[ilds] gnomic aorist

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Thu Jun 3 11:07:42 PDT 2010

As it happens, I have a piece appearing in /jml: Journal of Modern
Literature/ later this summer on the politics of Durrell's early
interactions with the English Surrealist crowd, in many respects via
Miller's ties in Paris.

I think you're right about the grammatical experimentations of Stein
and Breton coming to LD via Miller, and they did expressly invite
contributions to /Booster/ from Stein (the letter's in Victoria).

I'd planning last term to teach /The Black Book/ beside Beckett's
/Murphy/, but the gawds of the book industry distributors conspired
against me.  Nonetheless, there's something of an English surrealist
moment running from 1934-45 with Gascoyne displacing Beckett as the
translator and the mutual publication networks that rapidly spread
from Corfu and Cairo to California...  I recently discovered that
production of Durrell's /The Black Book/ got as far as proofs for the
Circle Editions coming out of Berkeley in the 1940s (Miller was tied
to the anarchist Circle there via Rexroth and Leite, and they did
bring out Durrell's /Zero and Asylum in the Snow/ at that time, among
other quasi-surrealist avant garde works).

By Durrell's claims in his letters, he'd begun drafting /The Black
Book/ as early as 1935 when he wrapped up the proofs for /Pied Piper
of Lovers/ on Corfu.  While most of those mss. aren't available, I'd
speculate on the process of learning Greek as being integrated over
time, though he'd already had some Ancient Greek training while in

Can any of our Modern Greek speakers on the list confirm whether or
not Modern Greek has the gnomic aorist?  I know it has only one past
tense, and I don't believe it carries a distinct gnomic mood anymore,
right?  If that's the case, this wasn't new knowledge for LD when he
moved to Greece -- he's already had it in school.


On 2 June 2010 17:32, david wilde <wilded at hotmail.com> wrote:
> Black Book (1937) definitely set me thinking and taking Classical Greek
> (Scott-Liddle) grammar to discover the 'true- meaning' of the aorist -
> gnomic and otherwise which led me to discover the horror Durrell suffered in
> his many guises as a Public School (Private in the UK system) student in
> many a school setting of classical languages and history.  This literary gem
> (Black Book) made possible by a transatlantic understanding between Durrell
> and Henry Miller.  Miller advocated the use and misuse I suspect of the
> radical and irrational usage of grammar previously offered by the likes of
> Gertrude Stein (Ida) to peform a self-reflecting surreal drama.
> Notwithsatnding Andre Breton etc and the 'Pataphysique' art of Henry
> Miller's pre-WWII Paris.  Amen.
>> Date: Wed, 2 Jun 2010 14:21:03 -0400
>> From: Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
>> To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>> Subject: [ilds] gnomic aorist
>> Bruce Redwine wrote:
>> > 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.
>> >
>> Cf. /The Black Book/:
>> > Not even the phenomenon of Grace disturbed my life as much as that
>> > glimpse of the social mysteries. Horses
>> > sweat, but Grace perspires; very delicately on the smooth flesh, on
>> > the thin flanks, under the tiny
>> > undernourished breasts. The blue-veined phthisic fingers are moist and
>> > languorous. But why the present
>> > tense? For Grace is no more; no more the street girl who sat, hugging
>> > her knees, and staring at the empty
>> > wallpaper. Shall we write of her in the gnomic aorist? Shall we invest
>> > her with an epitaph? She would not
>> > understand it. She understood nothing. She seemed not to hear. You
>> > could speak to her, sing to her, dance
>> > before her, and the distances she contemplated were not diminished by
>> > one inch.
>> > Here, it is real enough the stage on which I re-create this chronicle
>> > of the English death. There is Bach
>> > playing in the roars of the wind, the piercing slatterns of the rain.
>> > There is you dancing, and the million yous
>> > who persist in matter, echo, weep, cry, exult in flower powder,
>> > smaragd, Italy, moon, veins of rock. There is
>> > the cadenza of flesh here naked, and the you who run to the conclusion
>> > of autumn, selfless and melancholy, or
>> > smolder on the beach savagely. in all particulars of the body you are
>> > working, in the dark sump of the vagina,
>> > brewing vegetable history, sowing continents in whom I am the reaper;
>> > in the dusty sandals or the naked toes.
>> > It is forced upon me to write of you always in the gnomic aorist. For
>> > this is the new vocabulary which I am
>> > learning with ease. I am beginning my agony in the garden and there
>> > are too many words, and too many things to put into words. in the
>> > fantastic proscenium of the ego, when I begin my soliloquy, I shall
>> > not choose as
>> > Gregory chose. To be or not to be. It is in your capacity as Judas
>> > that you have chosen for me. The question
>> > has been decided. Art must no longer exist to depict man, but to
>> > invoke God. It is on the face of this chaos that
>> > I brood. And on the same chaos printed, across the faces of these
>> > hideous mimes of mine, your pale glyph.
>> > The white illusion of bone and tissue, the firm cheekbones set in soft
>> > plates of flesh, the pouting mouth, the
>> > soft jawless head of the snake, the lips as delicate as the biscuit.
>> > Lubra in the dark, and when the swords grow
>> > up from Constantinople, marmoreal, caryatid, pupa of flesh growing
>> > upward among the bones, carrying them
>> > upward from the hip, irresistible leaven. The hills snooze on with the
>> > liths of your fingers laid over them: the
>> > sensitive calyx of the pelvis like the dish of land which holds our
>> > sea, silent outside the house. All that is
>> > dying in me in this fatal landscape, your mine among active things,
>> > stone, shards, language, meteors, butter.
>> > Nothing but the punic body, our essential traitor, which stifles me
>> > with its pollens. Snore on, you winter sea,
>> > there is no more in here than the seven hectic elements can offer me:
>> > more than the fantasy of the third ocean,
>> > dipping its brush among the molten colors, leaking down to the hot
>> > magma of things. More. More.
>> --
>> ********************************************
>> Charles L. Sligh
>> Assistant Professor
>> Department of English
>> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
>> charles-sligh at utc.edu
>> ********************************************
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James Gifford, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English and University Core Director
School of English, Philosophy and Humanities
University College: Arts, Sciences, Professional Studies
Fairleigh Dickinson University, Vancouver Campus
Voice: 604-648-4476
Fax: 604-648-4489
E-mail: gifford at fdu.edu

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