[ilds] [RG] Justine III.i to III.iv and into the Duck Shoot

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Sat Jun 16 11:33:44 PDT 2007


Hello all,

If we're diving into Section III of Justine (all four sections), I can't
help but note that after all the Eliot references we've had before (and the
upcoming ending of Section IV with the same ending as Ezra Pound's "Canto
I"), that the season is Spring, the morbid season of "The Waste Land."
_Balthazar_ opens with a denial of Spring ("And spring? Ah! there is no
spring in the Delta.  No sense of refreshment and renewal of things."), yet
Justine's climax is in this absent season.

As may be cliched by now on this list, I think there's a coded wink at T.S.
Eliot.  After all, the narrator sees the bodies moving about the town
("Clouds of dried blood walk the streets like prophecies"), which is not a
far stretch from the corpses and crowds in Eliot's poem.

If any of that is viable, even just going back to the Real vs. the Unreal
city between Eliot and Durrell might suggest some readings (and I just
realized that Durrell was corresponding with Robert Liddell after WWII when
Liddell was in Athens after Cairo, just prior to Liddell publishing his
novel set in Alexandria _Unreal City_).  How do we, for instance, read
Nessim during that pointed scene in which he is known to be in Cairo yet
shows up outside Justine's bedroom while Darley is there?  That's III.i
paragraphs 4-8.  Is he a wounded fisherking with a bleeding groin?  He is
prematurely aged by the radio.  He's also the character who undergoes the
greatest change in section III and IV of the novel.

But another possibility...  Is Nessim really caught between two competing
tensions, between action and "the vertiginous uncertainty" of his jealousy?
That makes me think of Hamlet striding into Gertrude's bed chamber and doing
in Polonius.  That's not a flattering position for Darley, but given
Durrell's longstanding interest in Hamlet, I hardly think it's a stretch.
Moreover, they hear the disembodied voice of Nessim coming through the
radio, proving his presence is somewhere else, yet he still appears locally,
even though he can't be seen.  Again, I think of the ghost appearing in
Gertrude's bed chamber and her curious "I see him not, yet all there is I
see" (paraphrasing...).  That peculiar presence in absence, and Gertrude's
proof that her husband isn't present despite Hamlet's seeing him, doesn't
seem so far from Justine's knowledge that her husband is gone yet she and
Darley do see his presence.

On top of that, Nessim is repeatedly described as caught in a similar
emotional problem as Hamlet between knowing what he knows and wishing it
were not so.  The opportunity to discuss repression is ripe, and I'm sure
Durrell would have known of the psychoanalytic readings of Hamlet (he says
as much).  Yet, it's Justine who is described here as having the "Check"
that prevents her from acting, even though it prompts many actions that
Darley reads as her infidelity to Nessim.

These 'unreal' scenarios run through from the present/absent Nessim into the
multiple interpretive possibilities of Scobie's attempts to unravel the
boustrophedon, directly into Nessim's cycle of historical dreams, and then
finally the duck hunt and Capodistria's death.

I'd have to agree with Charles that this is the climax of the novel.
Section III as a whole connects the book together in each of its many
guises: the romantic triangle; failures to perceive amidst misdirection and
obfuscation; comedy of misinterpretation and story-telling gone awry in
Scobie; and the grand series of allusions.  Those lead into the Duck Hunt,
which would make a grand set piece if Durrell were anthologized.

The duck hunt (Justine III.iv) takes us back to the indecisive Hamlet when
"Nessim began to feel a great sense of relief.  He recognised at last that
what had to be decided would be decided at this time and at no other."  I
don't actually recall my first feelings when I read this, but I should think
that most readers are primed for tragedy.  The set-up is all there, but the
delivery takes us elsewhere...

