The letters page from London Review of Books Vol. 40 No. 12 (21 June 2018)

Pankaj Mishra: The Wrong Human Rights

Samuel Moyn wants to reinstate socialism – which was, after all, the ‘central language of justice’ globally before it was supplanted by human rights – as an ethical ideal and political objective. This may seem like a quixotic project.

Rosemary Hill: Unhappy Ever After

A marriage that makes a good end to a comedy will often make as good a beginning to a tragedy. If any couple bore out that maxim it was Annabella Milbanke and George Gordon Byron. The ‘happy’ chapter lasted barely 24 hours, the ‘ever after’ is with us still.

David Runciman: The Last World Cup

The evidence for the premise that international sport spreads peace and goodwill has always been fairly thin: every major tournament is dressed up that way but the legacy is more often mothballed stadiums and simmering resentment, as was the case after South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. Rarely, though, has a regime so brazenly signalled its indifference to the niceties of international sport, which require at least the pretence that bad behaviour gets put on hold. As the saying goes, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and this is the currency in which Fifa likes to trade. But Putin isn’t having any of it. He seems to have treated the award of the tournament as a licence to try his luck.

David Thomson: ‘Vertigo’ after Weinstein

It isn’t just that Alfred Hitchcock was devious, a fantasist, a voyeur and a predator. It isn’t just that no matter how many Harvey Weinsteins are exposed, it could never be enough to deliver justice to those who have been wronged and exploited. It isn’t even that men invented and have dominated the command and control of the movies, both as art and business: that they have been the majority of directors, producers and camera people despite, over the years, being a minority of the audience. Is what Vertigo has to tell us, beyond this history of male control, that the medium itself is in some sense male? Is there something in cinema that gives power to the predator, sitting still in the dark, watching forbidden things?

Vida survey of gender bias in literary criticism shows ‘stubborn imbalance’

Authors of report warn that continuing dominance of male writers ‘creates a dangerous lens through which the world is viewed’

Vida has warned that the dominance of white male literary critics “creates a dangerous lens through which the world is viewed”, after its annual survey found that female writers accounted for less than 40% of articles and reviews at more than half of major publications.

The feminist arts organisation, which examines the gender imbalance of both critics and authors whose books are reviewed, surveyed 15 major literary publications and found eight failed to reach gender parity in 2017. These included the London Review of Books at 26.9%, the New Yorker at 39.7%, the Times Literary Supplement at 35.9% and the New York Review of Books at 23.3%, down from 46.9% the previous year.

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The letters page from London Review of Books Vol. 40 No. 11 (7 June 2018)

Andrew O’Hagan: The Tower

It was 1.20 a.m. The fire had travelled diagonally up the building before spreading round the north face, passing from the fourth to the 14th floor in about 15 minutes. Smoke from the burning cladding entered through gaps in the new but ill-fitting windows, and the smoke travelled from there into the common areas and the stairwell. In Flat 111 on the 14th floor, Denis Murphy, 56, dialled 999 and was told to stay inside his flat and that firefighters would soon reach him. He called his brother at 1.30 and left a message saying there was black smoke everywhere. People could have made for the stairs at that point, but they were told to stay put. And it quickly became evident that some people were trapped.