[ilds] Aesthetics and Durrell

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Fri Sep 25 23:43:52 PDT 2009


"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." 
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Charles: "The passages copied below come from the early unnamed Darley, writing early in the process of his development--or at least early in his "process."  AS I continue to read the _Quartet_,I am increasingly uncertain what if anything Darley learns over the course of the novels."

Bruce: "In short, I take it as serious statement of belief, and I do believe M. Durrell has a core identity and aesthetic that is very close to the words of the young, callow, impressionable, highly Romantic LGD,..."
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I think Charles sees the narrator Darley progressing in his beliefs beyond the first rumination about the "compromise through art" as he writes the novels. Bruce sees a core statement of belief about the artist's fufillment through his creation. 'Justine' was Lawrence Durrell's first major success as an artist, although his 'The Black Book' seems to have received considerable attention from major writers such as T.S. Eliot - but less perhaps from Henry Miller whose influence is seen prominently in the work through echoes of Tropic of Cancer (?). While beginning Justine, Durrell was probably at a stage where he is still finding his place as an artist. The book's success and its continued presence in the other 'siblings' of the Alexandria Quartet does not perhaps take away this belief about the artist's "joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life". I had referred to Herbert Marcuse and his view of aesthetics and art. Marcuse also uses the well worn term "catharsis". Durrell speaks of the imagination as the crucial place where the potential of art is fulfilled: "...but to fulfil it in its true potential - the imagination." The imagination is where experience gets transformed - transformation being a major aesthetic charteristic of art.

Sumantra
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Bruce Redwine 
  To: Charles-Sligh at utc.edu ; ilds at lists.uvic.ca 
  Cc: Bruce Redwine ; Sumantra Nag 
  Sent: Thursday, September 24, 2009 10:17 PM
  Subject: Re: [ilds] Aesthetics and Durrell


  Sumantra ponders, Charles suffers Mac-loss, and I'm struggling to set up a new one.  Re Durrell and aestheticism, while Charles certainly offers the appropriate words of caution, I'm with Sumantra, if I understand him correctly, and am quite willing to take Darley/Durrell at his word, as quoted below, namely, "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 kind of statement occurs too frequently throughout Durrell's oeuvre, fiction and nonfiction, early and late, to be taken as either a stage in the writer's development or as some kind of trial balloon — both doomed to revision or destruction by Pursewarden's ironies.  In short, I take it as serious statement of belief, and I do believe M. Durrell has a core identity and aesthetic that is very close to the words of the young, callow, impressionable, highly Romantic LGD, whom Ludwig P. snickers at and refers to as "Lineaments of Gratified Desire" in Balthazar.  The phrase, I believe, comes from Billy Blake, usually taken as the first of the great English Romantics.  So, Pursewarden mocks using the words of one of his own heroes (cf. Mountolive, where the poet and his blind sister celebrate Blake's birthday, "the old b[astard's]," by waltzing around Trafalgar Square — surely one of the most beautiful scenes in the Quartet).


  By the way, I thank Sumantra for quoting from Terry Eagleton's review of Ian MacNiven's biography.  This has appeared before on the List, but it's always good to be reminded how vicious and wrong-headed a reviewer can be, such being the nature of academic wars.





  Bruce






  On Sep 24, 2009, at 5:07 AM, Charles Sligh wrote:


    Thanks for reviving, Sumantra.

    I destroyed my MacBook, so I have no steady email access and cannot read or post at length.

    But for the following passages from _Justine_, I would notice -who- writes these Great Literary Thoughts and -when- he speaks them.  I think this recognition impacts your reading and your claims below that these passages represent the novelist's own voice.  I think this recognition might even help you make the point, but I do not have time to chase the implications.

    The passages copied below come from the early unnamed Darley, writing early in the process of his development--or at least early in his "process."  AS I continue to read the _Quartet_,I am increasingly uncertain what if anything Darley learns over the course of the novels.

    However, I am confident that Durrell as a writer learns much over the course of composing and publishing his novels.  

    One of his uncanny discoveries comes with the narrative structure, the storytelling form of the _Quartet_.  As I make my way through the novels, I become increasingly aware that GREAT LITERARY THOUGHTS offered by Darley or Arnauti or Pursewarden &c. may or may not give insight, may or may not be romantic balderdash, effected poses, &c.  The arrival of Pursewarden and his ironies makes me more attentive of the limits of Darley &c.

    That is all actually quite wonderful, I think.   Durrell giveth.  Durrell taketh away.  Few other books have that degree of surprise in them.

    CLS

    ***

    THE PASSAGES IN QUESTION

    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."  
    ***************************************
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