[ilds] [RG 2003 Justine 2]

James Gifford gifford at ualberta.ca
Fri Apr 6 13:25:12 PDT 2007

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From: Bruce Redwine
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003 21:33:29 -0400
Subject: [ILDS] ILDS:  Discussion Group--AQ.  Redwine.

My thanks to James Gifford for being so generous, thorough, and stimulating
during his response of 7/9/03.   My thanks also to Vadim Mikhailin for his
explications of 7/12/03, which I build upon.   James makes many good points
and raises many interesting questions.   Let me respond to a few of them,
not  with regard to importance, but as they touch upon what intrigues and
puzzles  me about M. Durrell.  James's comments are numbered and in
quotation marks.
1.   "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."

Re the Freudian model.   This probably need not be said, but I'll say it
anyway, so that my biases are clear and upfront.   Although I think Durrell
takes Freud very seriously, it may be best to treat his treatment of Freud
as a "mythology."   During the writing of AlQ, Freud was still held in high
repute -- he had mapped out the human psyche -- but since the late1970s this
claim has been challenged.   Today many of Freud's theories, his method, and
his science have been found seriously wanting, if not completely
invalidated.   See the recent work of F. C. Crews (Unauthorized Freud:
Doubters Confront a Legend, Viking, 1998) and M. Macmillan (Freud Evaluated:
The Completed Arc,   MIT, 1997).   But even if Freudian theory is false, all
or in part, this shouldn't bother Durrell's admirers.   Great literature can
be enjoyed for its own sake and need not depend on the "truth" of outside or
extraneous systems.   After all, do we have to share Dante's world view to
enjoy and admire his Divine Comedy?  Do we have to agree with Tolstoy's view
of history to enjoy War and Peace?

We may not read these works with the same fervor and intensity as their
ideal readers do, but, the pleasure remains, obviously.

In a darker vein, the freewheeling sexuality of AlQ, if literally and
uncritically subscribed to, can have disastrous consequences in the real
world.   To wit, the example of Durrell's daughter, Sappho Jane, who
committed suicide and accused her father of incest, which her mother Eve
Cohen Durrell (the dedicatory "Eve" of Justine) denied ever happened.   I've
read excerpts from Sappho Jane's diary, as published in Granta some years
ago (unfortunately, I don't
have it before me now), and the impression it left me with was that
deranged and misfortunate daughter had confused art with life.   She seemed
to be 
living the life of one of her father's characters.   I wonder if this aspect
of Durrell and Freud has been dealt with in the critical literature.   I
haven't read the biographies.

2.   "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."

As Freudian theory this may work, but I'm not sure how this works as
  I would like to read your forthcoming article in Torquere, which doubtless
explains in detail.   The danger here being that characters stop being
characters and become pipe-organ "stops," a term Pursewarden uses in Clea
for stock 
emotions, which may also apply to stock characterizations (the "Brother Ass"
insert; C, p. 116 [Dutton:   1961]).

> 3.   "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)."

Most intriguing, the sexual connotations of "purse," particulary the
implications (see OED2, s.v., II.7.b, where "purse" = scrotum, but OED2
doesn't cite a meaning for the female counterpart).   Where else in
works?   Did LD originally pick up the term from the Elizabethans/Jacobeans?
Othello, the irony of "Who steals my purse, steals trash" (3.3.160), where
"purse" may unwittingly refer to Desdemona.   E. Partridge's dictionary of
English slang cites Beaumont & Fletcher.   I've often wondered about the
of "Pursewarden," which, combined with "Ludwig," has always struck me as
something of a joke to the English ear (but not to the German, of course, my
> 4.   "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."

OK, but I was looking for a more comprehensive term than the sexually
"queer."   On the whole, queer doesn't seem appropriate for some of the
figures:   either Darley, Melissa, Pursewarden, or Narouz.   But, as you
explain so well, there can indeed be a textual basis for such.   I also see
you mean "queer" in a critical sense.   Still . . .

> 5.   "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. . . .  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)."

Excellent, well said.   Brings to mind the line from one of LD's early
where the speaker talks of passing through the "many negatives" that are
himself, or some such.   (Sorry, I'm also without Durrell's poems and must
rely on 
a very faulty memory.)   I wonder, however, venturing beyond the world of
literature, how true this is on a practical level, i.e., real life.  I'm now
extrapolating beyond sexual roles.   How many selves can the self have?
number of angels on a pinhead problem.   Although the human personality is
fluid and multi-faceted, an identifable core remains, which perhaps LD sees
possibly rejects) in the poetic line, "I per se I."   Personalities that
shift so radically that they become erratic and unidentifable -- aren't
these the 
ones we normally classify as unstable and psychotic?   Was Durrell treading
this line, pushing the limits, seeing how far he could go?   Is this the way
madness, suicide, or enlightenment?   (The Buddhist self is a selfless
 I am indulging in pure speculation, but it seems to me Durrell toys with or
explores through literature a rather dangerous passage, a dark labyrinth, if
you will, through which less hardy souls would find difficult to negotiate
come out whole.  This is far too melodramatic, but a topic not so far below
the surface of Durrell's work.   Pursewarden's suicide looms big in AlQ.
yes, I think The Dark Labyrinth should not be dismissed as simple allegory,
the author himself does somewhere.   Trust the work.   It resonates.

> 6.   "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). . . .
>   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 terribly slippery..."

Language games, playfulness, slipperiness.   Yes, all these remind me of
Vadim Mikhailin recently said on 7/12/03, about the "playfulness" of
Durrell's language.   As Vadim notes, Durrell knew Greek language and
culture, and he 
was probably aware of the semantic field associated with Greek pais ("boy,
child"), which plays on "boyishness" and "playfulness."   Seems to me that
Vadim's excellent explanation of "playfulness" and your "slipperiness" are
to converge.   Yes, now I accept what you mean as "queer"!!!   My thanks to
both of you.

> 7.   "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."

I want to believe you're right (and I do most of the time).   Durrell knew
what he was doing was dangerous -- he speaks of his "plum pudding" prose --
we must acknoweledge that sometimes he fails, albeit magnificiently.   No
in that.   Your reach must exceed your grasp, as LD didn't parody, or did
  Isn't this all this a matter of "excess," and didn't Billy Blake,
Pursewarden's hero, say, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom"
of Hell)?
> And here's to more excess,

Bruce Redwine

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