There is rich irony in the picture of Edward Luttwak (LRB, 23 April), sitting on his Chair of Strategic Anglophobia, or whatever he does in Washington, telling us contemptuously about ‘the world’s strategic slums, where they still run around with guns’. Washington, crime capital of the United States!
This is preceded by a lecture on the meritocratic virtues, with particular reference to the Royal Navy and its shortcomings. The Navy is not, nor ever has been save for a short period towards the end of the 19th century, an aristocratic service. Unlike the Army, it did not sell commissions, and although ‘interest’ was important when it was a feature in every field, it has maintained, since its founding in King Alfred’s reign, a steadily meritocratic character. On the rare occasions when it has followed political faction, it has favoured the mercantile, middle-class interest, solidly supporting Parliament in the Civil War.
From the social point of view, the Navy was hardly attractive to aristocrats. During the Napoleonic wars, when the Navy came into its own as a possible road to wealth and distinction, it is clear that the advancement of men of obscure origin caused resentment in some quarters, as witness Sir Walter Elliot’s vexation, in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, at the enoblement of ‘Lord St Ives, whose father we all know to have been a country curate’. Queen Victoria, in the earlier years of her reign, was embarrassed by the impropriety of inviting Naval officers to sit at dinner with her Guards officers, and the difficulty in finding those fit to do so. As conditions became less jail-like, the Service attracted more men of name, but was clearly too important to the national interest to tolerate the dilettante officer. Jacky Fisher would break men without hesitation if they did not come up to scratch.
Admiral Woodward’s background is probably typical of the Navy today, and I think Luttwak has misunderstood the chit-chat of his memoirs. Certainly there has been family tradition, and one can think of several Navy names, and this has done no harm. It should not be confused with the ‘aristocratic’ and will, I hope, always be subordinate to efficiency. Luttwak’s review seems to have been fuelled by a slightly rancid Anglophobia, anciently found, for historical reasons, in the USN – which has family traditions of its own not dissimilar to those found in the RN.
Since the attributes derided by Luttwak in his piece on the Falklands are those which not only won the battle and restored British self confidence, but also gave Argentina some hope of democracy, it is quite hard to despise them. If they had not existed, it is of course possible that the Argentines might have won, but how would that have helped the British economy or improved its class system?
Anne Deighton (Letters, 23 April) asks why I use the term ‘Euro-Heresies’ to describe seven British objections to ‘ever closer union’ in Europe. Partly, I admit, to provoke: but mainly because they echo, in a plausibly contemporary form, some of the fictions about European unity that were peddled in the Fifties, usually but not exclusively in Britain.
Take the ‘heresy’ which Anne Deighton singles out: that ‘the end of the Cold War has made the Community obsolete.’ One Fifties variant of this was that the Community was ‘the economic arm of Nato’. Another was that the unification of Western Europe ‘would perpetuate the Cold War’, True, fear of Soviet power helped encourage West European statesmen to seek unity. But equally important was their desire to avoid domination, however friendly, by the United States. The eclipse of the Soviet Union has made the United States still more dominant in the world scales – as well as increasing the relative weight of both Japan and China. So I was understating the case when I argued that the ‘subtraction of one superpower from the global equation has made no essential difference’. In reality, it should have given Europeans even more incentive to maximise their influence by uniting.
But parity with the superpowers (including equal partnership with the United States) has always been only one of the Community’s aims. Apart from the need to reconcile former enemies (achieved) and to curb economic nationalism (still a struggle), the Community’s founders saw it as a way of pioneering, on a limited scale, a new form of relations between peoples, based on peace, equality, and common democratic rules and institutions far more powerful, binding and intimate than in any previous international organisation. Its ultimate, very long-term goal is a peacefully united world. In this respect, too, unification in Europe is an open-ended process, not a finite product. Thanks to intensive debate in the last four decades, many continental Europeans understand this. Some people in Britain, a partly involuntary latecomer to the process and the debate, seem only now to have woken up to the real significance of the Rome and Maastricht Treaties.
As a veteran ‘European’ and assistant to some of the Community’s founders, I’m delighted if the British are now willing to discuss Europe’s future, as Anne Deighton is. I’m distressed only if they close off their options with ‘Euro-heresies’ whose subtext is all too plainly ‘Thus far and no farther.’
Claude Rawson (LRB, 9 April) hates the ‘vacuous lyricism’ of Christopher Logue’s Kings; no less the enthusiasm with which it has been greeted by Classicists. The latter concern is perhaps more understandable. Professor Rawson seems stricken with a form of that adolescent horror of bringing home friends only for one’s mother to engage in excruciating discourse on the ‘groovy’ and ‘kicking’ qualities of Cliff Richard’s latest 45. It is implied that Classicists, feeling trapped in a hopelessly dusty profession, latch onto the Logue remix and treat it as a lifeline to the modernity they have abandoned. The admiration felt is, however, based on rather firmer foundations than those suggested.
