[ilds] Finally (2)

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Jun 3 13:24:21 PDT 2010


Thanks for the detailed response.  I'll answer interlinearly.

On Jun 2, 2010, at 3:35 PM, James Gifford wrote:

> Hey Bruce,
> I think the timeless quality of the gnomic aorist is the crucial
> element, but the aphoristic component could be significant as well.
> It's easy to forget that his last attempt at a novel was intended to
> be entirely in asides or aphorisms.

"Timeless quality," yes, but timelessness in the context of a past tense.  That's what intrigues me about the Greek gnomic aorist.  I'm reminded of Faulkner's famous line in Requiem for a Nun:  "The past is never dead.  It's not even past."  I don't think Bill knew any Greek, but that's the spirit of the gnomic aorist.

> /The Black Book/ was first published in 1938 but was in large part
> drafted as early at 1935 and the start of 1936 (not 1977 -- Faber
> edition?).

Yes.  The Faber paperback, 1977.

> But, I do think we've wandered a bit from David Wilde's suggestion
> that we attend to Durrell's sense of time.  David, where were you
> wanting to take us?  I'm intrigued...

Like Cavafy and many others, but especially Cavafy, Durrell is saturated in the past.  He needs, as Cavafy was quoted a saying a while back on this list, "to falsify with time."  I think that's what enabled him to write the Quartet and situate it in Alexandria, a place he hated in the present, when he lived there.  Durrell love of the past, however, I would not call archaeological.  I don't see him wandering through ruins and museums dreaming about past cultures and civilizations.  The Quartet is in Egypt, but I see very little of Ancient Egypt in the Quartet, except for a dash of atmosphere here and there.  No extended visits to the Pyramids or Karnak, as in Olivia Manning.  So, Durrell's not infected with Romantic Hellenism.  Rather, Mediterranean and Classical cultures seem to serve as a backdrop to his own reveries.  He'll sit down on some broken Greek column and use that as a kind of ouija board to dream about his own past.

> My sense of the subsequent addition of "in time" to the contradiction
> of truth is partly the structure of the Quartet itself as a formal
> work as well as a more mystical notion of the nunc stans, to which
> Durrell also refers a few times.

Nunc stans?  The eternal now/moment?  Citation, please.

> Both notions would turn attention
> back to Billy's comment on Darley's lack of reaction -- to that I can
> only say, Durrell doesn't really have any characters, does he?

I guess you mean his characters (who are very memorable, perhaps too memorable) don't have any character (which is an interesting idea).  Again, why?  I go for a psychological interpretation of the author himself, previously stated and rejected.

> He says so overtly in /Tunc/ & /Nunquam/, but I think it applies to the
> Quartet as well.  Charles might be able to comment on the mss. more,
> but to my understanding, the character identities are fairly flexible.
> For the Quintet notebooks, things are often written without a
> character, which he'd simply add while typing it up.  The Quintet is
> expressly "a book full of spare parts of other books, of characters
> left over from other lives, all circulating in each other’s
> bloodstreams…. Be ye members of one another" (693).  He was also very
> keen on D.H. Lawrence's notions of allotropic identity in the novel
> from the mid-1930s onward, so a stable character wasn't really a part
> of his oeuvre at any point, in my opinion.

While an interesting topic, I have great difficulty visualizing an "allotropic identity" (which I take to mean "multiple identities") in a normal personality.  Abnormal personalities, e.g., schizophrenics, are another matter.  Now, the human personality is a very complex entity.  We all have different social roles and conflicting drives, but all that doesn't mean we don't have a stable core, which defines the "self."  I think DHL's idea of the "unstable ego" went away with Freud's fall from grace.  Then there's the Buddhist notion of the "self" being a fiction, which is something else to consider.  How all this applies to Durrell's writings, I don't have the foggiest.  I would like to see someone fully explain and illustrate how the idea of "allotropic identity" pertains to LGD.  Examples, please.

> I'd also hesitate over a directly link between Darley and Durrell.
> Durrell voiced his identification most overtly with Pursewards, and
> while Darley shares many of LD's traits and experiences, as well as
> his initials, he's also quite clearly a different bloke.  Apart from
> the slippage between an author, a narrator, and a character, I don't
> think Darley would stand up as either a hero or an authorial voice in
> this instance.

Maybe I'm getting too old, but are there many pure authorial spokesmen/spokeswomen in English literature?  Possibly Knightley in Emma or Marlow in Conrad's fiction.  Authors tend to divide aspects of their personalities among various characters, obviously.  Maybe this is what Keats was getting at by his notion of the "camelion poet."  So there are many "links."  The Quartet is a kind of Bildungsroman.  The fact that Darley begins and ends four novels, that he is a developing artist, that he suffers and endures, that he is the main character through which events unfold or get reported, that he gets his just deserts, that he surely ends up with the beautiful girl, that he is the person who finally has "the whole universe" give him a "nudge" — all that indicates to me that he has a close and special relationship with his author and is deserving of being called a "hero" or spokesman, for all his faults and however qualified you want to define those terms.

> I'd also avoid the Durrell/Gregory elision.  Durrell's pretty clear in
> his disapproval of Gregory, to whom he gave the name Herbert at the
> same time as he was derogating Herbert Read to Miller.  If there's a
> Durrell figure in that novel, it's clearly Lawrence Lucifer rather
> than Death Gregory, though again there are traits of Durrell in both
> of them as well as others.  Durrell does appear as a character in the
> novel as well when he lets folks foolishly borrow his car...

I defer to your judgment.  The Black Book is not a novel I much enjoy or admire.



> Cheers,
> James
> On 2 June 2010 13:16, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net> wrote:
>> 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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