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Letters

Vol. 21 No. 24 · 9 December 1999

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My name’s Wrigley

Helen Cooper (LRB, 25 November) tells us that ‘no writer chooses names at random,’ and goes on to suggest that had Ian Fleming decided to call 007 Cecil Wrigley instead of James Bond we wouldn’t somehow have taken to him. I guess she’s right, though having lived through all these years, books and movies with a character called James Bond, to imagine any other name for him is difficult – or any other number: would 019 have worked as well as 007? But is the name Cecil Wrigley inherently impossible for an undercover erotomane licensed to kill? And if so, why? Because each half of his name has two syllables instead of the supposedly more macho one? Because Cecil sounds a little bit like ‘cissy’, and Wrigley, well, like ‘wriggly’? Names certainly come laden with associations and Ian Fleming no doubt tried other names before deciding that James Bond sounded good and, crucially, bore repetition. We’d all have to admit that the line ‘My name’s Wrigley, Cecil Wrigley’ wouldn’t have got our man very far.

William Stevens
Northampton

Messy Matters

In his review of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf translation (LRB, 11 November), Terry Eagleton draws attention to the name given at Oxford and at Cambridge to the language of the poem: ‘Anglo-Saxon, as Cambridge calls the stuff, or Old English, as Oxford prefers to label it (the choice of name is itself politically significant), has long been a cockpit of ideological contentions.’ The reverse would be nearer the truth. Cambridge has used the term ‘Old English’ for many years to describe the language of the Anglo-Saxons. Oxford has in fact been more keen on ‘Anglo-Saxon’ until recently, and while the official regulations now call the relevant courses ‘Old English’, this term’s Oxford lecture list resolutely sticks to ‘Anglo-Saxon’. The choice of name may indeed be politically significant, but if so, it’s a different and messier politics than Eagleton’s neat division allows.

Nicholas Perkins
St Hugh’s College, Oxford

Atrocity Fatigue

How clever, or do I mean ironic, of those who decide what should fit where in the LRB, to have included an advertisement for The Ramblers in one corner of Glen Newey’s heart-warming and witty take-apart (LRB, 25 November) of those who seem able to earn kudos, and not a little cash in some cases, by going on and on about atrocities and about the complicity we’re all supposed retrospectively to feel in them simply by the fact of our being alive (when the victims alas aren’t). How nice then to be reminded, by a pointed juxtaposition, that the next time atrocity fatigue sets in, we can up sticks and go for a walk in the rambler-friendly countryside, freed temporarily at least from the solicitings of the moral blackmailers who want to make us feel bad. Newey is spot on to complain as he does that the ‘ineffable’ is today ‘too much effed’, as if the huge outpouring of words about such events as the Holocaust were some sort of practical safeguard against a repetition. Does anyone seriously believe that? And does anyone seriously disagree that the more such outpourings there are, the more normal rather than exceptional episodes of ‘megadeath’ come to seem, their self-indulgent investment by discourse having succeeded all too completely in domesticating them.

Neil Forster
London N1

Where’s the carburettor?

Jerry Fodor challenges the usefulness of brain imaging (LRB, 30 September). Here’s what he said: ‘given that it matters … whether, by and large, mental functions have characteristic places in the brain, why should it matter … where the places are?’ He then asks anyone who can provide an answer to this question to contact him. It is my great pleasure to introduce Jerry Fodor to himself. In a critique of the status and prospects of evolutionary psychology (LRB, 22 January 1998), Fodor wrote:

what matters with regard to the question whether the mind is an adaptation is not how complex our behaviour is, but how much change you would have to make in an ape’s brain to produce the cognitive structure of a human mind. And about this, exactly nothing is known. That’s because nothing is known about the way the structure of our minds depends on the structure of our brains. Nobody even knows which brain structures our cognitive capacities depend on.

A practical solution would be to investigate that relationship. If only we had some way of determining which brain structures support cognition! What if we could measure, in controlled experiments, changes in brain states that result from cognitive changes?

In point of fact, brain imaging not only provides a way to identify brain structures that support cognition when those structures are modular and local, it also offers something much more powerful: a way to study the brain basis of cognition when it depends on a subtle interplay among brain regions, or the detailed action of brain physiology. If Fodor had aimed his critique at the bizarre but all too common view that there is a localised brain module that turns on or off for each distinct class of thoughts in a fantasy taxonomy of cognition, he would have had me and a number of other dissident neuro-imagers rallying to his cry. But of course that hardly seems likely, given that Fodor has in the past been such a champion of modularity.

Benjamin Martin Bly
Rutgers University

Unreliable Friends

The belief of ex-Communists, like R.W. Johnson and Paul Trewhela (Letters, 11 November), that Mandela was a Party member, is not surprising: many other white Communists thought he was, as I explained in my authorised biography. And in the early Sixties, like many socialist leaders in opposition, Mandela needed to appear more left-wing than he was.

