Origin of the enemies

May 1, 1998

RAY MONK's review of Raymond Tallis's Enemies of Hope (THES, March 20) is mostly a carve-up of me. Tallis says his book began as a review of my Origins of the Sacred which "got out of hand". Monk wants to praise Tallis but is deeply puzzled and annoyed that this versatile sharpshooter has wasted some 30,000 words on a ludicrous twerp like me while dealing cursorily with such heavyweight baddies as Marx, Freud and Foucault.

The answer to this puzzle might just be that Tallis really did think I required 30,000 words, but that in the forensic excitement of zapping the enemy he only embraced my phantom, and hence what got shot was the straw man and not the sheriff.

By way of chastising my wicked refusal to see that "science works and magic does not", Monk relays irrelevant and nauseating details of a tasteless story about a sick Nigerian girl being effectively tortured by her witch-doctoring tribe before being rescued by western medicine. Mr Monk hereby reveals more than a touch of the yobbish tendency.

Of course I never suggest that science does not work. My point is the opposite, that it works so well we must needs "worship" the "magicians" who can save lives with antibiotics and put men on the moon; and this poses problems for piety.

On reflection I may have slightly overdone the implications of the idealist shunt in quantum theory but it was in any case a small part of a sustained critique of the Cartesian mind. Not only does Monk not mention Descartes, but neither does he mention that the other figure I want rounded up for questioning in my science chapter is that kindly old mathematician Einstein.

My criticisms of Einstein (extending back to Renaissance ballistics) are certainly contentious, intentionally provocative, arguably unkind, and possibly wrong; and yet they are passed over in silence while I am mocked for quibbling over quarks. Such evasion of my central arguments would suggest that someone in the precinct is "in denial"; or that Tallis and Monk are both afflicted by scientism.

In place of my puerilities on myth, Monk proposes Wittgenstein as a proper opponent for Tallis; but Wittgenstein's definition sounds altogether compatible with my own, which is based on Sallust's precis of Aristotle: "These things never happened but are always". This has served the mythographic community for over 2,000 years now.

Origins was written almost ten years ago in the hope of narrowing the gap between the Two Cultures, and proposes Darwin as culture hero. The dummies in New York who nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize have by now all been sent to Wyoming and re-employed as soda jerks; and I, though unrepentant, certainly would not undertake such a project today - doors slamming everywhere, drawbridges coming up, enemies of hope indeed.

Dudley Young

Department of literature University of Essex

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