[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 1, Issue 88

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Sat Apr 28 10:36:38 PDT 2007


One point I am making is that one needs to know something of the 
history and circumstances of the times.  Coming up with a theory of the 
universe is not very helpful if you think the earth is flat and the sun 
is a banana.

History is also biography.  I do not want to write Durrell's biography 
in these posts.  But two points: Durrell was not Irish by any broadly 
accepted use of the term, and he was not denied British citizenship.

Smyrna was a nod to his Venizelist friends.  In Greek experience the 
imperial power was not England, France or Russia but the Ottoman 
Empire.  Durrell knew that very well.  He also knew -- to make things 
complex -- that cosmopolitan cities like Alexandria, Beirut, Smyrna and 
Istanbul were products of the Ottoman Empire.  When nationalism and 
sectarianism replaced imperialism, so Alexandria, Beirut, Smyrna and 
Istanbul were destroyed.

:Michael


On Saturday, April 28, 2007, at 05:49  pm, James Gifford wrote:

> Michael writes to Sumantra
>
>> Complex, as I said, and not to be reduced to
>> the silly modern fashions of colonial and
>> post-colonial 'theory'.
>
> I like this reading, but I would add that Durrell seems to have been 
> quite
> aware (who couldn't be?) of the trauma that Smyrna represented (or 
> rather,
> not represented, but was).  Melissa whispers (murmurs?) "Smyrna," and 
> it is
> a date that no Greek would confuse with anna mirabilis of Modernism, 
> 1922.
> 1922 was a slightly different date for the Irish as well... This is one
> element of Durrell that I think gets overlooked, though Michael has 
> voiced
> it in his book on Alexandria, and I've mentioned it for Durrell's Corfu
> works.  Durrell was keenly cognizant of histories lying under his
> landscapes: more than we give him credit for, I believe, though 
> perhaps that
> leads in the fallacy of trying to read the authors mind through his 
> art.
> Reading Nabakov through Lolita?
>
> Michael might comment more on Alexandria (I haven't the background to 
> do
> so), but when Durrell writes of Corfu in the 1960s, he takes the reader
> through every major colonial site without mentioning that history, 
> except
> through innuendo and allusion.  If you know it, it's powerfully 
> present, and
> if you do not, it remains slumbering beneath the surface of the text.
> Smyrna and the Greek world slumbers in Alexandria in a similar manner, 
> or at
> least I see flashes of it from my thin background on the subject.  It 
> is
> also difficult to discuss 'postcoloniality' when referring to the 
> Hellenic
> world would make one seem 'pro-colonial.'  As postcolonial scholars 
> might
> say, these are hybrid places, though one of those very long histories 
> has
> been erased.
>
> Moreover, to mention Smyrna in a text set in the 1930s (Michael and 
> Don can
> quibble over the dating) in a decidedly Hellenic city in a Muslim 
> country
> with Coptic and Jewish characters interacting with an Irishman would 
> strike
> me as a profoundly political move...  Really, an Irish school teacher 
> living
> with a Greek woman from Smyrna, having an affair with a Jewish woman 
> with
> strong ties to Palestine, who's husband is a Coptic banker involved in 
> gun
> running to Palestine, chasing Greek references around Alexandria, a 
> city for
> which Cavafy is the 'Old Poet.'  That's not a pro-British colonialism, 
> but I
> think the political import is fairly overt.  As the whole series inches
> toward WWII, it's easy for the 21st century reader to forget what an
> Irishman's alignment would be.
>
> Although it was after he wrote the Quartet, let's not forget that 
> Durrell
> was denied British citizenship during a move to prohibit immigration 
> from
> India & Pakistan...  That's in neither of the biographies currently
> available, though Ezard wrote a news article on the matter.  Michael?
>
> Sumantra?  What's your take on this?  Does Durrell's 'troubling' of
> 'received notions' of the colonial world show through in your reader?  
> Does
> it make us retrospectively revise our (it did mine) previous elision or
> division of narrator and author?  Personally, I think Durrell is still 
> ripe
> for a thorough postcolonial reading, except with the proviso that 
> bringing
> the theory to Durrell may reshape our reading, but neither the novels 
> not
> the theory will be exactly the same afterwards.  For my money, 
> postcolonial
> readings of Durrell haven't fulfilled their potential yet because they 
> don't
> adequately account for irony and the epistemological problems in the 
> books
> -- in general, I've often thought that seems to be a limitation of the
> theory.
>
> But, back to my own ransacked books and papers...
>
> Best
> James
>
> On 4/28/07 8:29 AM, "Michael Haag" <michaelhaag at btinternet.com> wrote:
>
>> Sumantra:
>>
>> Yes, I forgot about Smyrna.  But that does not really change anything.
>> Smyrna was something like Alexandria, also a place where so-called
>> foreigners had been living for generations.  In fact Smyrna was a 
>> Greek
>> city taken over by the Turks; for that matter Asia Minor was Greek and
>> the whole thing had been taken over by the Turks.  The point is that
>> Melissa was not a foreigner in Alexandria in the tedious narrow
>> parochial modern 21st century sense of being born and having come from
>> what is currently recognised as being Greece; she belonged to that
>> great Greek world whose origins go back to Alexander the Great, even 
>> to
>> the Trojan War, and of which Alexandria was once part.  Certainly in
>> speaking of the modern cosmopolitan city, the one that began dying in
>> 1936, it was 'home' to Greeks who had been invited to settle there by
>> Mohammed Ali, himself born and raised in what is now Greece.
>>
>> Complex, as I said, and not to be reduced to the silly modern fashions
>> of colonial and post-colonial 'theory'.
>>
>> :Michael
>>



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