[ilds] Retirement Age during the British Raj

Panaiotis Gerontopoulos pan.gero at hotmail.com
Sun Oct 25 05:13:15 PDT 2015

Dear All   

I do not know if the participants of this discussion about the Retirement Age during the British Raj , Said's Orientalism, and Durrell's  Bitter Lemons are aware of  the following hand-written application letter submitted by Durrell to the Governor of Cyprus in February 1953 or 1954. It was discovered  in the State Archive of Nicosia by Barbara Papastavrou Koroniotaki, and first published in New Griffon (Gennadius Library, Athens) in 2003. Since then, it has been reproduced several times and should be taken into consideration in any discussion regarding Durrell's venture in Cyprus. Based on information collected from various sources I intent to present to the ILDS meeting in Rethimnon a paper on this highly controversial subject, and if accepted I hope to see you all there.
P. Th. Gerontopoulos

Bellapaix AbbeyCyprusFeb.17 1953                                                                                                                                             H.E.Acting Governor                                                                                                                                                                    Island of Cyprus                                                                                                                                                                    The Levant                                                                                                             Your Excellency
   Thank you for the great kindness with which you received me an for your permission to reinforce my application for the post under discussion by a personal  statement in the form of a letter. The chief points which may have some bearing on my position  as follows:
1) I have been closely in touch with Greeks  since 1934 when I first went to live in the island of Corfu.2) In the course of my F.O.  Service  I have had to prepare suitable material for the Greek press both in the Dodecanese Islands and in Alexandria. I helped in editing and orienting material for broadcasting from ESB to Greece [G. Haniotis was the chief radio feature editor at the time].3) My name is well-known in Athenian and Cypriot literary circles and the Greeks of Cyprus have taken me very much to their bosoms. I have been the subject of admiring criticism in "Cyprus Letters" and the School  at which I teach has put an exhibition of my books about Greece.4) In a brief Supplementary to my application I have noted  a few publications which have some bearing on Greece, the landscape, folklore etc and which might enable me to be credited with the special knowledge that comes from long residence in a country.
    I do not know whether the wide circle of personal contacts I have made here would survive a public appointment such you have outlined; nor do I know whether I could secure the whole-hearted  cooperation of those who now consider me their friend. But the nomination of a well-known of a well-known Philhellene  to a post of this sort would place the Ethnarchy Council in a great dilemma since it is the Council itself to which I owe my present post. If I could clear away a few of psychological obstacles I might achieve a depth of penetration which would justify the existence of such a costly establishment as the CBS:and which might help to lull, though not to extirpate, Enotist feeling.
                                                                                                                                     I remain, Sir                                                                                                                                     Your Obedient Servant                                                                                                                                      Lawrence Durrell

From: dtart at bigpond.net.au
Date: Sun, 25 Oct 2015 08:55:16 +1100
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Subject: Re: [ilds] Retirement Age during the British Raj

My local corner shop is run by a Muslim from Bangladesh. He blames the problems in the Middle East on the Americans and to a lesser extent the British. I did not have the heart to mention the vast, vibrant wine drinking Middle East culture that existed before the Mohammeden conquests of the 7th century which effectively wiped out these cultures. I also did not say that a large part of the current problems are caused by extremist imperialism ( ISIS) or that hard core Islam is backed by the Saudis and nobody ain't saying much about that. It is always easy to blame big bad America. Some hard core hate mongering lefties in this country believe that all worlds problems are caused by the United States, even obesity. Said's problem, apart from some historical amnesia, is being one eyed. There is just too much of this around. It's easy. It can also be vain and egotistical. Durrell's account of the 1950s Cyprus crisis at least attempts to present both sides and a range of perspectives. He knew what was going on. The Duff Cooper prize was well earned. Bitter Lemons if for me one of Durrell's best books. And the poem of the same name hits home too.

Sent from my iPad
On 25 Oct 2015, at 5:51 am, William Apt <billyapt at gmail.com> wrote:

Good observation about Arab (Islamic) imperialism, Bruce. We constantly hear about problems today in the Middle East supposedly attributable to British, French, and now - via Israel - American imperialism, but we never hear a word about the Arab or Turkish imperialism that dominated the same area for centuries. We also never hear any complaints about the existence of Islamic-dominated nations the result of British and French imperialism: Syria, Iraq,  Lebanon and Jordan. The only cry of anguish is over Israel, originally a creature of both Turkish and British imperialism, and the sanction by the West of its right to exist alongside its recently created nation-state neighbors.

WILLIAM APTAttorney at Law812 San Antonio St, Ste 401Austin TX 78701512/708-8300512/708-8011 FAX
On Oct 24, 2015, at 11:49 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net> wrote:

I agree.  Edward W. Said (1935-2003) was a very fine critic of Conrad (his dissertation at Harvard and first of many books).  He had an acute critical intelligence; his knowledge of Arabic and European literature (read in the original languages) was vast and profound.  But after carefully reading his Orientalism, I’m coming to the conclusion that much of his argumentation is highly tendentious and specious.  The book also suffers from a convoluted style.  Orientalism came out in 1978 and contributed to a whole movement of cultural studies in one form or another.  Said’s emphasis was on the Western notion of “Orientalism” as a type of colonialism, that is, as a form of political and cultural “imperialism.”
Two academics have recently picked up that theme:  Shaden M. Tageldin in Disarming Words (2011) and Hala Halim in Alexandrian Cosmopolitanism (2013).  I believe that both of these writers are, like Said, of Arab ancestry.  Born in Jerusalem, Said himself was a Palestinian and a Christian.  Although the main laboratory for his views is modern Egypt, The Alexandria Quartet does not even get mentioned in his treatise.  That fact alone is noteworthy.  His disdain for Durrell runs strong and deep.
Said had a deep and abiding hostility to French, British, and American policies in the “Orient.”  That hostility was all consuming and prejudiced his extraordinary critical intelligence.  His chronology of modern Orientalism begins with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and extends through American support of Israel.  He describes Western attitudes towards the East (Foucaultian “discourses” in his terminology) as presumptuousness, condescension, paternalism, and blatant racism.  Much of which is true.  Read Said’s memoir Out of Place (1999) and feel the depth of his antagonism to foreign prejudices, which he personally suffered while growing up in Egypt.  Those experiences are real and convincing.  As an Australian, David Green confirmed similar experiences with British airs of superiority.  As an American soldier in Southeast Asia, I’ve witnessed American racism.
My main complaint about Said is the one-sidedness of his argumentation.  His discussion of the retirement age of British civil servants in India is a prime example.  It flies in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary.  He also distorts history and ignores counter arguments to “cultural imperialism.”  So, the French and British are colonial imperialists, but the Arabs are not considered such, even though they conquered Egypt in 641 and by 1000 instituted the greatest cultural changes in almost four thousand years of Egyptian history.  (Recall E. M. Forster’s comment on Amr, in his guidebook, part of which was taken from Alfred J. Butler’s classic Arab Conquest [1902], and Durrell’s use of Forster’s quote in Justine.)
In a 1979 review of Orientalism in the NYT, J. H. Plumb, the eminent Cambridge historian, criticized the book for its style and content:  “The names of Lévi-Strauss, Gramsci, and Michel Foucault drop with a dull thud to authenticate statements or suggest methods” and “History is not Said’s forte.”  Said and Plumb exchanged hostile letters in the Times, and the latter concluded, “Time and again, [Said’s] huge pretentious sentences clothe sensible, if commonplace ideas.”  I agree.

On Oct 23, 2015, at 3:14 PM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com> wrote: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
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.


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