[ilds] heraldic universe and other animals

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Tue Jun 28 07:44:17 PDT 2011

> Pls let me know to better understand discussion what is a oxymoron?

I was always told a "stupidly-clever bovine..."

Military Intelligence, honest politician, or innovative academic.  A 
contradiction in terms.  In my opinion, the oxymoron is most fun when 
applied unexpectedly to stale turns of phrase, such as "sober second 

I think the Communist Surrealist is oxymoronic, yet 'twas the beast for 
many years, and it carried over dramatically to the English until the 
late 1930s.  In part, it's also because so many of the Marxists of the 
West also didn't concede a unidirectional influence between Base and 
Superstructure (later said nicely by Raymond Williams), which was the 
position taken by the French antihumanists, such as Althusser (contra 
Sartre).  I know folks debate how to interpret the Frankfurt School 
theorists on that point, but my strong inclination is to see them doing 
the same as Williams, just doing it first.  If you've read them in 
German, perhaps you could comment (if it's of interest).

Dada wasn't none of that..., but Breton brought in something different 
and was a different kind of animal.


> Christine Trübner*//**//**//*
> c/o Jugend- und Sozialamt der Stadt Frankfurt am Main
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *Von:* ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca]
> *Im Auftrag von *Denise Tart & David Green
> *Gesendet:* Dienstag, 28. Juni 2011 09:05
> *An:* marc at marcpiel.fr; ilds at lists.uvic.ca
> *Betreff:* Re: [ilds] heraldic universe and other animals
> Marc, to me surrealism and communism, certainly as the later was put
> into practice, are mutually exclusive; oxymoron's as it were. surrealism
> perhaps had more to do with anarchism, but more peaceful. Durrell was a
> peaceful anarchist at heart, like many writers and artists.
> so, the French still have a communist party? in Terra Australis they
> ceased to be many moons ago. even the labor party vote is down to 27%.
> May day does not get a look in, even on uni campuses these days; new
> world order and mining boom. the Aussie bourgeois, those who are not
> conservative, vote 'green' to feel better about their vast
> carbon/resource footprint - adjectivally HUGE but at least we dump a few
> veggie scraps in the recycling....quelle maleur..
> Charles...send the Cunard to Sydney...I'll be on it, first class and no
> adjectival icebergs..
> You will be pleased to know that Dark Labyrinth is now doing the rounds
> of my year 12 students; Durrell will live on in a new generation of
> young Aussies but perhaps not quite with the same spectacular effect at
> Brett Whitley's Justine.
> Cheers
> David
> *From:* Marc Piel <mailto:marc at marcpiel.fr>
> *Sent:* Tuesday, June 28, 2011 7:12 AM
> *To:* gifford at fdu.edu <mailto:gifford at fdu.edu> ; ilds at lists.uvic.ca
> <mailto:ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
> *Subject:* Re: [ilds] heraldic universe
> Hi James,
> I am always surprised to see "Surrealism" and "Communism" put together.
> Sure that Communism was very attractive at the beginning to Surrealists,
> especially because of Breton who stayed a very long time, but most of
> the interesting Surrealists left very quickly. They quickly saw that it
> was "locking" them in instead of giving them freedom. The most important
> characteristic of Surrealism was freedom in the largest sense of the
> word. Curiously the ones that stayed with communism were those that came
> from bourgeois backgrounds and families like Breton. The same is true
> today in France. The communist party still exists with about 1% of vote
> and all from bourgeois backgrounds. I'm not surprised that LD did not
> follow this movement.
> B.R.
> Marc
> Le 27/06/11 22:32, James Gifford a écrit :
>> Hi Bruce,
>> I agreed not to post the article to any listservs, but I signed nothing
>> regarding private individuals...
>> As for Ian's edition, it does contain substantial cuts and differs in
>> many respects from Wickes' work, but both are selected and differ in
>> different ways.  Alas!  I use both and often go back and forth between
>> them.  That particular letter also appears transcribed by Henry Miller
>> in his correspondence with Herbert Read, but without major differences
>> to content.  You'll find (in general) more material from the early years
>> in Wickes but with different cuts than we find in MacNiven.  Both, IMO,
>> have some wrong dates, but that's inevitable when the letters are
>> undated and have no envelopes -- I'd expect folks will be tweaking those
>> here&  there for many years as correlated materials   become available
>> or are correlated.
>> I agree that "duration" is important!  Miller included it too.  It
>> signals the breadth of matters Durrell sought to unify in the Heraldic
>> concept, which I don't think can be reduced to just one topic.
>> For my particular point, I'd note that Durrell responds fairly overtly
>> to Read's comments in his published speech (Durrell's copy came direct
>> from Miller):
>> "Surrealism will only be truly successful in the degree to which it
>> leads, not to social entertainment, but to revolutionary action" (Read)
>>     -->  [Durrell says he doesn't believe] "that [the artist]
>>         wants to transform the world.  He wants to transform
>>         men" (Durrell)
>> "the Surrealist is naturally a Marxian Socialist, and generally claims
>> that he is a more consistent Communist than many" (Read)
>>     -->  "but I do not believe the rest of this stuff.  That
>>         the artist must be a socialist, for example" (Durrell)
>> "we must include all aspects of human experience, not excluding those
