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Letters

Vol. 18 No. 5 · 7 March 1996

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Steamed Up

I was naturally interested in Marilyn Butler’s review of Ian McIntyre’s Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert Burns (LRB, 8 February), in which she says some very nice things about my mother Catherine Carswell’s book on the subject and defends her against McIntyre’s aspersions, some of which seem to me to betray a puzzling animus. (‘Quite rudely’ is Marilyn Butler’s phrase for the way he treats her work.) McIntyre’s references to Catherine Carswell are surprisingly frequent, and some of them are just, even appreciative; but some have the character I have mentioned. For instance, where does he get the idea that she was ‘the daughter of a shipping magnate’? Her father was a middling businessman in the import-export line who lived with his family of four, a cook and a maid not far from Sauchiehall St, where he daily walked to his office. It is all in print. Her inheritance was small, she lived all her life in financial difficulty and died penniless. But why drag in her parentage except to hint that wealth (though mistakenly assumed) confers only amateur status? His remark that her book was ‘written in the more politically conscious Thirties’ contradicts not only fact but his own text, which elsewhere gives 1930 as the date of publication. The book was written in the later Twenties. This is the kind of slip that betrays animus.

Incidentally, where did McIntyre get the idea that Burns’s landlord, Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, ‘put money into the construction of a catamaran with hand-driven paddles’? Odd for a banker. They were driven by steam, which is why there are claims that Miller was the first man to apply steam to navigation.

John Carswell
London NW3

Amphibologies

There is a danger of diminishing intellectual returns from my exchange with Perry Anderson (Letters, 8 February and Letters, 22 February). So let me be unamphibologous. Anderson is now reduced to travesty. Roughly half the October 1991 New York Review of Books article to which he refers was devoted precisely to the consequences for the rest of post-Communist Europe of giving priority to East Central Europe. Michael Mertes, Dominique Moisi and I argued: ‘The politics of inclusion are not necessarily the politics of exclusion. The contrary has been the case in the history of the EC. Including new members has always strengthened the case for including still more new members’ (emphasis added for speed-readers).

‘We should do our utmost to promote democracy in Russia,’ we wrote a few months after the August 1991 coup. As for potential Russian membership: ‘An application from a truly democratic Russia would pose a serious dilemma, if only because Russia is so big, and half in Asia.’ But, we continued, in words for which I take full responsibility: ‘even on the most optimistic view of Russian developments, that delicious dilemma is not one we are likely to face for a few years yet.’

‘Might a less one-sided distribution of journalistic energy in the Eighties,’ Anderson asks, ‘and diplomatic generosity in the Nineties, have helped to avoid the Yugoslav disaster?’ Does this mean that I’m partly responsible for the war in Bosnia because I wrote about Poland and Czechoslovakia, or what?

My point about German and non-German ideas of Central Europe was simply that there has been much serious and independent non-German thinking about it. In the Eighties, for example, the idea was revived by Czechs, Hungarians and Poles, not by Germans. If in 1917 Masaryk was reacting to Naumann, in 1987 Peter Glotz was reacting to Kundera and Konrad.

But rather than continue the list of small points, let me restate the large ones. First and foremost, the major division on this question in Europe today is not between those who favour or exclude particular countries or groups of countries, but between those who are serious about the enlargement of the EU to include post-Communist countries and those who are not. That was the real issue in 1991, and, alas, that is still the real issue in 1996. Our article then was trying to get the EC to do something for post-Communist Europe at the inter-governmental conferences which culminated in Maastricht. It failed. Now we approach another inter-governmental conference, and the danger is still the same: more internal fiddling while post-Communist Europe burns.

If you’re serious about enlargement you must have criteria for membership. Some European countries will meet them sooner than others. If you’re serious, you have to make an assessment of which countries are likely to do so, in what time-frame, so as to judge the scale of the task. That – and not drawing any eternal lines of European division – is what I was about.

The claim that I am ‘bent on undoing what the Union has so far done’ simply ignores my clear and repeated statements to the contrary. It is also fatuous. Why waste time trying to get new democracies into a Union which is good for nothing?

