What he called the ‘ineluctable infantilism of faith’ I was less reconciled to. But I loved him so I went along. He would usually wear this foodstained jacket with epaulettes and come out with, ‘I like neither Scaliger’ quite haughtily, or ‘Britain’s claim I won’t rescind’ to annoy you. And fall to momentary emphases—one day ‘hybridity’, another ‘trash-talk’—never bearing them out; it being the contrariness of the adoption that counted. The label ‘intellectual’ he found anathema. What fired him up was, he’d say, the ‘earthly’ written word. He was on the edge of arrogance, charming you, always like this.

The fact was he loved dictionaries. Something of ‘the bare grammar’. Whatever philosophical tangle came up it wasn’t a pseudo-problem so much as definitional—of the unclarity intrinsic to the medium as evolved. Which is how he would have put it. I won’t say his personality was fancy, but liking as he did to call religion ‘that recurrently demanded apology for the constitutive’ he could tend to alienate, even with those pitying eyes. I suppose because he embodied it he wasn’t the best advertisement for what he thought. I hung around initially for lack of conversation.

He especially as I remember hated its making evil mercy. The world’s passive to god’s active.

He was overweight anyway, it wasn’t as if in his case the Universe had split the winnings. Letitia would tease him for having breasts. It was his way to scoff but he wasn’t unfit, not at all. That’s why he could enlist. The swimming he did eventually gave him soft loping biceps, though the belly stayed.

One morning I said it looked like a hair-bomb had been ‘exploded somewhere in the vicinity’ of his face, and he said (I felt rather feebly): Yes, the mops want liberation. He never was funny.




Oxford Poetry
08 has arrived. Christopher Ricks hastily but hugely enjoyed it; Landfill Press call ours the best BritPo critical section of the year. Click for cover and contents. If youre in Oxford, Cambridge or London, copies are available at Blackwells, Heffers and the London Review Bookshop. There are two alternatives: you can fill in this order form and send a cheque, or you can pay online with PayPal.


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Retraction. Alex Bubb
s essay Caught in the old ladys trap was totally rewritten by the editors, so cannot be said to reflect his views.

Clarification. Hester Lees-Jeffries
notice Something eschewed’ was edited to include phrases that Dr Lees-Jeffries neither wrote nor consented to. These are, with emendations italicised:

125. Shakespeare’s Poems eschews the more traditional introduction / Shakespeare’s Poems discards [...]
127. Less hampered by space, Duncan-Jones and Woudhuysen perhaps have a slight edge over Burrow in the fullness of their notes. / Less hampered by constraints of space [...]
127. Anthony Wells-Cole and others / [...] (and others)
127. (which the editors touch on, p. 38, and in their commentary) / (which the editors touch on by introduction and in commentary)
127. (The standard argument used the justify modernisation, that Shakespeare’s poems would not have looked ‘quaint’ to Shakespeare’s first readers, is of course fallacious: Chaucer’s, for example, published fewer years before his time than his before ours, may well have. This argument forgets history.)


From an Old Essay

Came upon this during Finals revision.

I distrust these ‘at once’ statements as much as any other sensible middle-class bloke. They are consistently an annoyance in Ricks. One room cannot be dark and light; a ball cannot be light and heavy; according to Ricks, though, hyphens in poems can at once pull to and push apart. Ricks is wrong—hyphens only link where a whitespace had divided. They mark juncture; the syntactic or whimsical roping-together of words unpartnered, rather like the ‘yoking’ Johnson perceives is characteristic of Metaphysical poetry. He can get away with it because most assertions about literature are insulated from any true procedure of proof. Sure, you can prove irrefutably facts about what happens in a text, like Nabokov in his Lectures (it’s arguable this is scholarship, not criticism), but in stating a view more numinous like ‘This hyphen at once attracts and repels’, all you can do is quote the hyphen and see if anyone believes you. Such quotation does not constitute ‘evidence’ any more than quoting the words ‘silken tent’ constitutes evidence for Paul Muldoon’s idea that ‘cunt’ is hidden there by Frost. To my mind, the hyphens in ‘now-almost-meaningless despair’ (last words of King Log’s wondrous ‘Arrurruz’ sequence) do nothing other than conflate those three words into a newly meaningful hybrid. (And is it beside the point that they improve the rhythm?) Omitting the hyphens would have put them apart. Simply because the effect works within the domain of literature, it cannot be said at once to have achieved contradictory aims. Maybe on second reading it seemed the hyphens were doing more than uniting. That’s fine, but it annuls Ricks’ sly ‘at once’. If I were to push and pull a door at the same time, I would break the laws of physics, probably disappearing into a self-conceived black hole. Is literature so rarefied, so abstract and so closely reined to the intellect, that it need not obey these laws?


