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Vol. 19 No. 16 · 21 August 1997

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Those Awful Serbs

Charles Simic is a scintillating writer, but his review of Tim Judah’s book was blustery (LRB, 31 July). Western politicians and commentators were hardly to blame if Serbian warmongering obscured the reality of a Serb Problem in Yugoslavia. As for that ‘dreadful bias’ in the Western media, does Simic really believe the coverage was at odds with events on the ground? How can anyone, considering the recent carnage and continuing misery, scorn, as Simic seems to, the notion that around 1990 the Serbs ‘should have worked within the system’ instead of assailing it? Which Western ‘enthusiasts of the break-up’ wanted Bosnia to be an ethnic theme-park? This imputed ambition is known to me only from Serb, Croat and Bosniak agitprop. And Croatia’s 1990 Constitution did not redefine the republic as a national state: this definition was present in the Titoist Constitution of 1974.

Mark Thompson
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Poets take heart!

I took out a Small Claim in the Whitehaven County Court when Reed axed a collection of my poems which Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson had accepted for publication. Having just won my case, I would like other authors who find themselves in a similar predicament to know that the acceptance of a book for publication can be legally binding, even though a formal contract may not have been signed. The fact that there are so few precedents (Harold Abrahams won in 1922, and Andrew Malcolm won on appeal against OUP in 1990) leads me to think that many authors feel that their hands are tied or that litigation would be too costly and long-drawn-out. The court fee is only £70, but the lapse of time between the devastating repudiation of all the books, including mine, on the Sinclair-Stevenson poetry list (10 April 1995) and the drawing of the court order was over two years. On 18 June Reed were given 28 days to pay, but no cheque has arrived. Compiling my statement for the court took many days; I ended up with over fifty documents in support of my case. It will all have been worthwhile if others can benefit from referring to the outcome of this case (Whitehaven County Court: Case No. WH650087). Anyone interested in having a copy of my claim and witness statement to the court should send me a cheque for £2.

I was greatly helped by having Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson and his secretary willing to appear as witnesses. They had no reason to doubt that publication would ensue once the written acceptance of my collection had been sent. The Reed managing director, John Potter, who wrote the letter of dismissal to more than a dozen poets, even ones who had already signed the formal contract, was presumably motivated in part by what he said in response to a phone call from Michael Glover on the subject: ‘We can’t piss any more money against that wall.’ The lack of interest the directors showed in the matter was borne out by their not even being represented at the hearing, submitting only a written statement, which said that the ‘acceptance’ of my book was ‘no more than the early stages of negotiation with a view to a formal contract being drawn up’. Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson’s witness statement refers to a contract (meaning a formal contract) being drawn up ‘on the basis of all our poetry contracts’! What’s more, the Reed submission went on, ‘there was no previous course of dealing to establish the terms of any publishing contract and the Plaintiff was not aware of the majority of the terms which would have been offered.’ Formal contracts are rarely offered for signature long before the date of publication. The solicitors’ bible, Chitty on Contracts, has in the section ‘Incomplete Agreement’ the following: ‘The fact that the parties envisage that the letter is to be superseded by a later, more formal contractual document does not, of itself, prevent it from taking effect as a contract.’ Is it naive to hope for the drawing up by publishers of a binding preliminary contract with details of royalties, date-limit for publication etc?

Christopher Pilling
25 High Hill, Keswich, Cumbria CA12 5NY

Wrong Man

I was surprised to find the name Joseph Needham popping up in Murray Sayle’s thought-provoking review of Robert Whymant’s book on Richard Sorge and the wartime Soviet spy ring in Tokyo (LRB, 22 May). Your readers might have assumed that the reference was to the late Cambridge biochemist, sinologist and historian of science, who at the time was also a prominent anti-Fascist writer and organiser. In fact, there is a mistake in Sayle’s description of how the frustrated Sorge leaked news of the impending Operation Barbarossa to the Western press. The New York Herald Tribune’s article of 31 May 1941 reporting Japanese expectations of the Nazi invasion was not by Needham, but by Joseph Newman, the paper’s Tokyo correspondent. As there is a tendency for myths to accrue to Needham, whose assistant I used to be, it would be helpful if this story could be scotched at source.

Gregory Blue
University of Victoria

Inside a French Milkman

Peter Campbell’s piece on medical imaging (LRB, 31 July) expressed a wish to know more about the mathematics of tomography. The problem is to reconstruct an image of a slice through a body from a set of readings, known as projections, taken as an X-ray source and detector are routed in a circle around the slice. If we know what is in a body we can calculate what will happen to an X-ray that passes through it. The problem here is the inverse – given the X-ray data, determine what is in the body through which it passed – and is, in the language of mathematics, ill-posed: it may not admit of a unique solution. There was, however, an approach to this kind of problem developed by an Austrian mathematician called Radon, 56 years before the inception of tomography.

