[ilds] The Wise Sage?

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Mon Jan 4 10:11:27 PST 2010

Hi Bruce,

To be honest, I think picking exclusively one side of this coin is
reductive -- it means you need to exclude or somehow sweep under the
rug the other half of a complex situation.  Your feelings about one
part seem just, but what do you do with the rest of the more
complicated stuff?  That a human being must always be the same thing
strikes me as a notion contrary to the entire body of Durrell's works;
you or I may feel differently, but that doesn't change what's in the
text.  One side of the author might happily play "sage" while the cash
register is open after the signing while the other (Other?) would put
up big signs telling everyone to stay away from his workshop.  Both
are factually correct, and we've got the photos to prove it!

While it's not quite on the level of a Pynchon or Salinger, Durrell
was also remarkably reclusive for most of his life in comparison to
his colleagues and contemporaries; do you really mean an egomaniac
addicted to publicity would intentionally fling himself perpetually
into places where no one could find him?  It's also hard to find a
Durrell novel that ends conclusively with the author shutting down the
narrative after a clear completion -- the books usually spiral away
leaving the reader with problems and questions rather than an author
clarifying how we should go about solving the political woes of our
world.  We're consistently led back to individuals or small groups
standing alone in the face of uncertainty (Pied Piper, Panic Spring,
Black Book, Prospero's Cell, Justine, Balthazar, Clea, Tunc, Nunquam,
Monsieur, Livia, etc...).  There's no Sherlock Holmes to tell us the
answer, nor a Stephen Daedelus.

As for the Sterne game, I think that's obviously going on in the
texts.  Think about what /Monsieur/ does to our trust in texts
(something straight from Wilde, IMO).  That game is already afoot in
/Panic Spring/.  But, perhaps most obviously, the few genuinely
critical texts we have from Durrell strongly encourage the reader to
distrust the author's authority.  If you've not read it, "No Clue to
Living" is a good case in point.  The Heraldic Universe letters and
article are also much the same.

Durrell once wrote to Alex Comfort "I really cannot assist with
pronunciamentos  about the ‘role of the artist’ or ‘apocalyptic
attitudes’: it’s because what I have to say about poetry only goes for
me personally; and I avoid dread [sic] pronouncing about the faculty
in general. This is the only proviso."  In 1960, at the height of his
fame and influence, Durrell make a pretty clear statement: "One
supposes that the Artist as a public Opinionator only grew up with the
social conscience—with Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky…. [T]here come
hundreds of letters asking him to take up public positions on every
conceivable matter from the fate of Irish horses or homosexuals to the
rights and wrongs of nuclear warfare and theosophy …. But it is very
doubtful whether he has anything to say which could be more original
than the other pronouncements by public figures, for apart from his
art he is just an ordinary fellow like everyone else."  (Notably, the
horses, homosexuals, bombs, and Blavatsky are all real letters to

But, your main point seems to be that

> If you don't want to appear like a literary sage, you don't talk
> like one and expect your audience to see the joke.

I'm quite sure that at times he did in fact want to "appear" like one,
especially depending on the audience members; at others he just as
clearly did not.  Denying that contradiction is problematic for me.
Bafflegab gets someone off your back or puts up a good show, and what
it doesn't do is say what you're actually up to.  Durrell openly
opposed the artist as public opinionator, and in a genuine sense, I
think that's a factor in his avoidance of direct social commentary
apart from irony and satire.

So, what interests me is, 1) why do we have two contradictory sides to
Durrell's personality and aesthetic vision here that both make
appearances in his texts, and 2) if not for the sake of obfuscation,
why did Durrell turn to bafflegab and posing on subjects for which he
had clear and detailed opinions?  I suspect a sense of privacy,
shyness from the limelight, and not showing what he's actually up to
are big factors -- free wine and more coins in the purse from book
sales are also very likely contributors...  I'm not above singing for
my supper either, and each of us is filled with contradictions.

Bruce -- if you're so opposed to the author posing, does that mean you
were once caught up in that pose?  After all, Durrell's posturing for
photos is pretty mild in comparison to most authors of his generation,
including the good ones, so I'm not sure where your vehemence
originates.  How do you respond to Woolf, Joyce, or Pound (the
greatest poser of them all)?  I doubt I would have liked any of them,
but their works are still very fine indeed.  I stopped wanting authors
to be as good as their works a long time ago.

As for the ruse of leaving the reader on his own resources, those are
Durrell's words from /Balthazar/ in which Pursewarden explains the
blank page -- it's not mine.  I personally find Durrell's texts
replete with irony, a Modernist inheritance perhaps.


