Vol. 43 No. 14 · 15 July 2021

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All Together Now

‘How many Jagger/Richards cover versions can you call up before your forehead starts to wrinkle?’ Ian Penman asks (LRB, 17 June). He only came up with two, the ‘wildly different takes’ on ‘Satisfaction’ by Devo and Cat Power. Even for a Beatles partisan, this is pretty shoddy. Here’s a partial list of Stones covers, which I managed without any forehead-wrinkling: ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ (Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction, Bryan Ferry, Motörhead); ‘Gimme Shelter’ (Patti Smith, Angélique Kidjo, Paulo Nutini); ‘Brown Sugar’ (Bob Dylan); ‘No Expectations’ (Johnny Cash); ‘Dead Flowers’ (Townes Van Zandt); ‘Paint It, Black’ (Eric Burdon, U2); ‘Tumbling Dice’ (Linda Ronstadt); ‘Street Fighting Man’ (Rage against the Machine); ‘Satisfaction’ (Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, P.J. Harvey and Björk); ‘Under My Thumb’ (The Who); ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (Aretha Franklin); ‘Wild Horses’ (Flying Burrito Brothers, Debbie Harry, Otis Clay); ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ (David Bowie); ‘Fool to Cry’ (Tegan and Sara). The point is, the Jagger/Richards songbook is as rich, admired and covered as Lennon/McCartney’s. And although they have written their share of duds, the Glimmer Twins don’t have a ‘Your Mother Should Know’ or ‘Octopus’s Garden’ to embarrass them.

George De Stefano
New York

Right and Wrong

Kieran Setiya denies my assertion that Elizabeth Anscombe defined the term ‘consequentialism’ as the view that ‘standards of right and wrong are to be explained in terms of good and bad consequences’ (Letters, 17 June). Instead, he says, ‘she applied the term to any view on which the foreseen consequences of an action must be weighed in determining right and wrong.’ But under her interpretation these are equivalent. She held that if someone believes that the act of procuring the judicial execution of the innocent could in principle be justified if it would avert a great enough disaster, then that person does not believe that the act is intrinsically unjust, but only that its character must be counted as a very bad part of the overall consequences: a negative contributing factor in the consequentialist calculation that determines whether the act is wrong. That is why she counts W.D. Ross as a consequentialist. I think this is a misinterpretation of Ross, but set that aside.

Anscombe herself, while condemning consequentialism, acknowledges that consequences must often be weighed in determining right and wrong. For example, an act that is usually unjust, like destroying someone’s property without their consent, may not be unjust if it is the only way to prevent a disaster – for example to stop a fire from spreading. But this applies only to acts whose justice or injustice depends on the circumstances, and not to acts that are intrinsically and always unjust, like procuring the judicial execution of the innocent. This and much more is to be found in Anscombe’s ferocious essay ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, which always repays study.

Thomas Nagel
New York

What are you going through?

Toril Moi describes my version of Simone Weil as a ‘Simone of the Suburbs’ (LRB, 1 July). The phrase is catchy and her dislike of the burbs – those bastions of ‘moderation’ – is clear. Less clear, though, is her claim that Weil was ‘never a champion of “moderation”’. That depends on what one means by moderation. In my book I suggest that Weil believed, as did her editor Albert Camus, that moderation was another word for resistance. Moi might disagree with this claim, but instead she scants it.

My book, in fact, receives scant attention in her review. She can ignore it, of course, but I cannot ignore her few misleading references to it. Space allows me to cite just two instances. First, Moi mentions my account of the moral confusion I feel whenever I stop my car next to a panhandler. She assumes – something this admirer of Weilian attention does quite a bit – that my dilemma is whether to stop and give him money. What I actually asked, however, is whether my children, in the back seat, would one day open the car window and, as Weil urged, ask the panhandler: ‘What are you going through?’ Acting on the other’s humanity, I wrote, is the ‘important question’, not whether to hand over a buck.

Second, Moi finds my book a ‘conundrum’. ‘I am no more capable,’ she writes, ‘of living up to Weil’s demands than Zaretsky is.’ Fair enough. ‘But the solution,’ she adds, ‘is not to argue that ideals aren’t worth having.’ Malgré Moi, I never argued this. Should she ever come to Houston, we can meet at the coffeeshop in my corner of the benighted burbs and compare our clearly different versions of the same book. Would this change Moi’s mind? All I can do is try – like her, I’m an idealist.

Robert Zaretsky
University of Houston, Texas

At Home with the Todds

Joanne O’Leary mentions the ‘cringeworthy postcoital record-keeping’ of Mabel Loomis Todd and Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin (LRB, 3 June). I wish I’d known about that in 1993, when I was seven years old and lived in what had been the Todds’ house. My father was a professor at Amherst and we lived for four years at the Observatory, which was then and still is faculty housing. The portrait of the Todds next to the fireplace made me feel almost like we were family – except not at all, since we are Chinese, and the 1880s were a real shit bucket for us.

