[ilds] DURRELL, MILLER, ANARCHISM AND HERALDIC UNIVERSES

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Thu Jul 21 12:18:54 PDT 2011


On 21/07/11 4:25 AM, Richard Pine wrote:
 > 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

I like the "quasi" -- it's a stirring flourish, but I don't know how to 
distinguish it from your dislike of "a web of insinuations only 
tenuously related to facts."  In any case, we disagree but choose 
different ways of expressing it.

 > 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.

That's quite an "extension" to make, but slaver over the luncheon meat 
if you like it.  However, since you also raise the specter of facts, 
let's not forget mis-quotation as a form of falsification -- your "LD's 
'antiauthoritarianism'-ism is a 'significant oversight in the 
criticism'" is a mis-quotation employing your own possessive form 
appended to my words, which is "tenuously related" to the actual 
statement.  I apologize for not writing something easier to disagree 
with...  What I actually wrote was more clear:

 >> 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.

I know that statement's a bit more complex, but surely we can manage 
it's obvious meaning even if you disagree with it.  I have quite a 
folder now of such slips in quotation and particularly omission... 
However, this slip might itself answer the question of milieu.  As is noted,

 > 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.

I've nothing against horses nor the Irish.  I was born without the 
privileges of class and wealth and was raised in a rural community, 
which certainly shaped my milieu.  I live in a city where the two best 
bookstores are run by anarchists and Woodcock's influence shaped a good 
deal of the literary scene, especially in academia -- the word doesn't 
worry me.  Richard, on the other hand, lives near a town where the 
anarchist running for mayor (?! I must be wrong about this!) caused a 
good deal of worry, and while it's unkind to speculate about RP's birth, 
it's certainly different from mine (we wonder if his closing nosism helps).

Surely those differing milieus shape our perspectives in this discussion 
(I admit it shapes mine) -- surely Durrell's milieu shaped his views as 
well.  The insinuation (via juxtaposition in RP's message) that such a 
milieu was purely financial in motivation is also unfounded.  Woodcock 
didn't pay, nor did Duncan, Rexroth, Comfort, Cooney, and so forth. 
Durrell donated work to that milieu...  Only Leite paid, and even then 
"paid" is a very loose term.

In fact (a dangerous phrase), the context of Durrell's first 
articulation of the Heraldic Universe is entirely avoided in this 
disagreement, which I think is telling...

In that first articulation (Aug 1936 in MacNiven, but more likely early 
0ctober), Durrell was demonstrably responding to the Read-Miller 
correspondence about Surrealism, and the letter was itself an explicit 
interjection into that correspondence at a point where Read and Miller 
were debating Anarchism and Communism in relation to Read's 
pro-Communist lecture printed in /The Surrealist Bulletin/.  Is it 
really such wild speculation to describe the absence of that "fact" from 
scholarship as a "significant oversight."  After all, people have 
dedicated whole books to the topic of the Heraldic Universe without once 
mentioning it...

Even in your comment "He calls himself not a surrealist but a 
'Durrealist'," is it not telling that the term of self-description is 
itself derived from "Surrealist"?  A Bloomian attempt by the ephebe at 
misprision while becoming the strong poet?  I don't think I'd ignore it...

 > LD was NOT an 'anarchist', but, in the strict
 > literal sense, a 'monarchist' - someone whose
 > space is directed by a sole ruler

I thought you wanted to avoid "slap[ping] a label on [Durrell's] front 
door", right?  This one seems a stretch since the singular ruler is 
typically surrounded by a vast sea of the ruled, which Durrell clearly 
did not envision...  Or as the man put it himself in a polite 
disagreement with a monarchist, "I respect the King in you and I respect 
the king in all men -- that is what I mean, I think; and this undercuts 
all dogma, which is after all only a manmade roughage."  Pray tell, how 
does your vision of submitting to the rule of one rather than the the 
rule of none contradict anti-authoritarian views?  Would "the king in 
all men" be closer to the self-rule described by anarchists or the rule 
of one over all others described by monarchists?  In either case, the 
label isn't of great utility...

You needn't agree with me, but let's be more accurate about what we 
disagree over.  I've no desire to misrepresent your position, which 
wouldn't engender progress.

 > 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.

Wouldn't the tar brush metaphor imply ownership or more colloquially a 
mutual degeneracy?  This strikes me as quite the opposite of what I say, 
though it would be terribly convenient for disagreement if I had said 
it.  Alas.  I can only offer my actual statement:

 >> a good deal of the antiauthoritarian sentiment
 >> and aesthetic of Durrell's peers rubbed off on him

While you can dedicate energy to distinguishing between "association" 
"milieu" and "affiliation," the distinctions aren't actually a part of 
the statement with which you disagree.  Do you mean to say that 
Durrell's friendships, correspondences, discussion of key ideas as 
responses to the positions held by these correspondents, and his 
publication venues imply no influence on him by this anti-authoritarian 
and often anarchist milieu?  If so, I disagree, but I suspect you mean 
something more nuanced than that simplification...

And then a red herring...

 > 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.

I wouldn't press the point much at all, especially if you wish to 
exclude everything but facts -- there was obvious tension and some 
sniping in letters to 3rd parties, but their correspondence continued to 
be quite friendly despite disagreeing.  As for head-and-heart, aren't 
you leaving out the hands?  Thea von Harbou might be an undesirable 
source, I'll admit.

For my part, I don't think the term "Heraldic Universe" had a stable 
definition for Durrell -- I see it as changing over time, and the 
contexts of the developing rearticulations is, in my opinion, crucial. 
For instance, "self" becomes "art" becomes "no self" -- clearly these 
didn't mean the same thing but reflect changing ideas and emphases that 
relate to a kindred concept.

Cheers,
James

On 21/07/11 4:25 AM, Richard Pine wrote:
> 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


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