[ilds] the longer response to Bruce

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Fri Jan 28 16:53:28 PST 2011


Hi Bruce,

Here's a a more detailed response to your thoughtful response...  To let 
others follow, I'll repeat your note that your comments are the numbered 
ones.

>> Well put, Bruce. I think there have been ongoing worries about
>> "academic" and "lay" topics, and I for one don't think it's a real
>> issue.
>
> 1. I do.
>
>> Academics like to talk about academic issues, lay readers the
>> same, and then the vast majority vacillating in between.
>
> 2. The issue is not what people "like to talk" about, rather about what
> they're willing to hear. I like to think I'm open to everything and do
> not complain about someone else's hobby-horse, no matter how
> energetically expressed.

Perhaps I should clarify what I mean.  I don't think "lay" vs "academic" 
are a necessary conflict -- we all wander between both realms, so I 
consider it a disagreement based on misunderstandings rather than 
inextricable differences.

I'll admit that there are things with which I disagree, but in my 
moderator capacity, I wouldn't consider preventing any of them from 
being said if they don't cross a boundary of taste or decorum in a 
public forum.  In my participant capacity, I'll jump in and disagree!

>> The Australians, evidently, like to talk about wine...
>
> 3. And so do the French, Italians, and Americans. And so did Lawrence
> Durrell, who became the model for such talk about wine and its
> pleasures. For a view of Durrellians at the wine table, see p. 8 of the
> ILDS /Herald,/ 15 May 2010, and then read the captions to the photos.

I believe I've been seen consuming the waters of life on many an 
occasion...  I just didn't want David to feel left out and perhaps 
should have noted to joke overtly.  ;)

>> Regardless of our various and diverse interests, some of us will and
>> won't be interested in each others topics, but that's why the list is an
>> open forum in which people can dabble as they wish. The variety of
>> interests is a good thing, not a bad, and lurkers are welcome too.
>> Folks are free to participate in whatever way suits them best.
>
> 4. A slightly disingenuous characterization. Seems to me the moderators
> are making too much effort to accommodate, as someone else put it, "the
> lowest common denominator." I enjoy all kinds of contributions and
> discussions. But all issues should be on the table, not simply those
> that put old LD in a good light and make him palpable to the masses. And
> if that means getting into the nitty-gritty of scholarship and literary
> analysis, as I believe Bill Godshalk was on the verge of doing, then
> let's hear it and let's discuss it. I find it very ironic that I, a
> non-academic, should be the one defending the Academy and its practices.

I think this is more a matter of balancing between dissemination and 
keeping discussion growing...  As a moderator, that's always going to be 
a tough call -- we've asked people to move discussions along or to 
consider letting some disagreements lie, but I hope we've not prevented 
open discourse.

It's probably a matter of self-censorship by academics when a feeling 
emerges that folks aren't interested in the academic work -- by the same 
token, if Bill's working that up into an article, he may have cut the 
cord to the internet once he struck gold.  I've done that on a few 
occasions to avoid spoiling the later surprise in print (or at least my 
hubris imagines the "surprise" of a reader...).

The same thing goes in the other direction when "lay" readers feel shy 
asking questions on commenting for fear of being "corrected" or not 
fitting in.  I'd hope they'd jump into the fray -- I personally welcome 
such participants, even if I don't have a lot to offer them.

>>> Nor do I see it as a cheering section for Lawrence
>>> Durrell's life and work.
>>
>> My academic hat tells me to say "cheering" is beside the point,
>
> 5. No. Entirely the point. See no. 4.

I think I see what you mean.  I don't agree, but I understand.  I'm 
certainly not trying to stop anyone from bringing uncomfortable facts to 
light -- I disagree with your personal interpretation of them, and to 
some degree, we're just going to have to live with our disagreements 
there since it's not likely we'll move forward by repeating them.

That said, you shouldn't feel like you can't give air to them. 
Plagiarism, sexism, alcoholism, incest, and violence are probably the 
points of contention, and I'd imagine we'll find a range of perspectives 
on those here as ways of interpreting Durrell's works.  My hunch is that 
we'd be in agreement on all of those issues but one: plagiarism.  As for 
incest, I think it's an example of where biographical speculation leads 
to false results, as Mary Hamer's book on the topic demonstrates.

An apologia for an author leads to no good and a blurred vision. 
Durrell was certainly an alcoholic with sexist and violent parts of his 
personality, though to some degree feminist and pacifist tendencies as 
well.  We simply disagree on how to look at creative texts, and I deal 
with plagiarism in my administrative capacity, for which no one has 
accused me of being too easy...  I simply want to note that reasonable 
disagreement is possible on that.  As for incest, I think accusations 
against Durrell in that regard reflect a search for attention -- shock 
journalism.  Hamer's an instance of how badly that can go.

>> but I suspect some would enjoy a cheer now and again (or the
>> opposite), and I
>> don't think they should be silenced. I just won't provide the pom poms.
>
> 6. As you're doing now, it would be nice to have the moderators
> occasionally provide reasoned opinions, in addition to quips and
> citations. Charles used to do this well. No longer, sadly.

Charles is a mere mortal, and I think his recent find is keeping on the 
road quite a bit at present.  I'll do my best, such as it is...

>> I might also add, a good deal of answers are sent off-list, which I
>> believe has been the case for several recent academic queries.
>
> 7. Which is a very big mistake. Why aren't the answers to academic
> queries made public? I'd like to see them.

I mean things such as locations of books, tips for local resources, 
etc...  I make a point of putting things on the list that have any 
chance of being of public interest.