If Perry Anderson thinks there is a contradiction between being pragmatic and being radical, that only tells us something about his notion of radicalism. Anyway, rather than continuing to attack my project of enlargement with a ragtag army of nit-picking, misrepresentation and amphibologies, wouldn’t his time be better spent coming up with a better one?

Timothy Garton Ash
St Antony’s College, Oxford

The review by John Sturrock of L’Accent du souvenir by Bernard Cerquiglini (LRB, 4 January) reminds me that the proposed dropping of this adornment to the French language, vetoed by Mitterrand, would have deprived French speakers of a useful little offensive weapon. My late brother Francis, staying with a French family to improve his knowledge of the language, was helping himself to cheese at dinner. The plateau included a wedge of brie, and the inexperienced Englishman, instead of slicing along the side, cut off the point, or nose. His hostess, exercising that special French skill in making foreign visitors feel at ease, remarked: ‘Je n’ ai jamais vu personne qui découpât comme ça le nez d’un brie.’ Francis said that he distinctly heard, in the air above the family dining-table, the sharp hiss of the circumflex over the third person singular of the past subjunctive.

Robin Hope
Todi, Italy

Balls

Call me goofy, but isn’t Jenny Diski (LRB, 22 February) a mite confused on the brain-body hard-wiring front? She says of the brain, quoting Herr Dr Guntern: ‘Right side equals intuitive, creative; left side is rational and linguistic – and heaven help those of us who are left-handed. Right side good, left side bad.’ In fact, it’s us left-handed slobs who are the creative ones, because the brain is cross-wired: my left hand is ruled by my right hemisphere, and so on. So if I were to scratch, say, my left ball with my right hand, which side of my brain would be aglow?

Michael Corris
Baden-Baden, Germany

Winners and Losers

Misha Glenny (Letters, 8 February) cites the Dayton Agreement as the symbol of Croatia’s victory and Serbia’s defeat. Yet Dayton governed only the settlement on Bosnian territory, whereas Glenny’s claim that Tudjman’s Croatia won the war in the former Yugoslavia rests entirely on factors external to Bosnia. These are that Croatia won international recognition, ‘solved’ its Serb-minority problem and prevented the establishment of an independent Bosnia, while Serbia suffered economic collapse, was forced to abandon the Krajina and became an international pariah.

This is a selective use of evidence. If Croatia won international recognition, so did ‘Republika Srpska’, covering 49 per cent of Bosnia. While Serbia lost the Krajina, which it never legally possessed, Croatia lost the far more valuable Posavina, a region of Bosnia with a relative Croat majority that was to have gone to ‘the Croats’ under the Vance-Owen, Owen-Stoltenberg and Contact Group Plans. Bosnian independence was opposed not only by Tudjman but also by Serbia, by Britain and France, and by Glenny himself. The Serbian leaders had achieved pariah status by mid-1992; does Glenny have any evidence that they cared?

Glenny portrays the Bihac region as under the control of a Croatia on which it is ‘utterly dependent economically’. He forgets that the whole of Bosnia has always been so dependent. Dayton merely cuts off Croatia’s intercourse with 49 per cent of a country on which its own economy depends. His description of rump Bosnia as a Croatian ‘vassal’ contradicts what he wrote in his original article when he said that ‘divisions between the Muslim and Croat communities’ mean that Bosnia is partitioned into three rather than two entities.

Glenny claims that the ratio of arms between the sides established at Dayton reflects respective population sizes. This is false. The Muslim-Croat Federation has nearly four times the population of Republika Srpska, yet is granted only twice the armaments. Demography is not, of course, used to determine military strength elsewhere – Syria is not four times stronger than Israel.

