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Taking sides

Karl Miller, 17 April 1980

W.H. Auden: The Life of a Poet 
by Charles Osborne.
Eyre Methuen, 336 pp., £7.95, March 1980, 0 413 39670 3
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... In 1960, Auden completed his third decade as a poet with the volume Homage to Clio. By then, Charles Osborne writes, he was ‘widely regarded as among the few really great poets of the century’. No slur on the century seems intended here: part of what we mean by talking of great poets is that there are never very many of them about. But Mr Osborne goes on to mention that the poets Larkin and Gunn refused to kneel to the new collection ...

Death of a Poet

Karl Miller, 22 January 1981

... I write this during the world silence which Yoko Ono has asked for in remembrance of her husband, John Lennon, murdered by a crazy fan. I can’t say I’m observing it, but I’m not ignoring it either. ‘The soul of Adonais, like a star’ is to concentrate the thoughts and lift up the hearts of the many people who mourn him. The idea of a silence seems a good one for Lennon ...

Chatwins

Karl Miller, 21 October 1982

On the Black Hill 
by Bruce Chatwin.
Cape, 249 pp., £7.50, September 1982, 0 224 01980 5
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... There were reports in the papers two years ago concerning identical twins, Freda and Greta Chaplin, who had been had up at York for making a nuisance of themselves, and who seemed like creatures in a fable. Infatuation with a lorry-driver had turned to hostility, and Hansel and Gretel had been hitting him with their handbags. These siblings were eventually sent to jail for a month: the defence found them inexplicable, and the magistrate found that ‘there is no other way of dealing with you ...

Tracts for the Times

Karl Miller, 17 August 1989

Intellectuals 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 385 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 0 297 79395 0
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CounterBlasts No 1: God, Man and Mrs Thatcher 
by Jonathan Raban.
Chatto, 72 pp., £2.99, June 1989, 0 7011 3470 4
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... There can’t be all that many people who are willing, in the presence of others, to call themselves intellectuals. There may even be those for whom intellectuals are a fiction, like fairies. But most people would struggle to their feet to attest to their existence. ‘Intellectual’ is a word which is hard to use without irony or reproof; often, it is a slur, and it has often seemed to invite the qualification ‘so-called’ or ‘supposed ...

Diary

Karl Miller: Football Tribes, 1 June 1989

... Football, and football violence, go back a long way in this country, to a distant past of tribal conflict – family against family, clan against clan, ain folk against the world. They are to be found in the Middle Ages among the fighting families of the Anglo-Scottish Border, as George MacDonald Fraser’s book The Steel Bonnets makes clear.* His synonymous reivers, raiders or riders used to get off their horses and play the football that became soccer and rugby, and they were not afraid of a few fouls: ‘some quarrel happened betwixt Bothwell and the Master of Marishal upon a stroke given at football on Bothwell’s leg by the Master, after that the Master had received a sore fall by Bothwell ...

Off Narragansett

Karl Miller, 28 September 1989

Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn 
by Paul Watkins.
Century Hutchinson, 269 pp., £12.95, August 1989, 0 09 173914 4
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Blood and Water 
by Patrick McGrath.
Penguin Originals, 183 pp., £4.99, February 1989, 0 14 011005 4
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The Grotesque 
by Patrick McGrath.
Viking, 186 pp., £11.95, October 1989, 0 670 82987 0
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... Paul Watkins’s novel and Patrick McGrath’s The Grotesque are second books by young British writers whose work has been well-received in America, to which, together with its surrounding seas, both of these writers have been drawn. Paul Watkins used, they say, to set off from Eton for spells on an oil rig, and after graduating from Yale he fished for three years off the New England coast, where this novel of his is located ...

Shite

Karl Miller, 2 March 1989

A Disaffection 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 344 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 436 23284 7
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The Book of Sandy Stewart 
edited by Roger Leitch.
Scottish Academic Press, 168 pp., £15, December 1988, 0 7073 0560 8
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... Studying the West Coast of Scotland from the yacht Britannia, the Queen is said to have remarked, not long ago, that the people there didn’t seem to have much of a life. James Kelman’s stories make clear what life is like in Glasgow,* and what James Kelman’s life is like. They are not going to change the royal mind. This is the queen who was greeted, on a visit to a Scottish university, by the sight of a student emptying down his throat, at top speed, the contents of a bottle of alcohol ...

