[ilds] The Dark Labyrinth

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Fri May 6 07:28:53 PDT 2011

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on Durrell and 
his /Dark Labyrinth/, Meta.

I will respond below here as I can.

>      I have always wondered why I like this particular book so much,
>     as I always felt a bit guilty that I found the highbrows like
>     Avignon Quintet (and some other things like Tunc) very hard to
>     struggle through. ( Alex. Quartet which I keep rereading, is of
>     course still a source of immense pleasure and inspiration!).
I would suspect that different readers find different sorts of pleasures 
in different books.  That sounds more obvious than it actually is.  Many 
people make themselves very busy for a lifetime devising "reasons" that 
supposedly make plain why some readers should elevate certain books at 
the cost of other books.

These critics are easily tilted from the saddle by the Socratic method.  
Their pronouncements tend to spring from other agendas rather than from 
a deep enjoyment of the books in front of them.  Loyalties will out, one 
way or another.  If the critic opens by frankly confessing the 
arbitrariness of the agenda and pronouncements, then fine.  That is 
playing the Police with literature, checking and stamping an author's 
papers to make certain that he or she passes.  But I cannot imagine how 
one keeps grinding away like that, putting authors and books up on the 
rack and forcing "confessions."

I identify literature with pleasure. For the writer, literature is the 
creation of pleasure.  For the reader, literature is the identification 
and appreciation of the pleasure's sources.  That is my confession.  I 
know my subjectivity, and I try to discriminate and refine it as best as 
I can.

/The Alexandria Quartet/ will always be my book because it is my 
autobiography -- not because it is "higher" &c.  I do think the 
/Quartet/ has given me the richest memories over a lifetime, some 
memories from reading the /Quartet/, others by means of associations of 
places and friendships with other readers of those four novels.

And, yes, as with the characters inside the book, my relation with the 
/Quartet/ is an act of memorious-ness:  an ongoing examination of my own 
experience and memory as it has connected with the /Quartet/.

I simply do not have those deep and rich associations with /The Dark 
Labyrinth/ or /The Revolt of Aphrodite/ &c.  But other readers may have 
them, and I might someday -- perhaps thanks to you?

Those are my cards, out on the table.
>         So I often wondered abot this classification of Durrell's
>         work.  »Highbrows« versus »makeweights«? Although DL is, I
>         agree, not exactly a highbrow«, I would certainly not put it
>         into the same league as White Eagles, Antrobus, Stiff upper
>         lip, etc. I'd rather say it occupies a very special place
>         somewhere in between, as T.S. Eliot observed /neither a Norden
>         nor a Durrell, but certainly more Durrell/. But then again,
>         maybe I'm partial here – I find Durrell a fascinating man and
>         this book throws so much light on his complex personality. And
>         the themes that prevail in the book are very close to me – the
>         islomania, especially, and the retreat into the pastoral,
>         quest of spiritual fulfillment …
Your confession of partiality is the truest and most honorable part, 
Meta.  Remember:  "highbrow," "modern", "postmodern," &c. are artificial 
categories, old habits which, like so many others, show up our failures.

I would put it in this manner.  Categories have a very limited use in 
showing us something new about Lawrence Durrell and his writing.  But 
Lawrence Durrell and his writing can be /extremely/ useful in turning 
the mirror back, showing us the very real limits and imperfections of 

I take Pursewarden's ironic mustache seriously, you see. . . .

>     I wonder if the women in the DL, and especially Boecklin, are
>     really aspects of Nancy? Unfortunately I know very little about
>     her from what I've read in the biographies, so I cannot say, but
>     maybe one of you can contribute a more elaborate opinion here?
Biography is /always/ interesting.  If you are interested in learning 
more about Nancy's life and work, look ahead to 2012.  We have a new 
biography focusing entirely on Nancy coming out then.

Enjoy your reading, Meta.  I am glad to have you here.


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

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