without their jobs, but in the long term the conclusions that were drawn from it helped fashion a strategy of preferring to concede rather than risk a fight; and this has had a disastrous effect on the morale and effectiveness of the trade-union movement. It is now the rule rather than the exception for ballots to be held and won, and then action not called (this, strangely, causes no foot-stamping about ‘democracy’ in the press) – or for ballots not to be held at all. It is doubtful whether this strategy has saved a single job or prevented a single pay cut: it is proving singularly ineffective in responding to the current pay freeze. And certainly it has not come remotely as close to beating the Tories as did Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers.

Ed Horton
Oxford

Nothing like David Hume

As pleased as I was to see Françoise de Graffigny and her Letters from a Peruvian Woman receive over a full page of lively discussion by P.N. Furbank (LRB, 24 March), I am sorry that he relied so heavily on Georges Noël’s worthy but outdated biography for much of his information on the author’s life. The 30 ‘wonderfully good’ letters she wrote from Cirey about Voltaire comprise only a fraction of her extant correspondence, which is currently being edited by a team of scholars, including myself, under the direction of J.A. Dainard; almost five hundred letters, dating from 1716 through November 1742, are already available in three volumes published by the Voltaire Foundation in Oxford. Another 11 volumes are on the way, and besides an appealing and impressive story of a woman writer’s career, they will provide a fascinating close-up of literary Paris in the mid-18th century.

The letters already published make it clear how Graffigny moved to Paris and lived there after her falling-out with Voltaire and Emilie du Châtelet. She endured their suspicious anger at Cirey for more than a month, not just ‘a day or two’, before her young friend came to her rescue. Although money was always a problem, she had several sources of income besides her ‘tiny pension’ from the Duchesse de Richelieu. The complicated incident involving Nicolas Liébault and his mistress Clairon Lebrun happened while Graffigny was still lodging in a convent, only dreaming of ‘setting up house’: Clairon came to Paris to have an illegitimate baby in secret, Liébault suspected Graffigny of conspiring to give Clairon to a rich rival, and Noël told the soap-operatic story knowing only Liébault’s side of it. It sounds very different with Graffigny’s side included. Meanwhile, on her own initiative and unaided by any ‘aristocratic acquaintance’, she had already met and become friends with Jeanne-Françoise Quinault; and she was included very early in the salon later called the Bout du Banc. The correspondence tells far more than I could summarise here, but I particularly recommend the dust-cover portrait of Graffigny by Quentin de La Tour, which depicts a very attractive woman with a mischievous smile, a witty gleam in her eye, and no resemblance whatsoever to David Hume.

Graffigny’s remarkable experiences as a successful writer in 18th-century Paris make her an interesting case for feminist critics. The next few volumes of letters will show her developing as a writer from ‘Nouvelle Espagnole’, which she wrote on command using an outline supplied by the Comte de Caylus and which she did not think much of herself, to Letters of a Peruvian Woman, which was motivated by a good deal more than ‘pique’ and which fully justified the artist’s pride she took in it. By all indices, it was one of the most popular and influential novels of the era, reprinted well over a hundred times, cited in the Encyclopedia, adapted for the stage, continued in numerous sequels, and translated into most European languages, including five different English versions before this one. The publisher’s decision to make a reliable and affordable translation of this ‘much loved and wept-over’ novel available for the first time in almost a century will allow a new generation of Anglophone readers to form their own judgments of it.

English Showalter
London WC1

Cunning Passage

Frank Kermode’s review of Eliot’s Clark Lectures (LRB, 27 January) gives some of the history of their provenance. It is surprising that he does not note that in fact a substantial section of these lectures was published at the time they were given as ‘Deux attitudes mystiques: Dante et Donne’ in Chroniques in Paris in 1927. This is the section of the lectures that Kermode discusses in some detail, and in which Eliot favours the writings of Richard de Saint-Victor and gives an extensive and unfavourable critique of Donne’s ‘The Extasie’. In 1930 and 1931, Eliot seems to have returned to his Clark Lectures, not merely to produce the Turnbull Lectures, but also to produce six broadcast talks on the Metaphysical poets, published in the Listener in 1930, and to write the better known ‘Donne in Our Time’ that appeared in 1931 in A Garland for John Donne. ‘Deux attitudes mystiques’ was certainly of great interest concerning Eliot’s changing attitude to the Metaphysical poets; but the pieces in the Listener offered few surprises, though Eliot by then favoured the devotional poets.

The non-publication of the Clark Lectures may have been associated with the spiritual crisis Eliot was undergoing at the time: this was the period of his conversion. His changing valuation of Donne in favour of Dante is in keeping with this; and he may have felt insecure about his attitude to his subject. He makes a relevant distinction in another piece published in French at this time, ‘Note sur Mallarmé et Poe’ in La Nouvelle Revue Française of November 1926: ‘Le poète philosophique est celui qui vit d’un système, soit complet et conscient comme ceux de Dante et de Lucrèce … Le poète “métaphysique"… par exemple … Donne, Poe et Mallarmé… ont la passion de la spéculation métaphysique, mais il est évident gu’ils ne croient pas aux théories auxquelles ils s’intéressent.’ The undissociated sensibility of the 17th century, with its capacity to hold in balance a controlled variety of attitudes, seems to have been replaced as the ideal by the unified sensibility of Dante, unironic in its attitude to belief.

