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Letters

Vol. 26 No. 20 · 21 October 2004

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In Memory of Edward Said

I am writing this on the first anniversary of Edward Said’s death. It has been yet another terrible year for the values he represented and the causes he defended more eloquently than anyone else.

Most frustrating is the recollection that in the last months of his life, Edward had warned, in the LRB and elsewhere, that Palestine would soon be lost. The Israeli atrocities, the total disintegration of the West Bank’s infrastructure, the collapse of law and order in the Gaza Strip, and continued Arab indifference and world apathy, have bit by bit made this a reality. Equally damaging has been America’s twisted and destructive policy in Iraq (remember the absurd claims made in the US and Israel to the effect that Edward’s attitude had made it impossible for the American political elite to understand the dangers of ‘Islamic terrorism’). The many forms of state terrorism that now prevail in Iraq are an unhappy vindication of Edward’s warnings against a Middle Eastern policy based on Orientalist attitudes and unconditional support for Israel.

The year since Edward’s death has seen the revival of the one-state solution for Palestine. Even those among us who preferred the two-state solution have felt in recent months that the reality on the ground has put paid to this possibility. As for the supporters of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, we, too, have realised, as Edward did, that a two-state structure rendered any practical solution to this problem highly unlikely, though it is the heart of the conflict and the key to its settlement. We can see now more clearly than before that only a one-state solution can embody the universal values Edward was searching for. We hope, some would say hallucinate, that we can create in Palestine and Israel a space for people who respect both individual and collective rights without discrimination or tyranny. And why not? The utopia envisaged by Theodore Herzl ruined Palestine and its people; a new one, advocated by an American-Palestinian, inspired by Herzl’s more universalist contemporaries, may prove the only way of redressing past evils and providing a better future for everyone living in the divided land of Palestine.

Ilan Pappe
University of Haifa

Everything and Nothing

Stephen Sedley writes that ‘the chief executive of Madison’s republic enjoys a power of suspending legislation which it took a civil war in this country to wrest from the crown’ (LRB, 7 October). The president of the United States does not have the power to suspend legislation. He has power to veto bills by withholding his assent. But the royal veto was last used by Queen Anne in 1707, long after the Civil War.

Furthermore, it is not true that Montesquieu was the first to advocate the separation of the judicial and political powers of the state. Charles Dallison in The Royalist’s Defence of 1648 held that the king must retain the sovereign power of government, but must not have the authority to judge the laws. ‘The judges of the realme declare by what law the king governs, and so both king and people [are] regulated by a known law.’ Others on all sides of the political spectrum were developing the theory of the separation of powers in the 1640s and 1650s in England, and they wrote more clearly and cogently than Montesquieu did a century later.

Maurice Vile
Canterbury

A horse is not a bicycle

Somerset Maugham doesn’t appear in Terry Eagleton’s review of David Lodge’s novel about Henry James (LRB, 23 September), but he was there for the opening night of Guy Domville in 1895. He describes the grisly episode in ‘Some Novelists I Have Known’ (The Vagrant Mood, 1952). When James came on to take a bow, never before had Maugham heard ‘such an outburst of boos and catcalls’. Bewildered in the presence of vulgar incomprehension, James took comfort from the dress circle and stalls, whose applause he mistook for honest appreciation, though it was a protest, born of sudden pity for the author, ‘at the rudeness of pit and gallery’. James thought he could write better plays than the sort that theatre-going London then favoured. ‘He was like a man who because he can ride a bicycle thinks he can ride a horse,’ Maugham said.

Alan Gabbey
Columbia University, New York

Degeneration by Proxy

There is a lot of truth in John Sturrock’s warning about the tyranny of medical nomenclature (LRB, 7 October). The controversial psychiatrist William Sargeant used to get round it by teaching that you diagnosed someone as depressed, whatever their symptoms, if they got better when given anti-depressant drugs. But F.G. Crookshank, who Sturrock quotes with approval for attacking the notion that diseases are fixed entities and for saying that their names are no more than handy generalisations, had a darker side. He wrote The Mongol in Our Midst in 1925 in support of Langdon-Down’s coining of the term for people with his eponymous syndrome and the view that they are racial throwbacks. Crookshank quotes Gobineau with approval in his book; it shows no evidence that he regarded ‘Mongols’ as just a handy generalisation. For him they were very real and very degenerate.

Hugh Pennington
Aberdeen

Charlemagne’s Piety

The notion that the Reformation made art ‘no longer sacred’ keeps company in Joseph Koerner’s The Reformation of the Image with a view of medieval religion as a magical business in which a passive laity was only marginally involved. Eamon Duffy does well to end his review of Koerner by discussing two images of the ‘devout inwardness’ of late medieval Catholic devotion (LRB, 19 August). Neither The Exhumation of St Hubert (Rogier van der Weyden, c.1437) nor The Mass of St Giles (anonymous, c.1500) makes lay people marginal. The second doesn’t depict ‘the king of France, Charles Martel’, as Duffy has it (the caption in the National Gallery adds a question-mark), but Charlemagne. The errant emperor’s remorse and penance for a secret sin, and St Giles’s intervention to gain divine forgiveness for him, were among the best-known tales clustering around Charlemagne from the 12th and 13th centuries onwards. The two elements of historical truth here were the emperor’s sexual profligacy and the ‘inward’ piety of his mature years. Charlemagne as king and emperor was a layman, even if a very special one, and his piety was a model for laymen from the ninth century to the 15th. As for St Hubert, he too was closely linked with the Carolingians, and the emperor depicted in The Exhumation is Louis the Pious, Charlemagne’s son. Devotion to the bodies of the saints need not exclude a ‘devout inwardness’, which can be found, as these late medieval images inadvertently yet aptly signal, in medieval lay spirituality at least from Charlemagne’s time onwards.

Janet L. Nelson
King’s College London

Cuba in Angola

Piero Gleijeses, in presenting Cuban military actions in Angola as a vital boost for black military morale in their fight against the ‘white giants’ of South Africa, veers from analysis into propaganda (LRB, 19 August). When the South Africans faced FAPLA or SWAPO forces they routinely inflicted disproportionate casualties. It was only when their army of young conscripts confronted the forces of the Cuban professional elite (Castro had sent his best), equipped with the latest Soviet matériel and under a Russian general, Konstantin Shagnovich, that it was sometimes a different story – especially when the South Africans were not only outgunned but outnumbered, as they frequently were.

Grant MacLean
St Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia

How the Human Got Its Larynx

I am glad that Alison Jolly mentioned the aquatic theory of our evolution in her review of Lowly Origin by Jonathan Kingdon, sad that she described it as ‘wild’ and relegated a very brief summary to a footnote (LRB, 7 October). The theory covers almost every puzzling aspect of our physiques from the position of our heads, the shape of our noses and the larynx which allows us the range of sounds that makes speech possible to bi-pedalism and even the shape of our feet; more tentatively, it uses as evidence our aesthetic preferences and other psychological traits. Elaine Morgan laid out the case in several books, most notably and least stridently in The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.

Julian Rathbone
Thorney Hill, Dorset

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