[ilds] DURRELL, MILLER, ANARCHISM AND HERALDIC UNIVERSES

Richard Pine rpinecorfu at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 21 04:25:56 PDT 2011


Everyone has a milieu, but as the Duke of Wellington is supposed to have said (of his Dublin origins) to be born in a stable doesn't make one a horse. In my opinion, to stress milieu and associations does not, by any stretch of the imagination, lead to affiliation. LD was a noted non-joiner. Apart from his enthusiastic support for the Buddhist monastery in France, he is hardly known at all for any political expression. A letter to the London Times protesting about the open-cast bauxite mining at Les Baux is about as far as he was prepared to go, publicly. Altho James Gifford says that he does not call LD an anarchist, he has done as much as he can to tar him with the anarchist brush by insisting on the associations LD had within the milieu.
LD was NOT an 'anarchist', but, in the strict literal sense, a 'monarchist' - someone whose space is directed by a sole ruler -  i.e. this is the essence of the Heraldic Universe, for which we do have ample evidence - 'I am an autist.... I am God'. He calls himself not a surrealist but a 'Durrealist'. Within the circle of the HU, he is 'OC Universe' (Labyrinth). As Rank says (Art and Artist), liberated from god, he becomes god. This is expressed as: 'It is in the nature of thought to strike a locus around itself... Pure thought, in thinking of itself, can remain thought', and 'To the east there is no personal "I"; only the void of which "I" is a reflection'. Like simultaneous equations, these statements indicate that the HU was, in his imagination, an intensely small and personal and, probably, short-lived space achieved occasionally.  There was no place within this universe for any other entity, therefore you cannot slap a label on its front door
 saying 'anarchist within'. Within, there was merely one man's thought, indentured to no tradition or movement.
It is in my opinion absolutely ludicrous to say that LD's 'antiauthoritarian'-ism is 'a significant oversight in the criticism'. That, by extension, suggests that if a critic doesn't slaver over this 'antiauthoritarian'-ism he has somehow taken the wrong route. Baloney. Criticism has to be based on facts - the facts of the work and the facts of the biography, and inferences can only be made in relation to those facts, when the evidence is pertinently presented. That is not happening in the present exchange, which is based on a web of insinuations only tenuously related to facts. 
LD was an artist who, for financial reasons, had to take paying work in the British public service to which he had been introduced in Athens in 1939-40. The 'cusp' of WW2, which I think has been evident to most of us as the most significant 'milieu' or hinterland of his life, dictated first Greece, then Egypt, then the Dodecanese (not yet Greek), then Yugoslavia, then Cyprus.The culmination in Cyprus, painfully expressed in Bitter Lemons, showed how LD was torn between the heart (philhellenism) and the head (need to earn a living as a British public servant). As an artist and  a philhellene he was of course a rebel, but, as Miller said of him, he was 'English despite himself'. The loss of friendship with Seferis is probably the most poignant effect of this head-and-heart bifurcation. I say 'probably' because altho there is much evidence on the subject (Maurice Cardiff and Seferis himself) it would be foolish to press the point definitively.
The companion to WW2 in terms of an agon was the landscape of pre- and post-war literature, brilliantly summed up, in a highly personal manner by LD in 'Key to Modern British Poetry' , salvaged from his miserable time in Argentina, in which he writes: 'the trouble with the common reader is that the twentieth century is a battlefield, but he does not know what the battle is about'.
Yes, the politics of WW2 and its aftermath were 'complex', but don't insist that we are missing the point if we don't concur with speculative quasi-scholarship.
RP

From: James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com>
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Sent: Sunday, July 17, 2011 11:11 PM
Subject: Re: [ilds] DURRELL, MILLER, ANARCHISM AND HERALDIC UNIVERSES

Hi David,

I like "herald in"!  Very nice.  I particularly like the rest of that 
paragraph as well, in particular the "cusp" or turning point of WWII. 
What, however, does it mean to make such an inward and intensely 
personal statement (like the Heraldic Universe) while in the midst of 
that turn?  Does it have a politics, and is it liberal?

But in other matters, perhaps you mistake me -- I didn't say Durrell 
took to the streets in 1968, nor did I say *he* was an anarchist.  I 
pointed out the importance of Miller & Read's discussion of surrealism 
and anarchism to Durrell's first articulation of his notion of the 
Heraldic Universe (an articulation that I would argue changes 
substantially over time).  In tandem with that, it's remarkable the 
extent to which anarchist poetry networks and English surrealist groups 
were involved in Durrell's early publications.  I would, however, 
strongly argue that a good deal of the antiauthoritarian sentiment and 
aesthetic of Durrell's peers rubbed off on him, especially up to the 
late 1940s, and that it's a significant oversight in the criticism.

