Reading between the lines
Obscene and not heard
Unbanning Ulysses led to a more subtle censorship of Joyce's classic, discovers Louis Ryan
- 'James Joyce and Censorship: the trials of Ulysses', Paul Vanderham, Macmillan Press, £45 hbk
Ulysses was recently judged by a panel of eminent American writers to be the greatest work of English prose fiction this century. But when it was first serialised in the Little Review between 1918 and 1920 it was met with a universal moralistic outcry, banned upon publication in 1922 in every English-speaking country. It was the USA that led the way in banning the book, but it was also the USA that first lifted the ban in 1934. Paul Vanderham's book tells this story in compelling detail. He also shows how the struggle with the censor shaped not just the reception of Ulysses, but its writing.
Anticipating the censor, and unwilling to make the compromise of an expurgated version, Joyce began to elaborate an intricate armature for his creation. He worked up the 'schema' of correspondences between his own Ulysses and Homer's Odyssey, and the further correspondences between each section of Ulysses and its representative organ, colour, symbol and art. This intricate formalism served to emphasise the artistic nature of his creation, and, as such, its autonomy from the normal standards and strictures of society. At the same time he pursued his own vision undeterred; indeed, it is the later sections of the book, particularly 'Circe' and 'Penelope' (Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy), that were to contain the greatest number of 'offensive' passages.
Literary modernists like Ezra Pound and TS Eliot used the formal elaboration in Ulysses as the basis of its defence. This consummately intricate work of art could not be subject to the judgement of a bunch of vulgar moralisers, they argued. But this elitist defence of Ulysses carried its own subtle judgements that Vanderham rightly calls 'critical censorship', expressing these critics' own unease with Joyce's earthy and anarchic sensuality. The moralisers reduced Ulysses to their own grubby concerns, while the aesthetes set it apart in a rarefied limbo that only the initiated could approach. Drawing on the notion of 'art for art's sake' they held to the view that true literature was so detached from and superior to everyday life that it could not possibly 'deprave or corrupt'.
Provocatively, Vanderham insists that Ulysses is obscene, and cites as evidence a letter from Joyce that describes the 'Penelope' section as 'probably more obscene than any preceding episode'. 'Is it really so monstrous', writes Vanderham, 'to believe that Joyce could produce a work that undermined the moral or political or religious order of his day? If so it is presumably monstrous to believe that an artist could influence the culture of his or her day in any way whatsoever'.
The 1934 Woolsey ruling lifting the ban on Ulysses sums up the aesthetic defence of Joyce. The judgement sets aside the traditional standard of what would influence l'homme moyen sensuel - the average sensual man - in matters of literary obscenity, substituting an altogether more sophisticated and formalistic standard. This is richly ironic, for surely the greatest literary embodiment of l'homme moyen sensuel is none other than Leopold Bloom, hero of Ulysses, whose concerns encompass some pretty dubious preoccupations. Vanderham's book is a useful warning not to exchange explicit censorship for license in a gilded cage.
Football between God and Mammon
- 'The Football Business', David Conn, Mainstream Publishing, £7.99 pbk
David Conn's book attacking the commercialisation of 'the People's game' comes just in time to ride the furore over Rupert Murdoch's takeover of Manchester United. Conn argues that football has sold its soul to the City and is now being destroyed by corporate greed. He paints a Dickensian picture of fat-cat chairmen lining their pockets from stock market flotations; overpaid superstar players commanding astronomical salaries; and corporate hospitality clients displacing traditional fans. Conn is particularly concerned that football's new wealth has not trickled down to its grassroots, which have been left to decay.
Football, it is true, has been transformed in the 1990s, but not just because of the money. Football had been declining as a working class leisure pursuit since the 1950s, long before the advent of the Premier League and Sky TV. Aggregate attendance, which peaked at 70 million a year in the decade after the war, had slumped to 20 million by the late 1980s. Greater affluence led to a diversification of working class leisure pursuits. Foot-ball's traditional constituency had not been priced out; they had found better things to do with their Saturdays.
By the same token, money, far from killing football, has been instrumental in its revitalisation in the 1990s. Government subsidies, Sky TV revenues and City cash have paid for comfortable modern stands, better pitches and top foreign stars. Attendance throughout the domestic game has increased (reaching 24 million last year), TV coverage of football has been revolutionised, and the technical quality of the football on offer is vastly improved. Football, moreover, has acquired a social significance it never previously enjoyed. Football is discussed by the chattering classes; universities run degree courses in football studies; bookshop shelves overflow with new football writing; the government has even set up a Football Task Force. When the prime minister feels compelled to address the nation after England's exit from the World Cup, it is clear that football has become something more than a business. It is coming close to displacing party politics as the subject of national debate.
