[ilds] Justine 1.9 - The City

David Holdsworth holdsworth at rogers.com
Thu Apr 19 14:10:33 PDT 2007

Sumantra Nag wrote:


2. I have yet to come across a comparison of the AQ with Orhan Pamuk's
Memories of a City on Istanbul. His preoccupation with huzun -'...a
melancholy that is communal rather than private...' corresponds in some ways
to Durrell's consciousness about the pervasive spirit of the city in
Alexandria, to which he has variously referred , including 'the
gravitational field which Alexandria threw down...' (Justine 1.9)


Glad to see this raised. As a lay reader of both Durrell and Pamuk, I too
have thought about Orhan Pamuk's Memories of a City, as well as Cafavy's
early poems, as interesting mirrors to illustrate Durrell's treatment of the
city in the Quartet. 


'Huzun' is described by Pamuk as an emotional force arising from the city's
decline since the fall of the Ottomans, enveloping Istanbul and its
inhabitants with a kind of melancholy or tristesse. In his book, it creates
the lens through which the inhabitants inescapably perceive and live their
lives. It is also said to have a major impact on the way Turkish artists,
including Pamuk himself, shape their writing. 


Cafavy's city (in his earlier poems) has superficially even more in common
with Durrell's Alexandria (flies, beggars and an overpowering erotic force)
as in Justine 1.2 and 1.9.


The differences are interesting too. Pamuk's city, as his title 'Memories
and the City' shows, is a portrait of a real city and serves the author as a
backdrop for his artistic development (Joyce's Dublin comes to mind). He is
also an insider, writing with great sympathy about Istanbul's real history,
streets, people and culture. Cavafy, as Edmund Heeley once pointed out,
writes of Alexandria's real streets but primarily as a device to contrast
their squalidness with the beauty of particular individuals who lead a life
of hedonistic pleasure despite that. His later poems create a mythical
Alexandria, a city with a broader swathe of artistic meaning. Durrell's
'City of Memory'' is rather a city of the imagination. Michael Haag's book
is convincing in showing the potential sources in LD's real life experience
for parts of the Quartet but Durrell transforms these into a mythical city
right from the start. 


I am also struck by the tone he adopts to talk of the city, very different
from that of Pamuk or Cavafy in his later poems. I read it as the
occasionally cynical tone of a refugee still suffering from the loss of
Greek culture and his island, an unwilling inhabitant of Alexandria. He is
also an expatriate. Interesting that Darley "escapes" to rebuild the city in
his mind and where? To an island in the sea, with a few books and papers.
Like Corfu?


David Holdsworth



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