[ilds] Buttons?

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Sat Sep 18 18:04:56 PDT 2010

Hi Bruce,

I mean Iolanthe from /Tunc/ and /Nunquam/, which casts the Melissa 
character as a film star who escapes the psychotic attachments of the 
man who would have her as his doll -- she ultimately dies and the doll 
is make, but the doll (then called Io / "I") is the only character who 
actually revolts.  Iolanthe is the Aphrodite who revolts, and the 
masculine attention to her as a "doll" (robot) is clearly a psychosis in 
the context of the book that critiques a patriarchal society.  The poor 
treatment of the women by the misogynist male characters functions, I 
would contend, as a symptom of the culture at large and that Durrell 

To that point, the first novels don't contain dolls -- anything but. 
Ruth is the more powerful character in /Pied Piper of Lovers/ (women 
seem to have a magical presence there), and Francis in /Panic Spring/ is 
clearly meant to elicit our sympathy when she encounters men who would 
have her fulfill a doll-like function.

Rather than seeing the doll in /CVG/ or /Justine/ as a symptom of 
Durrell's misogyny, I'd see it as his critique, though I think the 
criticism you put forward (that he struggled with those same prejudices 
himself) is correct.

As for the life being lived by the Other / Id / It / desire, and so 
forth, I think that's precisely the reason Durrell translated Cavafy as 
he did, and also why he was attached to that poem.  I also read the 
epigraphs from Freud and Sade in that vein.  Freud suggests "talk" in 
response to the problem of desire or libidinal compulsion -- Sade 
suggests ditching the talking self for rule by the libido.  One leads to 
a cure (Darley is after all writing the book to expiate his illnesses 
via "talk") and the other leads to the noose.  As Cavafy would have it, 
"the city is a cage" and it's also the same noose, it's the Groddeckian 
IT that lives through the subject.  Darley's struggle is to a large 
degree negotiating a way for the self to speak, and in doing so, to 
rescue subjectivity from desire, which Sedgwick nicely phrases as 
"desire proves to be a powerful solvent to stable subjectivities."

Does that make sense?


On 17/09/10 1:48 PM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> James,
> Yes, if LD was fond of Gilbert and Sullivan and their /Iolanthe /— if
> that's what you're referring to. Which I haven't seen, heard, or read.
> But you have me at another disadvantage. I haven't read Durrell's first
> two novels, so I can't comment. But if true, that doll-like women occur
> in the early novels, then this reinforces what has been repeated before
> and often, that is, the obsessive nature of Durrell's tropes and themes.
> Is there a distinction between life in the city and life on islands?
> Between the self/ego in one and then in the other? I'd like to think so,
> a wistful thought perhaps best understood metaphorically, but Cavafy
> comes to mind and his famous lines in "The City": "There's no new land,
> my friend, no / New sea; for the city will follow you." Durrell's
> problems followed him everywhere, no matter how he dressed them up. And
> he surely knew that. That's why, in my opinion, self-extinction was
> always an option.
> Bruce
> On Sep 17, 2010, at 12:15 PM, James Gifford wrote:
>>> My point — a woman may not want to be known,
>>> accurate or not, as merely a sexual plaything
>>> — and a dirty one at that.
>> You took the words right out of Iolanthe's mouth... I think she'd be
>> the most important doll of all for Durrell, and she'd have nothing to do
>> with Sabina or Cunégonde. The women of /Pied Piper of Lovers/ and
>> /Panic Spring/ strike me as having a good deal in common with Io/I as
>> well.
>> I'm dashing out the door, but I think there's a very productive
>> discussion/disputation to be had here of the various "negative
>> capabilities" in Durrell's texts where gender, autonomy, and desire
>> overlap and contest each other. Is there an essential psychotic split
>> between Durrell's visions of autonomous existence of the "I" and the
>> effects of desire as a powerful solvent of such notions?
>> I'm thinking of the city that lives the characters as its dolls vs. the
>> life of the self that can be found in the rural islands; the pairing of
>> autonomous individuals through love who must then negotiate the
>> dissolving influence of desire on their autonomy; and the long tumble
>> Durrell had the end of his life into a life lived through him and less
>> by him.
>> Best,
>> James
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