Sketch of Spin

Spin is nothing new. A metaphor which so comfortably settled into the language that calling it cliché would be redundant, the word is a vibrant Englishing of ancient means and ideas of persuasion. When used precisely, it is synonymous with ‘rhetoric’ as used colloquially; it denotes a class of rhetoric that would use language to shade facts that, bare of such tuned language, we would perceive either more positively or more negatively. How distinguishable is this from lying must be decided case by case, but the generalisation that spin is a form of deception (not the same as lying) is a safe one, because it is quite transparently a form of deception—that is, such is conceded by everyone who affects the responses of others to facts by spinning them in communication. What in politics is called ‘spin’ is a universally known and used tool of living, which needn’t entail the making of ‘linguistic choices’ where ordinary selection, or ‘selectivity’, will suffice. Choices about saying are, unambiguously, choices about doing, and it’s these choices—those of simply not saying what would cause difficulty if said—that constitute spin’s least ‘linguistic’ mode; in this extent spin becomes an ethic.

‘It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors’ expenses?’
Email sent by Jo Moore, special adviser to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, an hour after the destruction of the World Trade Centre

Jo Moore was not subject to open scorn, and then sacked, for couching the bad news about councillors’ expenses in emollient terms. Rather, what sank her was the choice mooted to release the news at a certain time. In a very recent speech, Tony Blair complains

Frequently the problem is as much assembling the facts as giving them. Make a mistake and you quickly transfer from drama into crisis. In the 1960s the government would sometimes, on a serious issue, have a Cabinet lasting two days.

It would be laughable to think you could do that now without the heavens falling in before lunch on the first day. Things harden within minutes. I mean you can’t let speculation stay out there for longer than an instant.*

Burying news under the ruins of the Twin Towers is a brutish way of ‘assembling the facts’, and it exemplifies spin as palpably as Blair’s choice of that dainty gerund to describe it. Daniel Finkelstein comments, after quoting the passage above,


Obviously, his reply would be that the resulting coverage would be awful. But does this matter? Nowhere near as much as he thinks it does.

This was the key sentence in the entire speech, because interesting though it was, it shows a weakness in Mr Blair – a tendency to take one’s own press cuttings too seriously.

The ethic of spin prioritises the reaction of others over the intrinsic justice of one’s decisions and truth of one’s beliefs; so ingrained is it in Blair’s mentality that he betrays its influence even when assaying criticism of the forces which he blames for causing it.* Thus is the blurring, which now verges on absolute identification, of politics with spin. Consider these book titles: Sultans of Spin: Media and the New Labour Government, Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. Could the mere exercise of linguistic choice to reflect or embody ideological stance, which after all has been characteristic of politics forever, have occasioned such automatic endorsement of the view that modern politics and spin are equivalent? No, what encourages the assumption is the problem now that spin is an industry, is praxis; it is modus vivendi of all successful politicians because the medium by whose control success is achieved is the medium of perception, not of action—and power is power over perception. Politicians have militarised their self-representation in answer to the media’s own militarisation (several 24-hour news channels, instant distribution, everything filmed), and in the discourse of war, fact, truth, is subordinate to what wins.

*Earlier in the speech: ‘In the analysis I am about to make, I first acknowledge my own complicity. We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defence, after 18 years of Opposition and the, at times, ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative.’


One Reflection on Solipsism Prompted by Professor Hill's 'Tacit Pledges'

Excepting playschool stuff, I'm ignorant of the philosophical context, so it's likely I've been anticipated / in anticipation refuted. Nevertheless—

We cannot know there is something outside ourselves. Yet the concept of an 'outside' to self derives from the very illusion which, if there is nothing outside ourselves, disguises this nothing. Does the concept of a self derive so too? Does something which is not the self invent or impose or entail the self, making solipsism the tautological truth it is?

