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Letters

Vol. 30 No. 20 · 23 October 2008

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‘Obsession’

Please note an incorrect statement in an article by Adam Shatz (LRB, 9 October). In the article, Mr Shatz states: ‘The Endowment for Middle East Truth, a neoconservative think tank in Washington DC which recently hosted a series of seminars named after Sheldon Adelson and his wife, arranged distribution of “Obsession", at a cost in the tens of millions.’

The Endowment for Middle East Truth did not arrange the distribution of ‘Obsession’, and did not receive or spend ‘tens of millions’. Please see my press release at http://www.emetonline.org/events.html#obsession.

Sarah Stern
Endowment for Middle East Truth, Washington DC

Adam Shatz writes: If there is any confusion about Emet’s relationship to ‘Obsession’, it has been sown by Sarah Stern and her colleagues. I based my assertion that Emet had arranged the distribution of the film on an interview which Ari Morgenstern, then identified as a spokesman for Emet, gave to Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton of the Inter Press Service news agency on 24 September, in which he said with undisguised pride that Emet organised and oversaw the distribution of ‘Obsession’. The ‘Obsession Project’, a partnership between Emet and the Clarion Fund, he told them, ‘costs a great deal – it’s a multimillion dollar effort.’ Now Sarah Stern says that ‘no exchange of money ever took place’ between Emet and the ‘Obsession Project’, and Morgenstern has not been heard from since. Two days after Morgenstern spoke to IPS, Stern told JTA, the online Global News Service of the Jewish People, that she’d never spoken to him. But on 29 September, after JTA obtained records of emails and phone conversations in which Stern compliments Morgenstern on his press release for ‘Obsession’ (‘soldier on!’ she encouraged him in an email sent on 23 September), she admitted that she’d spoken to Morgenstern and had been involved in the ‘Obsession Project’, though she insists that Emet hasn’t bankrolled its distribution. What, then, is the nature of the relationship? Any chance that Emet’s desire to distance itself from the film’s distribution has something to do with the complaint against the Clarion Fund which the Council on American-Islamic Relations lodged with the Federal Election Commission?

Before and after Kemal

My attention was caught by Perry Anderson’s essays ‘Kemalism’ and ‘After Kemal’ (LRB, 11 September). The debate as to whether Turkey should be admitted into the EU is helping to define what the European Union is (or is not), and the history of modern Turkey is important in that context.

In truth, ‘Kemalism’ and ‘After Kemal’ read like old-fashioned pamphlets, with an underlying ‘discourse’ that maintains the articles’ consistency throughout. Everything is explained and falls neatly into place in the narrative. Anything that does not fit (like the end of Menderes’s rule despite Anderson’s having described him as economically and politically strong) is classified as part of a ‘cycle’ common to all centre-right Turkish governments. Any scholar who disagrees with him has sold his soul to the devil – which is to say, the Ankara government.

Turkey, Anderson implies, is invariably on the wrong side of history, behaves badly and has little in common with the rest of Europe. (Interestingly, in Anderson’s previous contribution, ‘The Divisions of Cyprus’, published in the LRB on 24 April, the ‘baddies’ were colonialist Brits and the good guys were in the Communist AKEL party; Turkey plays the role of a semi-passive bystander, and Turkish Cypriots inexplicably consider themselves ‘as if under imminent siege’.)

So, why devote thirty thousand words to Turkey right now? Anderson does unwittingly provide an explanation. The ‘conventional reasons’ for pressing Turkish membership of the EU are ‘legion’, he writes. Is he weighing in with a view to keeping Turkey out of the EU unless certain conditions are met, precisely because there is an overwhelming list of reasons for Turkey to be accepted? It is telling that he lists the ‘hopes’ the Turkish left, the Kurds and the Alevis have of the EU, when the left, the Kurds and the Alevis are precisely the factors impeding Turkey’s ‘accession process’.

Maurizio Morabito
Orpington, Kent

Madame Matisse’s Hat

T.J. Clark doesn’t mention in his essay on Matisse’s La Femme au chapeau that the painting was purchased at the 1905 Salon d’Automne by Leo and Gertrude Stein (LRB, 14 August). Stein gives an account of the public’s reaction to the painting in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and also confirms that Madame Matisse did not model for her husband in the colourful clothes of the painting but rather in black. The ‘larger, more elaborate landscape painting which Matisse had intended as the linchpin of his exhibit at the Salon’ was probably Le Bonheur de vivre (1905-06), which was also bought by the Steins (it is now in the Barnes Foundation). La Femme au chapeau remained in their collection until 1912 or 1913, when it passed to their brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Sarah Stein, who took it to America when they left France in the mid-1930s. Eventually it was sold to their friend Elise Haas, who bequeathed it to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Edward Burns
New York

Restless Metaphoriser

Writing about James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Ford has recourse to entertaining, but clearly self-aggrandising comments by Mark Twain and D.H. Lawrence (LRB, 25 September). Lawrence’s ‘factual’ observations are often wildly wrong, while Twain’s attempt to push aside a powerful father invents and lies when it cannot find enough ‘evidence’, more of a tall tale than literary criticism.

