[ilds] Retirement Age during the British Raj

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Fri Oct 23 15:14:42 PDT 2015

Hi Bruce, Billy, & David,

I bicker with Said's work a lot, but I also must admit I deeply enjoy 
it.  He's a complex critic, and he was one of the first critics I sat 
down to read slowly and carefully -- he's meant a lot to me, even if I 
quarrel with his ragged corners here and there.  His work on Conrad is 
excellent, and he clearly had a deep affection for Conrad's writing 
despite his colonized/imperial subject position.  I suspect, to be 
entirely candid, that Said never read Durrell and only saw the Cuckor 
film /Justine/, which is too bad.  He might have given us all an 
astonishingly insightful reading.  He does refer to Durrell a handful of 
times, but he never actually does any analysis.  Durrell's always a 
figure to him, not anything familiar or specific.

For what it's worth, I'm increasingly thinking of Said's /Orientalism/ 
in relation to universities rather than literature, though I'm wrapping 
up something on his use of Hellenism just now.

But as for Durrell's caricatures, I'm probably the first to give a 
sympathetic ear to defenses of Durrell's critiques of empire, but it's 
also fairly obvious how the people of the places he writes about could 
take offense (says the Canadian with his logging axe and rye to the 
Australian with his wallaby and beer... though we both occupy positions 
of deep colonial privilege as well -- we need a third wave colonial 
studies, not just third wave feminism).  In some respects that's the 
risk of anyone writing about your home and folks -- but there is also a 
good deal of political complexity in Durrell's presentations...

I like, now at least, to think of /Justine/ and /Bitter Lemons/ as not 
only occupying the same literary moment as /On the Road/ but also 
Achebe's /Things Fall Apart/.  The rapid decolonization of Africa, the 
American ascendance over the failing British/French Imperial adventures 
in Suez, and conflict on Cyprus all wrap up in that package.  Durrell 
was, in very many respects, in the midst of all of it and wrote from a 
particularly constrained position both inside and outside.  Just looking 
at his anonymous publications about Cyprus shows his ambivalence while 
also meeting the demands of the job...  He talks about these pieces 
fairly bluntly in his /Paris Review/ interview:

"I’ve written millions of words of Foreign Office dispatches -- a much 
harder job than any foreign correspondent’s because I was the buffer 
state between, say, four and four hundred correspondents in a situation 
where a statement of policy was expected on a split-second basis and so 
water-tight that it wouldn’t fall apart under analysis. Of course, to 
make that kind of statement you have to have a policy, and in most of 
the places where I worked we didn’t. In fact, I was selling a pig in a 
poke most of the time, living on my wits. Or, as Sir Henry Wotton said, 
'lying abroad for my country.'"

It's worth repeating his proviso just before that: "I’ve done hundreds 
and thousands of words of feature articles, all buried in remote 
periodicals. Some under my own name, some under initials."  I've tried 
to gesture to some of these complications across /From the Elephant's 
Back/, but we'll see to what effect and how much other readers push in 
the opposite direction.

I also don't see Wilde as a casual reference in the context of those 
political writings...  Nor is "lying" all that ironical.  I also don't 
think there's anything casual about the epigram to /Bitter Lemons/ set 
in conflict with the opening contention to not be a political book -- 
it's political through and through but also ironical in that statement, 
which I think the epigram makes clear.  It just assumes a reader who 
picks up on what's either unsaid (as in the closing poem) or what is 
intimated only through juxtaposition.

In the same sense, the offensive caricatures get a wink and nudge in a 
text like "Oil for the Saint" when the fictional caricatures push back 
(and Durrell was openly contradicting his stories in print, so it's hard 
to believe he wasn't consciously building cardboard cut-outs to stack in 
front of those he presents as real and complex people elsewhere at the 
same time).

Just some hurried thoughts in a few minutes between meetings!

All best,

ps: I don't know of any explicit document supporting Said on the 
retirement age issue, but I also don't think he's the first to have said 
it.  I suspect there would be other voices echoing and anticipating Said 
on that point if you dig about.

On 2015-10-22 5:46 PM, Denise Tart & David Green wrote:
> Caricature can be a way of exploring or coming to terms with national
> character. It is certainly a common artistic devise, and a comic device
> also.
> Colonial Imperialist Gideon is a case in point, but Durrell does his
> caricatures with humour even affection. It must be said that Said comes
> across as rather lacking in these qualities and I'd say thinned skinned
> to boot. But I am not an Egyptian who experienced the haughty
> boorishness of British control before and during the war. But I have
> experienced it as an Australian to which I say in no uncertain terms get
> ......expletive deleted owing to this being a family program.
> David

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