David Conn also wants football to be more than just a game. This is evident in his condemnation of the greedy premiership clubs for refusing to share their new wealth with the impoverished grassroots of non-league and school football. His fear is not for the lack of a means to nurture future footballing talent. Indeed, Conn dismisses as elitist the 'football academies' which are being established for precisely this purpose. Conn's fear for the grassroots is motivated by a deeper concern which has little to do with football. As he sees it: 'Football's decline at the grassroots is only a small vein in the general decay of the body of civic life in this country.' Football, it seems, is an integral mechanism for maintaining social cohesion. This is also how New Labour sees it. Tony Blair has said that 'sport is not just about gold medals, glory, fame, wealth and winning European Cups...It is about learning through mind and body the values that help make a complete and rounded individual working within a strong community'. Football, as a result, has become an arena for government social policy. The consequences of civic renewal policies are already evident in the PC codes of conduct that fans are expected to observe, and the demand that players behave as model citizens. It is not money but this kind of moral engineering that poses the real threat to football.
A chip on whose shoulder?
Suke Wolton uncovers the insecure origins of white supremacy
- 'The Silent War: imperialism and the changing perception of race', Frank Furedi, Pluto Press, £14.99 pbk, £45.00 hbk
The Silent War takes the reader through the transformation in racial thinking that occurred in the first half of this century. Frank Furedi investigates the relationship between the shift in racial rhetoric and the broader geopolitical changes that were taking place at the time. The development of racial consciousness - thinking of one's social group as a 'race apart' - emerged in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Although it appeared to sum up the arrogance and dominance of British imperial power, it also provided an outlet for fears of weakness. As Furedi points out, racial thinking is not merely an expression of the impulse to dominate and oppress. At times it expresses a defensive response, a manifestation of the fear of losing power.
'Whenever Western powers were challenged', Furedi notes, there was the 'beginning of a new era in international affairs'. In the anxious comments of Americans and the British, 'the underlying premise was the assumption that a setback to any section of the white race inflicted by people of colour would weaken the existing balance of racial power' (p30). 'Race', the supposed measure of superiority, had become the source of weakness; the very thing that was thought to stimulate rebellion and a rejection of Western authority.
During the 1920s some authors were particularly alarmist, preoccupied with the 'loss of white prestige'. Race riots in Britain and America following the First World War fuelled discussions in which social conflict was presumed to result from 'race difference'. In 1919 Japan's proposal to include a racial equality clause in the League of Nations' charter was vetoed by US president Woodrow Wilson. This move further highlighted the potential for conflict internationally between the Western powers and the 'non-white peoples'.
The fear of equality among the elites of the 1930s led to them 'reversing the problem of racism'. Furedi highlights how race prejudice was criticised on the basis that the reaction to white racism could produce a worldwide conflict. In this way, even when race was problematised, it was the non-whites that were the problem. Furedi writes: 'If one relied entirely on official correspondence, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that whereas Europeans tend to be colour-blind, everyone else was motivated by a feeling of colour.' (p131)
Furedi's distinctive contribution is to focus on the way in which the reformulation of the issue of race served the Western elites. He calls the outlook of the Anglo-American elite 'white solidarity' - solidarity in the face of an exaggerated fear of native revolt. Analysing race in terms of international relations pays dividends in this study. For me it raised the question, which Furedi does not fully address, of just how it was that the 'white solidarity' was forged, or how national differences affected the working of the Anglo-American elite.
Undoubtedly, as has been shown in Christopher Thorne's excellent study, Allies of a Kind, much of Anglo-American cooperation during the war was influenced by the shared common language and outlook of white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. But, even during the Second World War, there were significant arenas of disagreement. By looking at the way in which these arguments were resolved we can see how race, as a political issue, was transformed and reused.
During the Second World War the issue of race was essential in establishing a consensus across the Atlantic. At the start of the war America was critical of Britain's empire, particularly as the USA saw colonial unpopularity as a source for future 'colour conflict'. By the end of the war the US government agreed to let Britain, and even France, rebuild their empires in the Far East. During the debate between British and US officials the issue of race came up time and time again. Given it was now a political problem, said the British, and one on which our record is no worse than the USA's, moral authority needs to be established in a language unassociated with the 'colour bar'. In contrast with the 'colonial problem', segregation was part of the USA itself. Reinventing imperial prestige in the postwar world, suggested the British to the Americans, meant getting around this embarrassment.