The primary object of Rawon’s scorn is Logue’s ‘pseudo-intimate sleeve-pulling’, as exemplified by lines such as ‘Think of the east Aegean sea by night.’ To describe this as ‘vacuous lyricism’ is to suggest the belief that the epic narrator should stay ‘like the God of the creation … within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails’. Well, this is an aesthetic of epic narration propounded by Aristotle and Schiller, and often seen as exemplified by Homer. However, it is also the case that at II. 4.223 and 429, 5.85, 15.697 and 17.366 Homer addresses his audience directly to tell them what ‘you would see’ were you there. Once the epicist has thus created the problem by creating the relationship between narrator and audience, we can no longer talk in terms of absolutes, but instead examine how and to what extent he exploits the creative possibilities which arise. Logue’s solution is radical: but so was that of a number of ancient poets, all of whom were in their own way producing a ‘version’ of Homer.
The poet of the Iliad keeps his distance from his audience, but occasionally acknowledges the relationship. Similarly, it is rare for him to mention his temporal relation to the action, but when he does (‘and he picked up a stone which two men of our day could not lift,’ etc), it is to stress the grandeur of the world, the generation, lost between then and now. It is essential to the sensibility of all ancient epic that it describes a world either fundamental for the development of, or lost to, our own. Logue’s lines on Skopje give his feeling for the means and potential abruptness of that loss.
Rawson holds to rules for the behaviour of the epic narrator. Critics set rules to control situations, to suppress anxieties, but rules can only inadequately express the possibilities offered by a given form. Of course, it is the convention of Homeric narration that the poet keeps his distance, but it is a convention which acts to enhance the impact of those points at which an alternative posture is adopted. The Patrocleia without apostrophe would be a far poorer creation. Equally, ancient epic without the more radical solutions of Apollonius and Lucan would be a far duller form. Christopher Logue, like them, as much reacts to Homer as reproduces him and he does it rather well.
University of Pisa
In his account of F. R. Leavis’s relations with Q (LRB, 23 April), Boris Ford envisages the two men sitting ‘in Q’s study drinking his most excellent whisky …’ His imagination has surely run away with him here. I have a letter from Mrs Leavis in which she disclosed that ‘whisky is something [FRL] never would touch, like rum, gin and liqueurs …’
Donald Davie’s position on poetry workshops etc comes out much more reasonably in his letter (Letters, 23 April) than it did in his original article. He still misunderstands the footing and the ways of working prevalent in rooms other than his own. He assumes that my use of ‘we’ implies that my fellows are not my pupils. They (often) are. My relation with them can be expressed by ‘I plus they (or them)’ when I am marking their fiction and poetry at the end of the year, or advising them to work harder. Most of the time it is better expressed by ‘we’: e.g. when we are concentrating together on their work, or when we all write to a guideline and I read out my piece for their comments as they do theirs for mine, or when we are comparing notes on our recent successes or otherwise at getting published or winning competitions, at which some of them are better than I, some not so good, and quite a few are unconcerned one way or the other.
I wonder why Davie assumes that his pupils are ‘more ambitious’ than mine. It seems to go with his other doubt as to whether we (at Lancaster) operate an ‘international competition’ to let writers into our classes. Of course we do. And of the writers who apply each year, from Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Finland, India, Jordan, Kenya, Slovenia, the US, as well as from the UK, we admit about one-fifth. No conspiracy here to deny that ‘artistic gifts are unevenly distributed’! And no shortage of ambition! Students at Lancaster, workshop writers all over the North, are indeed ambitious, in the sense of striving to find forms for the essence of their experience and stretch the bounds of art as well as in the other sense of wanting to make a name for themselves.
It would be nice if Davie would finally concede the achievements of the workshop movement in recent times instead of driving wedges between one ‘clientele’ and another.
Elspeth Barker wrote in warm praise (LRB, 9 April) of Robert Liddell’s Stepsons, which plainly merits this. She emphasises the writer’s refusal to snipe at an easy target: ‘nothing cheap here.’ Is it not painfully out of key then to lash the pathetic ‘Elsa’ with her own scorn? The dim middle child, the Prussian boots, the ‘Gerwoman’ of whom ‘kindly aunts’ were to say: ‘Never call that woman what you called your own mother.’ Who plainly caused such lonely misery since unable to alleviate her own. There are people, still, who hate Germany; cannot bring themselves to set loot there. I have myself accompanied Jews who felt this They always found the burden lifted, happy to have sacrificed their pain.
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