[ilds] Islomania

Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Fri Dec 17 13:01:22 PST 2010

Of Islands and Lawrence Durrell


Islomania is a craze for or a strong attraction to islands. The condition was first identified by British writer Lawrence Durrell in his book Reflections on a Marine Venus (1953):

"Somewhere among the notebooks of Gideon I once found a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, and among these there occurred the word islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit. These are people, Gideon used to say, by way of explanation, who find islands somehow irresistible. We islomanes, says Gideon, are the direct descendants of the Atlanteans, and it is toward the lost Atlantis that our subconscious is drawn. This means that we find islands irresistible."

In a letter to a friend Durrell wrote: "Islomania is a rare affliction of spirit. There are people who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are in a little world surrounded by sea fills them with an indescribable intoxication." 

Islomania! that's Lawrence Durrell. There's an element of overdoing it, the feeling of the newcomer or incomer who grabs onto this place where they have come to live. Where you chose to live has more of an emotional impact upon you than where you were born or grew because you chose it; but it is often a nostalgia for a place that never was!"   - An academic interviewed by Ian Townsend.

"There are more islands for sale today than at any other time in recorded history. But the dream of an island paradise is often a myth. Rather than idyllic, they are frequently the settings for border conflict, prisons and broken dreams. The reality of island living is much more like hard work."  - Ian Townsend


"when you live on an island, the nicest sound you here is the putt, putt, putt of the approaching ferry coming up the river!"  


-          Resident of Dangar Island, Hawkesbury River, NSW. 


Larry the islomaniac loved island's for many reasons including the obvious need to satisfy his recurrent craving for isolation, privacy and repose for writing, but at an unconscious or peri-conscious level he also felt a metaphoric resonance with islands and the 'separateness' they represent; not just his narcissism at work here but a more powerful force in the form of a gnawing existential insight that haunted him- "we are all islands and can never be more. Our relationships are transient connections and mere temporary bridges during the interlude of our being born alone and dying alone".... This "island insight" we all perhaps occasionally and superficially glean but rarely penetrate and digest to our core. I sense LD was at times quite unsettled by this 'island insight' and that his books and fans served to create illusory outcrops and ego extensions around his island to drown out his feelings of aloneness.

Durrell's islomania may have had nothing to do with islands at all, but more for the amorphous watery expanses around them - an existential quest for nirvana. Durrell love of swimming in the sea. 
There is that wonderful scene in Prospero's Cell where he describes floating in a state of bliss in warm water at Paleokatrizza; there is the sublime scene in Marine Venus where he floats out into the Med past headland in the brow balming, soul soothing sea, and his love of swimming generally when he went to live in France, he made sure he had a decent river, the Vidourle, to swim in. There is also a strong quest for isolation in Larry. He was great company, but essentially a recluse; islands are a metaphor for this. Durrell's Mediterranean islands, which are fairly small, gave the man a sense of control, maybe self-control.  They're manageable.  They offer peace.  They're a way of saying, as in his literature, "This is my world, and here I'm the master."   I also think he needed a place where he could stand in the middle and see the sea, the emptiness of the great mother.  Sunyata, the pregnant void.  He needed limits.


Cheers and Greetings of the season,


David Green

16 William Street

Marrickville, NSW 2204


dtart at bigpond.net.au
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