Housing as a human right

Further to Joe Moran’s excellent review of two books on the housing crisis (July 22), I would wish to make a couple of additional points. First, Moran says “two effects of the financial crash combined catastrophically with one non-effect: house prices and average rents carried on rising”. The figures we usually get for average house prices relate to mortgage lending, and mortgage lenders do not want to see the price of their asset portfolio falling. Immediately after the financial crash, regional data shows that it became much easier to borrow money for a £300,000 flat in London (sustaining the average) than for a £40,000 house in Burnley (eroding the average). Lenders gamed the system to prevent signs of a crash in prices (as happened in the US). Furthermore, the attraction of buy-to-let lending (recorded differently and less regulated) is that the landlord becomes the intermediary between the lenders and the low-income occupants. The lenders don’t have to repossess when the occupants’ income falls, the landlord does. (Lenders learned this after the crash of the early 1990s.)

Second, Moran does not mention (but I’m sure the books do) the punitive “bedroom tax”, which restricted housing-benefit payments for households with more rooms than they were deemed to need. Government tried to mask its housing policy failures by enforcing the eviction of households with a spare bedroom. This policy gave a huge boost to housing insecurity and homelessness. Moran (along with, presumably, the authors) proposes housing as a human right. In housing policy terms, the UK (and particularly Tory England) illustrates the fact that the only rights we have are those the government chooses to give us and support us having. These rights were extensive by the late 1970s and have been tragically eroded ever since. The books Moran reviews presumably tell the human stories of the deliberate removal of those protective rights.

Can I also praise the review itself? Concise, clear and focused on the books under review, rather than telling us what the reviewer knows about the subject. More Joe Moran, please.

Nigel Springs
Marsden, West Yorkshire

Jean Rhys

Like all serious English-language writers of her time, Jean Rhys was up against a restrictive literary regime imposed by what today we might call sensitivity readers, frequently given official recognition as censors. In response, writers might decide to withhold work (EM Forster), publish and be banned (The Well of Loneliness), try their luck abroad (Ulysses) and so on. For many writers, an important part of the life and work interface was the realization that to write what and how you wanted was simply not an option.

It is not a theme in Amber Medland’s interesting review-essay (July 22) that an aspect of Rhys’s style is that she finds ways of dealing with this problem. For example, in Good Morning, Midnight (1939) Rhys makes extended and playful use of one expression that she knows must not be accurately translated: “Qu’est-ce qu’elle fout ici, la vieille?– What the hell (translating it politely) is that old woman doing here? Trusting that the sensitivity reader will not find an unbowdlerized translation – it’s still difficult even today – she then gaily repeats the expression several times, and offers an extended social commentary that includes: “What language, what language! What would Debenham & Freebody say, and what Harvey Nichols?”. It’s all very funny, but it then enables her to reprise the expression right at the end of the book (page 149 in the Penguin edition), where it acquires depth and resonance.

I don’t mean by this to give succour to today’s sensitivity readers. It is to be hoped that the new regime is as deaf to nuance as the old, and writers will be able to find new ways of realizing the wish to be left alone (translating it politely).

Trevor Pateman
Brighton

Pauses

Craig Raine (Afterthoughts, July 15) describes a successful theatrical pause. I would suggest that this is a matter of length. Some years ago I saw a production of Simon Boccanegra in Frankfurt. The curtain opened on the assembled common people of Genoa, standing in complete silence. This was intended to show that the people had no voice.

They stood, and we watched in respectful silence. Then they went on standing, always in silence, while the audience shuffled a bit. Then the standing became more prolonged, and we began to wonder if something had gone wrong on stage or behind the scenes. Our anxiety levels rose. Thankfully, we were rescued by some wit in the audience who yelled “Feuer!”, at which the rest of us collapsed in laughter and the opera began. Not quite what the director hoped for!

Doraine Potts
Maidstone, Kent

Khalil Sakakini

Edward N. Luttwak (Letters, July 15) misrepresents both Nur Masalha’s book Palestine Across Millennia and my review of it (In Brief, June 10). Luttwak suggests the book’s premiss is “that everything that occurred within the borders of British Mandatory Palestine down the millennia is inherently Palestinian in the modern nationalist sense”. On the contrary, Masalha’s book attempts to go beyond twentieth-century nationalisms to recover a more complex and heterodox history of the region, encompassing a wide variety of traditions and faiths.

