[ilds] Durrell's Diction

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sat May 1 08:51:26 PDT 2010


I agree.  There's a need for a serious study of Durrell's stylistics, and the working assumption should be to take him on his own terms and not blindly apply normative or proscriptive criteria.  I would go beyond the level of intention, however.  That is, beyond what you refer to as "reminding their audiences about how very little knowing is possible."  I sense something below that driving the man on, and I don't know what it is.  I would also point out where Durrell fails and not assume that every example of his style is a success.  Clearly, I'm talking about more than "style" here; I'm using it in the sense that "the style is the man."  Disposition might be a better word.  Taking Durrell on his own terms does not mean finding an excuse for everything he does.  I like to think failure is a part of success.  I also agree that such a task requires "maturity," along with devotion and acumen, I might add.   I recommend you for the job.


On May 1, 2010, at 7:25 AM, Charles Sligh wrote:

>> Now, Durrell's chosen vocabulary may simply be part and parcel of his 
>> Romantic disposition, his infatuation with the exotic, somewhat like 
>> Poe's.  Maybe.  I suspect, however, that something else is going on, 
>> something rooted in his psyche, if you will.  If I had to liken 
>> Durrell's love of words to anyone's, it would be to Shakespeare's, 
>> whom the English Romantics valued above all others.  This discussion 
>> is, of course, just speculation.  What is needed is an examination of 
>> the data, and by that I mean an extensive lexical study of Durrell's 
>> vocabulary and usage throughout his oeuvre.  Some enterprising 
>> graduate student should take this up.  It would involve a lot of work.
> The project would be important, no doubt.  Perhaps the most necessary 
> element would be the kind of maturity of thought required to analyze 
> "Durrell's prose style for Durrell's prose style's sake."
> That is to say, the scholar could certainly analyze and place Durrell's 
> style in relation to the long history of English prose stylists.  But to 
> begin the task with the working assumption that Durrell's style is 
> somehow aberrant or ineffective would do little than to reinforce the 
> status quo--bosh and Grundyism of the narrowest provincial sort.  
> You mention Poe.  Most critics fail with Poe because they cannot enter 
> his weird stylistics with the Negative Capability that style requires.  
> Not stopping to mark their own shortcoming as readers with a very 
> limited notion of literature, such critics would take a clipboard to his 
> language, checking off penalty marks for archaism and artifice that 
> extrudes and layers itself like coral.  Artifice is not wrong.  Weird is 
> not wrong.  Both artifice and weirdness are tools of estrangement, 
> sometimes calculated, sometimes expressive.  Cf. Freud's /unheimlich/. 
> Shakespeare is right on as a comparison, Bruce, because Shakespeare 
> seems to share Durrell's skepticism about language's ability to catch 
> the Thing (cf. /Hamlet/).  Shakespeare also seems to share Durrell's 
> conviction that we have very little else to turn but these words, words, 
> words.  In response to that realization, Durrell and Shakespeare do not 
> take the stylistic turn of Beckett, into withdrawal, but turn in another 
> direction--to densities of artifice and layered illusion, reminding 
> their audiences about how very little knowing is possible.  If one must 
> have a moral, I suppose that is a sort of darkling moral of the Yorick 
> sort. . . .
> Durrell's style is quite remarkably what it is.  Durrell's style is a 
> serious challenge.  If the scholar comes to it with a moralist, 
> corrective, progressive sensibility--the sort of reader who desires to 
> gain a vantage on to the "true" world by means of a supposedly "clear," 
> correct prose style--that scholar will go very wrong, very early.  Very 
> few students coming up today have the maturity, the training, and the 
> independence of mind to carry out such an analysis, I am afraid.  
> But good luck to the ones who try!
> C&c.
> -- 
> ********************************************
> Charles L. Sligh
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
> charles-sligh at utc.edu
> ********************************************

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