PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Kei Millerthe Fat Black Woman
In Praise of the Fat Black Woman & Volume

(PN Review 241)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Next Issue Beverley Bie Brahic, after Leopardi's 'Broom' Michael Freeman Benefytes and Consolacyons Miles Burrows At Madame Zaza’s and other poems Victoria Kenefick Hunger Strike Hilary Davies Haunted by Christ
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
Monthly Carcanet Books
PN Review Blog
Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

Letters
DEAR EDITORS: Michael Schmidt's editorial in PNR 62 described the experience in France last year of the Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. As this account has come to serve as a reference for those interested in understanding the Finlay Affair it is necessary to rectify some of the errors which it contains. I was introduced as a Canadian 'who received Finlay's support when I was about to be deported from France'. Schmidt then went on to claim that I 'had committed a "forgery" by fragmenting and mistranslating certain passages from Finlay's private letters' to me.

The idea that I was ever under consideration for expulsion by the French authorities is nonsense. At Mr Finlay's initiative, we collaborated for several years on a project which was last exhibited during the autumn, 1987, at the Foundation Cartier. Along with my other professional activities as a sculptor, this work, my involvement in which was confirmed to the organizers of the exhibition by Finlay at my request, helped me to acquire a residency permit. The exhibition gave rise to a professional dispute over the proper crediting of our collaboration. This conflict, though not unusual in the arts, rapidly degenerated into a violent, personal attack on me which Finlay, himself, publicized from the start by openly circulating copies of two of his letters.

The shift away from professional considerations began when Finlay explicitly announced that in his view there was an animosity between us which was innate and perhaps based on race. For me his subsequent remarks only confirmed his suggestion. Finlay has been quoted repeatedly in the press since last spring (Les Nouvelles de Versailles, March 30, 1988; Art Press, April 1988; Galeries magazine, April 1988; Lys Rouge, May 1988; the Jewish Chronicle, May 20, 1988; Digraphe, June 1988; Le Croix, August 27, 1988; Artension, October 1988). With respect to the translations, only one word has ever been contested. For those who had already begun to pose questions about his use of Nazi symbols his declarations inevitably came as a disturbing revelation.

Schmidt's approach is nowhere more apparent than when he claimed that 'Art Press charged Finlay with anti-semitism' and misleadingly presented as their reason Finlay's correspondence with Albert Speer. In my view Art Press did not charge Finlay with anti-semitism. However, they, as well as Galeries magazine, did quote his correspondence with me.

Although Schmidt relied heavily on a letter from a civil servant named Dominique Bozo, his French is evidently poor. There was nothing in this letter to support the accusation that I produced a 'forgery'. Bozo acknowledging awareness of the correspondence, specifically declined to comment on its tone and contents. When he wrote of the circulation of extracts he never gave any examples of who or what he was talking about. He did, however, point out that many French citizens sensitive to 'manifestations of anti-Semitism' were unavoidably shocked by Finlay's language. At the end of his letter Bozo clearly stated that given the existence of the writings it was Finlay's responsibility to face up to his detractors and explain himself.

Notwithstanding Bozo's ambiguous personal attitude, his insinuation that I knew the correspondence was innocent was made without authority and without evidence. There is nothing in my exchanges with Finlay to suggest that I ever considered his remarks innocent. Nor was Bozo's assessment shared by many of his own compatriots. A committee, organized at Bozo's instigation prior to the eruption of the public controversy, was reported to have concluded that Finlay's candidature for the celebration of the Bicentenary of the Declaration of Human Rights was ill advised (Le Monde, March 23 and 27, 1988; Les Nouvelles de Versailles, March 30, 1988; Art Press, April 1988). Rather than mention this committee and its conclusions in his letter, Bozo preferred to season his account with groundless allusions about me and others.

I regard it as ironic to read in dispatches from Finlay's residence, 'Little Sparta', that the man who believed racial animosity was a factor in a conflict over moral rights should now portray himself as the victim of a 'violently racist' campaign in 'Occupied Paris 1988'. In what Finlay supporters have dubbed the 'Dreyfus case in reverse', his closest collaborator has alleged that Finlay was the victim of racial prejudice 'as an Aryan' (Alexander Stoddart, Art Monthly, June 1988).