Luttwak’s comments on Khalil Sakakini distort the historical record. Sakakini was not a “vehement Nazi sympathizer”. As the historian Jens Hanssen has pointed out: “On over three thousand printed pages [of Sakakini’s diaries], Germany is barely mentioned thirty times and Hitler not even ten times”. Many scholars, Israelis included, have honored Sakakini’s varied scholarship and his work as a teacher, in which he was admired by Jewish students as well as those of other faiths.

Tom Sperlinger
Bristol

Edward N. Luttwak’s corrective on Khalil Sakakini is appreciated, but he is mistaken in saying Palestinian national identity did not develop “substantively” until after 1919. This is, at best, an outdated view. In 1997 Rashid Khalidi published his magnum opus, Palestinian Identity, in which he traced the emergence of national consciousness in Palestine to the late Ottoman era. This has been largely confirmed by subsequent scholarship. Of particular interest are Louis Fishman’s excellent article on the 1911 Haram al-Sharif incident (Journal ofPalestineStudies, Vol. 34, Issue 3) and Zachary Foster’s highly readable and exhaustive doctoral dissertation on “The Invention of Palestine” (Princeton University, 2017).

Abe Silberstein
New York

Gianni Alemanno

The former mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, is anything but “centre-left” (see Esmé O’Keeffe’s review of The Passenger: Rome, In Brief, July 8). His resumé includes service (and multiple arrests) in the youth wing of the neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano, its successor the Alleanza Nazionale, the center-right Popolo della Libertà and the right-wing/far-right Fratelli d’Italia. He was a minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s government between 2001 and 2006.

Alexander Booth
Berlin

‘Her Last Case’

Anne Margaret Daniel (July 15) writes that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Her Last Case” is difficult to get hold of. In July 2018 I purchased Amazon’s Kindle edition of all Fitzgerald’s works (including “Her Last Case”) for US 99c. From what I can make out, this offer is extant.

Raymond Aronson
Tel Aviv

Et in Arcadia

According to Jonathan Bate, in his fine review of A History of Arcadia in Art and Literature (July 15), the author and publisher Paul Holberton “shies away from same-sex love”. This is particularly surprising, given that Holberton has chosen to name the imprint under which the book appears “Ad Ilissvm”, an allusion to Plato’s Phedrus. In that dialogue Socrates and his younger companion take shelter from the summer heat in a locus amoenus Besides the Ilissus river (which is what “Ad Ilissvm” means) to discuss a speech by the orator Lysias that is, in effect, an instruction manual on how to seduce a boy.

David Sanson
Charlottesville VA

Canadian bilingualism

Mathieu Thomas (Letters, June 17) suggests that the practice of addressing an audience in both of Canada’s official languages, rather than being “official Canadian style”, is restricted to Montreal and not found outside Quebec. I will not dispute his assertion that the “burden of Canadian bilingualism falls disproportionately on the shoulders of French-speakers”, but I would point out that the adjacent province of New Brunswick is (unlike Quebec) officially and in practice bilingual. It is common for politicians, and others addressing New Brunswick audiences, to do so in both of Canada’s official languages.

Tony Diamond
Stanley, New Brunswick

Secularity

Anne Nelson, in her review of four books on economics (July 15), says: “While the ‘Jewish-connected’ population has remained relatively stable at 2–3 per cent of the total, American Jews have become increasingly secular – more than 40 per cent of married spouses have a non-Jewish spouse. Intermarriage is perhaps a barometer of Jewish identity, but not a barometer of secularity. I am a practising Roman Catholic married to a Reconstructionist congregational rabbi; we are anything but secular. Similarly, there’s a fast-growing segment of Jews in America who have been raised by intermarried couples representing two religious traditions, and, as a friend puts it in her recent book on the subject, are “being both”. They too are anything but secular.

Jon M. Sweeney
Milwaukee WI

Who’s in, who’s out

Reading Terry Eagleton’s parenthetical agreement with Geoff Dyer – “he is rightly unenthused by Wodehouse” (July 1) – I felt as did Bertie Wooster’s redoubtable Aunt Dahlia: “She rose, and moved restlessly to the mantelpiece. I could see that she was looking for something to break as a relief to her surging emotions – what Jeeves would have called a palliative – and courteously drew her attention to a terra-cotta figure of the Infant Samuel at Prayer. She thanked me briefly, and hurled it against the opposite wall” (The Code of the Woosters, 1928).

Alan Drewsen
New York NY

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