[ilds] Alcoholism

Rick Schoff frederick.schoff at gmail.com
Fri Nov 27 13:20:49 PST 2015

I too have often wondered about the striking phrase "deeply wounded in
one's sex." Before drawing any conclusion, I chalked its inscrutability in
part to the limits of what one could say in print back in that era.

My original curiosity about the use of alcohol - I had in mind its property
of being a depressant, and also its tendency to potentially set fire to the
more primitive aspects of personality. Someone's comment about it being an
antidote to the boredom LD professed made sense. Thinking back to Darley's
(and Blanford's) ineffectuality, in my own reads I had made the assumption
LD was making fun of himself and a certain Britishness. As always, this
begs the question of an author's intent versus the effects his writing
creates, the conscious versus the unconscious aspects, where in lies the
mystery and the magic.

On Thu, Nov 26, 2015 at 3:11 PM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>

> James,
> You make good points.  I especially like the ones on Hemingway.  I’d
> forgotten the references in the early short stories and *The Sun Also
> Rises.*  So I think you’re right about those examples of drinking as
> concealment or substitutes for openness.
> Those examples, however, led to excess in real life, and there’s not much
> argument about the dangers of excessive drinking and its consequences.  The
> latter half of Hemingway’s life proves that.  A. E. Hotchner describes that
> sad state quite well in *Papa* (1966).  So too Lillian Ross’s famous
> profile of EH in the *New Yorker* (1950).  David Green describes the
> convivial aspects of drinking.  I don’t think this is what is at the
> root(s) of Hemingway’s or Durrell’s drinking problems, each for similar and
> different reasons, of course.  Re Durrell, I lean towards Richard Pine’s
> analysis of the author’s “madness.”  Sexuality has something to do with
> this, perhaps ambiguous sexuality, which was probably EH’s problem.  A lot
> has been written about Papa’s dubious “sexuality.”  Re Durrell’s sexuality,
> just what does it mean to be “deeply wounded in [one’s] sex?”  Incest may
> also have something to do with all of this.
> Masculinity in the *Quartet,* as you point out, is a troubling affair and
> perhaps a source of anxiety for Durrell.  So, women get the titles of two
> novels, a homosexual gets one, and a man, of sorts, has one.  Mannish
> Justine is a dominant figure, so too bisexual Clea.  Darley is
> ineffectual.  Pursewarden is assertive but suicidal.  Mountolive is used.
> Nessim is as blurred as the image he projects on frosted glass.  His
> brother Narouz is muscular, hairy, and malformed.  Men just don’t come off
> very well in the *Quartet.*  Women are the real power-brokers, Melissa
> the honeybee the most appealing (because she’s a cliché?).  If this is how
> Durrell saw the world, then he had problems.  No wonder he had to beat them
> down in his private life.  He felt threatened (Eve gave him a black eye).
> Perhaps this is why fictional Leila gets smallpox.
> As to Edward Said, I haven’t come across any of his commentary on
> Durrell’s Alexandria, but what you say he said certainly sounds like his
> view of Western Orientalism and its sexual fantasies about the East.  Was
> that the main attraction for Durrell’s readership in the late 50s?  Maybe.
> A reviewer saw *Justine* as “sex hot.”  But sex in the *Quartet* is a
> very nebulous affair done in soft focus.  It’s not explicit like Mailer’s
> “Time of Her Time” (1959).  What got me drunk as an adolescent was
> Durrell’s language (the soft focus) and the experience it evoked.  I guess
> Said would say this proves his point.  Well, Durrell had his fantasy about
> Alexandria and allowed me to share it.  So what?  He could have done the
> same if he’d situated the novels in Athens, as he once planned.  To repeat
> myself, I am not fond of Edward Said’s notion of “Orientalism.”
> Bruce
> On Nov 26, 2015, at 8:02 AM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> Hi Bruce,
> I’m not sure what you mean by “an ethical issue.”
> I'm writing a small piece on Malcolm Lowry at the moment, and that's
> probably shaping my thoughts.  He was, by all accounts, an alcoholic of the
> first order, and this shapes the works in many ways (much of it deliberate
