[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.


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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