[ilds] Takes

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sun Aug 16 09:04:14 PDT 2009


James,

Thanks for repeating what you said years ago.  My response to  
Eagleton's lame mea culpa is simple — if a reviewer can't give a work  
a careful and thoughtful reading then he or she shouldn't review it.   
Seems to me that Eagleton was simply too eager to have his own name in  
print and have his own views propagated at the expense of someone  
else's hard work.


Bruce


On Aug 16, 2009, at 7:19 AM, James Gifford wrote:

> Let me also very briefly add that while in conversation with Eagleton
> during a DSC session, he admitted that he couldn't possibly read
> everything he was asked to review -- that in response to his  
> comments on
> MacNiven's bio (which includes a mistake about the number of pages,
> among other things...).  Ditto when I asked about his reading of the
> complete Quartet, which it was apparently very fashionable to be *see*
> reading at the time, for the purpose of impression the fairer sex.  He
> was, however, seemingly enthusiastic about other parts of the works  
> and
> was genuinely encouraging for the students at the session.
>
> Perhaps Pamela or Beatrice can add more comments?  I wouldn't really  
> go
> to Eagleton for serious commentary though, since he's ideologically
> against the position of the works, is disinclined to recognize their
> ironies, and likely hasn't really read them with any serious attention
> anyway.
>
> As for Said's lecture in Lebanon, it's from Mustafa Marrouchi's book,
> based on notes on the lecture from Said's papers, and Said was very
> likely referring to the film given the nature and time of his comments
> (ie: not the book itself!).  Said's only written comments on the  
> Quartet
> concern someone else's reading of the work, not the work itself...
>
> -J
>
> Bruce Redwine wrote:
>> Sumantra,
>>
>> Thanks for the interesting and informed email re a couple of "takes"
>> on Lawrence Durrell and his standing in what? — "English letters?"
>> Charles has already given his "take," and I agree with everything he
>> said.  A couple of over-long comments, which I hope are relevant.
>>
>> I mentioned earlier Chinua Achebe's article on Conrad's /Heart of
>> Darkness /(1899), an early classic, especially ever since Eliot mined
>> it for an epigraph in "The Hollow Men."  The article:  "An Image of
>> Africa:  Racism in Conrad's /Heart of Darkness"/ /(Mass. Review/ 18
>> [1977]).  Achebe is a Nigerian.  Besides labeling Conrad a racist,
>> Achebe's criticism of /HD/ basically boils down to saying, and here I
>> do not quote, just paraphrase liberally, "The novella is not true.   
>> It
>> badly misrepresents Africa and Africans.  It's a gross and unfair
>> treatment of the Congo and it's people, and it's typical of the  
>> racism
>> of the European colonial mind."  In short, and here's a direct quote,
>> "[Conrad's] obvious racism has, however, not been addressed.  And it
>> is high time it was!"  All this I would argue strenuously against and
>> say that Achebe doesn't understand what Conrad is trying to do.
>> Moreover, I give Conrad complete latitude to say whatever he deems
>> necessary to accomplish his artistic ends, which I see in no way  
>> racist.
>>
>> Achebe's arguments are relevant to this discussion, because I find
>> them very close to a lot of criticism I heard at "The Durrell
>> Celebration," held in Alexandria, Egypt, 2007, on the occasion of the
>> fiftieth anniversary of the publication of /Justine.  /There many
>> Egyptian members of the audience stood up and attacked the /Quartet,/
>> using arguments very similar to Achebe's.  I have no sympathy with
>> that approach.
>>
>> Now, Terry Eagleton is another prominent opponent of Durrell's work.
>> First, I would mention Eagleton is a critic of questionable ethics,
>> since he reviewed MacNiven's biography of LD in /TLS/?, without the
>> courtesy of a complete and careful reading of the work.  Not
>> surprisingly, Eagleton commits a number of factual errors about
>> Durrell.  All this has been previously discussed on the List.   
>> Second,
>> Eagleton is a Marxist critic, and Marxist like to talk about the
>> social value of literary works or "real human sympathy," as you quote
>> Eagleton saying below — none of which should be confused with the
>> ethical values of reviewers.  Finally, re Eaglerton's criticism of
>> Durrell's "country of the mind?"  Charles deals with this well.  I
>> only add, and what's wrong with that?  Joyce has his Dublin and  
>> Proust
>> his Paris — all countries of the mind, in my mind, and they will  
>> endure.
>>
>> Eagleton's final barb, however, strikes home, but not as he would
>> like.  As a throwaway, he mentions Nabokov as another example of
