[ilds] complexities

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 14 10:12:09 PDT 2009


Nag's query and Sligh's response, both very well stated, raise, in my  
opinion, some of the most important questions about Durrell's  
Quartet.  How is Durrell's viewpoint to be taken?  How is it to be  
judged?  Is its portrayal of Alexandria fair?  Need it be?  To be  
honest, I've never satisfactorily answered these questions for myself,  
but that has not stopped me from continuing to enjoy reading the  
novels.  There's something in the Quartet that is magical and  
transcends conventional analysis, and here I am not talking about  
Durrell's philosophical underpinnings re the relativity of  
experience.  I like Durrell's poetry, not his overt philosophy,  
critical and otherwise.  I am absolutely not, however, of Edward  
Said's persuasion, who dismissed the Quartet as essentially a lot of  
pretentious, highbrow Colonial/Romantic rot.  (It's interesting that  
Said didn't feel that way about Joseph Conrad, another writer with a  
whole lot of Romantic baggage.  Conrad was the subject of Said's  
Harvard dissertation, and Conrad's Heart of Darkness has really gotten  
under the skin of the African writer, Chinua Achebe, whom I also  
disagree with.)  I see no reason why writers are obligated to do  
anything more than present their own vision of the world, as long as  
that vision is honest and causes no real harm.


Bruce


On Aug 14, 2009, at 8:33 AM, Charles Sligh wrote:

> 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
> Alexandria.
>
> 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
>
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