[ilds] The solace of such work. . . .and truth

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Sun Sep 16 20:58:48 PDT 2007


Charles has answered my question, which is much as I suspected but 
didn't want to conjecture.  Durrell wrote his poem "Paris Journal" in 
response to Gascoyne's actual _Paris Journal_ (quotation marks for the 
poem & underlining for the book, from now on...).  Gascoyne submitted 
his journal about his time in Paris to Durrell & Miller for The Booster 
/ Delta (I believe it was during the Delta stage only -- it's a journal 
run through the Villa Seurate, briefly but significantly).  Gascoyne 
guest-edited the penultimate issue, which is focused on poetry.  Durrell 
appears to have taken the lead on the Delta, while The Booster was more 
generalized.  See Richtofan's work for the details on all of it -- don't 
trust the biographies, and actually don't trust any of it unless it 
checks out with the texts and the correspondences...

This was after Gascoyne's major involvement with the Surrealists in 
Paris (and do note that Gascoyne has the distinction [dubious or 
glamorous, depending on your perspective] of being the first literary 
person in English who referred to Jacques Lacan), and after the 1936 
London International Surrealist Exhibition, Gascoyne describes himself 
as becoming more and more attached to Durrell's works, especially his 
_The Black Book_.  He was also deeply affected by Miller's "An Open 
Lette to Surrealists Everywhere."  This was all in 1937, so I would 
suspect Durrell's poem can earlier than 1939 too -- Gascoyne wrote his 
letter explaining the journal *in* the journal itself when he sent it to 
Durrell for his examination, and that was 18 October 1937.  That 
Durrell's poem was published only on 7 September 1939 (in the New 
English Weekly) does not mean that he didn't write at a time more 
contemporary to his reading of the journal.

My approach to reading "Paris Journal" would locate it in this mix of 
materials, and especially the Villa Seurat's alternative approach to 
Surrealism, much of which shifted away from the Socialist political 
agenda and the dogmatic orthodoxy of approach imposed by Breton.  For 
details on all of it (plugs...) you'll have to see the Henry Miller - 
Herbert Read correspondence coming out through Roger Jackson, or else 
the next issue of _Nexus_ (I can hear the rumble starting already).  At 
any rate,  Gascoyne's _Paris Journal_ is largely concerned with his 
difficulties negotiating between some of these aesthetic and political 
approaches (his own political adherence to Breton's orthodoxy appears to 
have evaporated when he met Miller and Durrell).

In that vein, we have a very excited Durrell writing "Paris Journal" in 
response to his friend's highly engaging discussion of all these matters 
in evocative prose.  Throw into the mix Durrell's own semi-surrealist 
_The Black Book_, "Asylum in the Snow," and "Zero," and a pattern begins 
to emerge.  Note in addition Louis MacNeice's images of snow in "The 
Brandy Glass," Dylan Thomas' publication in _Delta_, and Robert Duncan's 
snow images "An Ark for Lawrence Durrell," and that pattern becomes a 
trend.  Much of it's anticipated in Miller's interactions with Herbert 
Read, all of which he was sending to Durrell -- hence, Durrell's 
"DESTROYING TIME" letter to Miller, which is really a point by point 
response to Read.

But, where does that leave us with the poem?  Is it just a dog's 
breakfast with all of that heaped on it now?  I hope not...  Rather than 
a mockery of Gascoyne, as at least one critic has read the poem, I think 
we instead see Durrell selecting materials from among the journal's 
entries, which he then transforms in to the poem's mildly 
"super-realist" images: the "deviation of a hair" that determines 
everything, parochial love oddly tied to the mother, the mild insertion 
of the absence of a definite self, and so on.  What of the "motionless 
voice," which must be somehow moving, otherwise he'd have no sound (by 
definition).  If Bill's right to grab after D.H. Lawrence on that one, 
is allusion somehow resurrecting a voice from beyond death, which might 
be though of as motionless, and if so, that's a lot to put on allusion.  
It's especially a lot when the poem is made up of allusions to 
Gascoyne...  Yet, if so, "Death is so far, so far, no further" -- a nice 
ambiguity.  If this is a speaking voice giving instructions, it's 
distancing death as further (but not farther) than can be articulated, 
or else it's an injunction "no further" that death not be set so far 
away that it doesn't speak.

