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Letters

Vol. 28 No. 16 · 17 August 2006

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Let Jerusalem go

Freud gives a striking example of a good dream interpretation made by Alexander the Great’s counsellor. On the eve of a battle fought for the city of Tyre, the obscene figure of a satyr, dancing wildly, appeared in Alexander’s dream. The counsellor ignored the figure and focused instead on the word satyros, which he deciphered as ‘sa Tyros’: ‘Tyre will be yours.’ Perhaps, today, as the IDF tries to ‘pacify’ the same city of Tyre, we should reverse the focus, and concentrate on the figure of the satyr. What orgy of violence will be unleashed if the IDF does conquer Tyre?

The mystery of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of which the war in Lebanon, discussed by Elias Khoury, Rasha Salti and Karim Makdisi, is another horrific symptom, is why it has persisted for half a century when everybody knows the only workable solution: the withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and – conclusively – Gaza, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and, as part of that process, a compromise over the status of Jerusalem. How often has peace seemed possible, only for everything suddenly to fall apart, demonstrating the frailty of the negotiated compromise? There is, in effect, something neurotic in the Middle East conflict: everyone sees how the obstacle can be got rid of, and yet no one wants to remove it, as if there were some pathological libidinal benefit to be gained by persisting with the deadlock.

If there ever was a passionate attachment to the lost object, a refusal to come to terms with its loss, it is the attachment of Israelis and many diaspora Jews to the ‘Holy Land’ and above all to Jerusalem. The present troubles are supreme proof of the consequences of such a radical fidelity, when taken literally. For almost two thousand years, when the Jews were fundamentally a nation without land, living in exile, their reference to Jerusalem was a negative one, a prohibition against ‘painting an image of home’ or indeed against feeling at home anywhere on earth. Once the return to Palestine began a century ago, the metaphysical Other Place was identified with a specific place on the map and became the object of a positive identification, the place where the wandering which characterises human existence would end. The identification, negative and positive by turns, had always involved a dream of settlement. When a two-thousand-year-old dream is finally close to realisation, such realisation has to turn into a nightmare.

Brecht’s joke a propos the East Berlin workers’ uprising in 1953 – ‘The Party is not satisfied with its people, so it will replace them with a people more supportive of its politics’ – is suggestive of the way Israelis regard the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. That Israelis, descendants of exemplary victims, should be considering a thorough ethnic cleansing – or ‘transfer’ – of the Palestinians from the West Bank is the ultimate historical irony.

What would be a proper imaginative act in the Middle East today? For Israelis and Arabs, it would involve giving up political control of Jerusalem, agreeing that the Old Town should become a city without a state, a place of worship, neither a part of Israel nor of a putative Palestine, administered for the time being by an international force. By renouncing political control of Jerusalem, both sides would gain, because they would see Jerusalem become a genuinely extra-political, sacred site. What they would lose is only what deserves to be lost: the reduction of religion to a counter in a game of political power. Each side would have to recognise that this renunciation would constitute a liberation for itself, not merely a sacrifice made for the other.

Back to Brecht – and the Caucasian Chalk Circle, in which a biological mother and a stepmother are in dispute over a child and appeal to a judge. The judge takes a bit of chalk and draws a circle, then he places the baby in the middle and tells the two women that the first to pull the child out of the circle will get him. When the stepmother sees that the child is being hurt, she lets him go and, of course, the judge gives her custody, claiming that she has displayed true maternal love. One should imagine Jerusalem along these lines: whoever truly loves Jerusalem would let it go rather than see it torn apart.

Slavoj Žižek
Ljubljana

Up West

As an ex-worker in Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at Stratford East, I can assure David Edgar (LRB, 20 July) that while we did everything we could to attract an East End audience they preferred to go up west for their entertainment. If the posh Sundays didn’t like a Joan show the theatre was virtually empty. I remember playing in The Celestina to fifteen off-duty nurses with free tickets. But when Ken Tynan in the Observer and Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times acclaimed Brendan Behan’s The Hostage, the pan-London audience streamed eastwards and the theatre was full.

Robin Chapman
St Hippolyte, France

Self-Righteous Editors

According to Jeremy Waldron, advocates of free speech ‘squirm’ when asked if they would protect speech that might increase the risk of violence (LRB, 20 July). That remark assumes a link between hate speech and acts of hatred. However, in stable, mature and prosperous democracies, no such link has ever been demonstrated, just as there is no good evidence that a diet of TV violence has turned people into murderers. Indeed, it is doubtful that a study could be designed to test the correlation between hate speech and general intolerance: public attitudes are influenced by too many factors. Studies have convincingly shown that individuals are harmed by hate speech when it is aimed directly at them. But no civil libertarian seriously advocates protecting that kind of speech.

US law protects hate speech; France routinely punishes it. Yet, given the recent episodes of ethnic unrest in France, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the existence there of an efficiently organised racist political party at the highest level of national politics, or even the fact that a person of colour was appointed to a prime news-reading spot on a major network for the first time last month, no one can seriously argue that its bans on hate speech have been more successful in promoting racial tolerance than American freedoms have.