The supposedly retrograde racial politics represented by Natty Bumppo has been subjected to exhaustive research by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) scholar Barbara Mann, who has presented the so far unrebutted argument that Natty’s desperate assertions as to his whiteness, and lack of children, arise from the likelihood that he is passing. In this reading, Cooper’s secretively mixed-race hero becomes less serviceable both to those who argue that Natty represents settler-invaders and to those who see his ‘rejection’ of women within a symbolic nexus connecting the so-called isolate hero and Nature as the American male’s womanly companion. But Mann’s work is only one of a number of strands in contemporary studies of Cooper in which such issues as masculinity, colonialism and Cooper’s inventiveness are being revised. Apart from the Leatherstocking saga, Cooper’s work includes a novel set in the Revolutionary War, in which the hero is a spy who can never publicly claim the new nation he has helped into being, and two novels with cross-dressing female hero/heroines: he is more of a restless metaphoriser of problematic identities than a failed realist or an apologist for land occupation.

David Callahan
University of Aveiro, Portugal

When the Floods Came

James Meek takes me to task for failing to distinguish between risk and cumulative risk (Letters, 25 September). The distinguishing difference, in this case, is that there is a 75 per cent chance of a 100-year flood sometime in the next 137 years and a 1 per cent chance of it coming this year. Cumulative risk cannot legitimately be used to comment on a present situation based on past results, and it is unfair to Severn Trent to do so.

John Clayton
Sydney

Poor Wallace

Once again, Jenny Turner takes a statement of mine and origamis it into an animal that it is not (Letters, 9 October). In her letter that replied to my letter (which replied to her essay in which she etc etc), Turner insists that I believe that the stories in ‘David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion represent a rhetorical or aesthetic or ethical dead end’. Whereas Turner says she ‘and lots of other readers find them beautiful, moving, clarifying and enriching’. I do not know how I could have been clearer about my admiration for Wallace’s final collection than I was originally, when, in these pages, I described those stories as ‘a bright array of sad and moving and funny and fascinating human objects of undeniable, unusual value’, also calling them ‘the most interesting and serious and accomplished shorter fiction published in the past decade’.

Of course, this sort of impasse between people attempting to use the English language to communicate and, evidently, not succeeding is at the heart of what Wallace was up to throughout his career and, especially, in Oblivion. As he wrote in ‘Good Old Neon’, a story from that collection, ‘It’s interesting if you really think about it, how clumsy and laborious it seems to be to convey even the smallest thing. How much time would you even say has passed, so far?’

Wyatt Mason
New York

Odd Men Out

Alan Hollinghurst in his essay on Howard Overing Sturgis’s Belchamber notes that three gay novelists – Sturgis, Forster in The Longest Journey and Maugham in Of Human Bondage – each have a limping hero (LRB, 9 October). The various meanings of ‘limp’ made it an irresistible and increasingly prevalent 20th-century metaphor for sexual difference. Lord Arran, in the historic speech of 12 May 1965 that launched his parliamentary campaign for the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, described homosexuals as ‘the odd men out: the ones with the limp’ (House of Lords debates, Volume 266, column 73).

Richard Davenport-Hines
London W14

Jews and Jokes

Jenny Diski writes that she doesn’t know any Jewish shoe jokes (LRB, 9 October). Here’s one (available on several internet sites, sometimes attributed to Gregory Peck).

Three men – one Jew, two Arabs – were seated three abreast on an Air France flight to the US. The Jew mentioned to the Arabs that he was going to the washroom, and offered to get them something while he was up. The Arabs thanked him for his kindness and said yes, they would each like an orange juice. Moments after the Jew had left, one of the Arabs noticed that the man had removed his shoes during the flight, and that they were still on the floor. He nudged his friend and suggested that they spit in the shoes. They did. When the Jew returned with the juice, the Arabs thanked him profusely and then suggested that he put on his shoes since the plane was landing. The Jew slipped them on, sat quietly for a moment, then turned to his Arab neighbours, who couldn’t restrain their laughter. In a soft, sorrowful voice, he said: ‘When will it end – the hatred, the vengeance, the killing, the spitting in the shoes, the pissing in the orange juice?’

Katharine Blair
Toronto

I was there

Clancy Sigal remembers the moment when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ‘set loose clouds of yellow butterflies’ at the Stones’ free concert in Hyde Park in July 1969 (LRB, 9 October). What he doesn’t mention is that this gesture was a tribute to their estranged guitarist Brian Jones, who had been discovered dead in his swimming-pool two days earlier. I was there, an American in London who’d avoided military service through middle-class subterfuge: my family doctor, a Brooklyn fellow-traveller, had reported that I was unsuited for the military (which was certainly true). The concert, as I recall it, was a moving farewell, enveloped by a sense of things coming to an end, the catastrophe at Altamont only five months away.

Jeremy Silk
San Francisco

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