Vol. 21 No. 8 · 15 April 1999

Search by issue:

Who owns John Sutherland?

Like John Sturrock (Letters, 1 April) I was reviewing for the TLS when articles were unsigned. I felt let down and embarrassed by the prospect that what I wrote then was to be indexed under my name, and now feel emboldened by Mr Sturrock to join those who will opt to have their anonymity preserved. Like him, also, I would have appreciated a letter about the intentions of the indexers to ‘out’ us, rather than having to glean the knowledge from a general announcement about the index, and write in to assert a principle.

I shall do that because, frankly, I would have been ashamed to have some of my early judgments ascribed to me; in my scrapbook they seem now as callow as my discarded creative juvenilia. But it might also be worth rehearsing some old, sound reasons why many contributors preferred anonymity. I, for one, felt it afforded the opportunity, when I began reviewing in the early Sixties, of being honest and uninhibited about the work of friends or the famous (I was warned by my editors that I might be checked if I abused my position). And then I liked to think that anonymity provided the chance of being generous without lending my name to self-seeking flattery or lenience. I believed that anonymous reviewing allowed readers to judge reviews on their merits, on what seemed to be the perception, commitment and overall thoroughness of address shown by unnamed writers, rather than by the notoriety or obscurity of revealed names. I knew that I tended to avoid or skip through reviews in other journals if they were by persons unknown to me or by better-known persons whose views I could not usually respect. This is now an unavoidable problem, as is the temptation (sometimes with the editor’s encouragement) to personalise opinions.

The first person singular was impossible to use in an anonymous piece in the TLS at that time; but allowed in a response, signed simply ‘Your Reviewer’, by a contributor to an author’s rejoinder about his/her review. In view of the intentions and opinions expressed in this letter, and not wishing even partially to ‘out’ myself, I hope I may be allowed the nostalgia of signing it

Your Correspondent

Alan Rusbridger (Letters, 18 March) has reeled out the tired old argument that he should not pay freelances any more for extra electronic copyright licences because the Guardian does not make a profit from these businesses. If he took the same cavalier attitude towards the software licences used on the Guardian’s computers, simply copying software without paying for an extra licence, he would be in court quicker than he could say ‘Quark Xpress’ or ‘Microsoft Internet Explorer’. Why then does he think he can copy other copyrighted material without paying for an extra licence?

He knows that if the Guardian does not have a top-notch website carrying the paper’s recruitment advertising, someone else will set one up and poach all the Guardian’s job ads. Without Guardian Unlimited the massive income from recruitment would dry up within five years. The Guardian, therefore, has decided to invest in its new media section. This will be what keeps it profitable in the future.

And anyway, so what if it makes a loss? My company has supplied articles to a loss-making website – articles that had previously been licensed to be printed in the Guardian – and been paid for the website copyright licence. The company running the website does not intend to make a profit from it, but uses the site as a loss-leader to attract other business. In the unlikely event that the website-owner later decides to run a paper-based version of the site, I will have to be paid a licence fee for that secondary use. The principle is very clear. Looking at the opt-out clauses in the new Guardian/NUJ deal, I believe Rusbridger has now accepted this. Unfortunately, reading Ferdinand Mount’s letter in the same issue defending the copyright theft by the Murdoch empire, I can see that it hasn’t sunk in everywhere yet.

Chris Wheal
London SE13

Deborah McVea and Jeremy Treglown (Letters, 1 April) are sadly mistaken in believing that I have ‘completely retracted’ my letter of 18 February. My subsequent letter published on 18 March acknowledged my misconceptions as to the relation of their work to the TLS Archive: it does not ‘retract’ my original observation that the archive has ‘rubbished’ copyright law by its appropriation of the materials it contains. Ferdinand Mount (Letters, 18 March) attributes to me a ‘complaint … that the Leverhulme Trust ought not to be subsidising the Murdoch empire’. The tone of my letter published on 18 February may have been complaining, but it says nothing about ‘subsidies’; nor does it refer to News International as an ‘empire’. (Though it is, needless to say, intriguing that an employee of Mr Murdoch’s should himself wish to describe it as such.)

The defensive positions so far adopted are revealing, but bear little on the issue of copyright. The situation puts me in mind of that exchange in Pravda, Howard Brenton and David Hare’s exemplary play about the Eighties, in which the newspaper proprietor, Lambert Le Roux, is talking to his editor, Andrew May:

LE ROUX: To everyone I pose a question. I am the question.
ANDREW: And what is the answer?
LE ROUX: People like you.

Leaving aside the question of whether Mr Mount has written to me and Professor Sutherland to request permission to copyright materials (his letter to me must have gone astray in the post too), the onus is on academics to decide whether or not to oppose the exploitation of rights assumed without acknowledgment or recompense. By failing to act, we make a decision by default – not one that’s likely to do us any good next time someone (whoever it may be) uses our work without permission. That was why my first letter concluded with a call for consciousness-raising, and why one’s opinion of ‘the Murdoch empire’ is, frankly, neither here nor there.