>> "elitism and aestheticism," but an author with a "finer literary
>> talent."  And this is surely true.  Nabokov's /Lolita/ consistently
>> gets ranked as the second greatest novel of the 20th century, second
>> only to Joyce's /Ulysses/.  Durrell's problem, as I see it, is that  
>> he
>> wasn't enough of an artist or, to put it another way, not hard  
>> working
>> enough.  He was too gifted and writing came to him too easily.
>> Besides his other problems of overwriting and a propensity towards
>> pomposity, he didn't revise as he should have and try to turn out a
>> finished product equal to those just mentioned.  Of course, he had
>> financial considerations — the pressures of wives, ex-wives, and
>> children.  But I think something else caused his restlessness with
>> art, and I don't know what it was.
>>
>>
>> Bruce
>>
>>
>>
>>
>> On Aug 15, 2009, at 11:05 AM, Sumantra Nag wrote:
>>
>>> Charles: "That sort of objection springs from the sense that
>>> literature must
>>> accurately reflect some locatable, fixed reality--or that
>>> literaturemust "reform" and "correct" misguided views of a stable
>>> reality."
>>>
>>> Bruce: "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,"
>>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> Charles, Bruce, thank you both very much for your thoughtful
>>> responses. As points of reference, I am reproducing above, only a
>>> small part of your respective comments.
>>>
>>> Bruce, it is some time since I read Joseph Conrad's "Heart of
>>> Darkness". I think it is Lawrence Durrell's reflective comments  
>>> about
>>> Alexandria, scattered all over the Quartet, and reading like a
>>> travelogue, that tend to portray the image of a colonial traveller  
>>> or
>>> expatriate. I don't recall the same impression in "Heart of  
>>> Darkness"
>>> where description is direct - but I may well be missing out on
>>> something. (The intensity of prose in Conrad's "Lord Jim" is held up
>>> by George Steiner as an example of baroque writing for comparison
>>> with the prose of the AQ - I posted an extract from George Steiner  
>>> on
>>> ILDS some time ago.) I also think it is valid to point out that
>>> Durrell's characters are seen as limited to foreigners in  
>>> Alexandria,
>>> and not to the Egyptian population - but then Alexandria apparently
>>> had a strong European character, different from the rest of Egypt.
>>> Again, Durrell's tendency in the AQ to write subjective commentaries
>>> about the "City" and its people, when he is actually writing about a
>>> very small section of the city's population (even its European
>>> population), accentuates the neglect of large portions of the city's
>>> people - even the cosmopolitan non-Egyptian polpulation. This may  
>>> not
>>> have happened if he gave a less pervasive presence to "the City" in
>>> his novels. But then, the AQ has a magnetic quality - a quality  
>>> which
>>> you have described as magical and transcending traditional analysis!
>>>
>>> Charles, I wonder whether Terry Eagleton's views are relevant in the
>>> context of our discussions:
>>>
>>> "Durrell once described himself as a "supreme trickster", and this  
>>> is
>>> surely one reason why his celebrity proved so shortlived. The
>>> glittering surface of his prose conceals an emotional anaesthesia,
>>> for which the portentously "profound" reflections of the Quartet are
>>> meant to compensate. Like many poets, his verbal sensitivity is in
>>> inverse proportion to real human sympathy, a sublimated selfishness
>>> evident in his life as much as his work. What was real was what he
>>> could exoticise, convert to mythological archetype or high-sounding
>>> platitude. His Alexandria is a country of the mind, attractive
>>> precisely because its cultural and ethnic mix makes it at once
>>> nowhere and everywhere. If he plundered Egypt for its symbolic
>>> capital, he also groused about its "stinking inhabitants". His
>>> combination of elitism and aestheticism was finally outstripped by
>>> Nabokov, another rootless emigre who happened to possess a finer
>>> literary talent." (From *"**SUPREME TRICKSTER"* By Terry Eagleton, a
>>> review of Ian McNiven's biography of LAWRENCE DURRELL.)
>>>
>>> George Steiner upheld the rich prose of Durrell as a relief from the
>>> flat prose of English fiction which had set in by the 1950s. But it
>>> seems to me that some critics (including perhaps Eagleton) see this
>>> quality of Durrell as filling the need of a particular period. What
>>> happens if you judge the novels in critical terms other than those  
>>> of
>>> the quality of prose?
>>>
>>> Best wishes
>>>
>>> Sumantra
>>>
>>
>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>
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