[ilds] Alcoholism

david wilde wilded at hotmail.com
Sat Nov 28 11:28:39 PST 2015

I understood/understand this remark refers to the well-known story of Parsifal by Wolfram von Eschenbach,
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsifal).  David Wilde

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003FP9HTCDate: Fri, 27 Nov 2015 16:20:49 -0500
From: frederick.schoff at gmail.com
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Subject: Re: [ilds] Alcoholism

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> wrote:
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.”

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

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,


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