Vol. 37 No. 20 · 22 October 2015

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Canada defects

David Runciman wonders if Canada has defected from Kyoto because we will be the last to feel the effects of climate change (LRB, 24 September). That is not the reason. Our problem is an electoral one: first past the post in a three-party country. The majority of Canadians have not voted for our current government. The ‘liberal elites’ or ‘environmental radicals’, as Prime Minister Harper likes to call concerned citizens and scientists wanting climate action, have for years been powerless. I want Canada to apologise to the world by changing its government.

Barb Webb
Coe Hill, Ontario

David Runciman reports that Nicholas Stern ‘takes the defection of Canada from the Kyoto agreement as emblematic’ of the failure of nations to respond adequately in concert to the issue of climate change. As a Canadian it is very sad for me to report that under the mean-spirited Conservative government of Stephen Harper, Canada is no longer a leader on issues of global importance, such as climate change and humanitarian aid to refugees. The current Canadian government has reneged on many of its international commitments, and instead concentrated most of its attention and fiscal resources on the oil and gas industry and the tar sands in particular. We are also in the midst of a federal election campaign in the course of which Harper has fanned racism and xenophobia by focusing on the issue of the niqab, which two or three women at most may choose to wear during citizenship ceremonies.

Marcia Almey

Reasons for Going to Spain

John Pemble’s claim that the killing of Lorca ‘largely explains why dozens of foreign writers’ went to Spain to fight or serve as medical staff on the Republican side in the Civil War is questionable (LRB, 10 September). If a motive at all, Lorca’s fate came at the very bottom of considerations that caused writers to leave their desk and pick up a gun or a stretcher on foreign soil. Of the five British and Irish writers who died in Spain – Christopher Caudwell, John Cornford, Ralph Fox, Charles Donnelly and Julian Bell – none was specifically spurred on by Lorca’s tragic end. Nor does Pemble’s assertion do justice to the motivations of Orwell, Ralph Bates, John Sommerfield or Tom Wintringham, who survived action. What the murder of Lorca demonstrated was the contempt and hatred of modernist and leftist as well as liberal writers harboured by fascist and right-wing authoritarian regimes, of which the Nazis’ burning of books in 1933, immediately following their rise to power, had set an example. But the 1930s writers didn’t go out only in defence of culture or freedom of expression. As others on the left, they foresaw that those who burned books would eventually burn people, that bombs on Barcelona today would mean bombs on London tomorrow. And on both accounts they were proved right.

Pemble also sees self-importance, histrionics and melodrama at work among the writers who joined the militias or the International Brigades. Again it is hard to find any evidence of this among those listed above. In his judgment Pemble is heavily indebted to the interpretation of events as presented by Orwell and the latter-day breast-beating Stephen Spender, a signatory of the survey, Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War, and himself castigated in Orwell’s vituperative response to Nancy Cunard, who had sent out the questionnaire on behalf of Left Review. Understandable though Orwell’s bitterness is, given his recent ordeal in Barcelona, it just won’t do to judge the action of the writer-volunteers primarily through the prism of his experiences and comments.

H. Gustav Klaus
University of Rostock, Germany

In Whole or in Part

Edward Luttwak illustrates Atatürk’s ‘commendable’ focus on the emancipation of women with a reference to his adopted daughter Sabiha Gökçen’s becoming a ‘combat pilot’ in 1936 (LRB, 4 June). Later on he mentions Dersim as a place in Turkey where Armenians may still ‘emerge to reclaim their identity’, and adds, rightly, that its population is mostly Alevi. But he doesn’t make the connection between the two. Between 1937 and 1938 the so-called Dersim rebellion, a response to Turkification policies in the region, was suppressed and thousands killed. Some died as a result of bombing missions carried out by the Turkish airforce on defenceless civilians. Though Gökçen’s precise role in these actions is disputed, not all Turks have a positive view of the fact that Istanbul’s second airport is named after her.

In 2011 the then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a public apology for Dersim, describing the Turkish military’s actions not as an escalating response to unfolding events but as something that was ‘planned step by step’. If French and American parliamentarians had not wound him up over the ‘genocide’ label, earlier this year he might have said something similar about what happened to the Armenians in 1915.

Charles Turner
University of Warwick

Memories of the Fog

I was in London in December 1952 (LRB, 8 October). I had arranged to travel to Cambridge so I walked along the road to Turnham Green Station at 6 a.m. and saw cars trying to find their way home. There was a fuel tanker, with the cab much too high for the driver to see the road, who was following the rear light of a cyclist. He said he had followed it all the way from Streatham. There were strange optical illusions too. I saw a house all lit up, and as I walked towards it it moved towards me, until when I was two feet away I saw it was a phone box. It was thought at the time that the cause of the fog was an inversion, made worse by the smoke from all the steam trains firing up at Chalk Farm.

