[ilds] RG Justine - Eagleton

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Tue May 29 04:53:07 PDT 2007

So the Durrell School of Corfu stands by the integrity of Terry 
Eagleton and his remarks about Lawrence Durrell.  Bravo.


On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, at 05:34  am, Durrell School of Corfu wrote:

> The DSC did not 'indulge a liar' - that is a shocking accusation.
> RP
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Michael Haag" <michaelhaag at btinternet.com>
> To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
> Sent: Tuesday, May 29, 2007 7:19 AM
> Subject: Re: [ilds] RG Justine - Eagleton
>> What is striking about Eagleton is his lack of integrity.  It is
>> dishonest to pretend to review a book one has not read.  The man's
>> knowledge of Durrell and his works is clearly nil, and yet he is happy
>> to lie his head off, and to do so publicly in the press, and to take
>> money for being a liar.  Nothing wrong with listening to the views of
>> those who are critical of Durrell, but to indulge a liar because one
>> thinks he is a 'big name' is a shocking admission.
>> :Michael
>> On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, at 05:06  am, Durrell School of Corfu wrote:
>>> We wanted a big name. You don't get an audience by billing the little
>>> people. And I did it in spite of his negative attitude to LD - and he
>>> came
>>> here in spite..... But as I said (or should that be Said?) it was a
>>> disappointment.
>>> RP
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> From: "Michael Haag" <michaelhaag at btinternet.com>
>>> To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
>>> Sent: Tuesday, May 29, 2007 6:09 AM
>>> Subject: [ilds] RG Justine - Eagleton
>>>> I have just read Eagleton's review of MacNiven's Durrell biography.
>>>> Clearly Eagleton never read the book, nor has he the remotest idea 
>>>> of
>>>> what Durrell's life or writings were about.  Eagleton is a jerk.  
>>>> Why
>>>> is a jerk like this presented at the Durrell School of Corfu?  I 
>>>> would
>>>> like to hear Richard Pine explain that.
>>>> :Michael
>> Title: Supreme trickster.,  By: Eagleton, Terry,
>> New Statesman, 13647431, 04/24/98, Vol. 127, Issue 4382
>> Database: Academic Search Premier
>> Ian MacNiven Faber & Faber, £25
>> My old Cambridge tutor, a deeply traditionalist scholar, used to have 
>> a
>> copy of Lawrence Durrell's novel Justine lying with casual
>> deliberateness on his desk. The book looked suspiciously unthumbed. It
>> was there as testimony to his (entirely spurious) avantgardeness, for
>> in the early 1960s Durrell was one of the last words in high-brow
>> literary experiment.
>> These days Durrell is probably even less of a remembered name than his
>> zoologist brother Gerald, suggesting that aardvarks linger longer in
>> the public mind than the avant-garde. Whatever happened to this
>> audacious aesthete?
>> Justine is one of the volumes of Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, a
>> monument of fake exoticism and pseudo-profundity which some of us at
>> the time mistook for great literature. It was an adolescent taste,
>> rather in the way only 18 year olds regard Albert Camus as a great
>> philosopher. In those years in Cambridge some of us saw ourselves as
>> existentialists, which just meant that as frightened youngsters away
>> from home we weren't feeling too chirpy. Today it is known in some
>> quarters as post-structuralism. The brittle, hot-house preciousness of
>> the Quartet lent itself wonderfully to parody: "The city is languid
>> tonight, its mood half-churlish, halfremorseful. The sea glints a 
>> jaded
>> mauve, wrinkled and knotted like the veined neck of a Lebanese
>> brothel-keeper. Sipping his sherbert, Pelagius says that love is the
>> stale morsel we are left with when desire lapses into memory."
>> The Durrell who carved himself a literary colony out of Alexandria was
>> himself the son of a colonialist. Born in India in 1912, the child of
>> an affluent engineer, he spent the rest of his life drifting like a
>> literary playboy from one fancy European hotel to another. Part of the
>> fag-end of cosmopolitan modernism, he shacked up in Corfu, Athens,
>> Egypt, Rhodes, Buenos Aires, Cyprus and France, changing wives almost
>> as often as he changed countries. Some of this placeshifting was an
>> attempt to keep one step ahead of the second world war, which he did
>> his aestheticist best to ignore. While Hitler was on the rampage,
>> Durrell was in search of a spot more sunshine. He despised politics,
>> thought Marxists "synonymous with pigs and fools", and set his 
>> thoughts
>> instead on the eternal.
>> As a textbook bohemian, Durrell knocked around Paris with Henry Miller
>> and Anais Nin, and loafed about London with Dylan Thomas and a few
>> stray surrealists, while describing his own artistic tendency as
>> "Durrealist". Loftily contemptuous at first oft S Eliot, he changed 
>> his
>> opinion of him overnight when Eliot, then editor at Faber, published
>> one of his novels. He ended up as a bored, taxevading semi-recluse,
>> dying in London in 1990 just as he was about to launch yet another
>> marriage. Samuel Johnson's comment on such marital ventures - "the
>> triumph of hope over experience" - has rarely been more apt.
>> Ian MacNiven has chronicled the flittings of this literary flaneur
>> --"Larry" to him - in 700 pages of painstaking research. The book is a
>> model of tenacious scholarship, but as Uma Thurman remarks to John
>> Travolta in Pulp Fiction when he announces his need to take a pee:
>> "That's just a little more information than I needed."
>> The trouble with biographers is the dead-levelling way in which every
>> scrap of information about their subject becomes as important as every
>> other. The book resounds with the sound of a gnat being blasted by a
>> Howitzer.
>> Durrell once described himself as a "supreme trickster", and this is
>> surely one reason why his celebrity proved so shortlived. The
>> glittering surface of his prose conceals an emotional anaesthesia, for
>> which the portentously "profound" reflections of the Quartet are meant
>> to compensate. Like many poets, his verbal sensitivity is in inverse
>> proportion to real human sympathy, a sublimated selfishness evident in
>> his life as much as his work. What was real was what he could
>> exoticise, convert to mythological archetype or high-sounding
>> platitude. His Alexandria is a country of the mind, attractive
>> precisely because its cultural and ethnic mix makes it at once nowhere
>> and everywhere. If he plundered Egypt for its symbolic capital, he 
>> also
>> groused about its "stinking inhabitants". His combination of elitism
>> and aestheticism was finally outstripped by Nabokov, another rootless
>> emigre who happened to possess a finer literary talent.
>> Unlike Nabokov, Joyce and D H Lawrence, Durrell was on permanent
>> vacation rather than in artistic exile. Perhaps because he had been
>> born outside England, his work lacks that tension between home and
>> abroad, the pains of expatriation as well as its creative
>> possibilities, which marks his great modernist forebears. Whereas 
>> Joyce
>> and Lawrence spent their lives on the run from cultural traditions 
>> they
>> knew from the inside, Durrell never experienced them in the first
>> place. Like his life, the overbred, cosmopolitan range of the Quartet
>> conceals a cultural shallowness. MacNiven's naively uncritical
>> narrative seems blind to this thinness, perhaps because, like many a
>> biographer, he forgets to stand back from the trees to give us a
>> glimpse of the wood. "To understand Lawrence Durrell," he admonishes
>> us, "one must go to India, physically if possible..."; but this volume
>> is quite expensive enough.
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