Duncan Wu
University of Glasgow

It is true, as John Sutherland says (LRB, 7 January), that ‘unsubscribers’ lose access to electronic databases outright, while ex-subscribers to printed journals keep their back issues. Repetitive strain injury is the only risk I would run, though, if I were to subscribe to the Guardian, say, once a decade for only as long as it took to download that decade’s worth of articles to my computer. No doubt this could be automated, reducing the strain on my mouse-finger and achieving the whole thing within the ‘Two weeks FREE trial subscription’ with which they entice one.

John Mitchell
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Whose victory?

Richard Beeston's letter (Letters, 1 April) scolding Charles Glass for not challenging my account of the battle of Karameh is puzzling, disappointing and inaccurate. My book makes it abundantly clear that the Palestinians received considerable help from the Jordanians, but only hours after the fighting started. I made a point of praising the Jordanians for coming to the aid of the hard-pressed Palestinians who had suffered many casualties.

My record of the battle of Karameh is based on previous biographies of Arafat, Gower's and Walkers's in particular, and on interviews with the Jordanian officers Colonel Mohammed Abdallah and General Mashour Haditha Al Jazzi, both of whom participated in the Karameh fighting. That the Jordanians showed a captured Israeli tank does not contradict my account and Beeston's somewhat bitter statement about the Arab public's capacity for self-delusion is unworthy of a celebrated foreign correspondent and an esteemed colleague.

Said Aburish
London SW10


It was inspired timing getting your seasonal hilarity in a fortnight early. What a delicious frisson at the thought – even for a millisecond – that you had been Sokalled! But Slavoj Žižek’s give-aways (LRB, 18 March) were too easily spotted; for example, his attribution of the infamous remark about culture to Goebbels. As anyone familiar with your esteemed organ knows, the credit is entirely Hermann Goering’s, and his actual words (his fluency in English was legendary) were: ‘When I hear the word “culture" I reach for my Browning.’

G. Colin Jimack
London, NW7

I had long believed that the words attributed by Slavoj Žižek to Goebbels were those of Hermann Goering. Goebbels was Minister for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment and had responsibility for all aspects of culture. If he were true to the statement attributed to him he would have been a candidate for repetitive strain injury in his daily duties. The phrase would seem more appropriate to Goering, founder of the Gestapo, one-time head of the Brownshirts and commander of the Air Force. However, reference to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations reveals Hanns Johst as the source of ‘Wenn ich Kultur höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning.’ It adds: ‘Often attrib. Goering’. Maybe the jovial Goering found it in character to repeat it.

John Kenny
St Etienne d’Albagnan, France

What’s going on?

I am a recent subscriber to the LRB and like it a lot. I find it interesting and stimulating. However, one thing is concerning me: the ridiculously low number of articles (and letters) written by women. I have looked over the last 18 issues and discovered to my horror that on average each issue has between 12 and 18 articles (excluding the Diary and letters) and that three of them have no pieces by women at all, three have only one, four have two, four have three, three have four and only one has five. There are no issues with more than five articles by women.

Surely, in an intellectual environment (academia, published writers and intellectuals generally) where women are by no means a minority, this is odd. I don't expect you to publish this letter as, having looked at the letters pages in the same 18 issues, out of an average of between five and 13 letters per issue, five issues have no letters by women at all, eight have one letter only, four have two and only one has three. What is going on? The critical eye, so vital to much of the work in the LRB, might usefully be turned on itself.

Rebecca Loncraine
Linacre College, Oxford

Mon Charabia

Olivier Todd clearly trusts Laure Adler on Marguerite Duras (LRB, 4 March). Her biography is ‘the best so far’, providing the reader with ‘a competent guide’ to MD’s turbulent life. ‘Adler clearly admires the writer’ but manages to write about how Duras ‘tortured [Delval] with gusto’; her admiration for Duras’s writing is even undiminished by the discovery of a ‘very unpleasant person’.

Adler’s book has been dismissed by Duras specialists all over the world, who regard it as a piece of hack journalism, replete with unsubstantiated (and theoretically unsustainable) allegations, sloppy research, factual inaccuracies and uncredited borrowings from another biography by Alain Vircondelet, not to mention a very fragile knowledge (after seven years’ research!) of Duras’s oeuvre.

But how much does Todd know about Duras and her work? He claims Duras ‘omits any reference to her two half-brothers’: on the contrary, they form an intense subtext in a number of her novels, most particularly in Agatha. Duras’s father did not die in Indochina, but in France. The evocation of Duras’s childhood in which ‘minor civil servants, poor whites and planters looked down on the “natives" and up to the bigwigs’ receives no qualification; the avid lay reader is left to infer Duras’s colonialist upbringing, with no suggestion of the deep (again tortured and contradictory) ambivalence which led her on occasion to see herself as more Asian than European.