> on his part).  However, in the critical work, there's still often a
> tendency to look on his drinking as if it were a moral failing -- a
> failing, certainly, but I'm skeptical of the ethical or moral tone that
> comes up, even if it prompted other ethical issues.  The last time I taught
> /Under the Volcano/ I looked through a handful of books on alcoholism and
> literature, and this seemed widespread.  There might be more recent work
> that defies this high proof "puritan" spirit {sorry}, but I haven't looked
> carefully enough to really say (I like booze, but not that much!).
> That is not what I’m
> talking about, rather /what/ drove Durrell to alcoholism.
> That is, indeed, a different matter.  I tend to hesitate over those
> speculations since it's all too easy to say "an unhappy childhood, and
> Durrell didn't undergo psychoanalysis or other ways of interrogating those
> personal demons.  He did write of the fracture between "mother" India and
> "father" England as motivating some of his concerns, but as David points
> out, the drinking was also very much a part of his time and place.  There
> are the geo-political and personal stresses too of his life from 1939
> through 1957 that I'd suspect anyone would struggle under, and later
> Claude's death, failed relationships, Sappho's death, etc...  There are an
> abundance of reasons.
> We might look to Durrell's biggest "toper" though: Pursewarden.  Durrell
> gives him personal and professional reasons to drink, but I'd tend to
> resist easy biographical essentialisms there too.
> That is, a kind of
> “manliness.”
> The issue of masculinity hasn't really been explored in Durrell, but like
> Hemingway or Henry Miller, I tend to see it as ironical.  Durrell makes his
> alter ego in /Pied Piper of Lovers/ tall (and racially Anglo-Indian, a term
> he applied culturally to himself).  There's also a masculine economy at
> work with women as currency of exchange between men (Darley - Nessim [via
> Melissa & Justine]), but at the same time there are the disruptions of that
> masculine heteronormativity with Melissa cast as the bee carrying pollen,
> Justine as the active agent in the first book of the Quartet (not Nessim),
> and so forth.
> In contrast, what of "manliness" and the most manly fellows in Durrell's
> works?  Keats comes to mind, but not in relation to drink.  Most of the
> others, much like Hemingway in some respects, prove to be deeply wounded in
> their masculine identity and out to recuperate themselves in ways that just
> don't work well.
> Drink in Hemingway is excess, to wit....
> I'm thinking of things like Jake in /The Sun Also Rises/ or alcohol across
> /in our time/.  Getting "tight" stands in for what's unspoken. "Have a
> drink" fairly explicitly displaces "tell me what you're feeling."  Jake
> drinks rather than talk about his war wound, and Brett does the same rather
> than discuss her sexual desires, yet both say they don't want to drink
> anymore (meaning they want a resolution that isn't possible).  I think of
> drink in the "Ag" story of /In Our Time/ (chapter 10 of the 1924 edition)
> where "it was understood" but not discussed, and where the young man so
> much like Hemingway restores his wounded masculinity by proving himself on
> a "shop girl," and in doing so contracts gonorrhea.  The point, I think,
> for Hemingway is that such "manliness" doesn't do manly men any good nor
> the women they're with...  After all, not all men in patriarchy get to be
> patriarchs, and even then such a position limits the subject position in
> important ways.  But how to talk about that in his time and place?  I see
> Durrell subverting the same norms in similar ways, but maybe with more
> anxiety.
> I think Said suggests in one of his lectures that readers would want to
> see themselves as inhabiting the exciting sexual adventures of Durrell's
> Alexandrian colonials (or am I thinking of Vassanji's lecture in Ottawa?).
> I must admit I simply don't see it that way and have never felt the desire
> to be like Darley -- he seems to be doing rather poorly in many
> respects...  I certainly don't see him or Nessim as "manly" in any way that
> calls out as desirable.
> A close reading of a poem like "Elegy on the Closing of the French
> Brothels" might be productive for this.
> All best,
> James
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