[ilds] authentic

Ilyas Khan ilyas.khan at crosby.com
Sun Dec 2 20:22:47 PST 2007


Durrell did care about authenticity. His descriptions of people (the
physical self); places (streets, houses, lakes, seas); and characters (in
the sense that you allude to with the question about duplicity and
multiplicity) are written with both a care and a focus that belies any other
answer. I believe the real issue arises when someone challenges that (or
those) descriptions. In the most basic case people will challenge a
particular street or house or even room scene and say ³that wasn¹t real² or
³I¹ve been there, and I can tell you that wasn¹t real². However, these
challenges, often well deserved in the literal sense, are not relevant in my
view to the overall question that has to be posed when assessing the work of
LD the writer and artist. As you well know, its very easy to take the easy
way out when defending the work of writers who are attempting reality, but
who might be slap-dash in their execution. Justine falls so far out of that
category ­ and scores so highly from an aesthetic standpoint, that LD
creates and sustains his own authenticity. For thousands of readers who will
never get to Alexandria, the city and the people who inhabit his books (and
the city, by extension) have come alive.

I don¹t, for a second, take issue with critics and commentators who will
look very carefully at a small piece of the book and explain why, in their
view, the writing might lack a degree of authenticity. After all, we all
come to the work with our own accumulated baggage, and in some cases, our
own specific local knowledge. But these opinions, at least in my view, are
not the basis upon which to attack LD for being an outsider, or worst, a
writer who loads his description with political intent. The best example of
why I believe this to be the case is that I come from North West England,
and will often read a novel or short story that has been set in my part of
the  world with an almost forensic search for local detail. Its a human
trait (I wont say failing) for us to take that extra care to look at things
which have personal resonance, and then, if that resonance falls even
infinitesimally short, we feel justified in criticising the work as a whole.
Rather like trying to debate exactly how many angels might be dancing on the
head of a metaphorical pin !

The academic view (no shortage of academics on this list) too often miss
this point. Maybe its too obvious ? The debate rages on through minute
nuances that require years of research or privileged access to institutional
information to appreciate never mind comment upon. I will leave that
particular pleasure to our esteemed colleagues who specialise in it, and
will take my usual pleasure in being educated in the process, but thought
this fairly important point might be a good first response to your post.

From: slighcl <slighcl at wfu.edu>
Reply-To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
Date: Sun, 02 Dec 2007 15:15:30 -0500
To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
Subject: Re: [ilds] authentic

On 12/2/2007 2:23 PM, william godshalk wrote:
> Charlie quotes Durrell:
>> "I lacked a belief in the true authenticity of people in order to
>> successfully portray them"  Justine (Faber 196).
And we might as well begin with establishing accurate textual coordinates
for our reading--something not accomplished by Anis's floating quotation
drawn freely from Mountolive or by my original person-to-person email to
Bill.  It is critical to think about who says the words, as well as when
they are said, how they are said, and why.

What I mean:  Of course, Durrell the author of Justine wrote those words.
However, within the dynamic fiction of the novel, we are asked to believe
that an unnamed and naive Darley writes them as he retrospectively considers
his old self nearing the culmination of his personal crisis.

Pairing the term "authenticity" with each prominent voice/presence in the
Quartet might also bear some returns.  Is Justine authentic?  Is Pursewarden
authentic?  Is Nessim authentic?  Is Mountolive authentic?  Those questions
hardly seem the point.  Rather, answering those questions would show up the
impoverished state of our meanings of "authentic"--especially in the
restrictive way that the al-Ahram article wants to insist upon.  All of
these characters in different ways illustrate divided selves, refracted
selves, hidden selves, multiple selves, &c--inauthenticity seems their
primary condition.  If realism was the point--and again I think that Durrell
does not lead us there--we might say that the most real and "authentic"
aspect of these characters is their duplicity or multiplicity.

Of course, all of the above characters have obvious connections to the
elitist and alien cliques that Anis wants to invoke.  (She does fall into
the trap of believing in some sort of aboriginal or authentic Alexandrian.)
So I might try to shift my focus and look at the Egyptian "street" as
depicted by Durrell.  I'll ask a hard question: Does Durrell even care about
accuracy or authenticity in his depictions of the masses on the streets and
in the background?  Should we?  I think our different answers--and I accept
that there can be different answers--will depend upon how wedded we are

Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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