[ilds] Desire and the Ego

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sun Sep 19 13:57:25 PDT 2010


Yes, thanks for the clarification, a good one.  I guess I'll have to read The Revolt of Aphrodite one of these days, along with the first two novels, so that I can keep up with you guys.  Seems to me there are at least two ways to look at Durrell's theories or rationalizations about the self/ego and desire.

1.  To take them at face value as examples of Durrell's personal mythology and then apply this framework to his work.  This would be an exercise in understanding the author on his own terms.

2.  To look at them critically and see if they make any sense.  This would involve an understanding and evaluation of the author and his project.

These alternatives are not either/or, not mutually exclusive, but I prefer to emphasize the latter approach.

Now, I take the desire/ego problem as Durrell's rephrasing of Buddhism's Four Holy Truths, namely, craving (the Second Holy Truth) as the source of human suffering (the First), the root of all evil, if you will, evil in the sense of endless worldly suffering.  The way to enlightenment (the Third) is through the cessation or elimination of wanting, craving, lusting, aspiring, etc.  Even the craving for self-extinction ("the noose") falls under the rubric of the Second Holy Truth.  LD, however, as I understand him, becomes fixated on sex, indeed, genital sex.  The "libido" you describe below seems to me sexual in Durrell's mythology, although self-extnction may also fit in.  So, he narrows the Buddhist problem to one aspect of desire.  Which, I guess is understandable, if you're a young man feeling your hormones.  To be fair, it's probably useful to define what Durrell/Sedgwick means by "desire."  I think Durrell means simply sexual desire, as emphasized by D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller.  That is, sex as "dark knowledge" or "blood knowledge," whatever those mean, or sex as an index of the health of a culture.  I also think this whole approach is over-rated.  But I grow old.

As for Durrell and his infatuation with Groddeck's "It," that seems to me simply a way to avoid responsibility for one's actions.  Charles and I have discussed this before under the topic of Hamlet and the uncertainty of experience, that is, the principle that "Truth is what most contradicts itself."


On Sep 18, 2010, at 6:04 PM, James Gifford wrote:

> 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 
> critiques.
> 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?
> Cheers,
> James
> 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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