> 8. I praise the moderators for their time and effort. No irony here.

Shucks, Bruce, I'm blushing...  Charles, though, is the Boxer to our 
animal farm.  I suspect I'm more of a stubborn mule.

> Or, perhaps I can stir the pot by going after Bruce's flagrantly dangled
> hook & bait: [that's me]
>
>> Like Chatwin and de Man, Durrell had a few
>> things to expunge or expiate. [Bruce]
>
> I might look sideways at Cleanth Brooks from time to time, but Bruce, I
> thought you had a good ol' New Criticism vein (or artery) running in
> you. Surely this falls foul of some kind of intentional fallacy or
> conversation with dead people. Barthes might ask about the reader too...
>
> 9. Name-dropping is not an argument, James. Bruce Chatwin and Paul de
> Man share similarities with Lawrence Durrell. Chatwin had a hard time
> distinguishing fact from fiction, and de Man covered up some sordid
> behavior. Both topics have been discussed on this List and in
> considerable detail.

I'll agree with this.  Chatwin had good reasons for failing to make that 
distinction toward the end, and Durrell admitted repeatedly to mainly 
living in his mind rather than the world outside.  Paul de Man had 
rather darker things to cover up though...  I think that's where I 
hesitate.  Durrell certainly had things to hide and a life of the 
imagination, but the de Man approach would go back to the incest topic, 
which I think is a red herring in Durrell's case.  He certainly was not 
saint, but even without redeeming him, I'd not be as jaded as de Man's 
Nazi ties would suggest.

Would a better comparison be Chatwin and Graham Greene or Iris Murdoch. 
  Neither of the last two were saints, but neither had the same kind of 
skeletons in the closet as de Man.  Perhaps a tibia or femur or two, but 
not the legion de Man or Heidegger might command.

> Isn't some of the brilliance of LD's prose, and perhaps most of all the
> poetry, the fact that it is gorgeously ambiguous in the sense of Keats'
> Negative Capability?
>
> 10. Keats's "Negative Capability" is hard to understand.

I'm not trying to minimize Keats' complexities.  They're well known. 
What I mean is that an easy bridge between author and text is always 
going to be fraught with perils.  We can't have that brilliant 
complexity *and* and easy path back to the author...  Much like Keats' 
masks.

> Robert Duncan makes nice work of Durrell's
> ambiguous objects in Greek poems like "Carol on Corfu" in his "Ark for
> Lawrence Durrell," which strikes me as having a bit of the bite you're
> looking for without falling into the myopia of clear vision...
>
> 11. I'd like to learn more about "the myopia of clear vision."

Seeing something too clearly usually tells me I'm finding what I set out 
to find rather than what's really there...  My dissertation looked at 
instances of this in Durrell and Miller -- critics have often described 
events in both authors' works that don't actually exist.  Sometimes the 
gaps are so provocative that we fill them in and fail to notice where 
the contents came from -- I try to keep myself humble in that area 
(trust me, it's hard!  Hubris away!).  When I think I've finally 
achieved a clear vision of something I begin to suspect that I'm being 
myopic about the unresolvable ambiguities (Empson's 7th type) that are 
invariably present.  My certainly blinds me to the rich uncertainties...

> If I think I've puzzled out what a poet really *meant*, then I second guess
> myself and wonder if my certainty is blinding me to the gloriously
> ambiguous that doesn't actually have a non-readerly resolution.
>
> 12. Hard to discuss this without specifics [...] You're emphasizing
> readers over authors, as Barthes famously spoke of the "death of the
> author," along with the impossibility to recover authorial intentions,
> as Bill likes to stress. All this I largely disagree with, for the most
> part. I see a text as mainly under the control of its author — but not
> everything in it. Authors don't always know what they're doing. Frank
> Kermode makes this point well in "Secrets and Narrative Sequence" (1980).

Precisely, and I suppose we're just going to disagree.  Much of it is a 
matter of polemics and tendencies.  When I see a cheque, I don't imagine 
the kind of death of the author that Barthes (who got royalties!) 
suggests.  By the same token, when I see Darley I don't see Lawrence 
Durrell.  I try to be very tentative when I talk of biographical 
matters, often restricting myself to tying two texts together, 
contextualizing sources or language, or trying to draw out an overlooked 
interpretive possibility.  Otherwise, I tend to leave interpretive 
matters to the reader rather than the writer.  The writer sold me the 
book, and now I'll do with it just as I please...  ;)

But there are reasonable reasons to disagree here, perhaps most often to 
keep each other to reasonable degrees of difference.

> I'm also curious why "expiate" rather than "express" or "deal with"? Is
> there a Catholic vein too, my eucharistic friend?
>
> 13. There is a "Catholic vein" to my thought, being a lapsed Catholic.
> If you accept the de Man analogy (which I expect you do not), then
> "expiate" is exactly the right word.

Don't worry, Bruce, they seem get people back in the end...  Hence 
"lapsed" rather than "lost"... ;)

You're right, I don't accept the de Man analogy, but I do see what you 
mean by expiate.  Is there a reasonable middle ground between de Man and 
Mother Theresa?  I'm sure Durrell had things to expiate, but I don't 
think they were on the same order as de Man.  Does that make sense? 
Moreover, I'm not always convinced that retracing that expiation will 
lead to the author, à la Eliot's catalyst in "Tradition and the 
Individual Talent," though he was trying to expiate some sins and hide 
some skeletons as well...

Best,
James


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