But your correspondents provide no documentary evidence. The fact that Mandela transcribed a pamphlet by the Chinese President Liu Shao-chi is hardly conclusive, since he also copied out bits from many other leaders, including Afrikaner generals, Field Marshal Montgomery and Harry Truman. The South African Government tried desperately to find evidence that Mandela joined the Party and failed. Wasn't Mandela, as both he and I have suggested, using the Communists as much as they were using him?

Anthony Sampson
London NW8

Iain Edwards appropriately questions several of the facts and opinions in R.W. Johnson’s review of Anthony Sampson’s biography of Mandela (Letters, 25 November). In doing so, however, he makes minor errors of his own. He claims, for example, that ‘it is acknowledged that the Freedom Charter did not simply spring from “thousands of scraps of paper" sent in by distant ANC branches and communities.’ Acknowledged by whom? Surely the facts can only be acknowledged by those who know them at first hand. Others might assume, allege, claim or imagine. But those involved know. Edwards apparently doubts Johnson’s claim that ‘Lionel Bernstein drafted the Freedom Charter,’ and adds that ‘Bernstein does not admit to this in his autobiography.’ Not so. I have not written an autobiography, and assume Edwards is referring to my political memoirs recently published as Memory against Forgetting. There I explain in some detail how I sorted and classified the ‘thousands of scraps of paper’ and reduced them to the best consensual form of words I could find, thus drafting the Freedom Charter – not ‘written’ but rather fashioned by me with its content provided by thousands of men and women of all races.

Lionel (Rusty) Bernstein
Kidlington, Oxfordshire

Finding Room for Blake

In his far-ranging comments on Marvell, Tom Paulin (LRB, 25 November) might have found room for William Blake – a successor who might be granted rival celebrity as a political poet. You could see a direct response to ‘Appleton House’ when Blake wrote in his Notebook:

I went to the garden of love,
And I saw what I never had seen,
A chapel was built in the midst
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not writ over the door;
So I turned to the garden of love
That so many sweet flowers bore,
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be -
And priests in black gounds were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

‘Gounds’, incidentally, was in common – vulgar – usage in the 18th and early 19th centuries: Cockney pronunciation made it a true rhyme with ‘rounds’.

Christopher Small
Isle of Lismore

Tall Stories

Stephen Sedley claims in his Diary that John Platts-Mills could not verify the story of his maternal grandfather finding Ned Kelly’s hideout ‘north of Adelaide’ (LRB, 11 November). Not surprising really. Adelaide is the state capital of South Australia but Ned Kelly’s hideout was north of Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria. Platts-Mills’s ancestor was perhaps as much as a thousand miles west of the true location. But then most tall stories are.

Richard Oxenburgh
Altrincham, Cheshire

Goings-On in East Africa

Dan Jacobson’s article on sexual antics in East Africa at the start of the century (LRB, 25 November) is based exclusively on the documents in the Public Record Office and thus omits the fact that the moralising whistle-blower, Scoresby Routledge, feeling that the transgressor, Silberrad, had got off too lightly, went for the weapon of publicity by writing to the Times. This fact is to be found in Ronald Hyam’s Empire and Sexuality (1990), a serious history but also an entertaining romp though what British colonials got up to – ‘no bar sex or age or modesty or toilet training’, as John Berryman of one erstwhile colony put it.

Simon Currie
Leeds

‘O Happy Dames’

I was under the impression that it was Arthur Golding who devised the sonnet form, not the Earl of Surrey, as Colin Burrow asserts (LRB, 11 November).

Steven Aucella
Marshfield, Massachusetts

Welfare of the Species

In his review of Philip Ayres’s new edition, John Mullan tells us that he finds Shaftesbury’s Characteristicks a bit ‘ridiculous’ in its ‘lofty elegance’ (LRB, 28 October). But he misleads his readers in asserting that Shaftesbury argued ‘that virtue is inherently attractive to any reasonable person’. Shaftesbury’s argument was rather more complicated: he believed that admiration for the harmony, proportion and concord discernible in Nature could help motivate men to rational and virtuous conduct, promoting the welfare of the species, and thus making human society fit better into the harmonious scheme of the universe. This implied that artists should ‘awake the moral sentiment’ of men by making the works of Nature the main subject of their art, as James Thomson did in The Seasons. Since Mullan treats Shaftesbury’s fervent commitment as ‘slightly ridiculous’, he cannot explain why his work became a pervasive influence in the 18th century.

Ernst Wangermann
University of Salzburg, Austria

New Labour Poodles

Alison Light quite rightly starts her review of two books about dogs with a discussion of cats (LRB, 11 November). In a world of New Labour poodles, we need independent activity.

Keith Flett
London N17

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