In my review of Alan Rickman’s diaries (October 21), I raised a few questions about Alan Taylor’s editorial choices. His letter (November 4) has reinforced my doubts. In removing more than three quarters of a million words from the original diaries, Taylor has made a major intervention. I lamented the lack of any statement about how he went about this task. His response? “Is it not self-evident? It’s what editors do.” I also wondered what had been left out. “Nothing that needed to be highlighted”, he says, adding that his priority was preserving “Alan’s inimitable voice”. But of course the whole million-word diary is in Alan’s inimitable voice. What decisions did he, Alan Taylor, make on behalf of his readers, and Rickman? Usually an editor would take a line or two (at least) to explain the nature of such large-scale omissions, even if they owe less to editorial principle and method than to instinctual choice.
More concerning is the complacency with which Taylor treats the issue of publication. Many times in the diaries Rickman is appalled by rudeness in public, yet there are many diary entries of his own that are, to put it mildly, blunt about people, most of whom are still living. Would Rickman – if he had published these diaries himself – have tempered these comments, edited some out, expanded and contextualized? What’s more, it is at least worth wondering whether a man so conscientious and painstaking about his work as Rickman would have wanted his rough schedule-plus-comments to go to press without any rewriting. This is why I confessed in my review that I was started by the following statement: “We do not know whether Alan would like to have seen his diaries published”. Startled, that is, that the editor felt this required no further comment. In his response Taylor says, in effect: Why are you started? Rickman is dead; so I couldn’t ask him, obviously. One would have thought that it was precisely this point that merited a few remarks about editorial ethics.
Finally, Taylor rejects my claim that “there are no reflective sequences on the art and craft of acting”. It’s a fair object. There are certainly many comments about actors, directors, rehearsals and productions throughout the diaries – I highlight quite a few of them in my review – but I maintain that there are hardly any reflective sequences in which Rickman takes time to analyze the art of acting at length. This is simply in keeping with the overall brisk nature of the diaries, which I was trying to convey.
Michael Wolff’s review of Jared Kushner’s memoir (September 9) is a grotesque misrepresentation of the book and the person, very much on the lines of the New York Times review Wolff mentions at the start, except that in this case the misrepresentation is entirely by suppressio veri and suggestio falseso that one may accept every single word of his review while finding it outrageously misleading.
The suppressio veri is a very big one indeed: ignoring the sneers of every Washington think tank, CIA and State Department “Middle East expert”, overcoming stiff bureaucratic opposition, Kushner patiently negotiated solo with the leaders of seven Arab countries to try to persuade them to open diplomatic relations with Israel, that being a long-time US goal. He kept at it tenaciously until he secured a full opening of diplomatic, economic and societal relations with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates; Sudan’s conditional acceptance to be implemented when conditions allow; Qatar’s acceptance of visits by Israeli passport-holders before and after the football jamboree; Oman’s widening of long-standing relations; and the opening of Saudi Arabian airspace to flights to and from Israel by third-party carriers and later by Israeli airlines – a boon for Israelis traveling to the Gulf or further east, and for Israel’s Arabs, who now travel to the Emirates in great numbers for leisure and business.
The fact that Kushner rigorously observes the Sabbath and eats only kosher food reflects his iron self-discipline: his son-in-law status opened doors, but nothing would have happened without hard work that deserves admiration rather than sneers. (Incidentally, I have never communicated with Kushner.)
Edward N. Luttwak
Chevy Chase MD
Christopher Priest’s engaging review of Rob Wilkins’s biography of Terry Pratchett (October 28) notes that there was “another side to [his] bonhomie”, which is understandable. In 1999 I was attending a science fiction convention in Melbourne, Australia. Late one night my wife and I were sitting in the hotel lobby when Terry walked by. He noticed us and asked if he might join us, because he had been on display all day and wanted the chance to talk to ordinary people about ordinary things for a while. So that is what we did for maybe half an hour, by which time we could not help but notice that a large crowd had gathered, forming a semi-circle around us. Terry apologized, turned on the smile and got up to lead the crowd away from us.
That level of persistent and often intrusive attention must be debilitating for anyone. And he was well aware of how troublesome it could be. On another occasion I was taking part in a panel discussion, and Terry was supposed to be one of my fellow panellists. He didn’t turn up until halfway through the scheduled hour. Afterwards he explained that once he showed up at such events, every comment and question from the audience was about him or directed to him. By turning up late he at least allowed the other panellists an opportunity to make their own points.
