[ilds] complexities

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Fri Aug 14 08:33:57 PDT 2009

Sumantra Nag wrote:
> I see a conflict between the disappearance of an European Alexandria 
> and the increasing presence of an Egyptian Alexandria, based on 
> a modern Arabic ethos, where an ultra-conservative and restrictive 
> force - now recognised the world over -making its heavy presence felt. 
> I have always been a great admirer of Lawrence Durrell's prose as it 
> expands in its sounds, colours and its complexities in The Alexandria 
> Quartet. It resounds with an inner poetry - never forget Lawrence 
> Durrell as a poet. 
> Over the years, however, I have come to see the point of Edward Said 
> when he referred to *the triviality of subject matter in Durrell's 
> Alexandria Quartet *[at his lecture in Beirut (?) - I forget the 
> context but remember the assessment]. I have often felt that *Lawrence 
> Durrell's heightened prose - at its peak in the Alexandria Quartet in 
> my opinion - was wasted on a kind of glorification of habitual and 
> often seedy sexual activity* which was difficult to extricate from the 
> forceful romanticism of his work. This seediness associated with the 
> writer has been expressed in the last poem on Lawrence Durrell 
> displayed in a recent post and written by an ILDS Discussion Forum member.
Thanks for writing, Sumantra.  Does this old debate come down to a 
question of the "uses of literature"?

One view will hold Durrell's writing as "incorrect" or "imperfect" for 
omitting or making grotesque the people, places, and history of 

That sort of objection springs from the sense that literature must 
accurately reflect some locatable, fixed reality--or that literature 
must "reform" and "correct" misguided views of a stable reality. 

Another view will observe that Durrell's writing in the /Quartet/ 
springs from Durrell's interest in uncertain, subjective viewpoints and 
his increasing skepticism about what gets called "Reality Prime."

That is, if Durrell has predicated his work upon the notion that no one 
sees the real Alexandria "as it is," then how could anyone criticize the 
writer for having missed something or for having made his characters 
more grotesque than "real Alexandrians." 

"But of course," might come the answer from someone who identifies with 
Durrell's aesthetic and philosophies in the /Quartet/. "How could it 
ever be otherwise, when all experience, all notions of reality and 
history are ultimately subjective?"

"Then let the Englishman play his games with subjectivity and 
impressionism in his own lands," the other side might answer.  "Our sons 
and daughters require books that give them strong, approved examples."

I doubt the extremes of these sides will ever find common ground. 

Those readers who hold the corrective view will accuse Durrell and the 
aesthetes of "re-colonization."

Those readers who take the aesthetic approach will call those who would 
chastise or correct Durrell "fundamentalists," "zealots."

But I imagine that a fair number of readers will fall somewhere into the 
middle, as you seem to do.


Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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