[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 75, Issue 5_Message 2_James Gifford

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Thu Jul 11 00:39:28 PDT 2013


Hello James,

 

Thanks for your comments which you sent on despite the demanding presence of
the two little ones. 

 

Your phrase ".the determinism of the city's libidinal coercion." deals with
a fundamental aspect of the Quartet. Durrell's oft repeated pronouncement
about being caught in a gravitational field thrown down by the city, about
the personae being the "flora and fauna" to the will of Alexandria.

 

I read a research paper on Durrell where a reference is made to Lionel
Trilling's critique of the novels of The Alexandria Quartet. Lionel Trilling
is quoted as referring to the absence of will among the characters of the
Quartet and I read this as a sort of indictment of the novel in terms of
what the characters actually do - or don't do. Durrell himself seems to
emphasize this condition not perhaps by design but as his perception of
people living out their lives in a climate which saps the energy and will.
"Exhausted" is a word he often uses to broadly describe the state of people
in Alexandria and the city's "airs" (?). 

 

I have not been able to access Lionel Trilling's paper which might be part
of a compilation of criticism. I'm sure you will be able to identify it.

 

Best wishes

 

Sumantra

 

-----------------------------------------------------------

Message: 1

Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2013 13:34:11 +0530

From: "Sumantra Nag" <sumantranag at gmail.com>

To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>

Cc: Frank Kersnowski <fkersnow at trinity.edu>

Subject: [ilds] FW: ILDS Digest, Vol 75,           Issue 3_Frank
Kersnowski_"The

            Alexandria Quartet: A Reconsideration."

Message-ID: <000901ce7d44$127022b0$37506810$@gmail.com>

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

 

Frank,

 

I did want to mention an aspect of Durrell which seemed to have emerged
during his interview reported in your paper. There, Durrell says that in the
Quartet he had succeeded in bringing the red light district back to
Alexandria.

 

What is this achievement supposed to mean? In a 1977 interview Durrell
reports a conversation with his ambassador on the existence of a brothel in
Alexandria. Durrell then says that he transposed a brothel area from Cairo
to Alexandria in the Quartet. He was trying to recall the brothels of
Alexandria which had been closed by Montgomery - sent to the desert - by the
time Durrell and his contemporaries arrived. 

 

Durrell also wrote a poem Elegy on the Closing of the French Brothels. 

 

Durrell's preoccupation with brothels, also expressed repeatedly in The
Alexandria Quartet, strengthens the suggestion of a colonial view point and
perhaps the more repulsive aspect of it, depicting the western resident
indulging in the available commercial sex in an eastern seaport. Edward Said

- and those who perceive "Orientalism" in western depiction of the east -
are then justified in referring to the colonial colour of such writing. By
implication, such writing declines in value. It almost makes The Alexandria
Quartet into a massive piece of travel writing with flashes of literary
merit, but it is travel writing which concentrates too much on the aspect of
open sexual laxity in different forms, as a subject arousing the curiosity
of readers. As a masterpiece for which the Quartet was hailed by reviewers
in the 1950s and 1960s, the work has diminished considerably and almost
ceases to be acknowledged now, as a lasting literary achievement.

 

This is a sad counterpoint to the rich language of Durrell in his
description of landscape in the Quartet about which Allyson Kreuiter has
written with such fine perception in her article forwarded by James to the
ILDS list, "City and landscape of remembering: The visual textual palimpsest
of Alexandria in Lawrence Durrell's Justine and Balthazar" in /Scrutiny2:

Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa/:

( <http://academia.edu/3848804/City_and_landscape_of_remembering>
http://academia.edu/3848804/City_and_landscape_of_remembering).

 

Regards

 

Sumantra

 

 

------------------------------

 

Message: 2

Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2013 08:53:01 -0700

From: James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com>

To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca

Cc: Frank Kersnowski <fkersnow at trinity.edu>

Subject: Re: [ilds] FW: ILDS Digest, Vol 75, Issue 3_Frank

            Kersnowski_"The Alexandria Quartet: A Reconsideration."

Message-ID: <51DD835D.8060309 at gmail.com>

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252; format=flowed

 

Hi Frank & Sumantra,

 

I'm enjoying reading these comments, but a new baby (and somewhat upset

toddler) are keeping me from commenting as much as I would like...