It is not only a belief that there is an outside to the self (which is the solipsistic fact), but also it is a belief that there is an outside counterposed. For why should it not be that there is only outside, and the self is illusion? I suggest a modification of solipsism: I can only know there is this; not that, positing else, this is in else or (even) in relation to else. And I cannot know there is else. Neither can I know that this is not what this would have me assume else is. I only experience this, and because I do not and cannot even know whether there is an else to it, I do not and cannot know it. In this I only can believe in this.


The Peculiarity of Areté

Craig Raine writes entertaining criticism, and it entertains rather as a fictional trial — Anatomy of a Murder, or the TV series Shark — entertains. I hedge with ‘rather’ because Raine gives us half a trial: the prosecuting counsel, his witnesses, their interrogations and the judgement. Proceedings proceed without defence or jury, and you kind of know whos going to win.

The recent Areté, Issue 24 (I’ve been following since 17), is something of a family affair, with contributions from Nine Raine and Raine’s wife (my wonderful teacher), an interview with Robert Craft that we presume Raine conducted, and an essay on Margaret Atwood, by Raine but published under obvious alias* (no doubt to add flavour to the contents page). I don’t criticise the nepotism, because I’ve an inkling how hard it is to find good critical prose (let alone poetry), and I’ve no concern with Atwood, whose Oryx and Crake I read like a thriller, forgetting everything but the sci-fi visions for which I’ve a manly weakness, and reading whose Empson Lectures, Negotiating with the Dead, felt like an enactment of its title.

What bothers me is Raine’s cattiness. Making a point, he tends to begin with embattled patience, the unworded tonal claim of adjourned scepticism (e.g. ‘Paulin was keen to promote the centrality of scansion and subtle aural echoes in the life of poems. Harriet Harvey-Wood was quick to intervene’), which has the sound of a lawyer with quiet sarcasm laying out a case he means to dismantle. And in this ‘Our Bold’ it’s a just dismantling. Unfortunate, then, that its anonymous writer ends with:

You might have expected Paulin to point [Harvey-Wood’s scanning mistake] out. But he was too polite. He is known for his politeness – nearly as famous for that as for his ear.

How does this square with Areté’s motto?

The great men of culture have laboured to divest knowledge of all that was harsh, uncouth, difficult, abstract, professional, exclusive […].

This ‘Our Bold’ divests knowledge of Harvey-Wood’s ‘uncouth’ error, but invests to conclude in an ad hominem irrelevancy, whose harsh and ugly sarcasm I hope editor Raine did not mistake for wit.

The issue’s second ‘Our Bold’, ‘Hombre di Muchos Dientes’ (‘Man of Many Teeth’, I think), tries out on James Wood the same sequence of judo moves. There is patient arrangement of evidence (‘But we are getting ahead of ourselves’), then cursory summing-up. As ever in Areté, quotation is generous:

Wood [in his New Yorker review of Exit Ghost] set out to praise the late prose style of Roth as ‘spare, pragmatic prose’. He contrasted this with the early, ‘literary’ prose, ‘with its tidy images and plush images sewn in the right places’. His example of ‘plush images’ came from The Anatomy Lesson (1984), the description of a cancer patient: ‘There was a hole in her cheek the size of quarter. Through it Zuckerman could see her tongue as it nervously skittered about inside her mouth. The jawbone itself was partially exposed, an inch of it as white and clean as enamel tile.’ We think this is ‘spare, pragmatic prose’. The similes are not striking. They will do. Wood finds rather ‘Flaubertian precision and coolness’ – a verdict we could go along with, were it not that Wood’s argument also requires the three sentences to be ‘literary’.

I hope you can hear the tone I’ve tried to describe. It’s hard to catch: teacherly, by its method of offering (‘we could go along’) and reservation (‘were it not’) haughty perhaps, clipped; with spice of condescension. But the point itself is underargued: for in his eagerness to project a tone, the writer poses past several questions that needed addressing. Is not ‘Flaubertain precision’ ‘literary’, for example? Is not ‘skittered about’ — though not a simile, there’s no reason to limit discussion to similes — striking, and incidentally cannot ‘spare’ prose be striking? Does not Wood’s quotation exemplify very well his own definition of ‘literary’, which is ‘tidy images […] sewn in the right places’, with ‘as white and clean as enamel tile’? Does the writer therefore dissent from Wood’s definition?

