[ilds] [RG 2003 Justine 2]

James Gifford gifford at ualberta.ca
Fri Apr 6 12:56:25 PDT 2007

------ Forwarded Message
From: Isabelle Keller
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003 09:18:04 -0400
Subject: [ILDS] ILDS:  Discussion Group--AQ2.  Keller.

"A note on Durrell's use of language, which I sometimes find odd, baffling,
idiosyncratic, yet grand and powerful. "...yes, I entirely agree with you
and I think this is part of Durrell's aims: to make us ponder, while telling
a story, over the complexity of language as such. So that we always seem to
find ourselves in Pursewarden's position in the house of child prostitutes:
we are "following the long sinuous curves of the immortal story" (ALQ faber
1-vol 769) but we are still aware that language is an inadequate medium. So
that by upsetting our conventional literary and readerly expectations it
seems to me that Durrell is doing just that : reminding us that "the
struggle is always for greater consciousness" (ALQ faber 1-vol 764). As for
the "planes", being French and living in a city where whole avenues and
riversides are bordered by plane-trees I just took the word as a shortening
of "plane-tree" and didn't really think of any homonym. It is true that when
the weather gets really windy those trees have a tendency to rustle and
"unpack", a bit like a pack of cards being violently shuffled.

And apart from my "native experience" (!) it seems to me that those plane
trees, placed at the incipit of Justine, are highly symbolic. They seem to
foreshadow the unexpected, apparently uncontrollable "unpacking" and
"ransacking" of those " 'selective fictions' which life shuffles out like a
pack of cards, mixing and dividing, witthdrawing and restoring" (ALQ Clea
ALQ faber 1-vol 873). We may also remember that the presence of high wind,
in particular the dramatised khmaseen, is always associated with drastic
changes in the characters' lives; it is by a night of khamseen that Darley
meets Liza and is given Pursewarden's letters; and of course Nessim's name
means the "breeze" in Arabic.

Lastly, from a stylistic point of view Sumantra's apt analysis of the rhythm
of the first line could be carried on till the end: "unbpacking the great
planes / ransacking the great planes". It also leads to an ascending rhythm
at the end of the nominal sentence, suggesting a highly evocative painting
which leaves off conjugated verbs and opts for the anaphoric -ING form. So
that the sentence ends on an aposiopesis, leaving the reader free to end the
picture. And when the story starts "for good", in the second §, the setting
has been given, in a somewhat dramatic fashion. The first § is then made all
the more significant if we reread it as a subtle stage-direction. "You", the
reader-audience, a bit like the "you" of Butor's "La Modification", is thus
invited to enter the "script", if I may say so.

And one more thing before I leave off this far too lengthy answer: I agree
with the notion that the knowledge of the biographical elements (through the
bio and the letters) is of great help but I wouldn't put these in the same
category as the Carbondale papers. For, if Durrell may have chosen to
mesmerise his audience or his interviewers, his relationship with his own
personal notes was of a totally different kind. So I would say that the test
of Durrell's writing achievement lies rather in his own rough notes than in
his overt assertions. You may find me too suspicious but I can't help being
suspicious when any artist, and especially someone like Durrell (but of
course someone like Paul Auster is another famous example) who was prone to
indirections and misdirections, confides his plans or intentions. I am not
saying of course that these should be ignored, far from it. Only, that they
might be meant to be taken cautiously and that the text should remain the
ultimate proof. And I think it's relatively  easy to prove from a narrative,
stylistic, poetic point of view that Justine _ especially the incipit_ was
certainly not written at random just for money's sake.

Best regards


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