Tony Sumner
Wellington, Somerset

Where are the mothers?

Many more could be added to the list begun by Christine Allison and Michèle Roberts of canonical novels ‘that take motherhood for [their] main subject’ (Letters, 10 September and Letters, 24 September). Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth (1853) is about a ‘fallen woman’ whose passionate and unrepentant love for her seducer deeply shocked Oxford academics and clergymen in the 1840s. Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone (1965) told the story of another such mother more than a hundred years later. Mrs Ramsay’s presence not only dominates To the Lighthouse, but the question ‘motherhood or not?’ hovers over the text. Buchi Emecheta’s early novels, in particular In the Ditch (1972), cast light on the labour and love of – as well as the prejudice directed at – single mothers in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sally Alexander
London SW1

In Hyperspace

Fredric Jameson indulges a view of Hegel that has been challenged for some time (LRB, 10 September). It assumes that Hegel sees Vorstellung (‘picture-thinking’, or ‘representation’) as in need of supersession by a more adequate mode known as ‘philosophy’. In fact he sees it as a necessary moment – a recognition by the self of its relation to material others – by which all genuine thinking proceeds. As for the ‘end of art’ specifically, Hegel is not trying to establish a ‘philosophy no longer obliged to rely on picture-thinking for its solutions’. The thesis describes a central feature of modernity for Hegel: namely, that representation reveals itself as not exhausting the possibilities of thought, but this does not mean that thought can do without representation. Philosophy’s task is to comprehend that difference, not to abolish it.

Ian Cooper
University of Kent, Canterbury

Oh! Mr Porter

The rhyme Gillian Nelson remembers is a music-hall song, written by Thomas and George Le Brunn and sung most famously by Marie Lloyd (Letters, 8 October):

Oh! Mr Porter, what shall I do?
I want to go to Birmingham,
And they’re taking me on to Crewe.
Take me back to London as quickly as you can –
Oh! Mr Porter, what a silly girl I am.

A blue plaque about two hundred yards away from where I’m writing marks a house Lloyd once lived in. It isn’t hard to extract the subtext from the story of a girl who gets carried away and goes further than she intended to: compare the Merseyside euphemism, ‘getting off at Edge Hill’.

Joyce alluded to the song in the closing chapter of Ulysses (‘a good job he was able to open the carriage door with his knife or theyd have taken us on to Cork’) and in Finnegans Wake: ‘whou missed a porter so whot shall he do for he wanted to sit for Pimploco but they’ve caught him to stand for Sue?’ And it provided a title and theme song for Will Hay’s Oh, Mr Porter! (1937), one of the comparatively few successful British comedies about gun-running on the Irish border.

Robert Hanks
London E8

Oulipian (not exactly)

As the only British member of Oupeinpo – Ouvroir de peinture potentielle, the art equivalent of Oulipo, also co-founded by François Le Lionnais, offering constraints that others might use to make art – I have to say that our problem is not whether the content relates to the constraint but rather trying to get rid of or neutralise the significance of the content altogether (Letters, 10 September and Letters, 24 September). We see ourselves as being perhaps a bit stricter than Oulipo, some of whose constraints are hardly that at all but rather methods: not the same thing. Oupeinpo does not make art, but invents constraints, which may inspire others to make art. But we have to illustrate the constraint, apply it to something; sometimes these illustrations of constraints are framed and hung in galleries. But they are not art, except by accident, to be avoided. How? We assert that all the work is in fact made by zombies, the philosophical or p-zombie, not the brain-eaters. Thus the work can have no emotional or any other real content, and if people see some, that’s their problem. This is hugely liberating.

Brian Reffin Smith

How to Treat Cancer

Can I reassure Keith Richardson that the relative merits of chemotherapy and surgery are always taken into account where one or the other, and sometimes both, are indicated in the treatment of cancer, both in this country and in Belgium (Letters, 24 September). Not all cancers are discrete lumps amenable to complete excision and many, such as blood disorders, are not lumps at all. Some will spread via microscopic cellular migration, which is not easily detectable, and there are others that can be reduced only by non-surgical intervention because they have invaded vital structures which surgery would damage. Certain cancers require only one clinical approach.

Nigel Ganly


As a footnote to Peter Howarth’s article on Nicholas Moore (LRB, 24 September) I’d like to point out that Menard Press was the publisher of Spleen in 1973. (It was co-published with Blacksuede Boot Press, run by the poets Barry MacSweeney and Elaine Randell). In 1990 Menard brought out an expanded second edition of the book, which is still in print and available for £5.

Anthony Rudolf
London N12

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