2010/1/3 Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>:
> James,
> Deep question about Durrell's intentions and psychology, which has been previously bandied about in various contexts.  If I may cite myself, back on 28 October 2009, I gave my opinion about Durrell's public persona, how he invites speculation about himself and the relationship between his public and private selves.  I still hold that position, namely, that Durrell was an egomaniac and perhaps addicted to publicity in a way similar to being an alcoholic, which he was.  I find it hard to accept that Durrell ever "refus[ed] to play the part of the wise sage."  I know, you may argue that during all those interviews old LD was chuckling and snickering at the gullibility of his interviewers, that he really didn't intend to be taken seriously, that he was just playing the Laurence Sterne game and having a rollicking good time being another Tristram Shandy or his own Pursewarden talking to "Brother Ass," or, finally, that his ruse was some grand strategy to get his listeners "to stand on their own two feet."  Well, I don't buy this.  These levels of irony works for some, but not for me.  I take the idea of the chuckling sage as Durrell's excuse for doing what he did.  I'm rather simpleminded in this regard.  If you don't want to appear like a literary sage, you don't talk like one and expect your audience to see the joke.
> Bruce
> On Jan 3, 2010, at 4:25 PM, James Gifford wrote:
>> I'm curious if there's a way to reconcile Durrell's demonstrable
>> willingness to squeeze every penny and ounce of sympathy from fans
>> while at the same time refusing to play the part of the wise sage?
>> I suppose, for instance, one could compare any of his public readings
>> (I have a recording of one in NY) or indulgences in bafflegab during
>> interviews versus his consideration of the role of the artist in any
>> of the published versions of "No Clue to Living."  In short, my
>> suspicion is that the serious LD would "hate" being idolized or looked
>> to for answers (though he'd likely respect the enthusiastic indulgence
>> in aesthetic pleasure), but the guy looking for a buck and a free
>> drink would love idolatry when it was convenient and would indulge so
>> long as the spirits flowed...
>> In other words, at his serious moments, I see an author in Durrell's
>> works that refuses to grant resolution or answers to the reader,
>> because we should rely on our own resources, and if arts shows us
>> anything (without telling), it's that.  In the whimsical moments, I
>> also see an author gleefully spreading pure bunk because it will
>> likely draw in readers who refuse to stand on their own two feet.  I
>> like to think the most successful moments are when the latter runs
>> smack into the former, and we're hopefully struck enough to rethink
>> our willingness to grant authority to the author.
>> Best to all in the New Year!  My first resolution was to spend less
>> time on administration, which hopefully will mean actually responding
>> to some of the interesting posts on here.
>> Cheers,
>> James
>> 2010/1/3 Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>:
>>> Marc, I would have to say LD was never above being pretentious and awkward.  Happy New Year!
>>> Bruce
>>> On Jan 3, 2010, at 10:01 AM, Marc Piel wrote:
>>>> Hi Bruce, Happpy New Year.
>>>> I guess we don't agree!
>>>> That text was pretentious and awkward; not at all LD style!
>>>> BR
>>>> Marc
>>>> Bruce Redwine a écrit :
>>>>> To the contrary, Marc, I think LD would have enjoyed RW's text, which seems indebted to /The Black Book./  Did the old guy ever discourage his fans?
>>>>> Bruce
>>>>> On Jan 3, 2010, at 5:41 AM, Marc Piel wrote:
>>>>>> Please excuse me I should not have used the word
>>>>>> "hate", what I meant was that I felt that
>>>>>> "Durrell" would not have liked that text about
>>>>>> LD...    sorry.
>>>>>> Marc
>>>>>> Marc Piel a écrit :
>>>>>>> After reading your post I feel sure that "Durrell"
>>>>>>> as you call him, would hate you.
>>>>>>> Nothing personal, just....
>>>>>>> RW HEDGES a écrit :
>>>>>>>> Durrell is an island, that makes sense. New-york and the aftermath
>>>>>>>> of Paris and London of hard stone and flesh as solid as a broad splayed
>>>>>>>> shit heap. Chance found me Durrell; floating as light and orange as a
>>>>>>>> hint of honey and rum in a grape half sqweezed. Marine venus is exactly
>>>>>>>> the pin point of this moment Bruce pointed out. I have been reading it
>>>>>>>> as if I was sipping a fine drink. Yet I normally devour the drink or
>>>>>>>> book far too quickly. I really think that the marine venus is Prosperos
>>>>>>>> amendment. And that Durrell left Islomania is no surprise. He had his
>>>>>>>> fill and we can either talk or live it in admiration.
>>>>>>>> I expect to end up on an island myself if lucky, but what charcters
>>>>>>>> rise from his books, those places! Cyprus, Corfu and Rhodes....Amazing.
>>>>>>>> No-one can do more for the earthy sunrise of a Greek morning. I love
>>>>>>>> him. Simply love him. I will never make a Durrell get together but I
>>>>>>>> think I love him more each day. Thats because I only care about his
>>>>>>>> tables and sunsets and holy men and village idiots. Those and the women
>>>>>>>> he loves to raise from the depths of the clear blue. I love Durrell and
>>>>>>>> I wear a badge; "Durrell". Cheers David.+++
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James Gifford, University Core Director
Fairleigh Dickinson University, Vancouver
842 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2P6

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