[ilds] [RG 2003 Justine 2]

James Gifford gifford at ualberta.ca
Fri Apr 6 13:13:04 PDT 2007

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From: James Gifford
Date: Fri, 11 Jul 2003 17:08:36 -0400
Subject: [ILDS] ILDS:  Discussion Group--AQ.  Gifford.

Hello all,

Much of what Bruce writes here strikes me as important, especially in the
section of the Quartet Charles has just referred us to.  (Though I must
apologise for writing this in haste).

In section 9, the un-named narrator refers to "the four of us," which
reminds the reader of the Freudian epigram from the letter to Fliess, which
we noted in earlier discussions.  This foursome that constitutes "every
sexual act" (epigram) must be Justine, Darley, Nessim and Melissa; however,
the specific group is indeterminate, as if characters can stand in for
others at any point in time, just as they can stand in for the family unit
in Freud's bisexual model.  After all, Pursewarden must fit in there
somewhere (and by the time of _Justine_, "purse" was a common slang in
Durrell's works for female genitals), as must Clea, Nessim, father and

Bruce also makes the point that:

> In this world, sexuality is growth, knowledge,
> identity, a way of passing through a host of
> stages and phases.  Also, I think Durrell
> sometimes thinks of sex as closer to "gender,"
> today's term, i.e., social roles and
> constructs, all of which are arbitrary.

I'm in complete agreement here, especially in the context of his challenge:

> Try to find a character who's not weird.

I would tend to replace "weird" with "queer," in the current context of the
language, and I think that Durrell's playfulness with sexual identities is a
key means to accessing his more general disruption of identity politics.
The characters can fill in for each other at given points, and their
function seems to outweigh their characterisation, so "social roles and
constructs" seems to be an ideal way to regard them.  For instance, I
already noted that in section 4 Cavafy and Melissa are blurred, since she is
referred to in a "we" immediately after the narrator has been discussing
Cavafy.  In a larger version of this notion, Nessim and Darley trade places
with a prostitute later on, and one character replaces another in yet
another replacement's bed, etc.  The identities are difficult to nail down,
especially on the textual level where the shift from one subject to another
is not made clear (like with Cavafy to Melissa, both of whom could
potentially 'penetrate' Darley), and subsequently, the sexual identities are
unstable as a reflection of identities in general (or genders in another
manner of speaking).

The same game is played out in the section now before us, but using
Balthazar.  Section 8 has Melissa "penetrating" Darley's abode, which is a
rather masculine word for his lover, although "masculine" is directly
applied to Darley's primary love in this volume, Justine (Section 11).
Moreover, Melissa's penetration of Darley is immediately followed by
Balthazar's giving him 'instruction' (and those 'scare' quotes are LD's
original).  If it were in the Kabal, wouldn't plain "instruction" without
the apostrophe's be sufficient?  I don't mean to imply that there's an
invisible subtext where Darley is really gay, but rather that the text is
quite deliberate in disturbing the language surrounding such concrete
definitions of identity.

All of this anticipates the "four of us" that follows in section 9, which I
think Durrell later subverts from Freud with Justine's contention that we
all fall in love with the love choice of our object (ie: Darley really is in
an exchange with Nessim, with Justine as the medium, hence Nessim's affair
with Melissa as a means to interact with Darley).  This lends a distinctly
queer feel to Darley's masculine ability to seduce so many women (who are
masculine and penetrate him...).  All terribly slippery...

> Is all this piling it on in the way that
> Durrell overuses "great" (as a critic noted
> long ago)?

While it lends itself to imitation and easy satire, I believe the technique
of excessive or slippery language is a key component of Durrell's ability to
link passages through textual repetition.  Likewise, the 'queerness' of the
text couldn't be conveyed as obliquely without the shadowy indeterminacy
granted by an excess of language -- the only other option would be the
indeterminacy created by the extreme specificity and sparseness of someone
like Hemingway.  Is the "'instruction'" Darley receives from the gay
Balthazar a deliberately hazy word, just as he is "almost a happy man"
(Section 8), which implies he may not be, though he might be a little
happy...  Those qualifications and disruptions are essential, just as it the
"slaked," which Isabelle pointed out last week.

While we're not into _Balthazar_ yet, in the Dutton corrected proofs, fully
half of Durrell's last minute changes are to obscure or deflect from the
veracity of a given statement (adding phrases such as "Or so I heard" and so
forth...).  Perhaps someone with more information on the corrected proofs to
the Faber editions or _Justine_ can add comments here?

> the initial confusion of Melissa and Justine
> may be an attempt to blur distinctions, to
> emphasize two aspects of love, which, as others
> note, are initially separated but later
> conjoined in Clea.  Just a thought.

A good thought...  All the identities, genders, sexualities, and other such
distinctions are difficult to distinguish in these early pages, as if it
"may be an attempt to blur distinctions, to emphasize two aspects of
[identity]."  I believe the incongruity of Durrell's descriptions and
distinctions is a very deliberate feature of these texts, since at other
points or in other genres, both the excess language and the blurred clarity
vanish -- they were added with some degree of intention.


ps: If anyone is interested, I have an article on sexuality and disruptions
of identity in Durrell's _Quintet_ and _Quartet_ appearing soon in

James Gifford
3-5 Humanities Centre
Department of English
University of Alberta

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