Vol. 41 No. 11 · 6 June 2019

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I had to check I hadn’t mistakenly picked a copy of the National Review when I read Edward Luttwak’s recent encomium to Japan’s prime minister (LRB, 4 April). Abe Shinzo is anything but a progressive, as Luttwak would have it, driving through a programme of positive transformation. His signature policy initiative, Abenomics, may have boosted the profits of big exporters, but it has shrunk real household incomes in a country that is now one of the most unequal in the OECD. Nearly every country in Europe has a more equal income distribution than Japan, where one in six children now grows up in poverty. Abe’s ‘Womenomics’ programme is hardly the identifying mark of a crypto-feminist. It’s just more of the same lip service that his party, the Jimintō, has paid to women’s career advancement for more than twenty years. And with the same paltry results. He promised to see women placed in 30 per cent of leadership positions in government and business by 2020, but after the media fanfare died down, he quickly revised it to a mere 7 per cent in government and 5 per cent in business – figures so low that it’s hard to believe they haven’t been achieved already.

To call Japan’s relationship to the US now a ‘true partnership’ is to follow the lead of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, where the ‘Japan handlers’ regularly issue reports on the directions they would like to see the country take. Read those, and you will acquire a pretty good sense of what the Jimintō will do. Washington supports a more militarised Japan because a large part of Japan’s forces are ‘interoperable’ with American ones – a cost-effective and expedient way for the US to maintain military power in the Pacific. Abe’s new National Security Council brings Japan further into alignment with US interests.

Luttwak is simply wrong to assert that Japan, uniquely among states, cannot legally defend itself. Japan’s constitution has been interpreted by the Ministry of Justice and held by the country’s Supreme Court as permitting the country to maintain a ‘self-defence force’ to protect it against external threats. It’s true, as Luttwak points out, that until recently Japan could not defend its allies in time of need. Abe ‘fixed’ this by reinterpreting the constitution through his new National Security Council. The dubious reason he gave was that Japan should be able to come to the defence of the US – a country whose military is larger than those of China, France, the UK, Russia, Saudi Arabia and India combined. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations declared that Abe’s interpretation was unsupported by the constitution, and he was hard-pressed to find a constitutional lawyer willing to assert its legality. Far worse – and more indicative of his style – was how Abe got it through. Rather than relying on the legal system to interpret the country’s constitution, he did it through his own committee.

Luttwak is silent on the most ominous of the changes Abe has introduced – many of them rammed through the Diet after truncated debates. The State Secrets Act of 2013 enables the government to label just about any kind of information a state secret, effectively removing it from public scrutiny. Dubbed an ‘anti-whistle-blower’ law, it serves a reporter with as many as five years in prison for exposing corruption, threats to public health or even environmental data if designated ‘secret’. But dangling a sword over the media was hardly necessary in any case: in 2013 Abe installed one of his cronies as the head of the national broadcasting agency. Within two years, pressure on the media – which had among other things exposed the mismanagement of the Fukushima nuclear disaster – resulted in a string of resignations among the country’s top anchors and reporters. Both the UN and Reporters without Borders have voiced concerns about the decline of freedom of the press in Japan. Recently, a new State Terrorism Act has criminalised more than 250 behaviours, including sit-in protests and copying music.

Luttwak brushes aside the Nippon Kaigi as an unthreatening medley of conservatives and rightists. In fact the organisation is more ominous than that. It calls for a return to structures that undergirded Japan during its era of imperial expansionism: a large and vigorous military, reverence for the emperor as the centre of the polity, a culture of heightened patriotism, a state-based Shinto religion, and a reinforcement of traditional gender roles. The association’s greatest success has been in the revision of schoolbooks to eliminate ‘masochistic’ views of history, ridding all mention of the Nanjing Massacre or the ‘comfort women’ trafficked into sex slavery under Japanese colonial rule.

Luttwak praises this ‘Tory’ in the East for his attempts to revise Article 9 of the constitution, which forbids Japan from engaging in war. In fact, Abe doesn’t want to stop there: he aims to revise nearly all of the document’s 103 articles. The general thrust is to attenuate the protection of individual rights, raise the maintenance of public order above the preservation of basic freedoms, and reinscribe the centrality of the emperor to the nation. The Jimintō’s proposals make clear that they want a document that more closely tracks its predecessor in the Meiji Era, when the Japanese were dutiful subjects rather than rights-bearing citizens.

Kristin Surak
School of Oriental and African Studies University of London

Don’t Vote

C.J. Woods notes that UK citizens who reside in crown dependencies and overseas territories, as well as those who have lived in the European Union for more than fifteen years, were barred from voting in the referendum of 2016 (Letters, 23 May). He does not mention the practical measures taken to discourage those who have been EU residents for under fifteen years from voting. Postal ballot papers for general elections, European Union elections and referenda are sent out less than a fortnight before the voting date. It costs nearly £50 to express courier the ballot paper from the English address where I am registered to my French home: yet, without this outlay, it is unlikely that my vote would reach the returning officer in time. Understandably many overseas voters baulk at the outlay. My council in London maintains that it would be too expensive to print the ballot papers at an earlier date. The Electoral Commission proved supine when I complained to them. Little wonder that the UK voting system is skewed towards the interests of insular nationalists.

