I missed the obituary to Alaric - I'm a Guardian reader, if at all - and
only read it on Monday, in St Ives where, had I wanted to, I was not in a
position to write a response.
By now, it seems too late to provide what I regard as a necessary
corrective, even assuming The Independent would pay any attention to it; and
I am not sure if I want to try anyway.
What concerned me was "zany, manic presence" and the way that other elements
of the obituary might tend to emphasis those words.
Being "zany" is in the mind of the beholder, and I am not sure what is
intended here: the main dictionary definitions seem inappropriate to me.
"Manic", I think, needs refutation. Sumner was intense and often
unbelievably energetic; but to regard him as zany and manic is, almost
certainly, to mistake the personas he adopted in order to energise others
and / or to destabilise their certainties. To attribute those personas to
the person is to have missed something, I believe.
What might have seemed unusual behaviour was often no more than extreme
self-consciousness: it was reactive, not inherent.
Furthermore, he never tried to explain away mistakes and misapprehensions:
he was honest. He acknowledged the buffoonery of which we are all constantly
guilty whereas most of us cover it up.
His memory, we are told, was meticulous. It wasn't just his memory. The man
was meticulous in everything that he regarded as important (and he could
*always justify the claim of importance). Reedy's "Obituaries and
celebrations" is a case in point - the care and precision of the book as an
object, as a selection and as an ordering are remarkable; and Reedy
testifies to his empathy with those with whom he worked and his ability to
seemingly will that empathy to grow for the other's benefit. He was the
first who had paid practical attention to her work for some time, that is,
the first who actually did something to bring her back to public awareness,
work which needs to be carried on. Others have followed his lead; but it was
he who saw the necessity of promoting her work and found ways to do it.
As an editor, whilst maintaining an intellectual and aesthetic rigour, he
otherwise abolished himself from the work he presented, leaving the work to
speak. He did not, for instance, ever impose so much as a blurb or house
style upon authors he edited / published.
The obituary tells us that Sumner was a confrontational performer, and so he
was. But the confrontation came from intellectual passion, not mania. His
favourite question was Why? He asked it so much and in so many ways and
circumstances that he may have appeared zany and manic; but that wasn't it.
His RWC "Aberrations..." is still available at £3.00 incl p & p within UK.
His Mainstream "Bucking Curtains" is still available at £4.00 incl p & p
These works are quite different to his "best-seller" "Waves on Porthmeor
Beach" and, to me, even more interesting
Cheques payable to me at 32 Downside Road, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5HP
or else order through your favourite Peter Riley whom I am on the point of