The widening of the 'race relations' term, as Furedi shows, had the effect of minimising the significance of the white-black relationship which was so clearly underpinned by the imperial relationship. By discussing Malays and Chinese, Kenyans and Asians, and so on, friction between 'races' was seen as something inevitable, psychological and outside the realm of power relations in the world. Today this attitude is still with us. Endless 'racisms' are uncovered and used to explain civil wars, international conflicts and a myriad of tensions. Political ideology, economic changes and international interference have been forgotten in the new world order. Understanding the language of this new form of moral authority shows us that the elites have reconstructed themselves on the basis that they are 'holier than thou'. They may not say 'whiter than white' but the implication of difference is still there. 'Anti-racist' etiquette expresses the notion that the elites have better manners than the rest of us.
Friends of LM can buy Frank Furedi's The Silent War at the reduced price of £12 plus £1 p&p. Phone (0171) 269 9224 for details
- 'Cannibals with Forks: the triple bottom line of 21st century business', John Elkington, Capstone, £18.99 hbk
John Elkington is a strong advocate of sustainable development for the business world, and has coined the phrase 'the triple bottom line' to argue that corporations should not be run solely along profit lines, but should also work to ensure environmental protection and social justice. The book is part of a wider trend to rethink the role of the corporation under the assumption that capitalism, as it presently exists, is unsustainable. The notion of sustainability goes beyond environmentalism. For Elkington, a consultant experienced in green economics, the need for environmental preservation is simply the best rationale for a much more wide-ranging implementation of 'sustainability' across industry.
Elkington is not alone. The dominant assumption that change is destructive today has led to a one-sided view of capitalist development. It has become fashionable to see the system as short-term, wasteful and exploit- ative. In this view corporations become cannibals - albeit with forks. People like Elkington, who sees his role as exhorting managers to change their behaviour, seem to have profited (a word he would not enjoy) from peddling this gloomy and one-sided vision.
Capitalist social arrangements mean that the system is slow to take advantage of innovation, with the result that the tempo of the economy often lags behind that of human ingenuity. The unique problem today, however, is that people like Elkington want to hold back the system even more. Elkington's agenda is littered with ideas to restrict and to limit. He calls for re-regulation of the market - even though the activities of NGOs, new legal and environmental constraints, and various other checks are already making corporate managers obsessed with risk-avoidance rather than growth potential.
Behind the call for sustainability in business lurks the hidden agenda of self-restraint. Elkington welcomes 'stakeholder capitalism' - the notion that those running business are not as important as the groups business serves, whether they be investors or consumers - as a valuable addition to creating a sustainable business culture. Yet this ethos will encourage the very short-termism of which Elkington is so dismissive. Corporations, more cash-rich than ever before, are not investing because economic development has become stigmatised. In turn, this lack of investment - the result of a culture of constraint - has helped to fuel alternative investment in paper assets, boosting the short-termist practice of managing for shareholder value.
Back to the future
- 'Paris in the Twentieth Century', Jules Verne, Random House, £14.99 hbk
'O terrible influence of this race which serves neither God nor king, given over to the mundane sciences, to base mechanical professions! Pernicious breed! What will you not attempt, left to your own devices, abandoned without restraint to that fatal spirit of knowledge, of invention, of progress?' This quote from Paul-Louis Courier (1772-1825) opens Jules Verne's prophetic lost novel. So set aside your childhood memories of the Disney adaptations of Verne's later work, in which men and machines boldly go where nobody has gone before, to the moon and the bottom of the oceans.
A futuristic tale written in 1863 and set in the 1960s, Paris in the Twentieth Century traces the early adult life of Michel Dufrenoy, a classical scholar out of sync with a fast-moving utilitarian world. Dufrenoy's tale provides a vehicle for Verne himself to express his unhappiness with the development of Paris by Napoleon III.
In Verne's view the great emperor's nephew and his quest to modernise Paris was wrecking the city's artisan cafe culture. What he could not see was that the changes which served industrial vested interests also brought much-needed advances for the rest of the inhabitants.
Despite its theme it is hard not to read the novel as a homage to progress. The energy of the age, together with Verne's foresight, allowed him to predict many technological advances that would not become reality until the 1960s. In fact he was so ahead of his time that the book was rejected on the grounds that it painted an unrealistic view of the future. Lost for 130 years, it is worrying to think that today Verne's pessimism may find more resonance. If such ideas had not been given short shrift then, we may never have been treated to his later, thoroughly optimistic classics.
Reproduced from LM issue 116, December 1998/January 1999