To whom did Duras become ‘notorious for her cut and dried, often unintelligible style, made more unintelligible by the “essential" pauses in the dialogue – her assumption being that, between text and silence, a level of emotional truth is disclosed’? This is pure caricature. I suspect MD would have had a good laugh.

Todd’s insistent references to Duras’s alcoholism are clearly intended simply to denigrate and to disqualify. Never mind the pain and the suffering; she was a ‘difficult’ woman and so can be dismissed. I wonder, has Todd spoken to Yann Andréa about Duras being a ‘taker rather than a giver’? Giving and taking are complex and interrelated words, as Duras well knew. To give the whole of yourself, as Duras did, contradictions, alcoholism and all, is perhaps the greatest gift possible. Todd’s patronising remarks about Duras ‘forgetting’ Andréa (‘a kind, rather innocent homosexual’) in her will betray arrogant assumptions about friendship, power and property. Were Andréa and Duras playing by Todd’s rules?

As an unreconstructed structuralist (well, some of the time anyway), I would like to insist on the primacy of Duras’s literature (and films). Her work (still, posthumously) constitutes a groundbreaking, challenging and breathtaking oeuvre. Marguerite Duras – like so many of us – was a complex, contradictory person. So what? If I have objected at length to Todd’s piece, it is not because a deity has been found to have feet of clay: it is because of the fact that he can refer to the Adler book as ‘this well-researched work’.

Jan Udris
Hemel Hempstead

I refuse to take sides in the continuing guerrilla between ‘hack’ journalists and hack academic ‘experts’. Dr Udris is entitled to give an opinion and so am I. As a matter of fact, however, I did meet Yann Andréa. Did Duras leave him anything or not? As another matter of fact, I made the inexcusable error of confusing Alain Robbe-Grillet and Duras in connection with Alain Resnais. No doubt it was all to do with my ‘subtext’.

Olivier Todd

All Antennae

John Banville’s review of David Cesarani’s biography of Arthur Koestler (LRB, 18 February) reminded me of something that has been nagging me since 1972, when I went to Reykjavik to cover the chess match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer. Koestler was there covering it for some prestigious newspaper. George Steiner was covering it for the New Yorker. I blush to say that I was covering it for Playboy and that the article, brilliant as it was, was never published. But here is the point. Either in an article or in person, Koestler used a mildly obscene German phrase, in speaking of his own passion for chess, to describe what he would do to his opponent’s Queen when he got hold of her. Alas the phrase has sunk down in my mental well where I have been unable to retrieve it. I think it involved some word like ‘putzli’. Can anyone enlighten me?

Jeremy Bernstein
New York

Why Jena Matters

Contrary to what Tim Radford says (LRB, 18 March), Jena, the town in which Carl Zeiss ‘opened an optics factory’ (in the year 1846, not, as Radford has it, 1847), is in Thuringia, Germany, not Switzerland. Nor was it part of Switzerland in 1846. This might seem an unimportant detail to the average islander, but to me, having moved from Switzerland to Jena, and probably to the rest of Europe, it makes a difference.

Doris Tranter
Jena, Germany

Not so clever Hans

For reasons I do not quite understand but which fill me with considerable concern, Jerry Fodor (LRB, 4 February) is the second reviewer of my book If a Lion Could Talk who has confessed to stepping on his cat's tail. Both Fodor and the other reviewer (in the New York Times) insist that they did this quite unintentionally, but I am not so sure. For my part, I hope there is nothing in my book that triggers this odd and disturbing behaviour on the part of reviewers.

Stephen Budiansky
Leesburg, Virginia


It may be inappropriate to reduce Sheila Fitzpatrick’s intelligent review of Robert Service’s History of 20th-Century Russia (LRB, 4 February) to the issue of hedgehogs. I wonder, however, why Fitzpatrick describes hedgehogs as ‘apple-eating animals’. A hedgehog may, it is true, occasionally eat a fruit if he finds one; but as he is mainly insectivorous and may also devour mice and frogs as well as birds’ eggs and young, to describe this lovely animal as apple-eating is like describing man as the gum-chewing species.

Nikolaus Lobkowicz
Mörnsheim, Germany

Under the Brush

Peter Campbell has incorrectly divided the labour of the book, Velázquez: The Technique of Genius (LRB, 4 March). As he states, the biography of Velázquez was written by me and the introduction to his technique by Carmen Garrido. The rest of the book is a collaborative effort by the two of us and is not the work of Garrido alone. As a specialist in the life and work of Velázquez, I contributed the art-historical parts; as a conservation scientist who has written a book on Velázquez's technique, Garrido was responsible for the technical sections of the commentaries on individual paintings. We did make every effort to blend our respective contributions into a harmonious text and have obviously succeeded beyond our expectations.

Jonathan Brown
New York University

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences