[ilds] the longer response to Bruce

William Godshalk william.godshalk at gmail.com
Sat Jan 29 13:54:29 PST 2011


James,

I'm puzzled. What was I supposed to be doing -- comparing Middleton with
Durrell? That's still on the back burner of my mind -- and if no one else
does, I will in the next year write it up.

Or were you thinking of something else? You keyboard faster than I read (and
think).

Bill

On Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 7:53 PM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com>wrote:

> 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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