[ilds] Eagleton on Durrell & Corfu

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Wed May 30 12:33:19 PDT 2007

Hello all,

I¹m now back from sunny Corfu and can rejoin this discussion (and dive into
the prodigious material that has been flying about!).

Eagleton co-taught two sessions of my seminar on Corfu that year, and he was
both collegial and kind in deferring to me as the seminar leader in that
situation.  I take issue with his review (and took issue with it), but I
also respect his intentions in academia and his generosity in my few
interactions with him.

The review's note on the unread copy of _Justine_ is very likely a copy of
one of Said's comments on Durrell, and it recurs for Eagleton, as I've noted
in a previous email.  Suffice to say, when I asked him about the review, he
said he couldn't possibly read everything he was asked to review, but
they're eager to have his name attached to a review, whether positive or
negative.  Fair enough...  I know this is sadly the case with far too many
book reviews, and even recently I've begun to suspect it's the case with far
too many books as well.  The review is rich in factual errors, even
including the number of pages in the book, so there's very little I can say
about how much he may have actually read.

Eagleton did, however, admit that he might be wrong in his estimation of
Durrell, and he also recounted walking about with a copy of Justine in his
pocket so that he could be seen to be reading the most daring (in other
words sexually free) literature.  He was, in other words, also in the same
position as his tutor.  When I suggested _Revolt of Aphrodite_ might
actually appeal to his Marxist interests, he was very open to the
possibility -- I don't know if he's yet read Durrell.

The lecture, however, was poor.  Beatrice might be able to comment on this
more thoroughly than I can, or at least I don't feel like digging up my
notebook from the day.  He's a good speaker: witty and engaging.  But, he
gave us a a 'strong reading' of Freud in Bloom's sense, and I simply wasn't
convinced that the misprision worked.  Oddly, and I recall writing some
marginal notes to Beatrice beside me on this point, at the moment I thought
the recasting of Freud he sought in cultural terms might actually have been
made easier had he read Durrell with that notion in mind...

In general, my experience has been that when major (or just 'good')
theoretical critics actually sit down and read some Durrell, they find he
offers far more than expected.  He's become a 'great unread,' but once read,
his applicability to several current discussions seems to quickly become
apparent.  I've picked up and eventually set aside many authors whom I still
admire and enjoy working on, but Durrell has become the odd fascination
since I seem to spot 'durrelliana' no matter what new area I want to move
into -- that's why he's become such a focus for my work.  Thomas Hardy
enchanted me more, and Blake still catches me ever time, but I don't spot
them everywhere I turn in the same way...


On 5/29/07 2:55 PM, "slighcl" <slighcl at wfu.edu> wrote:

>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: william godshalk <godshawl at email.uc.edu>
>>> <mailto:godshawl at email.uc.edu>
>>> If Eagleton writes as an academic, then he should follow our basic
>>> procedures of honest reviewing. If he writes as a hack, then he
>>> should not be held to academic standards -- should he?
>>> On 5/29/2007 2:58 PM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
>> Yes, as a matter of personal integrity.  I don't believe in multiple
>> standards and personalities.
> An interesting question.  The answer would need to be "yes" if we recognize
> the clout that Eagleton's name still carries in Anglo-American academic
> circles and the prestige that he enjoys now, in his second career, as someone
> who has grown tired of the theory game.
>>> Shelving culture. The effect of Terry Eagleton on two generations of English
>>> students has been disastrous, argues Bryan Appleyard.
>>>  But now the old Marxist appears to be mellowing
>>>  http://www.newstatesman.com/200004170049
>>>  Bryan Appleyard
>>>  17 April 2000
>>>  The Idea of Culture
>>>  Terry Eagleton Blackwell, 156pp, £12.99
>>>  ISBN 0631219668
> When Eagleton reviews a biography of Lawrence Durrell, what he says will
> matter and will influence because first and foremost he is Terry Eagleton.
> Anyone who has passed through graduate programs in the last two decades knows
> that Eagleton has shaped a great deal of the conversation in literary studies.
> A selective list from his bibliography could easily be taken as required
> academic reading:, whatever the specialization
>>> Marxism and Literary Criticism   Methuen, 1976
>>>  Literary Theory: An Introduction   (revised 1996)  Blackwell, 1983
>>>  The Significance of Theory   Blackwell, 1989
>>>  The Ideology of the Aesthetic   Blackwell, 1990
> There is little doubt that Eagleton's failure to engage with Durrell's
> biography and writings and the dismissals that he delivers have a wide-ranging
> influence.
> So I give three "yes" answers.
> * Yes, it mattered that Eagleton assumed wrongly that he could rely on the
> clout of his name and his wits and his anecdotes from his university days to
> carry him through the review of Ian MacNiven's biography.  He failed in that
> assumption.  (I think that I can admit that I do "hold a candle" not only for
> Durrell but for Ian, who has given me much in friendship and in an education
> about Durrell.  "My friends and other prejudices.")
> * Yes, I think that given Eagleton's stature in literary culture the Durrell
> School did well to invite Eagleton to speak.  An open, honest engagement with
> an avowedly suspicious critic can teach us much.
> *  
> * And yes, I think it is a damned shame that Eagleton doubled his dishonor by
> giving less than his best attention to the writings of Lawrence Durrell after
> having been invited to Corfu.  An opportunity missed. Caveat emptor.
> Surely some people who heard Eagleton speak on Corfu and who conversed with
> him should speak up?  Richard has indicated that the performance was a
> disappointment--was it a total wash, Richard?  Where can we learn more?  Does
> anyone else have testimony?
> Charles

James Gifford
Department of English
University of Victoria
Victoria, B.C., Canada

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