European bans on hate speech, far from suppressing intolerant views, allow them to be highlighted by high-profile judicial proceedings. In the US, Holocaust denial has received little significant media attention in recent years. In France or Austria, by contrast, figures such as David Irving or Robert Faurisson have attracted headlines precisely because they were violating bans on hate speech or Holocaust denial.

Eric Heinze
Queen Mary, University of London

Mystery Man

Adam Shatz speculates that the ‘well-known French-Jewish Trotskyist’ whom Michel Warschawski was surprised to find reading Gershom Scholem on a train in 1974 was Ernest Mandel (LRB, 3 August). This is highly unlikely: Mandel was Belgian and would have been reading the Financial Times or a detective story. Much more plausible candidates are Daniel Bensaid or Michael Loewy (who is Brazilian but has lived in France for a long time), both of whom have written very well about Scholem’s friend Walter Benjamin.

Alex Callinicos
King’s College London

Climb every mountain

Jeremy Harding quotes from Michela Wrong’s I Didn’t Do It for You: ‘Only a people’ – the Italians – ‘that had already thrown railroads across the Alps and the Dolomites would have dared take on the Eritrean escarpment’ (LRB, 20 July). In fact, most of the railways in the Dolomites were built not by the Italians but by the Austrians when the Dolomites were still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the Austrian Südbahngesellschaft, for example, which decided in the 1860s to build the 130 km Pustertal Valley railway from Lienz to Franzensfeste, linking the eastern and western halves of Austria for the first time. The line was opened on 20 November 1871 and the railway company celebrated by distributing 6000 guilders among the poor of the valley. The railway company’s pension fund correctly forecast that the railway would open up the valley to tourists, and invested very profitably in building hotels such as the Grand in Toblach; the hotel is still there.

Anthony Caston
Tervuren, Belgium

Why not Brazil?

John Lanchester wonders why the opening game of the World Cup no longer features the reigning champions (LRB, 20 July). This year, for the first time, the champions no longer qualified automatically and since it was (just about) possible that Brazil would not qualify, the opening match was switched to feature the hosts.

Dave Boyle
Hove, East Sussex

How to Fold a Sari

Peter Campbell’s article on Bellini and the East at the National Gallery (LRB, 25 May) reminded me of Titian’s Madonna and Child of c.1511, sometimes labelled ‘La Zingarella’ or ‘The Gypsy Madonna’, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The silk fabric background looks like a Karnataka sari from India: Titian has even painted the folds that are caused by the way saris are folded for storage, which remain when the cloth is spread out.

Joanna Kirkpatrick
Boise, Idaho

A cold coming they had of it

Lancelot Andrewes’s 1620 Christmas sermon, which inspired T.S. Eliot’s ‘Coming of the Magi’ and is absent from my edition of his Selected Sermons and Lectures, is not out of print, as Eamon Duffy said in his review (LRB, 3 August), but is available in P.E. Hewison’s Lancelot Andrewes: Selected Writings (Carcanet, 1995).

Peter McCullough
Lincoln College, Oxford

Like San Michele

Tom Shippey (LRB, 8 June) and David Wasserstein (Letters, 6 July) find ancient libraries whose contents might compare with Umberto Eco’s San Michele in The Name of the Rose. But I doubt if any library before the 20th century could have taken the form Eco describes: a labyrinth of stone walls perched at the top of a tower above a scriptorium of ‘spacious immensity’, with other rooms below. Eco specifies that the vault of the scriptorium is supported by ‘sturdy pillars’, but no architect would have placed such a ponderous structure as a library, to say nothing of its ‘huge cases, laden with books’, at the very top of a building. This structural absurdity, necessary for the plot, rather diminishes my pleasure in the book.

Andrew Wilton
London SW11

Unfair

Jeremy Adler begins his review of Brigitte Hamann’s Winifred Wagner by remarking that ‘Hamann tries very hard to be fair to a subject who, one might think, scarcely deserves it’ (LRB, 6 July). No one could accuse Adler of fairness to Hamann. What Hamann has done, and to my mind with extraordinary patience and exemplary scholarship, is to describe the life of a notorious, lifelong Nazi, who died in 1980, yet also to show what pressures were on her, and how her personality led to her bizarre adoration of Hitler. Adler writes, for instance, that Hamann ‘intimates’ that Hitler ‘was “wrongly" imprisoned’. What she actually wrote is that ‘Winifred now worked harder than ever on behalf of the allegedly victimised and wrongly imprisoned Hitler’; ‘allegedly’ clearly covers both verbs. Later on, Adler claims that Hamann refers to Wagner’s notorious anti-semitic Das Judentum in der Musik as ‘that little 1850 publication’, although the context makes clear that Hamann is paraphrasing a letter of Winifred’s to a friend.

Michael Tanner
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

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