But, what is this duck hunt after those preceding sections?  It is the
oldest part of the novel, with regard to its composition, but what else is
it?  We still have Nessim mis-reading the signs, literally the street signs
in his delusions, finding meaning in them that does not exist, yet the whole
section ends with a grand provocation to read more deeply to find the order
and coherence behind experience.  Is this a slap at the reader's
interpretive activities and responsibilities?  Better yet, is this a
borrowed detail from a psychoanalytic case study, with the street signs
speaking in code to the paranoid?  We know Durrell did that specific kind of
borrowing quite a bit, such as Semira's nose later in the Quartet, and it
often expands the scope of the problem he's discussing.  In the Quintet he
even points the reader to the original psychoanalytic case study (the only
time he does so in a vast array of plots lifted from this specific kind of
source), but in that instance I think going to the original only confuses
the matter.

Also, what do we make of Nessim finding his "father's grave in the Jewish
cemetery -- ... which echoed all the melancholy of European Jewry in exile"?
Nessim is a Copt not a Jew, yet his father appears to have been Jewish.  The
answer is clear: his Jewish father married a Coptic woman, Leila, though
again this is not really borne our later in the novel when we reach the
opening of Mountolive.  Do we, the readers, need to construct a lineage in
which Nessim's father was born of a Jewish mother yet remained Coptic,
married a Copt, and had Coptic sons?  Or, is this just a slip?  Is it
Nessim's madness, or is his father simply buried in a Jewish cemetery with
no suggestion of ethnicity?  Regardless, the tie to Jewishness seems
significant.

Michael has persuasively argued that Durrell had not planned to write the
Quartet as a whole when he published _Justine_, so for _Justine_ as a novel
on it's own, I'd read this as Nessim's Jewish father who married a Coptic
woman, but the general implication seems to include Nessim's support for the
creation of Israel from Palestine amidst the political turmoil of the time.
Moreover, this may show Durrell's sympathies for his third wife's family.
That suggests a range of political possibilities we don't see until
_Mountolive_ and _Clea_, and somehow it relates to the duck hunt.  Jewish
exile in Europe somehow relates to the hunt, Da Capo's death, and Justine's
flight from the city to Palestine -- I don't think including Israel's
creation (in the reader's and author's awarenesses) is a great leap for a
novel that appeared just after the Suez Crisis...

So, as naïve readers who don't know the rest of the Quartet, how would
Nessim's political radio speeches, his secrecies, the boustrophedon and
Scobie's suspicions, and Nessim's Jewishness all contribute to our
anticipations as we enter the duck shoot?  I'd be inclined to regard it as
one of those literary moments that means in multiple ways, giving a range of
possibilities that can't be compressed down to one thing, with politics
included in that mix.

Yet, let's not forget that Nessim's madness takes the form of finding
structure amidst that which has no underlying pattern -- "reader beware"
even though we are called out to interpret!

This leads us into Nessim and Melissa's affair, the only one to create a
child, in which Durrell/Darley describes them as like brother and sister.

And finally, Darley then accepts the invitation to the shoot, noting "now
one might learn some important truths about human nature."  I suspect those
truths will lead us back to the conflicting epigraphs of the novel, but
that's also my imposition as a reader, perhaps forcing a pattern on to the
meaningless series of names in the street signs I cross during the day
(though of course there's a meaning: it's my day's narrative, is it not?).

That's our set-up for the scene that follows, and it strikes me as a complex
set-up for a complex series of confusing scenes in the climax, all of which
shifts complex interpretive responsibility onto the reader, warns against
the madness of over-interpretation, and yet reveals the complexity of a
pattern that cannot be grasped.  I can't seem to say that without over-using
the word "complex," which Freud might want to talk about...

So, we shift from Spring into Winter.  That Winter lasts only 11 pages, but
it is dense, and the snow falls like thick meal.

   * * *

The signs of conspicuous consumption are all there in the duck shoot
(III,iv), as Bill and Charles have noted, but I'm most struck by what
precedes Capodistria's 'departure' and Justine's later revelation of the
importance of D.C.  Da Capo starts to talk about interpreting a book...

I nearly always take such moments as guides for the reader, such as
Bradley's discussion of _Hamlet_ in Iris Murdoch's _The Black Prince_.  In
these readings of books within books, an author gets to speak as the critic,
but only as the critic guiding the reader with regard to what to watch for
and what to avoid.  Da Capo speaks of Pursewarden's last novel, and his
first observation strikes me as a prompt for the reader of _Justine_: "he
presents a series of spiritual problems as if they were commonplaces and
illustrates them with his characters."  Notably, Da Capo uses "us" to locate
both Darley and himself as unrepentant sensualists with no life beneath the
actions of the body.  Darley seems to leave this position by the end (or
beginning) of the novel, but others remain caught in the city this way.