Richard Davenport-Hines
Ailhon, France

Quia Timet

In her article about the right to protest, Rosa Curling writes that quia timet injunctions, which restrain a threatened or anticipated legal wrong, rather than one that has already taken place, were introduced in 2003, to prevent leaks from the fifth Harry Potter book, copies of which had been stolen from the printer (LRB, 9 May). There are in fact reported cases of such injunctions in the 19th and early 20th centuries where judges quoted the second part of Sir Edward Coke’s mid-17th-century Institutes of the Lawes of England: ‘preventing justice excelleth punishing justice.’

The novelty of the Harry Potter case was that the quia timet injunction was made against ‘persons unknown’ – i.e. persons who can’t be identified at the time the injunction is sought, but can be defined by other words of description. It requires a bit of philosophical chicanery, but the general idea is that ‘persons unknown’ do not exist as defendants to the injunction until they have committed a breach of it – fitting in a case dealing with a book about magic and wizardry.

In 1991 Parliament had legislated to allow local planning authorities to seek injunctions against ‘persons unknown’ in order to prevent unauthorised development. The last time I obtained one in court I was acting for a local council against a defendant who was threatening to chop down protected trees in the green belt. The defendant threw a jug of water at me in the Royal Courts of Justice, although he had the courtesy to wait until the judge had left the courtroom.

Matthew Fraser
London EC4

One Ball Syndrome

The published correspondence on Colm Tóibín’s essay about his experience of testicular cancer (LRB, 18 April) has consisted of a letter from a man warning other men against allowing the shame of ‘one-ball syndrome’ to lead them to neglect cancerous symptoms (Letters, 9 May); and a follow-up letter from a urologist chiding the previous correspondent and Tóibín for using the ‘gutter term’ of ‘ball’ instead of ‘testicle’ (Letters, 23 May).

I can only assume that the LRB is sitting on a stack of letters from readers expressing deep appreciation of Tóibín’s intensely moving essay. May we see them please?

Barbara Taylor
London N15

Dr Sotolongo wants us to talk about testicles, not balls (Letters, 23 May). He says ‘balls’ is a gutter term. I’m pleased to say there is now official guidance from NHS England advising clinicians to choose the words that work best (e.g. ‘pee’ and ‘poo’ instead of ‘wee’ and ‘stool’) so that patients, who may not be as posh as they are, actually understand. Sadly balls are not yet included on the list.

Martin Rathfelder

Avoiding Childbirth

Mary Wellesley’s welcome and very nuanced delight in the ‘sensuous rhythmic, alliterative language’ of the Ancrene Wisse notwithstanding, how disappointing to read another engagement with the Christian tradition which is blighted from the start by preconceptions (LRB, 23 May). This inability to engage, even imaginatively, with the thought-world of a Christian, let alone an anchorite, leads to the unfortunate, and unfortunately common, identification of religious desire with pathology. Wellesley offers, as explanations (read: diagnoses) of why women might choose the difficult life of enclosure, first some sinister and scarring incident (‘had something happened to these sisters?’), and later ‘grief’, which supposedly drove widows ‘to seek a living death’ in the Anchorage. Another attempt to bridge the gulf between the worlds of medieval devotion and modern scorn posits the move to an eight-foot enclosed cell, sans windows, contact and bodily freedoms as a power-grab, which allows for the satisfying, if not as telling as the author seems to think, ‘it is no small irony that one of the few ways women could achieve autonomy and social standing in this period was by imprisoning themselves.’ An irony, it must be said, which is and always has been at the root of the Christian faith, from St Paul on.

But the most unfortunate consequence of Wellesley’s insistence on her blinkered hermeneutic of oppression is that she is forced to deny to her female subjects the very agency and autonomy which are the foundations of the feminist argument she is making. None of these anchoresses is allowed to have chosen this narrow, constrained life: no, it must have been forced on her by an uncaring patriarchy. This dogmatism is pushed to quite literally incredible extremes in her statement that ‘becoming an anchoress was a way of avoiding the dangers of childbirth and the misery of a forced marriage.’ Talk about using a sledgehammer to crack a nut! Blithe to the fact that she has just spent half an article telling us how rigorous and unpleasant such a life was, what a punishment, what ‘hatred of women’ and women’s bodies it entailed, she now wants us to believe that it was preferable to that most awful of all things: childbearing!

Matthew Topham

Mary Wellesley suggests that the author of Ancrenne Wisse was ‘perhaps a Dominican monk’. This is a misnomer – the Dominicans were friars not monks. Their popular name is Blackfriars. Monks, at least as envisaged by St Benedict, spent their lives in a single monastery. The ministry of friars by contrast preached in public, even if they had monasteries as a base for operations.