It gets worse.

When Wood comes to the latest prose of Exit Ghost, the new plainness, apparently, also manifests ‘subtle poetry’ – ‘by using ordinary words in unexpected ways, or by mobilising cliché. Here is Wood’s example: a retired man in Florida is ‘a suntanned little endurer with steel-grey hair [their bold]’. Wow.

Wood, who is more suggestible than most, reads this dull sentence and sees ‘this Floridian in all his wrinkled longevity’. Well, Roth did make rather a thing about his skin tone.

This manifests, in ‘apparently’ and ‘Wow’, sarcasm that’s unsubtle to adolescent degree (‘Not!’). ‘Wow’ and ‘dull’ are all we get by way of evaluative comment in a piece that explicitly criticises another critic’s way with evaluative comment. The writer betrays himself dead to connotation. It actually supports Wood’s point to imply there’s nothing in Roth’s sentence that literally denotes wrinkled skin. If the brilliance of ‘little endurer’ is lost on him, I’m at a loss to explain it. But, gnomic in kind, I’ll dole this out: literature is what you don’t say.

To quote the rest:

Wood’s other example is a phrase describing a young rival: ‘savage with health and armed to the teeth with time.’ You may think this is run-of-the-mill, undistinguished, frankly slack.

Well, disabuse yourselves. James Wood can explain how this is ‘wonderful’. ‘It is wonderful to take the cliché “armed to the teeth” and combine it with the abtract word “time”, producing a hovering suggestion of a second cliché, this one having to do with old age, being “long in the tooth”. In this novel, and in this phrase, short in the tooth means long in the tooth.’ Wood’s own prose here is talking briskly, amplifying itself, refusing questions, talking over possible objections. Questions like ‘what would “short in the tooth” mean?’

Wow. ‘You may think’? I don’t think; you could persuade me, but — slackly? — you haven’t tried. (‘[R]un-of-the-mill’ may be an ‘unmobilised’ cliché.) It’s extraordinary how Areté’s second-last sentence describes its own piece, indeed itself, with ideal aptitude. I wouldn’t even defend Wood here: the reading is far-fetched and, yes, too ‘suggestible’ (‘armed to the teeth’ is mobilised by nothing but alliteration [‘with time’], which Roth loves and for whose sake he drags in the cliché). Inexplicably however Areté gives us, in mooted criticism, a rhetorical question whose answer is clear. Why, ‘short in the tooth’ would mean ‘young’ like Richard Kliman, who is ‘savage with health’.

Somewhere in Wood’s new book, How Fiction Works, he writes:

You have only to teach literature to realise that most young readers are poor noticers. I know from my own old books, wantonly annotated twenty years ago when I was a student, that I routinely underlined for approval details and images and metaphors details that strike me now as commonplace, while serenely missing things that now seem wonderful.

While from Areté 24 we learn that ‘Close reading […] can expose the close reader’s frailties.’ Perhaps the close reading which this ‘Our Bold’ conducts has exposed what its writer tends, serenely or sarcastically, to miss.

*I say this ignobly to cover up my oafishness here: I googled ‘Anne Elias’ and her institution, ‘the University of Featherstone, Ohio’, in every variant, realising the oversight only when a correspondent pointed it out.


PITCH endorse

Were those tenterhooks starting to sting? Apologies, readers, but when as much is riding on your preference as on ours, to decide conclusively the angle of your dangle is tricky, and the decision to advertise that decision trickier still.

It took something wonderful to dislodge us, Library of America Hart Crane and all, off the drystone wall of vacillation — to push us arse-first into certainty's well.

On Saturday, during his Jefferson-Jackson Dinner speech, which was at the same time a victory speech and a condensed recital of policy, Mr Obama said:

We also have to make sure we are not having teachers teach to the test, because I want our students learning art and music and science and poetry and all the things that make an education worthwhile.

Poetry's no afterthought here. Mr Obama incants his list in rousing crescendo: therefore I take it
it is rhetorically implied that the first importance of poetry in his pledge finds recognition by its ultimate place.

