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Letters

Vol. 17 No. 5 · 9 March 1995

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The Great Copyright Disaster

If you combine Thomas Lynch’s observation (LRB, 22 December 1994) on how the dead feel about what happens to their remains – ‘only the living care’ – and John Sutherland’s comments on copyright (LRB, 12 January), you come to the conclusion that authors’ rights should cease at death. Neither the argument that copyright makes a profession of letters possible, nor the argument that it gives creators control over their creations, has any force when the creators are no longer there to be encouraged or outraged, (I guess one must have a clause to cover the rights of destitute widowers and orphans, but I would means-test it.) This limitation on copyright would make attempts to control the reputations of writers by their executors more difficult, but these efforts have so often been counterproductive that there is no reason to believe that the dead would rise up. It would also straighten out problems like those of the publishers and authors of books about modern painting who find themselves paying sums of up to three figures for the right to reproduce single illustrations by the great recently-dead; the concept of fair dealing is not easy to apply to pictures, and reproduction fees are now so high that short-run monographs may become too expensive to be worth publishing. The Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) are bringing criminal charges against the publishers Thames and Hudson for infringement of copyright in a book about Max Beckmann. If DACS loses the case it may make things easier, and in a decade or so we will doubtless have the archives of the world’s galleries available electronically (if expensively). Then artbooks will again be books for reading not looking. In the meantime the interests of readers, writers and publishers seem to coincide. We would all be better off if the principle was accepted that copyright is a barrier to the exchange of ideas which can be justified only in terms of directly supporting those who have ideas in the first place.

Peter Campbell
London WC1

The prospect of a world in which literary and artistic creativity is hindered by the activity of copyright lawyers has come to haunt me in recent years, so I was pleased to read Professor Sutherland’s suggestion that an association for the defence of the public domain is needed. But Professor Sutherland does not show sufficiently just how feeble the argument is in the EC Directive, and the various prolegomena thereto, for the change that will add 20 years to the copyright term for literary works in the United Kingdom. This change is said to be needed to continue the intention in the Berne Convention that two generations of the descendants of an author should benefit from his copyright royalties, and the extra 20 years are to be added because people now live longer than they did when the 50-year postmortem term was set.

Although copyright is of great economic importance (on one recent estimate 5 per cent of UK GDP is dependent on copyright law), little is known about who is actually getting the benefit from that minute number of works which still generate royalties after the deaths of their authors, so little can be conjectured about the effect of extending the term of their good fortune. Contrast the certainty of the situation in 1839 when Wordsworth petitioned Parliament in favour of Sergeant Talfourd’s Bill. Wordsworth knew that, failing a change in the law, all his copyrights would end at his death. He argued that, as well as his natural wish to provide for his family, it was desirable that his descendants should control the printing of his works.

Professor Sutherland gives figures to show that while the historical trend has been to extend the copyright term, this has been matched by a decline in the royalty rate paid to British writers. But his figures do not tell us anything unless we know both what it is that these figures are a percentage of, publishers’ contracts not being uniform in the matter, and sales figures. If for no very good reason we are to get an extension of the copyright term, one important consequence is that the brief (1978-95) period in which the copyright term has been uniform in the UK and in the US is ended. One wonders what effect this will have on the availability in this country of American scholarly editions of English writers out of copyright in America 50 years after their deaths, but still with 20 years’ protection in the United Kingdom and the rest of the EC.

In the presentation of his case Professor Sutherland makes a number of errors about the current law: nearly all of the moral rights that we have in UK copyright law arrived with the 1988 Act. The new Directive makes no alteration to moral rights in UK law. And when he writes that ‘unpublished literary remains enjoy perpetual protection,’ it is true that they may be protected by the law of contract or of confidentiality, or by being hidden in a drawer or bank vault, but they do not enjoy perpetual copyright protection any more. Perpetual copyright for unpublished literary works was ended (except for works of unknown authorship) by the Act of 1988.

David Lewisohn
London NW8

Sublimely Bad

Terry Castle’s review of the ‘sublimely bad’ Eliza Fenwick’s Secresy (LRB, 23 February) returns us, via a psychoanalytic route, to the status quo ante Elaine Showalter’s now twenty-year-old A Literature of One’s Own. We revisit the landscape of the female novel as a swamp of the third-rate punctuated by the snowy mountain peaks of Jane Austen and George Eliot. It is surely in the tradition of Eliot’s own ‘coming-into-writing’, the article called ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists’, that Castle herself writes.