 

I think a comparison that might help here is Durrell in relation to other
British writers in Egypt at the time, such as Robert Liddell, G.S. 

Fraser, Herbert Howarth, and D.J. Enright.

 

I don't want to take away from the merits of Sumantra's comments on
Orientalism, which certainly has a role, and I would think is most
particularly a factor in the work's reception.  That said, the sexuality in
the Quartet has always struck me as somewhat disgusting...  Durrell's not
prudish about the brothels, but the opening epigrams to Justine set Sade
against Freud, and I think we're supposed to be on Freud's side (Sade just
leaves to the noose and loss of the self subsumed under the city's
determinist will, almost a form of economism).  Said caught on to this in
his Beirut lectures and says that Western readers are imagining themselves
as the sexual heroes in the Quartet -- that's where I would disagree with
him.  I've never wanted to be Darley, and I can't imagine many readers wish
for Pursewarden's love life nor to enter the novel's brothel scenes.

 

To complicate the matter a bit, Howarth co-edited /Images of the Arab World/
(translations of Arabic poetry) with Ibrahim Shakrullah.  Durrell was
responsible for Albert Cossery's & Georges Henein's works reaching Circle
and City Lights Books in San Francisco, and he gave financial support to
Cossery.  Durrell was championing Elie Papadimitriou's poetry at the same
time as well.

 

D.J. Enright, well, I'm not quite as generous...

 

I suppose what I mean is that I think calling the Quartet a colonialist
revel in the sexualization of the exploited bodies of colonized Others
misses some of the disgust in the novel, it's ethical arch to overcome the
determinism of the city's libidinal coercion, and its textual complexities.
I suppose I don't see Pursewarden as a hero and only think we're supposed to
admire Darley once he's overcome the sadistic city.

 

All best,

James

 

On 2013-07-10 1:04 AM, Sumantra Nag wrote:

> Frank,

> 

> I did want to mention an aspect of Durrell which seemed to have 

> emerged during his interview reported in your paper. There, Durrell 

> says that in the /Quartet /he had succeeded in bringing the red light 

> district back to Alexandria.

> 

> What is this achievement supposed to mean? In a 1977 interview Durrell 

> reports a conversation with his ambassador on the existence of a 

> brothel in Alexandria. Durrell then says that he transposed a brothel 

> area from Cairo to Alexandria in the /Quartet/. He was trying to 

> recall the brothels of Alexandria which had been closed by Montgomery 

> ? sent to the desert - by the time Durrell and his contemporaries arrived.

> 

> Durrell also wrote a poem /Elegy on the Closing of the French Brothels/.

> 

> Durrell?s preoccupation with brothels, also expressed repeatedly in 

> /The Alexandria Quartet/, strengthens the suggestion of a colonial 

> view point and perhaps the more repulsive aspect of it, depicting the 

> western resident indulging in the available commercial sex in an 

> eastern seaport. Edward Said - and those who perceive ?Orientalism? in 

> western depiction of the east - are then justified in referring to the 

> colonial colour of such writing. By implication, such writing declines in
value.

> It almost makes /The Alexandria Quartet /into a massive piece of 

> travel writing with flashes of literary merit, but it is travel 

> writing which concentrates too much on the aspect of open sexual 

> laxity in different forms, as a subject arousing the curiosity of 

> readers. As a masterpiece for which the /Quartet /was hailed by 

> reviewers in the 1950s and 1960s, the work has diminished considerably 

> and almost ceases to be acknowledged now, as a lasting literary
achievement.

> 

> This is a sad counterpoint to the rich language of Durrell in his 

> description of landscape in the /Quartet/ about which Allyson Kreuiter 

> has written with such fine perception in her article forwarded by 

> James to the ILDS list, "City and landscape of remembering: The visual 

> textual palimpsest of Alexandria in Lawrence Durrell's Justine and 

> Balthazar" in

> /Scrutiny2: Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa/:

> ( <http://academia.edu/3848804/City_and_landscape_of_remembering>
http://academia.edu/3848804/City_and_landscape_of_remembering).

> 

> Regards

> 

> Sumantra

 

End of ILDS Digest, Vol 75, Issue 5

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