Glenny differentiates between the ‘a priori approval of the cleansing of the Krajina, as given by the Americans to Tudjman’, which he claims is unique, ‘and the construction of peace plans which accommodated cleansing operations after the event’. This is wrong on every count. The recognition of the Karadzic Serbs’ conquest of 42 per cent of Bosnia in the Vance-Owen Plan was precisely a green light for further acts of cleansing to achieve the 52 per cent offered in the Owen-Stoltenberg Plan. The UN and USA gave a priori approval from May 1995 for the Karadzic Serbs’ cleansing operation in Srebrenica; the Croatian offensive against the Krajina in August 1995 was by contrast not a ‘cleansing operation’. Though the Croatians have since committed grisly atrocities against elderly Serb civilians, the original mass exodus of over 150,000 Serbs from the Krajina was organised by the Serbian authorities themselves, and began before the offensive had even started, following the Croatian capture of the Bosnian towns of Bosansko Grahovo and Glamoc in July. There was no Croatian equivalent of the Serbian Army’s extermination of Srebrenica’s entire male population and physical removal of women, children and the elderly from the area on buses and trucks. Croatia and Bosnia, it is true, won the war on the ground: US diplomacy, embodied in the Dayton Agreement, snatched a Serbian victory, however qualified, from the jaws of defeat.

Attila Hoare
Yale University

Jobs Wanted

Question: When is a book review like a Jobs Wanted column? Answer: When it is Robert Crawford writing on The Poetry of Scotland by Roderick Watson (LRB, 8 February). There is a difference, however, from the normal procedure in that he sets out his own job description – ‘To the best of my knowledge, nobody has been asked to do a new Oxford anthology’– and then applies for the post himself: Watson’s anthology of Scottish poetry ‘merits an excited welcome; it sets a new agenda that future anthologists cannot ignore; I would like to be one of those anthologists who try to surpass it.’ Well, so would I, as indeed would many others, including, I am sure, Tom Hubbard, whose excellent anthology of contemporary poetry in Scots (that ‘local dialect, once but no longer an accepted literary language’, Marilyn Butler writes so wrongly of in the same issue), The New Makars, Professor Crawford chooses to ignore. If the job ever appears perhaps it can be advertised in the LRB?

W.S. Milne
London SW18

I have reached the end of Iain Sinclair’s piece (LRB, 22 February) and am lost in admiration. Here is a man who, in the dust-clouds of narcissism, malice, puffery and insider-speak which make up his back-handed (or rear-ended) tribute to Peter Ackroyd, has slipped away with £273-worth of the Tate Gallery’s collected edition of William Blake’s illuminated books. Have these been well produced, edited with scholarly accuracy and helpfully annotated? Are the reputations of David Bindman and his team enhanced? I think we should be told. Or if we are not going to be told, then Mr Sinclair should return them, or donate them to a university library that can’t afford to buy them (wide choice here). But what chutzpah! What a man! We’re lucky to have him. (Or should that be the other way round?)

Danny Karlin
English Department

Chimeras

Thomas Laqueur’s review of The Facts of Life (LRB, 22 February) regrets that Roy Porter and Lesley Hall didn’t include in their survey of sexual literature ‘Richard and Jane Carlile and their Everywoman’s Book’, and adds a summary of the contribution of ‘the Carliles’ to the birth-control movement. He is right to point out the omission, but wrong about what was omitted. For one thing, the title was Every Woman’s Book. For another thing, it was the work of Richard Carlile alone. He produced the original version – an article called ‘What is Love?’ in the Republican of 6 May 1825 – while he was on his own in Dorchester Prison and more than two years after she had been released from it, and he also produced the pamphlet version in 1825 and the later editions up to 1838. She loyally supported him by running his business while he was in prison, and even going to prison as well, but she had nothing to do with any of his writing, especially with his birth-control propaganda; indeed she opposed the doctrine so much that she pretended he didn’t really mean it.

Nicolas Walter
London N1

The Hygiene of Marriage by Marie Stopes which Thomas Laqueur cites is a chimera. Stopes’s renowned work was, of course, Married Love, which appeared in 1918: the title reflects her romanticised approach to the sexual advice genre. The Hygiene of Marriage was published in 1923 by Isabel Hutton.

Lesley Hall
Wellcome Institute, London NW1

Genes

Mad professor Michael Wood is leading us down into his own dungeon of invention when he tells us that it was Gene Hackman who starred with Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein (LRB, 22 February). It was Gene Wilder. An easy mistake to make, though, considering that the ubiquitous Hackman has been in every other film ever made.

Stuart Kerr
London W11

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