Her suggestion that infantile fear and rage at the parent (especially the male one) overwhelms the first generations of sensational women novelists and condemns them to ‘psychic deadness’, hence rubbishy writing, begs an almost clinical resolution and certainly rises above mere literary history. What are we to make of later women novelists’ strenuous attempts to escape their paternity: the Brontës’ always orphaned heroines, Virginia Woolf’s notorious diary entry on the anniversary of the death of her father, whose ‘life would surely have extinguished mine’?

Perhaps it is more important to look at the stresses Austen’s novels themselves show, with their painful pattern of paternal weakness and the search for a substitute father to provide the law. It is surely this search which marks Austen as a crucial contributor to the terrain of English conservatism as well as to the novel in English. Perhaps we can also then see how Jane Austen could write so compellingly and uncomplainingly of women’s dependency while ridiculing the possibility of freedom for the slave.

Briefly, a list of fathers: Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Bennet, almost ruining the daughters he loves through his neglect of one he dislikes; Mr Woodhouse in Emma, easily recognisable as an excellent portrait of clinical depression, so helpless that the daughter turns for the support of marriage to her father’s oldest friend; the patriarch Sir Thomas, brought back from his plantation in Antigua to establish right order at Mansfield Park. None of these figures fits Castle’s picture of a happy father-daughter dyad, bathed in healing laughter that frees them from the dark feminine histrionics of the Gothic. If we look at Austen’s paternal loyalty in terms of what it cost her to keep the equanimity of her writing’s comic tone, we can not only look back more appreciatively at her Gothic-novelist maternal line but also look forward to celebrating what Virginia Woolf called the ‘jerks’ and ‘spasms’ of Charlotte Brontë; and then on to the jerks and spasms of Woolf’s own ‘Clarissa’, Mrs Dalloway. It seems a pity to miss all this for the sake of pointing out that some lady novelists have occasionally written silly novels.

Amanda Sebestyen
Casablanca, London

Under Wraps

I see my mistake. As David Sylvester points out (Letters, 23 February), I was wrong to say that the first five chapters of Looking at Giacometti are ‘reprinted’, implying previous publication. (Chapters One and Five have already been published: Two, Three and Four, not.) I meant only to say that those five chapters were written by the time of Giacometti’s death in 1966, and are printed as they stood then – unlike later chapters, which were at that point unfinished and were reworked subsequently.

Tom Lubbock
London NW1

Clean Bowled

Kenneth Hoyle (Letters, 23 February) suggests I have the punctuating ability of a greengrocer. In a general sort of way, I would agree with him, though I suspect that many greengrocers have powers of punctuation far in excess of mine. However, the particular error he cites – the use of double quotations for the word bowl to correct Robert Maxwell’s phrase ‘throw a googly’ – was reproduced exactly as it appeared in Tom Bower’s biography, Maxwell: The Outsider, published by Mandarin Books. Perhaps the line editor at Mandarin Books is the person to whom Mr Hoyle should address himself in the first instance.

In the second instance, he might be able to tell me whether it is preferable to use quotes from source books as they stand, or to clean them up for the meticulous eyes of LRB readers. Personally, if I were to be quoted, I think I would rather the original version were used. Who knows, I may have been feeling deliberately greengrocerish at the time.

Jenny Diski
London NW3

Kenneth Hoyle’s reference to ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ gives me an excuse to share with your readers my joy at coming across a notice saying GOLDEN DELICIOU’S.

Anthony Buckley
Coventry

He Strikes Again

The gentleman referred to in J.G.A. Pocock’s review of the Allen Lane edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (LRB, 23 February) as ‘Syaji Rao Gaekwar, Maharaja of Baroda’ should be given his proper style and title of Sir Syaji Rao III, Gaekwar (from the Marathi word for ‘cowherd’) of Baroda. He became gaekwar in 1875, and, in the Great War, subscribed to war funds and placed his troops at the disposal of the King-Emperor. Not many people know this.

