[ilds] heraldic universe

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Tue Jun 28 11:37:26 PDT 2011

Hi Bruce,

 > If you go back to the letter of August 1936, it
 > seems clear to me that what Durrell is describing
 > is, in Heidegger's sense, a "state of being."  So,
 > he's quite right to say that "it is not a 'state
 > of mind,'"

Agreed!  Through I should have noted that Durrell also refers to the 
Heraldic Universe earlier in his 1938 "Hamlet, Prince of China" (itself 
a 1937 letter, again to Miller).

In those instances, I don't know that I'd call it a heideggerian "state 
of being," though I must own up that I'm simply not well versed in 
Heidegger.  I read some in tandem with Sartre and Patocka in 1999/2000, 
and I haven't gone back much since...

Durrell has a novel repetition from the 1937 letter appearing in the 
1942 essay in /Personal Landscape/, and it caught my attention strongly 
when I first noticed it: "the self, which you [Miller] used as a defence 
against the novel terrors of this heraldic universe (as one might use 
smoked glass to look at the sun)" (1937 letter, printed in 1938) later 
becomes "'Art' then is only the smoked glass through which we can look 
at the dangerous sun" (1942 essay).

That shuffle between "self" and "art" is fine, especially since he 
describes the Heraldic Universe as the individual's "inner heraldic 
territory" or personal property.  It seems very much to be something 
pre-social to Durrell and solipsistic though not the same a selfhood 
either.  IMO, that don't jive with Heidegger's "being," but I could very 
well be mistaken (I think it'd have to go back to Heidegger's response 
to Sartre's essay on Humanism, which I think is in the /Basic Writings/ 
book...  Dimly back a dozen years here).

It's intriguing that Durrell's Heraldic realm isn't utopic, and art or 
even selfhood stand as some kind of defensive tactic. Although at the 
same time, it's something he's "creat[ing]... quite alone" and for which 
he needs to lay a foundation (in that 1936 letter).  That suggests to me 
that some kind of pre- and post-social Being (which allows for an 
individual with reason and will not entirely determined by material 
conditions) is involved in the equation, but that the Heraldic isn't the 
autonomous Being-to-death and isn't identical with the self or art, even 
though it may be contiguous.

Of course, Durrell could have changed his mind.  I'm just intrigued by 
the contiguity between Durrell's discussion of Miller's anarchism and 
Read's (ostensible) communism in his first articulation of the Heraldic 
Universe.  That strikes me as a part of the literary history of the 
period more broadly.  Paired up with that, I'm (in a purely Durrellian 
orientation) terribly interested in the distinction Durrell sets up 
between the poet, the poem, the reader, and the inner world, as if they 
are all in contact yet are radically separate at times.  It would imply 
that art, once made, exists independent of us and beyond our 
determination even if it emerges from the artist (much like an 
individual may emerge from society yet is not determined or defined by 
the social, if one buys that idea).

James Clawson has a recent piece (I don't have a copy handy) that might 
be useful for this:

Clawson, James M. "Between Physics and Metaphysics: Spenglerian 
Bergsonism in Durrell's /Revolt of Aphrodite/." /Mosaic: A Journal for 
the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature/ 43.4 (2010): 123-139.

I'll grab that today for read, if I can locate a copy, and report back 
to the list.


On 28/06/11 8:25 AM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> James,
> Thanks for the reference.  If you go back to the letter of August
> 1936, it seems clear to me that what Durrell is describing is, in
> Heidegger's sense, a "state of being."  So, he's quite right to say
> that "it is not a 'state of mind,'" i.e., something that is rational,
> cognitive, and subject to logical analysis.  In this context, the
> mentioning of Lao Tse is entirely appropriate.  Durrell's tendencies
> are mystical, probably never fully realized, and I would cite his
> "Heraldic Universe" as evidence of such.
> Bruce
> On Jun 28, 2011, at 7:49 AM, James Gifford wrote:
>> On 27/06/11 7:42 PM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
>>> I first came across Durrell's idea in the D-M letters, the one
>>> previously mentioned, August or Fall of 1936.  Did he ever
>>> publish this theory/philosophy?
>> I'll leave Mott to Bill, but for Durrell publishing on the
>> Heraldic Universe, the answer is "kinda"...
>> He published "The Heraldic Universe" in /Personal Landscape/
>> (1942), where he states "It is not a 'state of mind.'"  There were
>> other bits and pieces in his prose, but it was certainly not
>> systematized.  Then again, the opening of /Personal Landscape/ and
>> its "Ideas on Poetry" series stated quite emphatically that it
>> would not systematize and that ideas are subject to change in
>> discussion.  I think that's actually rather the point.
>> He comes back to it across his letters as well.  Now off to the
>> train!
>> Best, J
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