In a slightly later piece from 1932, ‘A Note on Two Odes of Cowley’ in Seventeenth-Century Studies Presented to Sir Herbert Grierson, we encounter a clear statement of what lay behind Eliot’s concerns: ‘The transference of attention from theology to science, or to sciences – the beginning of the slow disease which was to separate and confuse thought and feeling …’ Like Yeats, Eliot looked nostalgically back for a time in which the dominant world explanation was a humanly oriented (and religious) one (as it was with Dante), unthreatened by the humanly indifferent explanations of science, which seemed increasingly to both poets to pre-empt the domain of the imagination.

A.T. Tolley
Carleton University, Ottawa

Misrepresenting

Hilary Putnam’s letter (Letters, 24 February) begins by stating that my review of his Renewing Philosophy ‘is in content not a book review, but a polemic, and as such requires a response’. I am unclear what distinction he intends here: surely my piece was simply a (highly) critical book review. The question is whether my description of his views was correct and whether my criticisms were justified. I have seen no reason to waver on either point.

First, I neither said nor implied that Putnam regards ‘all of analytic philosophy’ as scientistic; I said that his view is that scientism is ‘rampant in current analytic philosophy’. Here is what Putnam says at the very start of his book: ‘Analytic philosophy has become increasingly dominated by the idea that science, and only science, describes the way the world is in itself, independently of perspective’; and there are many other passages to the same effect. So, contrary to his assertion, there is no misrepresentation of the kind he suggests, major or minor.

Second, Putnam tells us in his letter that he was opposing two tendencies in current philosophy, not one: ‘scientism, on the one hand, and a tendency to fantastic ontological and metaphysical constructions, on the other’. He suggests that I misrepresent him as claiming that much analytic metaphysics – for instance, David Lewis’s work on possible worlds – is scientistic in tendency. Of course I agree that these are quite distinct targets – that, indeed, was my point – but listen to this from Putnam’s discussion of the topic:

Some analytic philosophers, to be sure, are guilty of challenging the ways we think and talk without proposing any really workable better ways of thinking and talking; but most analytic philosophers nowadays consider themselves to be providing something like (or at least ‘continuous with’) a scientific explanation of the success of ordinary ways of thinking and talking. It is this analogy – the analogy of the work of philosophers like Jerry Fodor, or the proponents of ‘evolutionary intentionality’, or the metaphysicians of ‘possible worlds’ to the work of the scientist – that I find fundamentally frivolous … Most constructions in analytic metaphysics do not extend the range of scientific knowledge, not even speculatively. They merely attempt to rationalise the ways we think and talk in the light of a scientistic ideology [my italics].

That seems clearly to support my attribution, and I find it difficult to see how Putnam could accuse me of misinterpreting him on the point. My question then was how far Putnam is prepared to go with this diagnosis of contemporary analytic metaphysics (the book contains no answer to this obviously important question). Since the philosophers he cites as opposing scientism – Strawson, Kripke and others – have themselves engaged in systematic analytic metaphysics, it looks as if Putnam is committed to ruling out this aspect of their work. As I noted, it is hard to believe that Putnam could mean this; but his words seem to imply it. More important, the positive view of philosophy that he advocates – though it is not very clearly articulated – appears not to allow for the practice of traditional and current metaphysics. He says at the end of the book: ‘I have argued that the decision of a large part of analytic philosophy to become a form of metaphysics is a mistake.’ That sounds a lot like general opposition to current metaphysics to me. My question, then, still stands: by what criterion would Putnam rule out some forms of metaphysics while tolerating others (if indeed such selective tolerance is what he intends)? The only suggestion I can find in his text is that ‘the metaphysics of previous epochs had a vital connection to the culture of those epochs, which is why it was able to change the lives of men and women, and not always for the worse.’ I don’t care for the anti-theoretical tone of this remark, and I don’t see how (say) Kripke’s essentialist metaphysics would pass the test, or Strawson’s investigations of the role of space in establishing the subject-predicate distinction. I am only asking for clarity on the point: what kinds of current metaphysics does Putnam want to preserve, if any, and what to eradicate? If it is, after all, only David Lewis on possible worlds that Putnam takes to be guilty of the wrong kind of metaphysics, then his complaint that analytic metaphysics in general is misguided is hypberbolic.

Third, Putnam says I misrepresent his view of causation to make a ‘polemical point’: namely, that his thesis of the mind-dependence of causal relations implies that there cannot be causation without minds. Thus, I said, Putnam would have to hold that there could not be a world in which there are causal relations but no minds to apprehend them – which I think is implausible. I do not see that my point is answered by what Putnam says in his letter: ‘from the fact that the use of a notion presupposes certain interests it does not follow that we cannot use it to describe the world as it would have been if those interests had not existed’. Putting aside the trivial interpretation of this, that whether we choose to use a certain notion depends upon our interests, it seems to me that it does follow from what Putnam says that for a causal fact to obtain it is necessary that certain human interests should exist, since if p presupposes q the former can be true only if the latter is. That is, there can be causal relations in the physical universe only if these somehow incorporate human interests. Not being an idealist, I find this position unacceptable.

Finally, I never remotely implied that Putnam holds that ‘all philosophy except his own is “scientism"’: indeed his approval of Dewey and Wittgenstein (among others), which I reported, flatly contradicts such a claim. This ‘bogey-man’ certainly had no existence in my mind. My complaint, put simply, is that Putnam exaggerates.

Colin McGinn
Rutgers University, New Jersey

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