I met Terry on several occasions, and it always struck me that he was uncomfortably aware of how much his fame warped the reality around him. But it was inescapable, hence the increasing grumpiness that Priest notes.
Alongside Ayn Rand’s Russian literary roots (see Bryan Karetnyk’s review of Ayn Rand and the Russian Intelligentsia by Derek Offord, October 21) we might taxonomize her Austrian economic pollinations. Ludwig von Mises told Henry Hazlitt, to Rand’s delight, that she was “the most courageous man in America”. Mises’s apostle Murray Rothbard wrote to her that Atlas Shrugged was “one of the greatest achievements the human mind has ever produced”.
Mises and Rothbard wrote treatises almost as long as Atlas Shrugged, deducing from axioms a universal science of human action, “praxeology”. Mises worded his elaborate abstractions with meticulous precision. His sparse footnotes, bookish, elegant and recondite, distil the incandescence in the science and art of fin de siècle Vienna. They alternate with passages of bristling impatience towards all minds of enlightenment insufficient to discern the one true path of laissez-faire.
Rothbard’s roots included individualist anarchism and the anti-New Deal, isolationist “Old Right”. His “anarcho-capitalism” in economics and ethics extends laissez-faire into a replacement of government by the market. Another root lay in boyhood recoil from the 1930s communism of his relatives. In his polemical writings a prophetic millenarian outlook depicts the Industrial Revolution as a “liftoff” point of no return from the immemorial night of obscurantist tyranny. Later he argued that the sharpenings of latter-day failures by a centralized US “welfare-warfare state” exposed threads that, once pulled by cadres of libertarian in Atlas– worthy revolt, would unravel the coercive state.
Today Rothbard’s afterlife can be observed across the diverse strands of a once radical American right that, in these years of storm-cloud paranoia, is becoming more mainstream by the month.
State of disunion
Vernon Bogdanor manages the remarkable feat of not mentioning the Good Friday Agreement at all in his review of three books relating to the possible breakup of the UK (October 28). This bout of amnesia is particularly unfortunate in his ill-considered, intemperate analysis of Brendan O’Leary’s latest book, Making Sense of a United Ireland, because the GFA and its promise of a border poll, with much careful and preparatory work beforehand, is the cornerstone of O’Leary’s argument. He dismisses O’Leary’s book as “a political tract” with mere “trappings of scholarship”. But had he mentioned the 1998 agreement and the overwhelming support for it via referendums in both of Ireland’s jurisdictions, this would have severed the dangerous thrust of Bogdanor’s review of hardline Unionists still have a veto over our choice of governance in Ireland, by the threat of violence.
For example, Bogdanor states that it is a “fantasy” to assume that Unionists will peacefully accept an Ireland “governed by Sinn Féin”. Quite apart from the fact that Unionism in Northern Ireland is now a much broader, ecumenical, pro-European church – another thing not mentioned by Bogdanor – the GFA has already resolved the Irish unity conundrum by guaranteeing that there can be no constitutional change in Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of the people there. Moreover, is he not aware that Unionists sit in council chambers in Northern Ireland with Sinn Féin and other nationalist parties every day of the week, and have already governed Northern Ireland with them?
Na Doirí Beaga, Co Donegal
Oscar Wilde and Tony Bennett
Discussing Oscar Wilde’s tour of America in 1882 (Letters, October 28), Michael Smith writes, “To Sam Ward, brother of the poet Julia Ward Howe, Wilde said: ‘I fell in love five times but I left my heart in San Francisco ‘ (Oscar Wilde, Richard Ellmann, 1984, p203)”. This would be remarkable if true, as it suggests that Tony Bennett’s hit song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, from 1962, owes its title to Wilde, a connection that has never previously been made. When we consult p203 of Ellmann’s biography, however, we find no such quotation. The words that Michael Smith attributes to Wilde turn out to be cobbled together from two different sentences, in both of which, moreover, Ellmann is merely paraphrasing Wilde. According to Ellmann, “Wilde did allow that he had fallen in love five times in the course of his tour”; then, a couple of sentences later, after an item about Wilde’s stopover in Montgomery, Alabama, Ellmann reports, “But he told Sam Ward he had lost his heart in San Francisco.” Notice also that Ellmann uses the word “lost”, not “left”, as Michael Smith has it. Bennett’s song is inescapable in San Francisco (where I was born and raised), but Oscar Wilde doesn’t appear to be owed any songwriting royalties.
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