Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Learned Progressive Journals..."

Aaro writes, reviewing Nick:
Learned progressive journals will lend their letters sections to debate just how bad a liar Tony Blair actually is, while running articles seeking to absolve the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, from entirely justified accusations of antiSemitism.
Is this an accurate or a fair description of the London Review of Books? I'm not sure that it is.

First, it's true that there have been letters on Blair-as-liar -- on this page -- but that's because David Runciman writes regularly on politics for the LRB, and his articles on Mr Blair (here, here, here, here, here and here, the more war-related of which are collected in The Politics of Good Intentions) are among the sharpest things ever written about the man. No journal should think it ought to apologise for carrying Runciman's excellent pieces, but nor should anyone get away with suggesting that Runciman's writing peddles a crude "Blair lied, thousands died" analysis; his essays are far more interesting than that. And the debate isn't really about "how bad a liar Tony Blair actually is", in any case, but about how good. As Runciman puts it, "He is not simply the boldest liar, he is also the best."

Second, Charles Glass published an article which mentioned Nasrallah twice. On the first occasion, he said that he was "not only the most popular man in Lebanon – but in the whole Arab world". The second passage is this:
"Seeing the Israeli response to his rocket bombardment of Haifa and Netanya in the north, Nasrallah has not carried out his threat to send rockets as far as Tel Aviv. He now says he will do this only if Israel targets the centre of Beirut."
So even though this article might be plausibly described as apologetics for Hizbullah in general, it certainly can't be fairly described as an article "seeking to absolve the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, from entirely justified accusations of antiSemitism", because it makes no such attempt.

The discussion of Hassan Nasrallah's alleged antisemitism took place in the Letters columns over the next few issues: Eugene Goodhart raised the issue, David Loewe defended Glass from his critics, Charles Glass replied, Anthony Julius responded, Charles Glass replied, and as far as I can tell Eugene Goodhart closed the correspondence with his final contribution.

It's not at all obvious to me that the magazine deserves to be criticised for publishing these letters, which are a good deal more civilised and informative than the kind of discussion you get of these matters in, for example, the blogosphere. And if anyone behaved badly concerning these exchanges, it wasn't obviously Glass or the LRB, but Eugene Goodhart, who went on to make the false claim in Dissent that "Almost every issue [of the LRB] contains several articles devoted to attacks on Israel", when a scan of the archives suggests that there are only really two recent issues -- vol.28 nos.15 and 16, assembled in the immediate aftermath of Israel's incursion into Southern Lebanon -- that might plausibly fit this description.

Question for discussion: why do the Decents find it so hard to write about the LRB without misrepresenting its contents?

13 Comments:

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2/17/2007 09:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

'Liberal dinner party'? Is there a political test before you're allowed to eat?

2/17/2007 11:07:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

There's definitely material for an episode of Scenes in the Life of Decency here ...

Episode XXX:

Young Polly Decent has told her mother that she is sleeping over at her friend Eve's house, but it has just emerged that she spent the night elsewhere ....

Mrs Decent: She *lied*, she lied to me ....

Polly (interrupts): Oh get over it, you're so fucking indignant about that when there's millions dying in Dafur ...

Mr Decent: I'm afraid I have to side with Polly here. I'm a universalist and on a objective scale Polly's lie to you was of very little importance....

Mrs Decent stands up and walks out shaking head in rage and incomprehension.

2/18/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry Lamb said...

About ten years ago Nick Cohen wrote a most gushing encomium for the LRB in his Observer column. In one of those odd coincidences, NC's reviews started appearing in the LRB shortly afterwards.

And I wonder who the bibulous but high-minded critic of Blairism and colleague of Jasper Gerard could be?

2/18/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburg said...

Question for discussion: why do the Decents find it so hard to write about the LRB without misrepresenting its contents?

Possibly because they still haven't got over the LRB's post-9/11 issue in which assorted oracular eggheads did us a bit of their brains:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v23/n19/mult01_.html

(See esp Mary Beard's & Frederic Jameson's contributions.) We shouldn't forget that many of the Roots of Decency lie in an understandably outraged reaction to this sort of self-regarding bollocks, however deformed its branches came to be.

2/18/2007 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

That was a pretty good issue of the LRB, IIRC. It had Malcolm Bull's smashing review of Hardt & Negri's Empire, and that excellent poem by Edwin Morgan, Pelagius. So even if the Decents were annoyed by Beard & Jameson, they could have read other things in the same issue, and enjoyed those.

2/19/2007 12:19:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

We shouldn't forget that many of the Roots of Decency lie in an understandably outraged reaction to this sort of self-regarding bollocks

In what way "understandably outraged" and in what way "self-regarding bollocks"? Isn't this the usual manouevre of isolating some small part of what their targets have said, insisting that it actually means something rather different to what it actually said, and then making that distorted version stand in for the whole?

Isn't that, basically, what the Decents do, whether they be Cohen or Geras or Aaro or Harry's Place? Aren't they going to be hounding the LRB now for all they are worth, based on the fact that the LRB takes a strong interest in Israel whose purpose and content they will distort, and won't they link that very strongly with highly distorted and decontextuialised versions of what Mary Beard (one contributor, writing one letter to one issue of the magazine) actually said?

2/19/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

I didn't "isolate," "distort," or "decontextualise" anything, ejh; I just gave a link to the entire 'round table' feature. Nor do I take any responsibility for "what the Decents do." In fact I characterised subsequent Decent developments as "deformed" in the part of my comment you omitted in your distorting, decontextualising and isolating quotation.

2/19/2007 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I just gave a link to the entire 'round table' feature.

No you didn't: you bid us take the Beard and Jameson contributions in particular. You chose to make that stress. That was your context.

2/19/2007 08:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

Look, ejh, this isn't difficult. Beard, Jameson and the others presumably wrote their contributions so that they would be read. The contributors to the round table feature weren't responding to each other; they wrote their pieces independently. Citing the URL of the feature and directing people's attention to the self-standing contributions of Beard and Jameson ("especially," I said, not "exclusively") is not a case of isolating, decontextualising or distorting. It just isn't.

Quite a few high-profile people who self-identify with the left said some very stupid things in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. This is just a fact. I'm not saying that a lot of Decents haven't out-stupided them subsequently. But that's a separate fact, and it's not inconsistent with the first one.

2/20/2007 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Citing the URL of the feature and directing people's attention to the self-standing contributions of Beard and Jameson ("especially," I said, not "exclusively") is not a case of isolating, decontextualising or distorting. It just isn't.

No, I'm afraid I think it is. It can't be "self-standing" if it's only "especially" - that term suggests that though worse than others, they are not different in nature. You can't have both. You didn't say "I'm only taking issue with Beard and Jameson, the rest are all right". You referred to the "assorted oracular eggheads", then provided a URL, then said to pick out Jameson and Beard "especially". That doesn't divide J&R from the rest: it connects them.

Secondly, you've not actually troubled to tell us what these individuals said that was so worthy of outrage. Do you think you could let us know? I'm aware (I've been a subscriber to the LRB for a very long time) that Beard got heavily criticised at the time for what she wrote, but I felt at the time (and feel now) that this was based on what she didn't say, what she said other people might say and so on, and that it was the usual hint-hint business. Can you show me otherwise?

Incidentally you'll notice I didn't accuse you of decontextualising anything. I wrote two paragraphs. You were the subject of the first. The term, badly spelled, appeared in the second.

2/20/2007 07:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

If you don't find any of what they said outrageous, ejh, you will be glad to hear that I simply have nothing more to say.

2/20/2007 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

That is not a particular disappointment to me.

2/21/2007 08:58:00 AM  

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