Jon Blanchard
South Croydon

‘Ulysses’ by the Pool

John Mullan suggests that Eric Griffiths’s supervision style was either ‘inspiring or scornful’ (LRB, 23 May); it was usually both. Rare was the student who passed under his forensic eye unchanged by the experience. Eric supervised my second-year dissertation on Joyce, and I spent a portion of my Easter holiday ostentatiously reading Ulysses by the pool instead of getting out of my head in a sweaty club. Late in the composition stage, I came across an analysis by an American feminist critic of the episode on which I was focusing which fell very neatly under the rubric of ‘detecting sexism in the writers of the past’. Being 19, I swallowed most of it, and enthusiastically regurgitated in my next draft lumps of the critic’s sniffy portrait of the protagonist Gerty as empty-headed and frivolously over-concerned with stockings. Eric’s acidly biro-ed response: ‘Oh yes, and I suppose no good Catholic lady ever wore nail polish?’

Meanwhile I still have the note he sent me and my fellow students as Finals loomed:

College of the Holy and Undivided etc,

25 April 1998


listen carefully I shall say this only once.

Here is the order of examinations for the English Tripos, 1998. Its specific pertinences to you as an ‘individual’ are for you to work out. If you do not know where any of the juicy locales listed herein is, find out in good time.

I point out that Tripos is not the Last Judgment, and that even if you get a II.ii, God and I (a tautology) will continue to love you dearly, ever ever dearly. [And what is that a quotation from, eh? £5 and a gasp of astonishment to the first correct answer.] Be honest, be courageous, be fetching.

I have spoken.


Rachael Beale

John Mullan cites Christopher Ricks as a key influence on Eric Griffiths. I wonder, however, if a less celebrated critic might have made a deeper impression on him. As an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Griffiths was introduced to Cambridge ‘practical criticism’ by Roy Park, a Scot who brought an almost evangelical fervour to the task, and made the fine discriminations involved seem to have – in the classic Leavisite manner – a clear moral dimension. I was part of the same supervision group. Park conducted it in a thick Glaswegian accent and even thicker clouds of pipe smoke, in a style as electrifyingly performative in its way as Eric’s. Like his student, Park spent a lifetime lecturing in English yet only ever published one book: Hazlitt and the Spirit of the Age.

Michael Poole
North Somerset

As one of those rare English undergraduates at Cambridge in the 1990s who actually went to lectures, I remember Eric Griffiths’s habit, as John Mullan recalls it, ‘of sipping a mysterious liquid (whisky? milk?) from a plastic container throughout’. But I also remember John Mullan’s habit, during his own lectures, of sipping liquid through a straw from a small Ribena carton. Only now does it occur to me that it might not have been Ribena.

Daniel Davies

Your reviewer does well to refer to Eric Griffiths’s indebtedness to J.L. Austin. He might also have pointed out two striking similarities between the two men – the unfortunate premature ends to both their careers and the fact that the reputation and influence of both was largely based on their lectures, in Austin’s case the posthumously published How to Do Things with Words. But one must not insist too much on the paucity of Griffiths’s publications. He published some important essays. One was ‘Empson’s God’, which compressed a book’s worth of analysis and argumentation into a tightly coiled 27 pages.

David Wilson

‘Cheerio and never say die’

In Mary Hannity’s review of Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison (LRB, 9 May), there’s a reference to the Holloway songs and poems of the suffragettes: ‘Stern are the walls, but sterner still/is woman’s free, unconquered will.’ Jean Rhys was incarcerated for a week in 1949 for assaulting a neighbour in Bromley. At the time her second husband was banged up for forging cheques and Rhys was lonely, drunk and disorderly. She later borrowed from her experience to create one of the finest English stories of the postwar period. In ‘Let them call it jazz’, the Caribbean heroine hears a fellow inmate singing in the punishment cell: ‘It’s a smoky kind of voice, and a bit rough sometimes as if those old dark walls theyselves are complaining, because they see too much misery – too much.’ It’s called ‘The Holloway Song’ and it says ‘cheerio and never say die’ to the girls. When the narrator gets out of prison she whistles the tune at a party. A musician pretties it up and sells it, but she knows that ‘even if they played it just right, like I wanted – no walls would fall so soon.’ As Mary Hannity asks, ‘What’s changed?’

Susie Thomas

Brexit Blues

John Dewey’s argument that Australian-style compulsory voting disallows ‘conscientious abstention’ is misplaced (Letters, 18 April). You can object by messing up your ballot – so-called ‘informal voting’.

Benjamin Bradley
Bathurst, Australia

Dr Rivers and Dr Brock

Would any reader with information, correspondence or documents relating to Dr William Halse Rivers and Dr Arthur Brock, who served as psychiatrists at the Craiglockhart War Hospital during World War One, please be so kind as to contact me at charlesglassbooks@gmail.com

Charles Glass

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