Over the past decade, I must have read yards of stuff, much of it penned by wised-up radicals, about the decay of authorship. The writer, we are often instructed, barely matters at all. His or her intentions and desires are an obstacle to a close reading or a clear understanding: a vestigial ‘privilege’ conferred by tradition. Now come the letters of Larkin and all of a sudden it is the private jokes and secret vices of the author that matter above all. It’s been amusing to see these two positions being held, in some instances, by the same people. I wrote my essay on the Larkin affair in part as a satire on this mentality, or set of mentalities.
I have obviously fired too wide for John Newsinger, though I shall have to hope I’m not alone in concluding that he doesn’t see a joke when it shyly touches his sleeve. Where he does not summarize my own argument (as he does in everything he says about Larkin’s relationship with the disillusioned and nostalgic middle class; my only pretext in mentioning my father) he misunderstands it. I invited him to relate the ‘racism and sexism’ of the Larkin correspondence to the literary output and, I’m bound to say, the challenge still stands. As Newsinger demonstrates in his woefully literal readings of my aside
May I make two adjustments to my original? I have been sent a very absorbing article from the Powys Society Newsletter, which with accompanying correspondence makes me feel that I did an injustice to John Cowper Powys. The author, Professor Charles Lock, concedes that Powys belongs in some respects in John Harrison’s study The Reactionaries and grants that Powys had some Spenglerian sympathies. But it seems that Powys had more in common with Larkin’s pastoral and individualist side than with his resentments of democracy, and would be better described as an anarchist than as any kind of fascist. I cannot know, of course, whether Larkin was interpreting Powys in some quirky fashion of his own, but I resolve to go into the question with more sympathy than I originally felt, and with more background.
Finally, Willie Thompson writes to say that I owe an apology to the shade of the Modern Quarterly, which never published an article entitled ‘T.S. Eliot: Enemy of the People’. I used to enjoy kicking the Communist Party when it was up, so I’m even more mortified to have kicked it, inaccurately, when it is well and truly down. I ought never to have relied on an unchecked reference in the old International Socialism journal which, now I think of it, supplied both John Newsinger and myself with some of the best—and obviously some of the worst—of our early education.