[ilds] White Eagles Over Serbia

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Fri Feb 11 10:38:39 PST 2011

On 2/11/11 11:24 AM, Richard Pine wrote:

>         The reason why 'White Eagles' or, for that matter, 'Dark
>         Labyrinth', 'Pope Joan', 'Antrobus', 'Judith' (altho the
>         latter hasn't yet been published, but is discussed in my
>         'Mindscape') etc etc, don't come up for serious discussion is,
>         I think, due a reluctance on the part of 'Durrellians' to
>         acknowledge that there was a LD and a 'Charles Norden', the
>         latter of whom H Miller shamed LD into discarding as a
>         nom-de-plume for his 'minor mythologies' - the second-string
>         potboilers, 'makeweights', etc. that came in between the major
>         works. 

I think that this point chimes with what I was trying to say about 
Durrell's eclectic output creating eclectic audiences, Richard.

Publishers prefer to market authors in reasonably discrete categories or 
pigeonholes.  Whether they admit it or not, literary historians and 
critics tend to work in something of the same way.  As Walter Pater told 
his students, "our failure is to form habits," stereotyping the world so 
we can no longer discriminate the rarities right in front of our eyes.

When T. S. Eliot encouraged Durrell to determine once and for all 
whether he was a "poet" or a "novelist," he was thinking in terms of a 
conscientious editor and in terms of the received 'wisdom' among poets 
-- i.e., that spending energy in too many forms and genres would lead a 
young writer to dissolution of poetic energy.  That advice may seem 
quaint and moralizing in retrospect, ringing weirdly like Goethe's idea 
of the writer saving, not spending, the fund of his creative seed.  
Miller's late 1930s attempt to discipline Durrell to focus on "Lawrence 
Durrell" rather than the "schizophrenic" Durrell/Norden may be similar.

/Contra/ TSE and HM, I think that we are extremely fortunate that 
Lawrence Durrell followed his own tack, either by inclination or 
necessity.  In terms of genre and style, Durrell's writings are 
decidedly eclectic, defying the stereotypical, disciplining efforts of 
mentors, mass marketers, and historians.  When it comes to "labeling" 
and "categorizing," the works of Joyce and Woolf and Faulkner and 
_______(fill in the blank here with the name of most any other canonical 
writer of the 20th Century) ______ give us the appearance of known, 
comfortable, containable quantities.

Indeed, in terms of scope, genre, and diversity, the storyline of James 
Joyce's body of published works looks conceptually simple when set on 
the shelf next to the storyline of Lawrence Durrell's body of published 
works.   And that is an important point.  The narrative of Joyce's 
career -- running from /Dubliners/ to /A Portrait of the Artist as a 
Young Man///, /Ulysses/, and /Finnegans Wake/ -- did in fact become the 
template for evaluating and narrating the careers of subsequent 
ambitious writers of the 20th Century.  (Never mind the fact that 
/Chamber Music/, /Exiles/, &c. tend to be smoothed out as intermediary 
or aberrations.)  Cf. the silly post-1952 questions about why Ellison 
was unable to follow up on /Invisible Man/.  As if any follow-up was 
necessary, artistically or morally!  Critics are most intolerant of 
differently-shaped careers or eclecticism.

I would leave it to be tested by others whether or not this idea of 
eclecticism holds true in any significant way for the fuller span of 
Durrell's published works.  But I suspect that it does hold true.  And I 
would go further, suggesting that this broad eclecticism of genre and 
form across the published works might have a corollary in terms of the 
characteristic details that we find /within/ each of the particular 
works//.  For example, consider the eclecticism and heterogeneity of 
prose style, narrative form, and generic mode that we find within 
/Prospero's Cell/ or /The Alexandria Quartet/.  What an abundance we 
find packed away within each of those!

To the best of my ability, I try to be humble and accept the writings of 
Lawrence Durrell on their own terms.  I can certainly see their strong 
differences from the more disciplined, selective output of, say, the 
writings of James Joyce.  And I think that those peculiar differences 
may be essential to an understanding of what Durrell achieves, the 
particular pleasures that his writing offers to us.  But I certainly do 
not think that Durrell is in any way "off-track," or somehow "lacking," 
just because he does not fit in with the vagaries of the book publishing 
world or some absurdly projected template of "the standard career of the 
Modernist" &c.

Like Swift's Projectors in the Academy, the Fault rests with us, not 
with the Cucumber from which we attempt to extract Sunbeams.


Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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