[ilds] City versus country

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Sat Sep 18 14:53:19 PDT 2010

  On 9/18/10 5:18 PM, Denise Tart & David Green wrote:
> the long tumble
> Durrell had the end of his life into a life lived through him and less
> by him.
That would make the following description of Pursewarden from /Justine/ 
hauntingly prescient:

>         That last meeting, for example, in the ugly and expensive
>         hotel bedroom to which he always moved on Pombal's return from
>         leave ... I did not recognize the heavy musty odour of the
>         room as the odour of his impending suicide - how should I? I
>         knew he was unhappy; even had he not been he would have felt
>         obliged to simulate unhappiness. All artists today are
>         expected to cultivate a little fashionable unhappiness. And
>         being Anglo-Saxon there was a touch of maudlin self-pity and
>         weakness which made him drink a bit. That evening he was
>         savage, silly and witty by turns; and listening to him I
>         remember thinking suddenly: 'Here is someone who in farming
>         his talent has neglected his sensibility, not by accident, but
>         deliberately, for its self-expression might have brought him
>         into conflict with the world, or his loneliness threatened his
>         reason. He could not bear to be refused admittance, while he
>         lived, to the halls of fame and recognition. Underneath it all
>         he has been steadily putting up with an almost insupportable
>         consciousness of his own mental poltroonery. And now his
>         career has reached an interesting stage: I mean beautiful
>         women, whom he always felt to be out of reach as a timid
>         provincial would, are now glad to be seen out with him. In his
>         presence they wear the air of faintly distracted Muses
>         suffering from constipation. In public they are flattered if
>         he holds a gloved hand for an instant longer than form
>         permits. At first all this must have been balm to a lonely
>         man's vanity; but finally it has only furthered his sense of
>         insecurity. His freedom, gained through a modest financial
>         success, has begun to bore him. He has begun to feel more and
>         more wanting in true greatness while his name has been daily
>         swelling in size like some disgusting poster. He has realized
>         that people are walking the street with a Reputation now and
>         not a man. They see him no longer - and all his work was done
>         in order to draw attention to the lonely, suffering figure he
>         felt himself to be. His name has covered him like a tombstone.
>         And now comes the terrifying thought perhaps there /is/ no one
>         left to see? Who, after all, is he?'

As strikingly melancholy as these reflections might be, I do not think 
that these thoughts are without precedent.  Cf. also the parable of 
fame, vanity, and loss in "Borges & I":

>         The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen
>         to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a
>         moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an
>         entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges
>         from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a
>         biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps,
>         eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the
>         prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain
>         way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would
>         be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship;
>         I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive
>         his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no
>         effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid
>         pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is
>         good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the
>         language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish,
>         definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in
>         him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him,
>         though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying
>         and magnifying things.
>         Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being;
>         the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger.
>         I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I
>         am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in
>         many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years
>         ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the
>         mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and
>         infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall
>         have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I
>         lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.
>         I do not know which of us has written this page.

Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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