The theorem deals with the Fourier transform of the image: the set of elementary wave-like patterns, each defined by a frequency, an amplitude and an orientation, which if superimposed would produce the image. The theorem states that the Fourier transform of the one-dimensional projection at each position of the detector forms one line through the two-dimensional Fourier transform of the image we seek to construct. So, if we have Fourier transforms of enough projections, we will have a set of lines from which we can assemble the Fourier transform of the image we require. There is a well-known equation for deriving an image from its Fourier transform. Rejigging this using the theorem, one can derive an equation which has two parts, corresponding to a two-stage process for image reconstruction: filtering and back-projection. The second stage is easy to explain: think of each X-ray as a jet of some kind of magic ink that can pass easily through air, less easily through tissue and hardly at all through bone, and imagine that the detector is a sponge which absorbs only the ink which passes in a straight line through the slice. Back-projection is equivalent to dragging the sponge across a sheet of paper in the direction corresponding to that travelled by the X-ray, so that all the ink in the sponge is transferred smoothly to the paper. If an exposure was taken for every possible line through the slice, the pattern of ink built up on the paper would be an (admittedly pretty ropey) image of the way ink was absorbed in the slice: which bits were bone, which were tissue and so on. The first stage can be thought of as a process which produces ‘filtered’ data suitable for back-projection, by combining the Fourier transform of the projection data with a mathematical function, the definition of which is neither perspicuous nor intuitive.

The calculations involved are not exactly the stuff of mental arithmetic and the rendering of the relevant acronym as Computer Assisted Tomography perhaps understates the contribution of the computer. The OED prefers Computerised Axial Tomography but the process is now universally known as CT. A much more exciting development in medical imaging acronyms is the addition of a lowercase ‘f’ before MRI. In MRI, as in CT, stacks of two-dimensional images form a three-dimensional representation of anatomy. Such scans can now be completed at a speed which allows the charting of fluctuations over time, enabling the reconstruction of images which are no longer representations of static anatomy but which visualise anatomical function. The promise of fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is that we might be able not just to look inside a French milkman, but to see what he is thinking. Or at least the impact that his mental life is having on his cerebral blood flow. Such is our curiosity about this topic that it now attracts the kind of funding Peter Campbell worries might be lacking for medical imaging research.

Paul Taylor
UCL Medical School,

Mind your L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E

Jeremy Harding, in his review of Conductors of Chaos and other works (LRB, 3 July), rightly points out the importance of Poundian Modernism and an American poetic tradition coming out of Objectivism as one context for a significant area of English poetic production over the last thirty years. However, despite noting that Carl Rakosi recovered ‘the possibility of poetry’ through the intervention of the English poet Andrew Crozier, Harding manages to maintain the impression that relations between English and American innovative poetry have all been one-way, and misses some of the dialogue that has actually taken place. For example, he suggests that the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writers ‘won a hearing in Britain shortly after the launch of their journal in 1978’. Not only does the metaphor deny the possibility of dialogue, but the statement occludes the ‘hearing’ that poets such as Tom Raworth and Allen Fisher had already ‘won’ from ‘language writers’ before L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E was launched. In his Introduction to the anthology In the American Tree, Ron Silliman includes Raworth, Fisher and cris cheek in the list of individuals who ‘participated in the greater discourse of which this poetry is but a particular axis’. Before the publication of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E becomes fixed as the moment of contact between language writing and these shores, it is worth noting that some English poets in the area of production that Conductors of Chaos gestures towards were known to some of the American poets who were to become language writers, were present in some of the language-writing magazines that preceded L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and were, literally, in dialogue with ‘language writers’ from the mid-Seventies. Ken Edwards, for example, published work by both James Sherry and Alan Davies in Alembic 6 (Summer 1977); and went on to publish work by Sherry and Charles Bernstein in the first volume of Reality Studios in 1978.

Robert Hampson
Royal Holloway College

In His Own Name

In his review of the latest Pessoa books (LRB, 17 July), Adam Phillips writes that Pessoa ‘has been blessed by his translators’, and lists Jonathan Griffin, Keith Bosley, Richard Zenith, Edwin Honig and Susan Brown. Two further translators, James Greene and Clara de Azevedo Mafra, have translated 25 poems written in arguably the most ‘confounding’ of Pessoa’s personae – his own name. These translations, contained in our bilingual edition, The Surprise of Being (Angel Books, 1986) are now being reprinted in paperback.

Antony Wood
Angel Books

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