Letter: Berkoff bites back

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The Independent Online
Robert Butler, reviewing my book Free Association, makes the extraordinary allegation that I must be "off my rocker" for entertaining ideas unpalatable to him ("Rambling woes", Review, 21 April). To give substance to his charge of mental confusion he quotes my comment about the Donmar Warehouse: "a squirty little theatre with high-priced glasses of cheap wine". From another point of view my comments might indicate a heightened lucidity.

"Here you will find the unconsciously anti-semitic Alan Bennett pandering to illiterate yobs," writes Mr Butler in a rather nasty reduction of what I actually wrote: "I was asked to review Kafka's Dick whose title was enough to make me totally antipathetic to any wit that might be lurking within ... having been so involved in Kafka's life and work I was hostile to such a gross cheapening of his name. Of course if you were not involved with his stories and his personal agony or if you were an illiterate or literate yob you might find the title amusing ... I had a strange quirky feeling in my gut that the play was slurred with unconscious anti-semitism." In fact it was surprising how many people agreed that the tasteless infantilism of the title was offensive including the late Joe Papp, New York's most liberal theatre administrator, who, while operating an exchange with the Royal Court, wouldn't have it in his theatre.

Next Butler takes on the role of petulant schoolmaster correcting my use of the word "emulate" which I took to mean copy or imitate and not act out. Here the satirist in the critic makes pointless fun about my ex-wife and I "performing" a dish. I ask myself "why?"

The most offensive of his snipes is this sneering summary: "When Berkoff meditates on his lonely childhood in war time Luton, he wonders whether his misery wasn't in some sense connected, through telepathy or osmosis, with the children dying in the concentration camp at Treblinka." He then adds acidly: "I'm sorry but he does wonder." Note his raised eyebrow on "does". What I wrote was:

"I was unaware at the time that ... tens of thousands of young boys and girls were experiencing the hell on earth of Treblinka ... that such things were going on while I was alive was chilling to me in later life ... by some form of telepathy, some osmosis, could I have sensed some horrific happening, something of such barbarity that its scream touched my young soul?" Yes, I did wonder, Mr Butler. If this suggests that I am "off my rocker" then thank God I have not the mental processes Mr Butler would approve of.

Steven Berkoff

London E14

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