Kenneth Hoyle
Halifax

Phantom Aryan

In Malcolm Bull’s review of Steven Katz’s The Holocaust in Historical Context (LRB, 23 February) Hitler’s table talk on the subject of the Jews is dignified by being linked to a discourse of inter-species conflict. It is a shame that Bull is blinded by this smokescreen, in much the same way that he suggests Steven Katz is deceived by the chimera of ‘uniqueness’. The important relationship is not that between the Nazis and the Jews, but the one that existed between the Nazi and his Doppelgänger, the historically constructed ahistorical subject of the Aryan. In this light the Holocaust may be seen as, among other things, the attempt to produce a race out of racism, to create the phantom Aryan from the murder of the living Jew.

Malcolm Quinn
London SW9

Illiberal

Jeremy Waldron made several telling points in his review of The Anatomy of Anti-Liberalism (LRB, 9 February), but the one which made the deepest impression on me was his criticism of anti-liberals who inveigh against liberalism in theory but recoil from acknowledging the practical consequences of their own invective. Such a criticism has often been made of left-wing thinkers. Waldron is entirely right to underline that it is a failing of many thinkers on the right as well. Having written for and read many publications of the so-called European New Right, as well as being the editor of a publication which has been so categorised, I would say it is the single greatest philosophical weakness of that movement.

Part of the problem stems from the use of the word ‘liberal’, which in America especially is used, mostly but not only by right-wingers, to refer to persons who might be better described as socialist, communist, anarchist, promoters of free love etc. It is time someone (Jeremy Waldron perhaps) wrote a book clarifying the parameters of classical liberal notions as distinct from those of modern progressives. A liberal/anti-liberal position, no longer distorted by conservative-minded people calling ‘liberal’ everything they find politically distasteful, could then offer an interesting alternative to the left/right scheme as a way of interpreting conflicting political theories. But that, I suppose, is another story.

Michael Walker
Editor, Scorpion, Cologne

Wallpaper and Barricades

I was surprised by Terry Eagleton’s view of Kelmscott Manor as a kind of Factory as It Might Have Been (LRB, 23 February). He is of course right to point out that we have no complete edition of William Morris’s political writings, but the recent publication by the Thoemmes Press of Bristol of Nicholas Salmon’s Political Writings: Contributions to Justice and Commonweal has added over six hundred valuable pages to our knowledge, and more is to come in the Morris centenary year of 1996. Meanwhile, A.L. Morton’s Political Writings is a stimulating and accessible selection from Lawrence and Wishart.

Peter Faulkner
University of Exeter

Sting of a Wasp

May I just add a supplement to Kevin Laffan’s letter (Letters, 9 February) about the poem ‘Lasca’? It was written by a minor poet named Duprez late last century, and was very popular as a recitation piece, not only in the last war, as performed by Mr Laffan, but long before that. It may have been heard in the trenches during the Great War, since it was issued on an acoustically recorded disc, on the Zonophone label. Judging from the catalogue number (X-41042) it was probably first issued in single-sided form in 1910. My own double-sided copy (where ‘Lasca’ is backed up by ‘Gunga Din’, catalogue no X-41043), issued in Australia on the same label in a pressing made by the Gramophone Co of Sydney, must date from 1920 or after. Inappropriately for ‘Lasca’, though suitably enough for ‘Gunga Din’, the reciter, Lyn Harding, uses quite a marked Northern accent.

Incidentally, it is not certain in the poem that they are sheltering behind the corpse of the horse during the stampede. The reciter proposes the action of dismounting, and shooting the horse in order to do so, but before he can act, the horse stumbles and throws them off. It is in this exposed position that Lasca makes her sacrifice for her lover.

In John Bayley’s review of Peter Taylor’s novel there is discussion of the relative merits of the variants in the line: ‘She drew from her bosom / garter a dear little dagger.’ On the record the reciter definitely says ‘garter’. It is also evident that the final lines Laffan quotes in his letter are variant from the recorded version. In that version the poem ends with a question:

I gouged out a grave a few feet deep,
And there in earth’s arms I laid her to sleep.
And I wonder why I do not care
For things that are, like the things that were:
Does half my heart lie buried there,
In Texas, down by the Rio Grande?

