[ilds] Aesthetics and Durrell_ILDS Digest, Vol 30, Issue 4_

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Wed Sep 23 01:57:57 PDT 2009

I am taking advantage of the current ebb in the postings on the ILDS forum to expand on my earlier post. 

Durrell's ruminations on the activities associated with artistic creation are expressed through the narrator at the beginning of 'Justine' :

"I have been looking through my papers tonight. Some have been converted to kitchen uses, some the child has destroyed. This form of censorship pleases me for it has the indifference of the natural world to the constructions of art...After all, what is the good of a fine metaphor for Melissa when she lies buried deep as any mummy in the shallow tepid sand of the black estuary?..."

"...I spoke of the uselessness of art but added nothing truthful about its consolations. The solace of such work as I do with brain and heart lies in this - that only there, in the silences of the painter or the writer can reality be reordered, reworked and made to show its significant side. Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth-of-gold - the meaning of the pattern. For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential - the imagination."  

This reflection of Durrell's on artistic purpose, expressed thriugh his narrator at once admits the "uselessness" of art as far as the real world is concerned, but displays its potential for reordering or reworking reality in a way which displays a different significance.  reflection appears to illustrate the view of Herbert Marcuse about "aesthetic transformation." Marcuse says:

"Art is committed to that perception of the world which alienates individuals from their functional existence and performance in society - it is committed to an emancipation of sensibility, imagination, and reason in all spheres of subjectivity and objectivity. The aesthetic transformation becomes a vehicle of recognition and indictment...The world of art is that of anaother Reality Principle, of estrangement - and only as estrangement does art fulfill a cognitive  function: it communicates truths not communicable in any other language; it contradicts."

Furthermore, Marcuse expresses an opinion which might contradict the definitive requirement of social or cultural traditions in the content of works which F.R. Leavis and a school of British critics might consider necessary while judging the quality of literary art. Marcuse is of the view that,

"The fact that a work truly represents the interests or outlook of the proletariat or of the bourgeoisie does not yet make it an authentic work of art."

I might end this post with extracts from two assessments of Post-WWII British critics and readers which includes a comment on their apathy or at least suspicion of Modernist writing. The Web links will provide the rest of the available text. 

1. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n20/wood02_.html (Puffed Wheat James Wood The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002 by John Bayley, selected by Leo Carey)
"In their very different ways, the three most prominent Oxford professors of English since the war have all been populist pretenders. John Carey, scourge of Modernist 'intellectuals' and reliable dribbler of cold water on all forms of overheated aestheticism, comes across as the last defender of sensible English decency. Terry Eagleton, ... increasingly presents himself as the sensible Marxist alternative to toothless and ornate theory in America and continental Europe. And John Bayley ...attempts to defend the sensible common reader against academic criticism tout court - what he has variously called 'the higher criticism', 'smart academic critics', 'the literary lads', 'the clever men at Yale and elsewhere', and 'the high-tech men'.
In their puritanism (Carey), suspicion of overprivileged aestheticism (Carey and Eagleton), and belief that literature is at its most powerful when disclosing life (Bayley, and to some extent Carey), all three critics are far more marked by F.R. Leavis than they would probably like to admit; they would all agree, for instance, along with Leavis, to a marked suspicion of Virginia Woolf, for interestingly similar reasons..."

2. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/journal_of_modern_literature/v026/26.3levitt01.pdf

Levitt, Morton. A.N. Wilson and Marcel Proust: Surprising Bedfellows, Journal of Modern Literature - Volume 26, Number 3/4, Summer 2003, pp. 62-72

Indiana University Press 

"We will never, I fear, fully comprehend the mystery of the English hostility to the Modernist novel after the Second World War, a rejection so profound that it seems to the outsider to be positively perverse....the extreme, reactionary chauvinism that motivated English critics and novelists alike from 1945 until well into the 1980s. Nor can the fact that many of the major Modernists of England -- Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and Beckett, among others -- were not even English. Nor the claim that Modernism was an elitist activity, while it was graduates of the red brick universities -- sons and daughters of the working class, that is -- who dominated the literary scene post-1945 (an argument advanced to account, in particular, for the continuing hostility to Virginia Woolf, presumably a social as well as an intellectual snob)." 

It would be interesting to receive some responses to the foregoing material.



----- Original Message ----- 

From: <ilds-request at lists.uvic.ca>
To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 12:30 AM
Subject: ILDS Digest, Vol 30, Issue 4

> Today's Topics:
>  2. Herbert Marcuse and Aesthetics_Implications for the
>      Alexandria Quartet (Sumantra Nag)
> > ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> > 
> Message: 2
> Date: Tue, 22 Sep 2009 23:50:51 +0530
> From: "Sumantra Nag" <sumantranag at gmail.com>
> Subject: [ilds] Fw: Herbert Marcuse and Aesthetics_Implications for
> the Alexandria Quartet
> To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
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>> ----- Original Message ----- 

>> Does a Marxist view of literary criticism necessarily oppose aestheticism? The philosopher of the 'New Left' Herbert Marcuse sees art as a negation of reality, the reality that can control both a consumerist society through the power of consumer goods in a democratic capitalist society and also any population under any kind of totalitarian control, whether fascist or communist. At least that was my understanding of Herbert Marcuse's philosophy as expressed by him in 'The One-Dimensional Man' and in 'The Aesthetic Dimension'. Re-reading extracts from 'The Aesthetic Dimension' of Herbert Marcuse (as reproduced in 'Literary Aesthetics: A Reader' Edited by Alan Singer and Allen Dunn, Blackwell, U.K./USA, 2000) one notes the following expostion by Marcuse:
>  "The critical function of art, its contribution to the struggle for liberation, resides in the aesthetic form. A work of art is authentic or true not by virtue of its content (i.e., the "correct" representation of social conditions), nor by its "pure" form, but by the content having become form.
>  True, the aesthetic form removes art from the actuality of the class struggle - from actuality pure and simple. The aesthetic form constitutes the autonomy of art vis-a-vis "the given." However, this dissociation does not produce "false consciousness" or mere illusion but rather a counter-cosciousness: negation of the realistic -conformist mind." 
> It seems to me that by this view of art Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet stands out as a work which as Marcuse's "aesthetic form" has "..the autonomy of art vis-a-vis "the given." Such an assessment also answers many of the latter day critiques of the Alexandria Quartet based on the absence of the reality of Egypt or Alexandria in Lawrence Durrell's novels set in Alexandria. Perhaps it also counters Terry Eagleton's negative views about the aestheticism of Lawrence Durrell:
>  "Part of the fag-end of cosmopolitan modernism, he shacked up in Corfu, Athens, Egypt, Rhodes, Buenos Aires, Cyprus and France, changing wives almost as often as he changed countries.Some of this placeshifting was an attempt to keep one step ahead of the second world war, which he did his aestheticist best to ignore. While Hitler was on the rampage, Durrell was in search of a spot more sunshine. He despised politics, thought Marxists "synonymous with pigs and fools", and set his thoughts instead on the eternal."
>  (From: "Supreme Trickster", a review by Terry Eagleton of LAWRENCE DURRELL: A BIOGRAPHY by Ian MacNiven.)   
> And Terry Eagleton is also a Marxist critic.
> Sumantra
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