For example (and there are dozens of these, so this is just one sitting 
on my kitchen table at the moment), Albert Cossery was a signatory of 
the Egyptian surrealist manifesto in the closing days of 1938 (a 
politically active group with clear anarcho-communist sympathies), and 
he relocated permanently to Paris in 1945 when others of the movement 
were expelled from Egypt.  At the same time, his /Men God Forgot/ was 
sent to the Berkeley anarchist press Circle (run by George Leite with 
Kenneth Rexroth and with involvement by Robert Duncan).  It was 
translated by Durrell's friend in Egypt, Harold Edwards. Henry Miller 
wrote the introduction, but it's only in one of his unrelated book 
reviews that he mentions that Durrell had sent the book for Circle to 
publish.  Circle brought out Durrell's /Zero and Asylum in the Snow/ at 
the same time and was attempting to publish /The Black Book/, both of 
which Duncan had already tried to publish in New York through his 
/Experimental Review/ press set up on a commune in Woodstock with James 
Cooney (and in whose publications Miller's "group" is identified as 
anarchist and anti-communist, not that everyone in the group would say 
that themselves).  Duncan, Rexroth, and Leite were all self-identifying 
anarchists.  Only slightly earlier, Durrell was co-editing /Personal 
Landscape/ with Robin Fedden, an outspoken pacifist, and was trumpeting 
the worth of Elie Papadimitriou, an outspoken Greek Marxist.  All at the 
same time, Durrell was publishing in George Woodcock's /NOW/ (from 
Freedom Press no less) and became very friendly with G.S. Fraser during 
the war, who had been closely involved with the anarchist New Apocalypse 
in London (though Fraser was also, like Durrell, deeply tied to service 
to Britain).  Fraser, naturally, had published the first bit of the 
Cossery translation in /Orientations/ as well as Durrell's draft of 
/Prospero's Cell/ that still included Nancy.

For the 30s and 40s, Durrell was in that mix of folks and ideas, and by 
setting the works of these groups side by side, a kinship emerges. 
Durrell's stylistic "cousins" are those in this antiauthoritarian 
stream, not the High Modernists nor the Auden group, although in this 
complicated time they all held complicated individual positions.  For 
that reason, I think that saying Durrell "was essentially a western 
liberal" is too much a simplification.

It has been popular in much of the critical work to misquote Durrell on 
communism and conservatism thereby easily pegging him as a Tory, but 
going back to the original texts invariably shows something more complex 
in which he denounces the cruelties of capitalism while voicing an even 
stronger fear of totalitarian states and authoritarian regimes.  As for 
rejecting society, that's not quite the same thing.

Roger Bowen nicely discusses Durrell's "In Europe" in this broader 
context, and I think that political repositioning is worthwhile.  He 
does the same on "defeatism" vs. "pacifism," the former of which is a 
much used term by 40s poets, in several instances to describe Durrell 
(Kathleen Raine does this in a very intriguing manner).  Orwell got the 
ball rolling with the blending of the two terms in 1942 when he applied 
it to Alex Comfort, D.S. Savage, and George Woodcock (again, all three 
published Durrell's poetry in the 40s and all three were 
self-identifying anarchists).

Again, my point isn't to affix a particular term to anyone or Durrell in 
particular but rather to assert that this was his milieu of the period, 
and it has a far more complex politics than is generally considered.

Also, Tolkien might be a good counter-example: a devout Christian in 
love with his own pagan-cum-Christian allegory...  Even back to Herbert 
Read, who became one of the most famous British anarchists of his 
generation, we shouldn't forget he was also knighted -- messy 
complexities indeed!  One of the reasons why Durrell's fun is his 
messiness.  I enjoy the difficulties in pinning him down.

But I wonder in particular about your closing comment, David:

> Durrell’s universe is now, a post modernist
> montage of history, myth, memory and invention
> in which true meaning is an individual quest

Is this individual in the Heraldic Universe a liberal, or is s/he using 
the contemporary context in order to return to individual pursuits? 
More importantly, I think you're looking at the reader, and for that I'd 
want to ask if Durrell calls out to your own liberal sensibilities?  Or, 
does the work dangle delicious ambiguities that tempt you to your own 
"invention in which true meaning is an individual quest"?  In other 
words, do you sense in Durrell's works a desire to convert you to 
something in particular that *he* envisioned, or instead is there an 
inwardness (or ambiguous complexity in metaphor, I'd say) that might 
inspire *your* own conversion on your own terms?

