[ilds] Selfhood, Durrell, Pater

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 6 12:49:47 PDT 2009


I see Pater as describing, beautifully so, the effervescence of  
consciousness, not the nature of "selfhood," as Bill offers.  I think  
Keats, Pater, Durrell, and a host of others confuse the two.  I'm very  
literal minded and don't see how you can equate, what Durrell  
sometimes calls, "I per se I," that core entity of personality, with  
those fleeting impressions and Paterian "hard, gemlike flames" of  
sensory experience.  Because the world around me is fleeting does not  
mean that I am just as insubstantial, or so I think.  Cogito.  Zen  
Buddhism, on the other hand, says that my rock-hard sense of self is  
nothing but an illusion.  I don't believe it.


On Oct 6, 2009, at 8:21 AM, Charles Sligh wrote:

> Bruce, Bill, Ilyas, Sumantra, &c.:
> Sorry to be absent from the conversation.  I am still working  
> without my MacBook, which has been declared "beyond recovery."
> It is most fortunate that I was also using a Time Capsule, the Apple  
> wireless system that automatically backs up data.   A word to the  
> fallible and unwise--all of us mortals--always back up. . . .
> Bruce & Bill--
> Am I ducking the difficult and interesting question about Durrell's  
> biographical "self" if I wonder aloud if we can ever find more  
> suggestive questions about self than we see dramatized in the novels  
> and the poetry?
> Note that I write "questions about self."
> I am pretty certain that any "answers about self" are subjective and  
> self-generated from our readings.
> No one else need agree with that point.  I come to it after too many  
> years of reading Pater and Durrell.
> Again, as I have written here in the past, in my reckoning,  
> Durrell's ideas of "self" and "reality" and "truth" and "perception"  
> have a tradition--or perhaps I should say I perceive him in a  
> tradition?
> Certainly you might find him casting his own charts for those terms  
> in his Key to Modern British Poetry.
> But every time I read Pater's conclusion to Studies in the History  
> of the Renaissance (1873), I am struck with a sense of deja vu-- 
> subjective, no doubt--that I already understand what Pater writes  
> because I had read Durrell's relativist writings from the late 1950s  
> before Pater's Epicurean impressionism from the 1860s & 1870s.
> Try this Paterian passage--I believe I posted parts of it some years  
> ago in connection with particular passages from the Quartet.  I am  
> particularly interested in Pater's notion of self-in-flux--"that  
> continual vanishing away, that strange perpetual weaving and  
> unweaving of ourselves."
> Of course, Pater, like Durrell, had his own secrets to fuel his  
> evasions and masks.
> ****
> To regard all things and principles of things as
> inconstant modes or fashions has more and more
> become the tendency of modern thought. Let us
> begin with that which is without—our physical life.
> Fix upon it in one of its more exquisite intervals,
> the moment, for instance, of delicious recoil from
> the flood of water in summer heat. What is the
> whole physical life in that moment but a combination
> of natural elements to which science gives
> their names? But these elements, phosphorus and
> lime and delicate fibres, are present not in the
> human body alone: we detect them in places most
> remote from it. Our physical life is a perpetual
> motion of them—the passage of the blood, the
> wasting and repairing of the lenses of the eye, the
> modification of the tissues of the brain by every ray
> of light and sound—processes which science reduces
> to simpler and more elementary forces. Like the
> elements of which we are composed, the action of
> these forces extends beyond us; it rusts iron and
> ripens corn. Far out on every side of us these elements
> are broadcast, driven by many forces; and birth
> and gesture and death and the springing of violets
> from the grave are but a few out of ten thousand
> resulting combinations. That clear perpetual outline
> of face and limb is but an image of ours under
> which we group them—a design in a web, the actual
> threads of which pass out beyond it. This at least
> of flame-like our life has, that it is but the concurrence,
> renewed from moment to moment, of forces
> parting sooner or later on their ways.
> Or if we begin with the inward world of thought
> and feeling, the whirlpool is still more rapid, the
> flame more eager and devouring. There it is no
> longer the gradual darkening of the eye and fading
> of colour from the wall,—the movement of the shore
> side, where the water flows down indeed, though in
> apparent rest,—but the race of the midstream, a drift
> of momentary acts of sight and passion and thought.
> At first sight experience seems to bury us under a
> flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a
> sharp importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves
> in a thousand forms of action. But when
> reflection begins to act upon those objects they are
> dissipated under its influence; the cohesive force is
> suspended like a trick of magic; each object is loosed
> into a group of impressions,—colour, odour, texture,
> —in the mind of the observer. And if we continue
> to dwell on this world, not of objects in the solidity
> with which language invests them, but of impressions
> unstable, flickering, inconsistent, which burn and
> are extinguished with our consciousness of them, it
> contracts still further; the whole scope of observation
> is dwarfed to the narrow chamber of the individual
> mind. Experience, already reduced to a swarm of
> impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that
> thick wall of personality through which no real voice
> has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that
> which we can only conjecture to be without. Every
> one of those impressions is the impression of the
> individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a
> solitary prisoner its own dream of a world.
> Analysis goes a step further still, and tells us that
> those impressions of the individual to which, for
> each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in
> perpetual flight; that each of them is limited by
> time, and that as time is infinitely divisible, each
> of them is infinitely divisible also; all that is
> actual in it being a single moment, gone while we
> try to apprehend it, of which it may ever be more
> truly said that it has ceased to be than that it
> is. To such a tremulous wisp constantly reforming
> itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression,
> with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting,
> of such moments gone by, what is real in our life
> fines itself down. It is with the movement, the
> passage and dissolution of impressions, images,
> sensations, that analysis leaves off,—that continual
> vanishing away, that strange perpetual weaving
> and unweaving of ourselves.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
> To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
> Date: Mon, 5 Oct 2009 18:27:57 -0700
> Subject: Re: [ilds] Selfhood
> It's a big problem, and I don't think he ever worked it out, just as
> he didn't work out the Cambridge entrance exams.
> Bruce
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