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This report is taken from PN Review 113, Volume 23 Number 3, January - February 1997.

No Shortage of Questions Lawrence Sail

There are various ways of imposing or achieving silence. One of the most effective that I have encountered was the work of a guest at a rather pretentious drinks party who, declining the canapés and asked whether any other food might be preferable, declared with serious and voluble enthusiasm that a jam sandwich would be just the thing. Recently, while attending the meeting of a jury considering a number of European books (poetry and prose) for a prize, I encountered another method, which seemed almost as effective initially. 'What is meant,' someone asked, taking up a phrase from the description of the award, 'by "a work of European significance"?'

The ensuing silence was impressive enough to make the suggestions which followed it sound somewhat tentative. Somebody spoke of 'the European tradition starting with Shakespeare'. Somebody else felt that 'durability' had a part to play. 'Diversity' was offered as a third contribution. I found myself thinking, not very helpfully, of that extraordinary stage direction in The Dynasts: 'The nether sky opens, and Europe is disclosed as a prone and emaciated figure, the Alps shaping like a backbone, and the branching mountain-chains like ribs, the peninsular plateau of Spain forming a head'. While not necessarily accepting Hardy's geotectonic anatomy, we might well agree on a description of the continent as extending eastward from the eastern shores of the north Atlantic as far as the Urals, following down the Volga, then through the Bosphorus and westward along the Mediterranean to ...


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