[ilds] Finally (2)

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Wed Jun 2 13:16:35 PDT 2010


Let me be pedantic.  English doesn't have the exact equivalent of the Greek "gnomic aorist," so if you want to capture the sense of the Greek aorist, a past tense, you have to use the English present.  John Lyons, a British semanticist, gives examples of "gnomic" expressions in English ("It never rains but it pours"), and they're all in the present (Semantics, II, 681 [1977]).

Durrell, on the other hand, has his own special usage of "gnomic aorist."  Charles has provided passages from The Black Book (1977), where Durrell/Gregory asks, "Shall we write of her in the gnomic aorist?" (42) and later, "It is forced upon me to write of you always in the gnomic aorist" (243).  Well, this is clearly impossible, since English has no such tense; moreover, these passages are in the present.  But Durrell is breaking new ground, perhaps "Heraldic," and learning a "new vocabulary," so this fits in nicely.

I believe that here you can see Durrell being influenced by his study of Greek on Corfu and learning new ways to deal with Time.  I also wonder if Durrell latched onto "gnomic" for personal reasons, the word being directly related to gnome.


Bruce


On Jun 2, 2010, at 11:44 AM, James Gifford wrote:

> Durrell describes the Gnomic Aorist in his letters to Henry Miller
> while describing /The Black Book/ in conjunction with the historic
> present (I'm annotating things at the moment and stumbled over this
> just a few days ago...).  It's closely tied to his notion of the
> Heraldic Universe, likely in early 1937.  Someone with a copy of the
> letters handy may want to look up the actual passage.
> 
> It's an ongoing concept for Durrell, and while that one statement is
> in the present tense (truth *is*), I don't think we should dismiss
> David's idea.  It rings of the truth to my ear...
> 
> Cheers,
> James
> 
> On 2 June 2010 11:12, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net> wrote:
>> "Gnomic aorist" usually applies to Attic Greek.  Dunno if Modern Greek has
>> that tense.  From my very little Greek, I understand the "gnomic aorist" to
>> be a past tense, the aorist (i.e., with the sense of completion) that
>> represents some truth.  As the venerable H. W. Smyth says, in Greek Grammar
>> (1956), "The aorist may express a general truth.  The aorist simply states a
>> past occurrence and leaves the reader to draw the inference from a concrete
>> case that what has occurred once is typical of what often occurs" (sec.
>> 1931).  The aphorism, "Truth is what most contradicts itself in time," is in
>> the present tense, not the past.  Gnomic, yes; aorist, no.  Durrell,
>> however, definitely likes gnomic; he advocates a gnomic style somewhere.
>>  Whether he was influenced by Classical or possibly Modern Greek is a very
>> interesting question, which could fall under that rubric of Durrell's
>> diction, previously discussed.
>> 
>> Bruce
>> 
>> 
>> On Jun 2, 2010, at 7:57 AM, Godshalk, William (godshawl) wrote:
>> 
>> And don't let us forget the 'gnomic aorist' either in this typically
>> provocative Durrellian sentence and the cleverly disguised use of his ever
>> enigmatically and yet precisely ambiguous constantly shifting sand-dune-like
>> metaphor of the greek infinitive for 'duration'.
>> 
>> David, could you unpack this for US? For me, abyway.
>> 
>> Bill
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> 
> 
> 
> -- 
> ---------------------------------------
> James Gifford, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor of English and University Core Director
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