Brian Donaghey
English Department, University of Sheffield

Co-Morbid

Alan Bennett (LRB, 9 February) states that George III’s alleged porphyria raises ‘problems that are as much metaphysical as medical’. I would venture a non-metaphysical explanation for the King’s condition. Pace Macalpine and Hunter, as well as Occam and his razor, ample contemporary accounts of the King’s circumstances suggest that the primary illness in this ‘case’ was some form of bipolar disorder – the entity previously classified as manic-depressive disease. Under this rubric, porphyria – assuming it did indeed exist – would have to be rated a secondary, co-morbid condition. In what fashion, and to what extent, the metabolic disturbance articulates with fundamental affective illness is always a vexed question. Bipolarity itself, be it noted, is now also widely assumed to have a strong biological and hereditary basis.

Harvey Roy Greenberg
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York

Willow-Pattern World

Brian Rotman’s account of the transmission of the I Ching misses out some quite important information (LRB, 9 February). The problem lies in his repeated use of the word ‘translation’, a process which, according to him, was carried out many times during the history of the I Ching in China itself. In fact, the text of the I Ching has remained unaltered and in exactly the same language for about two millennia, and some parts of it for perhaps as many as three – any much older dating even for the hexagrams is no longer generally accepted. What has changed has been the nature of the commentaries written upon the main text, but here again there has been no shift in the language used: until this century all commentary was written in ‘Classical’ Chinese, an artificial literary medium maintained with even less change than Latin while spoken Chinese diverged from it as radically as any modern Romance language. On the other hand, the text has been constantly re-interpreted through commentaries in this medium to suit the changing zeitgeist. It may be legitimate to call this process ‘translation’, but only when one has made clear that the term is not to be taken literally.

As for the interpretation decreed by the Kangxi Emperor in 1715, which Rotman correctly identifies as a distinctly moralising effort which has had undue influence on Western readings of the text, this was in fact the outcome of a conservative strain within Chinese thought itself, albeit one particularly gratifying to the Manchu autocrat, rather than the result of conflicts between Manchu and Chinese scholars. The new ruler was trying to keep the mailed fist hidden as far as possible so as to win over a broader following of Chinese intellectuals, and so, for example, he was at the same time prepared to bestow tokens of Imperial favour on a radical critic of earlier I Ching scholarship named Hu Wei.

I appreciate that Brian Rotman disclaims any particular interest in Chinese culture or history; I also appreciate that it is very difficult to come by accurate information in these areas: perhaps less than half a dozen of our so-called ‘university’ libraries could furnish the basic bibliography of books listed at the end of Richard Lynn’s translation, and I fear that many might come up with none at all. But surely to gloss over such problems is to treat Chinese civilisation as a willow-pattern world in which nothing of consequence ever took place and to which normal standards of accurate description do not apply. An honest admission that one is ‘making do’ in the absence of reliable guidance would, I hope, find more sympathy with your readers than misinformation presented, no matter with what good intentions, as fact.

T.H. Barrett
School of Oriental and African Studies, London WC1

Good at Spelling

I read with interest David Nokes’s review of The Invention of Pornography (LRB, 26 January). But did he think he was writing for the New York Review of Books? There are constant references to that relation of the donkey, the ass. Did he, by chance, mean ‘arse’?

J.F. Fuggles
Rothley, Leicestershire

No Takers

About a month or so ago, I placed an advert in the LRB as follows: ‘GEORGE MOORE, small collection for sale including Freeman and Hone biographies.’ The reason I put the ad in LRB instead of seeking a book dealer was that I wanted the books to be housed in a home with somebody who was as crazy about George Moore as I am. Sentimental? You’re right! Originally I asked for a box number, thinking that I’d be swamped with telephone calls, but then changed my mind. I needn’t have worried. I received but one telephone call and this from a courtly gentleman who was looking for his early novels Spring Days and Mike Fletcher. We had a very nice chat, both of us bemoaning the lack of interest in our favourite author among current literary circles.

It happens I pass the house George Moore lived in – 20 Ebury Street in London – quite often. I never fail to throw him a kiss, picture him inside with his friends, a Manet or Degas on the walls. All I could say is that anyone who has not read Confessions of a Young Man, The Brook Kerith, Celibates, Story Teller’s Holiday, Aphrodite in Aulis, Heloïse and Abelard, Memoirs of My Dead Life, Hail and Farewell is missing pure beautiful reading pleasure.

Sylvia Elias
London SW3

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