Schmidt, obviously taken with Finlay's cultural insights, concluded his article be denouncing as a manifestation of anti-semitism the behaviour of those who condemned Finlay. He made a point of informing the reader that Finlay is represented in France by one of the lawyers who represented the victims of Klaus Barbie. Schmidt is probably unaware that this same lawyer became notorious some forty years ago, as one of a group who tried unsuccessfully to discredit a man named Kravchenko for exposing the truth about Stalinist Russia.
Jonathan Hirschfeld

DEAR EDITORS: Having a somewhat curious religious background which has taken me from Christian Fundamentalism into Buddhism, and hence into inter-faith dialogues of one sort or another, the voice of David Jasper (PNR 64) is one I've come to recognize amongst some Christian spokespeople - it's by no means as uncommon as he would have us believe. It is the voice of a certain type of public man who has become so used to playing games with words that he can no longer distinguish between his own language-produced world and the pragmatic shifts the majority of us make to get through ours. In other words I found his attitude impractical and deeply dishonest. What he suggests as a means of facing the hard saying of Mark 4:10-12 no more does so than those others whose approach he decries and appears to be a mere linguistic device for 'losing oneself in O Altitudo'. If, in fact, he would actually read the whole text, as he counsels us to do but appears not to have done himself, he might have come up with far less far-fetched conclusions.

To begin with, one asks what the author's attention might be. He does not state it overtly although Luke, writing later, mentions that 'Many writers have undertaken to draw up an account of the events that have happened among us, following the traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses' and states that his own 'connected narrative' is written for its dedicatee 'so as to give you authentic knowledge about the matters of which you have been informed'. All narrative is 'fictional' in Jasper's sense, he seems to say, but the more realistic detail there is to fill it out, the more real it becomes. Every writer has his own particular slant, however, and the more we come to recognize this the more we make allowances for his 'fictional' version. In Mark's case he is interested in the way the career of Jesus fits prophecy and in fact seems particularly fond of Isaiah. The Gospel account opens with a citation from him; one of the last prophetical citations (15:28, only according to some witnesses, says my NEB translation) is also from Isaiah. It would not be surprising, therefore, that Mark should be impressed by Jesus' citing a passage from Isaiah in his 'difficult saying' and, what is more, giving that passage all of its original weight. I fail to see why Jasper is so dismissive of Jeremiahs' discussion of the passage. It seems very much in line with the 'fictional' reading he suggests. What is more, the NEB version inserts a bracketed 'as Scripture says' at this point, although this appears neither in the AV nor in that which Jasper quotes (unacknowledged, why?).

If we look at the actual context in which Jesus comes to make this statement (commenting on the parable of the sower) we find that it follows shortly after derogatory remarks made of his mission by the religious authorities. In terms of the narrative, Jesus is doing what Iron Curtain poets do when they feel themselves under siege, retreating into metaphor and symbol which are open enough for those with 'ears to hear'. That this phrase was seized on by Gnostics and the apparent attitude of Jesus at a certain crisis taken as license for a wholesale esoteric reading of his teaching for the chosen few is what has turned this passage into a stumbling block for later ages. What does not seem to have occurred to readers, if to keep his teaching restricted to a chosen few for all time, is that Mark is putting his privileged discipleship to remarkably strange use by proceeding immediately to reveal the code. The fact that Mark is doing so and that Jasper has neglected to consider this very significant fact invalidates the whole of his argument, even as we follow his advice in reading the text exactly as it stands without appeals outside it. Circumstances have obviously changed and Mark is merely informing us why what is now open to all was at one time partially concealed. I suspect that if Jesus had foreseen the kind of mystification Jasper and his ilk would be offering in place of his straight-forward teaching he would have included literary critics among those who 'receive the seed among thistles'! There is, in fact, a Zen saying which exactly parallels this situation and makes it clear that such mystifications are by no means confined to Christian exegesis - The Buddha opened his golden mouth, and ever since the world has been choked with briars and thorns.
Yann Lovelock

This item is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image