Sorry not responding to those who sent me messages on this a few weeks 
back, but other commitments pressed.  Hard.  But I'm enjoying the 
discussion!

Best,
James

On 16/07/11 8:52 PM, Denise Tart & David Green wrote:
> I while back there was some discussion about the above. I have had a few
> thoughts since then which I now post.
>
> To my mind Durrell was essentially a western liberal with a keen
> interest in a range of philosophies and ways of being; a strong
> individual yes, but no anarchist. Yes, I think he abhorred the tyrannies
> of communism and fascism and indeed Islam (as well as its moral
> Puritanism and lack of alcohol), but Durrell was too conscious of the
> benefits of British style public order (which he worked to restore on
> Rhodes and was part of in Cyprus) to reject government of some form.
> Renata Vassilou, who has contributed to this list and who worked for
> Larry at the Mazet, has commented on Durrell's obsession with money.
> Like Bukowski, and numerous other writers fond of basic comforts, he
> worked and wrote until his writing became well enough known for him to
> make a living from it, albeit somewhat precariously at times; although
> again Renata says he had much more money than he let on.
>
> Ultimately Durrell was too bourgeois to reject society in the way that
> Miller did - but Miller was lucky, in his early years, to be a bum in
> the world's most affluent country and to have the nature to bum off
> other people as well (as Dylan Thomas sometimes did). Durrell was too
> establishment for this. Indeed i think he wanted the respect of people
> like Paddy Leigh and was, I think proud of his work in the diplomatic
> corps and for the war effort. He believed fascism and communism to be
> great evils - the road into the dark valley - and identified western
> (British and American) victory as essential to the kind of world he
> wished to inhabit: one with sufficient law and order for him to live
> safely, one with sufficient prosperity for him to live comfortably
> enough and one with sufficient liberty for him to live largely as he
> wished and think as he wished - isn't this what we like about out
> world?? If indeed we do like it. If Durrell was political, then it
> related to the above.
>
> As to the Heraldic Universe I am no expert on this but wish to point out
> that quite a number of discussions on this emerge if you type this into
> Google. A number of writers consciously create heraldic universes, Prof.
> Tolkien being an obvious example. I have my own to an extent and get the
> idea of it - probably why I was drawn to LD all those years ago; he
> created a world/universe that I wanted to live in. The idea that
> geography has as much to do with cultural manifestations and
> spirituality is something my mother, the lord be good her, felt very
> strongly about and interestingly she had a number of Durrell books which
> I now have. I do think though that for Durrell the Heraldic universe was
> more than a mental state of being, it was, IS, a physical world too -
> Durrell says this himself; the idea that a heraldic universe of the mind
> can be projected onto the physical plane in a real and meaningful sense,
> so much so that Larry actually lived it and wrote it which is why his
> books enchant – and possibly why Nancy thought they were all lies; she
> did not perceive the world as he did.
>
> Another take on the Heraldic Universe is - was LGD in fact talking about
> a new kind of universe - as in to ‘herald in’ and seeing himself as part
> of that process with due references to Freud and Einstein, the cubists
> and surrealists, not to mention those who survived WW2 and saw a
> different world emerging from the one that went into that great
> conflict. It is easy to forget today what a great cusp WW2 was. Can you
> imagine LGD wearing blue jeans before 1939 or dressing in other
> manifestations of 'peasant fashion'. My mum reckoned that the Victorian
> era did not really end until after WW2 and I can see her point. Perhaps
> Durrell’s universe is now, a post modernist montage of history, myth,
> memory and invention in which true meaning is an individual quest, if
> sort at all with the ancient verities of church and state cast into a
> less significant mould?
>
> David, musing with a glass of Italian Soave
>
> 16 William Street
> Marrickville NSW 2204
> + 61 2 9564 6165
> 0412 707 625
> www.denisetart.com.au <http://www.denisetart.com.au>
>
>
>
> _______________________________________________
> ILDS mailing list
> ILDS at lists.uvic.ca
> https://lists.uvic.ca/mailman/listinfo/ilds
_______________________________________________
ILDS mailing list
ILDS at lists.uvic.ca
https://lists.uvic.ca/mailman/listinfo/ilds
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://lists.uvic.ca/pipermail/ilds/attachments/20110721/cb99b7ba/attachment.html 


More information about the ILDS mailing list