[ilds] Seeking the Truth

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sat Sep 25 08:09:02 PDT 2010


Charles,

Yes, who can say?  But you talk about Beckett and Durrell and their interest in the "shape" of things, as though shape were completely separate from meaning and belief.  I've no doubt that Beckett thought that so; he was a true nihilist.  But Durrell wasn't, in my opinion.  Back in 1966, Sheldon Sacks published an important work of literary criticism, Fiction and the Shape of Belief:  A Study of Henry Fielding with Glances at Swift, Johnson and Richardson.  Sacks was a neo-Aristotlean, a member of the U. of Chicago School, and a founder of Critical Inquiry.  In his book, he looks at the form of the early English novel and concludes that shape and belief have a direct relationship.  This is a gross oversimplification, but that's the basic idea.  Loosely applying this principle to Durrell, very loosely, I'd say that he uses, develops, and comments on the relativity of truth too often to say he was simply interested in the "shape" of the idea.  I'd conclude, in Sacks's formulation, that for L. Durrell shape implies belief.  Durrell did believe that "truth is what most contradicts itself in time."


Bruce



On Sep 25, 2010, at 3:20 AM, Charles Sligh wrote:

> On 9/24/10 4:50 PM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
>> But my question is, did Lawrence Durrell take himself "literally" or seriously when he or his spokesmen commented on the relativity of truth?
> Things being as they are in this world, who could ever say?
> 
> Bringing in the words of another twentieth-century writer risks muddying the waters, so we must be cautious.  Different urgencies.  Different procedures.  And Durrell offers plenty of supposed maxims in his Key, in Pursewarden's remarks on Life, Letters, the Universe, &c.  
> 
> But whenever I find someone inquiring earnestly "Did Durrell the writer take anything seriously?  Did he actually believe in Gnosticism or Taoism or Yoga or x, y, or z?" I recall Beckett's 1956 response:   
> "I am interested in the shape of ideas even if I do not believe in them. . . . It is the shape that matters."
> Mind you, I imagine that Durrell the Man found a number of things in his life as painful and serious -- the pain of loved ones and friends, the loss of loved ones and friends.  
> 
> Love.  Pain.  Loneliness.  I can imagine how Durrell discovered that those essential things, unchanged grammar of experience since Aeschylus and Sophocles, were no mere words.   Life is pain.  Suffer into truth.
> 
> But Durrell the writer?  
> "As for Pursewarden, I remember, too, that in the very act of speaking thus about religious ignorance he straightened himself and caught sight of his pale reflection in the mirror.  The glass was raised to his lips, and now, turning his head, he squirted out upon his own glittering reflection a mouthful of the drink."
> The shapeliness of that scene and those sentences matters, I fancy.  Skepticism and a pretension to rational thought, followed by a flourish of the ludicrous.  
> 
> Pursewarden the novelist, like Durrell his maker, states nothing, preferring dramatic incident, self-deprecation, and silence.  Darley reports.  Durrell shapes.  And there we have it.
> 
> Things being as they are in this world, who could ever say?
> 
> Charles
> -- 
> ********************************************
> Charles L. Sligh
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
> charles-sligh at utc.edu
> ********************************************

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