So, where's Thursday?  Evidently Wenesday's thunder and library book 
have made Thursday vanish without a trace -- at least time is without 
form now, despite the implication of forward motion, which may be why 
Saturday "begins the slow reverse" as it's running backwards, 
desperately avoiding the end, though the equinox cannot be regained.  
Which equinox, I agree with Bill, he don't know, but even running 
backwards we can't seem to regain it -- perhaps it was on Thursday?

Somehow, however, that backwards running Saturday that cannot find "time 
past" of the equinox has that inability articulated as "yet."  What an 
odd relationship...  I am running backwards in time, unable to regain 
time past (perhaps the Equinox is tomorrow?) BUT a motionless voice 
blesses paradigmatically 'smokey' hills.   Humm.  Is this the voice that 
speaks through the mask at the end?

I suspect that voice, articulated on that dead Sunday in which god(s) 
sleeps, the knot isn't untied, and the monster is safely locked away, 
may be the same voice that is motionless.  Who else could speak on such 
a day?  Gascoyne also lost Bent on a Sunday, "as though a lump had been 
torn out of me somewhere."

Either way, however, the repetition of the mantra "what is Truth" as a 
question has been transformed by concentration into a direct statement 
(and this isn't the only time Durrell does this in his poetry -- it's a 
trick he liked):

"What is Truth" becomes "Truth is what is Truth," which is something 
quite different.  Truth is of itself and nothing else, which answers the 
question it is formed from -- just like the question, Truth is of itself 
and nothing else, just as the answer is of the question.

In context, does this seem more like a poetic approach to a surrealist 
examinations of "Truth" (the whole reason Charles quoted the poem to us 
in the first place) in which "Truth" becomes something of itself rather 
than something of the world?  More broadly, if this were commenting back 
on Surrealism in Paris in the late 1930s, I'd suspect (I typed "I'd" as 
Id the first time...  Bad parapraxis) we have a rejection of the 'real 
world' pursuits of the Surrealists: the Surrealist political agenda 
comes from something other than itself (surrealism), just as the 
discovery of a self in the psychoanalytic introspection again draws on 
something other than Surrealism.  If "Truth is what is Truth," then that 
'self' articulated through the conscious mind must, if true, be of the 
conscious mind -- perhaps, then, the unconscious truth cannot be 
articulated or explored in that way...  Maybe it must remains an 
inarticulate mystery.

In the most general sense, how does the reader of Gascoyne's _Paris 
Journal_ (of which we can count Durrell) find a way of reconciling the 
catalogue of days and days' events with the profound introspection, 
agony of working through a self that cannot be known, and Gascoyne's 
glimpses of enlightenment that he can write from but cannot articulate.

At least, that's what a few minutes of presumptive wanderings gave me...

Best,
Jamie

Charles Sligh wrote:
> Marc has written with a request for clarification about the "Paris Journal." 
> Jamie can continue his reading of the poem from within that biographical
> context, and meanwhile here follows the entire poem for reference.
>
> Charles
> ***
>
> PARIS JOURNAL
>
> [from Collected Poems: 1931-1974 (1985), Faber and Faber]
>
> For David Gascoyne (1939)
>
> Monday escapes destruction.
> Record a vernal afternoon,
> Tea on the lawn with mother,
> A parochial interest in love, etc.
> By the deviation of a hair,
> Is death so far, so far, no further.
>
> Tuesday: visibility good: and Wednesday.
> A little thunder, some light showers.
> A library book about the universe.
> The absence of a definite self.
> O and already by Friday hazardous,
> To Saturday begins the slow reverse.
> A Saturday without form. By midnight
> The equinox seems forever gone:
> Yet the motionless voice repeating:
> 'Bless the hills in paradigms of smoke,
> Manhair, Maidenhair meeting.'
>
> But today Sunday. The pit.
> The axe and the knot. Cannot write.
> The monster in its booth.
> At a quarter to one the mask repeating:
> 'Truth is what is
> Truth is what is Truth?'
>
> 1943/1939
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