>> elements of subconscious life which are revealed in dreams, day dreams,
>> trances and hallucinations." (Read)
>>     -->  "I firmly believe in the ideals of cementing reality
>>         with the dream, but I do not believe the rest of this
>>         stuff." (Durrell)
>> If you set the two texts side by side with Miller's letters as well, the
>> origins and sequence of topics stands our clearly.
>> Only after those and other rebuttals of Read does Durrell finally get to
>> "Listen, Miller, what I feel about it is this" and then his articulation
>> of the Heraldic Universe (and then follows the only reference to Read in
>> a rather unkind postscript, which would otherwise make no sense...).
>> Notably, Miller's rebuttal to Read was very clearly a part of his
>> anarchist politics, both in the letters (copied to LD) and his "An Open
>> Letter to Surrealists Everywhere."  Two years later, Read finally made
>> his own anarchist politics public knowledge, but not until then, which
>> is why he was misunderstood as an authoritarian Marxist and Communist of
>> Breton's mode at the time.
>> My personal sense is that this context signficantly revises how we see
>> Durrell's descriptions of the Heraldic Universe in his other letters,
>> his description of it in /Personal Landscape/, as well as some of his
>> ambiguous aesthetic devices and essays such as "No Clue to Living."
>> After going through those, I've not been able to read /The Revolt of
>> Aphrodite/ the same way...  I think, for instance, of the burning of all
>> contractual obligations, the emphasis on personal responsibility, and
>> the peculiar references to Zeno (see Kropotkin's Britannica article on
>> "Anarchism" for that).  There's also LD's self-reference to his poem
>> "Freedom" near the end of the book too.
>> It's worth looking back to Wilde's "Soul of Man Under Socialism" as
>> well, which relies significantly on Kropotkin, and which Read echoes in
>> his first anarchist writings.
>> In any case, that's occupying my attention at the moment, along with the
>> print history of the subsequent ties to other authors with kindred
>> ideas.  I feel it oddly important to note I have no sympathy for the
>> American "libertarian" movement hitting Fox News so much at present...
>> Best,
>> James
>> (BTW, the work in question from Read is rather hard to get...)
>> Read, Herbert. "Speech by Herbert Read at the Conway Hall." /The
>> Surrealist Bulletin/ 4 (1936): 7-13.
>> There's related work in his edited book on Surrealism through Faber,
>> which is easy to get.
>> On 27/06/11 10:55 AM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
>>> James, I'm in the dark, again. Could you post your article appearing in
>>> /jml?/
>>> //By the way, perhaps I've missed something again. On the topic of
>>> "Heraldic" in the Durrell-Miller letters, why does MacNiven leave out
>>> material that Wickes includes? E.g., in the letter of Fall or August
>>> 1936, Wickes has Durrell writing, "I have discovered that the idea of
>>> duration is false." MacNiven does not include this important statement
>>> about "Heraldic."
>>> Bruce
>>> On Jun 26, 2011, at 8:51 PM, James Gifford wrote:
>>>> I'm interested in where this leads!
>>>> I argued last year in /jml/ that the Henry Miller - Herbert Read
>>>> correspondence casts a new light on Durrell's most famous use of the
>>>> term Heraldic in his letters to Miller. The gist is that Miller was
>>>> criticizing Read for his promotion of Communism in his written works
>>>> following the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition, and
>>>> Miller was promoting his anarchist views contra Read's supposed
>>>> Communism. Both authors were in contact with Emma Goldman, but Read
>>>> only made his anarchist views public in 1938.
>>>> In any case, the point is that Durrell's 1936 letter discussing the
>>>> Heraldic Universe is, in context (in my reckoning), a point by point
>>>> response to Read in Miller's correspondence (which Miller had been
>>>> copying to Durrell, and in which he quoted Durrell's letter to Read).
>>>> It also means the letter is probably misdated in MacNiven and was likely
>>>> a month or so later than the estimated August 1936.
>>>> In context, I contend the Heraldic notion carries a great deal of
>>>> sympathy for Miller's anarchism and the anti-Marxist politics of the
>>>> epistolary discussion. In that sense, the personal enacted in the
>>>> Heraldic carries a very particular politics. "Personalism" seems to
>>>> have followed in the 40s in London at least in part as a response to
>>>> Durrell and largely as a development from Read's "Politics of the
>>>> Unpolitical."
>>>> This sense of the Heraldic Universe runs contrary to much of what
>>>> already exists in the critical works on Durrell, so I'm waiting to see
>>>> if anything more pops up that pulls it in different directions -- Warton
>>>> could be important...
>>>> Best,
>>>> Jamie
>>>> On 26/06/11 12:34 PM, Godshalk, William (godshawl) wrote:
>>>>> 1774 T. Warton Hist. Eng. Poetry I. xi. 336 The pompous
>>>>> circumstances of which these heraldic narratives consisted, and the
>>>>> minute prolixity with which they were displayed.
>>>>> Durrell was a student of poetry as well as a poet. Also he is known
>>>>> among Durrellians for his references to the Heraldic Universe --
>>>>> which has been linked to various schools of thought.
>>>>> I'm wondering if Durrell might have come across the phrase "heraldic
>>>>> narratives" in Warton
>>>>> and later began to think of his own narratives as heraldic, and the
>>>>> world that they evoke as his "heraldic universe."
>>>>> Bill _______________________________________________ ILDS mailing
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