With this in mind the PITCH review, formerly indeed a blog of conservative allegiance, endorses the cause and resolves to assist the campaign of Mr Barack Obama. Raus, versifiers, and sing him to his seat!

Edit. Via MSNBC, we read:

Tom Buffenbarger president of the machinists' union (International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers) was the the latest in a string of Clinton junkyard dogs unleashed upon Obama.

[...] Channeling Howard Beale from the movie Network, he yelled into the microphone, "Give me a break! I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius- driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine. He's a poet, not a fighter."

It's true Pushkin died in a duel. But what of Hart Crane, and the fussing gendarmes he lamped, before one conked him with cowardly baton?

If Buffenbarger's poetry is articulacy, and entails a faculty to win arguments with feelings (the power to combine two senses of the verb, 'affect'), Hillary Clinton is perhaps discovering that such is all too earthly a weapon.


Bringing Up Shandy

There’s a treble-volumed pikestaff—sitting bleary at my laptop, I said—There’s a … pikestaff, and Johnston, if truth is what you’re betting for, will remember—but there’s a point, for what is memory but a mangle of mis-stitches and invented patterns on the throw of life!—Johnston, scorecard pictured, biro poised, will remember the trails (less beaten, the better) and corner-bushels of that higglety-pigglety Garden of a work, no doubt, all the clearer, for the fresh acreage of Time, between that moment when it is her folly to undertake—out of necessity, or dearth of copper—the reckoning-up of such garbled finicking as I am lucky to emit, and the moment when, yet unencumbered by the broken coils and weave of matted scales which it is any Scholar’s fate at one never-expected point—and let us not mis-take, by which hopscotcher word I mean take awry, the expression—to have dumped, without ado, on her head, Johnston, never-expecting as she was—if I may say this (Chancellor, Principal) without aiming the remark ill, and hitting, square, as it were, in the side, those pious among us who vet rather the gestures of a tongue, than a fist—in what it is handy to entitle her Prelapsarian condition, first had dumped on a head (no ado, & I’m sure) then buoyant with teacherly lauds, that which it is all scholars’ fate, &c.; whereas in my (to remint the coin) pre-Shandean nonage, I was, through my youth-long, and unsalutary, immersion in the mudbath answers to Culture (querulously, querulously wailed, on behalf of poets—(born not MFA’d) for they are too busy with versifying—by their shoeless agents) in our Sceptred Jail, today, shall we propose, under-equipped and certes unprepared—but I see, in default of foresight, to my small regret, these phrases want diverse complements (the one there, being not, I believe, identical, if similar to in brevity as well as in sense, the other), in the way of preposition, so must reboot—by upbringing impoverished as the gambler’s kin, and by a near-sighted husbandry, perhaps, mal-equipped, in parts as in mind, swiftly to swallow so giant, so lofty, so all-things-comprehending, but tinily perfect, too, so burgundy wondrous a curtain of tragedy’s stage, as that oblong resource of neverless pith, to whose Noun pertains the attribute Shandean, such that I, shiftless blatherskite whom I am—no thoughts I can put a botched signature to but those which stutter, I lust, I hope, I sting, I retire, I bury—last infinitely better than I know it, can copy its force.


Two Arses

Here the PITCH review presents the two arses of (ordered by
priority) infrequent guest contributor, novelist, screenwriter
and poet, Paul T. Abbott.

Ars poetica

1) Description does not replace thought.
2) Don’t censor out the details.
3) Intelligent metaphor.
4) The line-as-a-unit.
5) Struggling to recreate an iambic pentametre.
6) What the scholars would call, “colloquial syntax and lexis”.
7) Assimilation of adverts and commodified sales-language.

Ars prosaica (forgive dog-Latin)

1) Pithy axioms of distorted cliche, relevant to a character.
2) Situational comedy, at everyone’s expense.
3) Blockbusting ACTION, often digressed from.
4) Deadpan one-sentence paragraphs.
5) No villains and no heroes.
6) Very short chapters, ending with a punchline.
7) Non-sequential narrative which omits climactic resolution.