Is this novel that Da Capo describes _Justine_?  It's overtly Pursewarden,
but figuratively I think the novel in hand fits the glove of that
description.  If so, what are the "spiritual problems" that we see only as
commonplaces?  Are they resumed in a flash as that conflict between Sade and
Freud in the epigraphs: the 'talk' versus the unexamined 'hunger'?  I think
so...

Yet, Freud is here in Da Capo as well when he notes "Every kiss is the
conquest of a repulsion."  I'm made to think of the opening of Freud's
_Three Essays on Sexuality_ in which the perversion and disgust of kissing
(the mucous membranes) stands out.  Desire and disgust are bedfellows here,
which makes one want to explore further, though Da Capo seems content with
his disgust and desire without further analysis.

But, after all this, we get the shoot, followed by the news of Capodistria's
death.  How does Darley greet that news?  "A thousand conventional
commonplaces, a thousand conventional questions spring to my mind" -- this
is not without its reminder of Capodistria's own comment on the spiritual
problems we find represented through commonplaces.  Those commonplaces stand
for a great deal.

So, is it safe to suggest what these spiritual problems may be, those which
we find in the commonplaces of sex and death?  I'd suggest self-knowledge,
desire, and instinct.  I see the loss of self-reflection in pursuing the
"beauty-hunger" of which Capodistria is the prime exemplar (the Sadean
epigraph); the problem of self-reflection that offers up only anxiety,
mortality, and disillusionment; and the instincts that don't cease with
understanding.  In other words, the desire that isn't "me" yet drives me,
the "me" that I don't know about, the "me" I think I know, and the liminal
body that negotiates between the two.

Yet, the first person to flee the city and these problems is Justine, whose
disappearance completes the duck shoot with her letter (another text we
don't get to read!!).  We are unsure if this is Melissa or Justine at first,
but it is clarified in section IV immediately.

And this leaves Darley as our last image, followed by the sagacious
murmurings of the narrator, behind which we might suppose sits the author:
"Somewhere in the heart of experience there is an order and a coherence
which we might surprise if we were attentive enough, loving enough, or
patient enough.  Will there be time?"  The Dutton pocketbook edition gives
us "purprise," but it's the only edition to do so.  How does one "surprise"
the underlying patter?  Can it only be seen awry, out of the corner of one's
eye?

I can only guess that in _Justine_ there will not be time, but by the time
we reach _Clea_, there will be.  The conditional tense seems important to me
too.  We go from "if we were," which places the potential in the
unrecoverable past, to "will there be," which gives us a future.  I've often
seen Durrell being very careful and going through multiple versions of such
carefully phrased comments -- I'd suspect that here as well.

Clearly, they "were" not attentive enough, loving enough, or patient enough.
Yet, there may still be time for the past to change in the future...  Is
that what the 'talk' and remembrance of things past is for?  Perhaps it
doesn't matter since after this talk of the "order and a coherence," Darley
tells us "the whole pattern of our relationship" changed between him and
Nessim.

Darley, in IV, moves ever closer to becoming the interpreter who talks of
his past experience, while Nessim clearly moves to Da Capo's position of
unreflective desire in the Sadean life of a voluptuary.  The contrast
between the two of them is striking, especially as Nessim presses the
prostitutes' hands to his wallet rather than anything else...  Darley's
interpretation seems implicit, and I think the reader's would be clear as
well.  Either way, Nessim is becoming Alexandrian (blind pursuit of desire)
while Darley is about to flee to his island (talking cure), and this spatial
shift only emphasizes the "spiritual problems" around which the novel
circles: the competing poles of desire and self-awareness, both of which
come with costs.

At any rate, that's what Charles and Bill prompt me toward...

I hope you're all enjoying a lazy Saturday morning.  Personally, I've
enjoyed going through the end of the novel over my morning coffee.

Best,
James





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