[ilds] Edward Said

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Sat Apr 28 10:02:15 PDT 2007

Sumantra writes:

> James Gifford has identified it:
> RE_Message: 6
> Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2007 15:17:28 -0700
> From: James Gifford <odos.fanourios at gmail.com>
> and he's once cited as
> giving a talk in Beirut in which he refers to the
> Quartet as "trivial"
> --------------------
> I remember reading an account of this talk given in
> Beirut. I am writing
> from memory, but remember some of these phrases.
> From what I can recall (!) the audience was described
> to consist of
> Europeans who saw themselves as "...Durrellian heroes..."
> in the "...romance
> and intrigue..." of a "...latter-day Alexandria...(meaning
> Beirut) etc.
> I hope someone will be able to find the specific account and

I quoted the Rilke parallel from the extract from Secular Criticism in the
Said Reader (220-221).  I know, I should use the book itself, BUT to this
anecdote, Said adds the damning endnote: "The example of the Nazi who read
Rilke and then wrote out genocidal orders to his concentration-camp
underlings had not yet become well known. Perhaps then the Durrell-Secretary
of Defense anecdote might not have seemed so useful to my enthusiastic
friend" (462). 

This anecdote is remarkably similar to Terry Eagleton's parallel sighting of
Durrell's Alexandria Quartet on his friend Greenway's mantle, "no doubt to
demonstrate his entirely non-existent openness to the new" (Gatekeeper 170).

Here's how I comment on the third bit from Said in the monograph I'm working
on.  It's on the anecdote about his lecture in Beirut on Durrell (I only
have this from the book, not from the original lecture itself):

Mustapha Marrouchi clarifies Said's intentions in this anecdote in his book
on Said by turning attention to Said's desire to correct Durrell's
misrepresentations of Egypt. Marrouchi recounts Said's only recorded
sustained comments on Durrell, given during a year he spent in Beirut
learning Arabic:

"One evening at Beirut College for Women, [Said] addressed a large assembly
on a prize work of the Orientalist canon, Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria
Quartet. Many of the Westerners in the room imagined themselves Durrellian
heroes in a latter-day Alexandria of intrigue and romance. Said attacked the
novel's triviality, its incomprehensible metaphors, its meaningless plot....
[O]ne university lecturer protested that Durrell's images were compelling.
'Compelling?' Said asked. 'When he needs an image for human communication,
he reaches for the [64] telephone' (1975: 234) [1]. As an almost doctrinaire
secularist, Said is hardly swayed by an argument or hobbled by a rigid
approach." (Marrouchi 63-64)

This presents several problems that typify postcolonial readings of Durrell.
First, the "incomprehensible metaphors" being dismissed seem to be attacked
precisely because they are too comprehensible: the telephone as a metaphor
for human communication. Moreover, while the political purpose behind this
attack (to correct politically charged misrepresentations that carry
political influences) remains laudable, it is difficult for a reader of
Durrell's novel to view his cast of Western characters as heroes in any
form, unless one dispenses with the prominent ironies. The Westerners'
imagination of themselves as Durrell's characters (pederasts, homosexuals,
poverty-stricken and sexually humiliated tutors, incestuous authors, or
politicians blind to the machinations around them) seems highly unlikely in
the cultural climate of 1972. In contrast, the only reader I am aware to
have voiced this feeling of wonder for the heavily Orientalist Alexandria
refers instead to the film version of Durrell¹s Quartet (Cuckor's 1969
Justine), which has received nearly universally terrible reviews, and this
reader is neither Western nor an Orientalist: M. G. Vassanji ("The Boy" 1-3,
mss. held at UVic). The enviable heroes of the film, where they appear quite
dapper in stark contrast to the novel, seem far more likely than those of
the novel.

[1] The referenced work is not included in the Marouchi's bibliography but
is in fact Said's notes for the speech, kept unpublished among his private

More information about the ILDS mailing list