In the camp that day fifty of them

There is in you small fault
Such advice as I have
Continue, children, with the arguments

Essentially there is a rapidly
Go-getters tonight feel strong to risk
What, that doesn’t add up?
In the grave tibias, a skullfragment used as a hat

Silence of the desert is holding
Their man, sure he would not run out, wasted time
For snow hurried, livid having waited
The river ran grey

A coalfaced
How was it feasible to dispose
In muted, muted light
There is a phase of love, when

The tinnitus of spine
Or stop what you are doing
Come, live with us, we can feed and clothe
On top form, even the academies bored

It is so easy to stumble upon
Very much to ask
By science truth’s contingent
Though at a slow rate, most

And flickering, a green flame
Over the bridge a taskforce
We do not know the grief of
I am only here


Alan Bennett, Radical

or, Question for an Ethicist

I’d never given Bennett much thought. Having never read him, to me he was tea-cosy, Establishment. I knew he’d done a successful play about sixth-formers applying to Oxbridge, Talking Heads, that ancient and originary revue Beyond the Fringe; but I’d never seen any of it. Imagine therefore my surprise:

2 August. Chris Langham is found guilty of downloading child pornography, and remanded for sentencing next month, having been told to expect jail. To imprison someone for looking at or making a copy of something makes me uneasy, even though, as in this case, the facts are not in dispute. And not merely with pornography. Last month some Muslim young men were imprisoned for, among other things, looking at or having in their possession a handbook with bomb-making instructions. That makes me uneasy too. Looking is not doing however much a police-led morality would like to equate the two, and would like the public to equate them also. Repellent though child pornography is, I don’t find Mr Langham’s conduct especially repugnant and am only grateful when I read about such cases that my own inclinations don’t take me down that route. I don’t know Chris Langham but I find the policy of targeting such high-profile figures deplorable, the relish with which they are pursued in the tabloid press chilling. I hope that Mr Langham gets a short sentence and that he will not become the pariah the authorities would like, and that the BBC, not in these days noted for its courage, will shortly re-employ him.

This is from his diary-like piece (‘-like’ because it is written with a view to publication, so without the filth) in the year-end LRB, ‘What I Didn’t Do in 2007’. And I’m grateful for it. Seldom are polemical ideas put across with such relaxed eloquence, and concision. It makes a nice foil to the commentarian’s hot head — even if Mr Bennett misses that Mr Langham was doing more than looking. I’ve always found the argument iffy that in viewing child-pornographic images a paedophile partakes of abuse (about as iffy as the one that says that in so doing he defuses his desire). But the argument that in paying for it, which is I believe what Langham did and how a police-led morality was able catch up on its work of judgement, the paedophile subsidises abuse, is hard to demur to. What’s morally difficult here and what I’d thank Mr Bennett for bringing up is just this question of inclination. For wouldn’t the ‘chilling’ tabloids have us accept that — looking and doing aside — being attracted to children, on top of its repellence and repugnance, is immoral? How far can we say it is? This is the crux. Ought the discoveries of science, my ignorance of which I’ll confess straight up, if they suggest that as with hetero- or homosexuality paedophilia is more a matter of gravity (Bennett’s suppositious ‘inclinations’) than a ‘route’ which is chosen, to form our moral opinions here? I don’t know. I don’t know if fancying kids is wrong.

Bennett’s shtick is deflation. He is quick to concede he mightn’t look eminent through another’s eyes, that what claims to exception he might be allowed are anyway low-profile. He traipses places.

7 July. The same week as I traipsed across North Yorkshire the Guardian has a piece by Terry Eagleton saying that of all the eminent writers and playwrights only Pinter continues radical and untainted by the Establishment. I’m not sure if this means that in Eagleton’s view I don’t qualify because of my absence of eminence or because such protests as I take part in are too sporadic and low-profile to be noticed. Either way if I had email I could send him or the Guardian a one-word message: ‘Ahem.’

He raises the possibilities of eminence and of radicalism, only to withhold their assertion with a swift ‘Either way’, to make do with the shy, unradical ‘Ahem’, and its English tone of apology. Yet he is a famous, rich dramatist and a bestselling writer of prose. Would he be either of those things if he bellowed his radicalism like Pinter? If he boasted eminence? The reason his shtick works can only be that Bennett's conviction of radicalism is real: we assent to it when we find the act funny. If behind the traipsing and Ahemming was an English potterer of confused politics, the writing would merely be feeble. Bennett’s ‘Ahem’, in its careful comedy, both assumes and avows his radicalism. I smiled.

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