Diary

Karl Miller: Ten Years of the LRB, 26 October 1989

... There are more of them now in London, more reviews, than there used to be. A welcome shake-up in the newspaper world has brought this about. New papers have occasioned a remarkable and continuing exodus of notable writers from the old ones, which have set themselves, in defence, to expanding their book sections, and may in desperation have to turn their hand to the task of discovering and developing new writers to fill their vacant spaces ...

Downfalls

Karl Miller, 5 February 1987

Another Day of Life 
by Ryszard Kapuściński.
Picador, 136 pp., £8.95, February 1987, 0 330 29844 5
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... We live at a time when reporters go to foreign countries where there is trouble and come back to write books in which they say that it was hard to make out what was going on. When they say this, they are apt to be called writers, rather than reporters. Writers don’t know what is going on. But they can be very good at conveying what it was like to be there, and to be writing it down ...

Diary

Karl Miller: London to Canberra, 25 June 1987

... Roy Jenkins believes this to have been an insular election: it has also had more than its share of the infantilism of show business, and was one of the foulest and most name-calling for a long time. Government will now resume, promises will be kept and broken, and the keepers of official secrets will try some more of their dirty tricks, secure in the knowledge that this was an issue which was never to arise in the course of the election ...

State-Sponsored Counter-Terror

Karl Miller, 8 May 1986

Parliamentary Debates: Hansard, Vol. 95, No 94 
HMSO, £2.50Show More
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... This has been an exceptionally serious debate,’ said Denis Healey on Wednesday 16 April, in contributing to the principal occasion on which the House of Commons gave its mind to the American air strike on Tripoli and Ben Ghazi, two days before, and to the Prime Minister’s decision – with the minimum of Cabinet consultation – to play the part of an ally by sanctioning the use for that purpose of bases in Britain ...

Diary

Karl Miller: What is rugby for?, 5 December 1991

... By most of those who watched it, I imagine, the Rugby Union World Cup will be seen, now that the dust has settled, as a success, for all the aspects and episodes that there were to object to and quarrel over. But I doubt whether the same could be said of the discursive part of the ITV presentation of events. The party atmosphere which is sometimes thought by producers to be the thing on such occasions was given its head, and national sentiment ruled ...

Diary

Karl Miller: Balance at the BBC, 9 October 1986

... I don’t expect to forget Edgar Reitz’s 11-part film Heimat, which ran like a river on BBC 2 in the early summer, and which tells the story of a family, and of a community, in the Hunsrück region of Germany over the years 1919 to 1982 – a long film for a long haul. Towards the end of that interval of time Reitz’s work became an object of hostility for the exhibitors of the German film industry: I gathered as much from an interesting Observer Profile, which also explained that, in making Heimat, this highbrow chose to ‘stick to hard facts’ and to ‘curb his “intellectuality” ’, directing it into a notebook, and which claimed that the film had restored a sense of the national past in delivering a tension between traditional ways and a ‘thrust for individual identity’ in the technological modern world ...

On the Feast of Stephen

Karl Miller: Spender’s Journals, 30 August 2012

New Selected Journals, 1939-95 
by Stephen Spender and Lara Feigel, edited by John Sutherland.
Faber, 792 pp., £45, July 2012, 978 0 571 23757 9
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... Stephen Spender was a visitor to the city of Hamburg both before the war and after, when he played a part in the work of occupation and recovery. He was well on his way to being the noted ex-communist poet, whose lyricism of the left spoke up in praise of pylons and the landing aeroplane, gliding over the suburbs, ‘more beautiful and soft than any moth ...

On Thatcher

Karl Miller, 25 April 2013

... is the third most written about person in the ‘LRB’ archive, after Shakespeare and Freud. Here Karl Miller’s memories of the paper in her day are accompanied by extracts from some of the pieces published at the time. On the morning Margaret Thatcher’s death was announced, the lesser lights of television who were minding the shop did her proud. A ...

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