[ilds] Genesis of the Quartet

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Sun May 4 10:44:32 PDT 2008

> I can't help but think how remarkably ahead 
> of his time Durrell was in thinking of life 
> and art as n-dimensionality.  Tools on the 
> internet, such as blogs, wikis, etc. allow 
> writers continually to alter/rewrite/reinvent 
> texts.  Variants are part of the multiplicity 
> of consciousness today as we move away from 
> the intense focus on one thing or the concept 
> of an ultimate, final text.

Nicely put, Anna.  I can only imagine what Durrell's blog might be and 
how many times he'd revise it, though I suspect he'd leave a goodly 
record of his revisions in the wiki...  The Durrellian wikipedia entries 
could bear some expansion, and I note several authors now edit their own 

But, this notion sends me back to a rather problematic article by Milan 
Kundera from last year, in which he attacks the archive as a limitation 
of his authorial powers of continual revisions: it's a delusion of 
equality in a mass grave to think I can read /Justine/ 1957 instead of 
/The Alexandria Quartet/, or so he tells me.  In his vision, there's no 
equality between those books, and I ought to bury my first edition, 
third impression in the backyard.  In other words, Kundera will revise 
his book any time he wants, and the readers will read what he tells them 
to.  Personally, I think it's a ploy to get more cash from copyright... 
  As he phrases it:

> I will go still further: "the work" is what the writer will 
> approve in his own final assessment. For life is short, 
> reading is long, and literature is in the process of killing 
> itself off through an insane proliferation. Every novelist, 
> starting with his own work, should eliminate whatever is 
> secondary, lay out for himself and for everyone else the 
> ethic of the essential 
> But it is not only the writers, the hundreds and thousands 
> of writers; there are also the researchers, the armies of 
> researchers who, guided by some opposite ethic, 
> accumulate everything they can find to embrace the 
> Whole, a supreme goal. The Whole, which includes a 
> mountain of drafts, deleted paragraphs, chapters rejected 
> by the author but published by researchers, in what are 
> called "critical editions", under the perfidious title 
> "variants", which means, if words still have meaning, 
> that anything the author wrote is worth as much as 
> anything else, that it would be similarly approved by 
> him. 
> The ethic of the essential has given way to the ethic of the 
> archive. (The archive's ideal: the sweet equality that 
> reigns in an enormous common grave.)

My hesitation with Kundera here is that I worry he'll start sneaking 
into my house, replacing my copies of his books with fresh ones, and 
perhaps he'll throw out all of my copies of /Dubliners/ while he's at 
it, since none are "the work."  I suspect he'd do the same thing with 
his own blog.  As I said in my last post, I prefer my authors stay on 
the back of the book and leave the interior to me, even if they like to 
continue generating new books.  Kundera may see my equality as purchased 
at the cost of his own grave, but I'm not willing to let him revise 
history and consign the variants that critics have chaffed him over to 
its dustbin.  I like Durrell's approach better -- the book can keep 
changing, but the variants float about as well.  The variants carry on 
living, even if the author has expired and become one their readers.  I 
don't think there's any record of Durrell suppressing a variant or 
previous edition, such as the US printings that likely earned him the 
most cash.  I suspect he'd rather like the variety, much as he liked it 
in Shakespeare, and said so.

I suppose, in Kundera's terms, as a reader and bibliographer, I'm not 
interested in the ur-text or "the work," but neither am I going to 
construct some metaphysics of "THE WHOLE," since there's always a 
supposed HOLE in that, a lack...  He's just setting up a straw man, in 
this case because he's made itchy by the notion of genetic criticism, 
hence the use of Flaubert as his example.

Personally, I'm interested in every different version I can get.  If my 
authors don't like that, they can tell me so in a letter, which I will 
then promptly donate to the archive for my modest tax relief.  He can 
worry about spectres rising from that grave, but I'll be engaged in a 
lively reading.


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