Beina Xu

Nothing is mine

In her piece about Anthony Grafton’s Inky Fingers, Erin Maglaque states that Francis Daniel Pastorius was citing Macrobius when he wrote ‘In this Book all is mine, & Nothing is mine. Omne meum, nihil meum’ (LRB, 1 July). Pastorius implied as much himself: ‘I acknowledge, with Macrobius, that in this Book all is mine, & Nothing is mine …’ In fact, as Grafton observes, Pastorius took the quotation, along with the attribution to Macrobius, from Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. However, as the Clarendon editors of the Anatomy noted more than twenty years ago, Burton wasn’t actually quoting Macrobius, but paraphrasing the Politica (1589) of his fellow humanist (and imitator of Macrobius) Justus Lipsius. The Politica, like the Anatomy, was a cento, written as a patchwork of quotations. The misattribution, which Burton had the nerve to put on the title page of the first two editions of his work, was very probably a joke for pedants who can’t help quibbling about this kind of thing.

Angus Gowland
University College London

Do some real work

In his review of David Storey’s memoir, Andrew O’Hagan mentions the humiliating gap between working-class writers’ achievements and the ‘real work’ done by their fathers, citing D.H. Lawrence as an example (LRB, 1 July). He could have included Lawrence’s account of presenting a copy of The White Peacock to his father, who

struggled through half a page, and it might as well have been Hottentot. ‘And what dun they gi’e thee for that, lad?’ ‘Fifty pounds, father.’ ‘Fifty pounds!’ He was dumbfounded, and looked at me with shrewd eyes, as if I were a swindler. ‘Fifty pounds! An’ tha’s niver done a day’s hard work in thy life.’

Bernard Richards
Brasenose College, Oxford

The Orientalist Tradition

Tariq Ali writes that when Maxime Rodinson’s biography of Muhammad was published in 1961, ‘very little writing of any value on Islam was available in the West’ (LRB, 17 June). Yet Rodinson wrote in that book that the existing scholarly literature on the life of the Prophet was ‘vast’ and much of it ‘excellent’, and acknowledged his own debts not only to the Christian Marxist William Montgomery Watt (the only other Orientalist whose work is assessed positively by Ali) but also to many other figures in the mainstream tradition of 20th-century Orientalism, including Goldziher, Becker, Caetani, Levi Della Vida, Massignon, Schacht, Spuler, Paret, von Grunebaum and Bernard Lewis. Many of these scholars anticipated Rodinson in adopting a sympathetic view of Islam and the Prophet: the ‘firm break’ with the essentially medieval view of Muhammad as a ‘charlatan’ and ‘impostor’ that Ali attributes to Rodinson and Watt had in fact already been made in an influential essay of 1833 by the German-Jewish scholar Abraham Geiger, and was carried forward by Ignaz Goldziher, undoubtedly the most important scholar of Islam in modern times.

Ali’s disregard for this tradition reflects a more widespread lack of awareness of German, Italian and Hungarian writing on Islam and the Jewish contribution to Orientalism. It also reflects the legacy of Edward Said’s Orientalism, in which Rodinson (whose Marxism no doubt appealed to Said) is one of the few European scholars to escape the charge of misrepresenting Islam in the service of imperialism. Yet Rodinson criticised Said in his own account of Orientalism, conscious of standing within a long and illustrious scholarly tradition.

Fitzroy Morrissey
All Souls College, Oxford

The Murder of Patrick Karegeya

Adewale Maja-Pearce mentions the two arrest warrants issued for the suspected murderers of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s former intelligence chief (LRB, 1 July). These were issued not by the Rwandan justice department, but by the South African authorities: the Rwandans continue to behave as though they don’t exist, and the outcome of the inquest into Karegeya’s murder is routinely and deliberately misreported in the Rwandan media.

A minor note: my understanding is that after the Metropolitan Police warned several Rwandan dissidents living in the UK that their lives were at risk from their own government in 2011, Britain did not in fact cut aid. It should have, but didn’t. It did cut aid the following year, but for a different reason: Rwanda’s support of the M23 rebel group operating in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Michela Wrong
London NW1

On Lucille Clifton

Andrea Brady writes that Lucille Clifton’s poems ‘first came to light when she sent them to Robert Hayden’ (LRB, 22 April). In fact her poetry first came to light through Langston Hughes. I took some of them to Langston and he published them in The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1970.

Ishmael Reed
Oakland, California

Occupational Hazard

Helen Pfeifer writes that Selim I died of a boil (LRB, 1 July). Selim spent every campaigning season of his adult life astride a saddle, and died of an anthrax skin infection. Anthrax was an occupational hazard among saddlers, tanners, skinners and others who worked with leather.

Terry Bushell
Ramsgate, Kent

Brig, Sloop, Ketch etc

The discussion of what defines a ship as distinct from a boat reminds me of what my father, who served on a troop ship in the US navy in the First World War, said when, as a little boy, I asked him what the difference was (Letters, 3 June). He replied: ‘A boat is any vessel which can be carried on a ship.’

John Eliot Spofford
Boston, Massachusetts

On a voyage in the Canadian Arctic ten years ago I was reproached for calling the vessel in which we were sailing – a former Soviet research ship – a ‘boat’. It apparently offended the Russian captain. Our communications officer, a former Royal Navy submariner, said to me afterwards with a twinkle: ‘Dinna fash yersel, Martin. In the navy we just call them all “targets”.’

Martin Rose
Saffron Walden, Essex

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