[ilds] Wordspinners

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 24 10:34:09 PDT 2016

I think Gifford sums up nicely the main issues raised by Esposito.  The long quotation is from the 2nd ed. of Pine’s Mindscape (2005):  114-16.  Durrell’s concern about “minor mythologies” and literature as “play” is nothing new.  Way back in the Middle Ages the function of literature was described as “to delight and instruct,” and even that exhortation probably goes further back to the Romans, at least.  We’re probably talking about the context of Durrell’s remark and how he thought literature had become too highbrow.  There’s nothing wrong with telling a good story and all that that involves—at which Durrell could excel when in good form.  On the other hand, he was probably ahead of his time when he talks about giving equal weight to the popular literature of the time.  My sense is that academics are currently mining that very topic, if in somewhat abstruse fashion, that is, buttressed by a lot of Continental “theory.”


> On Mar 24, 2016, at 9:42 AM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi James,
> On 2016-03-24 3:06 AM, james Esposito wrote:
>> I would only add to that that I don't agree with Professor Gifford about
>> Durrell writing "Panic Spring" "to emulate the formal effects of the
>> high modernists". In my opinion, he wrote it (with a pseudonym) as an
>> attempt to make a Greek-island novel using the tools available to him,
>> which did not include any deep understanding of the modernists, high or
>> low.
> Please, "James" is just fine (no need for the professor bit).  Thanks for your comments -- it's always good to have new voices on the listserv.
> As for the high modernists, some of it is fairly overt in the text.  He even wrote in 1975 that /Panic Spring/ is "a pretty good anthology of the styles of the writers I then admired, Huxley, Graves, Aldington, Lawrence," although as usual I think he left the biggest names out of the list...
> For instance, Noah seduces/assaults Francis in a scene very much like that in the "A Game of Chess" section of T.S. Eliot's /The Waste Land/ or between the typist and young man in "The First Sermon" section.  Just in case we don't catch what Durrell's up to, Noah asks Francis if she's read /The Waste Land/ after having made sure copies of Ezra Pound and Eliot are visible in the room.  It's also not really a great surprise since the book was published by Faber & Faber where Eliot was an editor and Durrell was in correspondence with him.
> We get kindred stream of consciousness scenes like Woolf and Joyce in "The Music" chapter as well as gestures to shell shock through Marlowe.  Overall, Durrell's fairly explicit about taking up stylistic and thematic models from the high modernists here, and while I think he had an uneasy relationship with those predecessors (for instance, in many respects substituting Cavafy for Eliot in the Quartet), they're also overt influences.
> Other gestures to Eliot are fairly overt, such as in the "Walsh" chapter when the narrative voice tells us "They walked in the rain together, among a torrent of wet dead leaves, wind tugging their hair back on their scalps, rain in their mouths and the smell of dead earth" which is quite close to the opening lines of /The Waste Land/ (and in the preceding paragraph he stresses by repetition the "unreal" like Eliot's "Unreal city" from the same).  Francis is also like an "anaesthetised patient" much akin to the opening of Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and so forth.
> Perhaps I should emphasize that I don't see this as a problem -- he's reacting to the most famous generation of authors immediately preceding his own (and who were editing him...) while challenging and/or extending parts of their project in the process of discovering his own.  I think it's to be expected, and most authors of his generation did the same.
>> I don't get the
>> rhetoric about the mud bricks.
> The mud brick figures in his "With Durrell in Egypt" piece (collected in /From the Elephant's Back/) -- it's a brick from Hassan Fathy's Gourna village.  I've suggested that since Durrell describes reading Fathy's /Architecture for the Poor/ in the piece and gives such a prominent place in the narrative to a symbol of the utopian project for peasants (the mud brick is a key part of Fathy's revival of traditional materials), it's not a politically neutral image.  I don't know how specific we might argue the "meaning" of the brick in the narrative could be, but I don't think it's neutral or random.
> Others are arguing that the brick carries no importance, which I find unlikely, but to each their own.  I might even hope that it means both things at the same time -- Keats, after all, appears frequently in Durrell.
> All best,
> James

* * * * *

James Esposito, 3/24/2016:

I do not have access to "Deus Loci" - I first became aware of Durrell's "Minor Mythologies" in Pine's book "Lawrence Durrell: the Mindscape" where he says:

A further characteristic of Durrell’s understanding of the nineteenth century was his refusal to build his house exclusively on the plane of ‘high’ literature, and his insistence instead on pursuing it through major and minor modes. Thus his own adventure novel White Eagles over Serbia, written in the Buchanesque style of so much of his early reading, combines elements of the detective story and the grail quest. (In the Quartet Darley criticises the writing of the much-envied Pursewarden: ‘what is missing in his work - but this is a criticism of all works which do not reach the front rank - is a sense of play’ - Quartet 670.) It is a genre he much admired, for example relishing the Quixote-Panza relationship of Wodehouse’s Wooster and Jeeves (we have already seen him imagining himself as a new Wodehouse). He saw Wooster in descent from ‘the great Knights of the Romance pattern’, saying ‘he is a knight in the sense that he is a gentleman absolute. He can do no evil. It is the terrific responsibility of wasting time amusingly that exhausts him so’ <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn1>– a remarkable insight into the preoccupations of the one-time dandy faced with all the burdens of decadence. (In the same frame of mind he might have held the image of Scobie as ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’ and Nessim as the ‘chevalier sans peur’ – Quartet 549.) In the same essay, ‘The Minor Mythologies’, Durrell made the case for considering the characters of minor fiction in the same critical bracket: 

The myth-making faculty is busy at many different levels; a critic interested in the creative process may find more food for thought in a Stephen Daedelus [sic] than in a Jeeves.Yet he should be prepared to acknowledge them both as part of the broad flood of a nation’s literature flowing out towards the future, to the sea. Many readers might think it a waste of time but how delightful a book on the minor mythologies of the age could be made if one could persuade a serious critic to consider its figures... Holmes, Jeeves, Dr Fu Manchu, Captain Blood, Bulldog Drummond, Raffles, Bones, Captain Nemo, Frankenstein, Dracula. <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn2>
Durrell himself displayed this ability to give due attention to major and minor, firstly in the creation of his own ‘minor’ canon in works like White Eagles (which he regarded as ‘makeweights’) or in some of the apparently inconsequential characters of the island books. Secondly, in his ‘major’ works, Durrell, like Kipling, brought the great and the insignificant into close and urgent contact (he called the Quartet ‘such a strange mixture of sex and the secret service!’ SP 120), so much so as to make us enquire at what point a character gains or loses cardinal significance: for example, the nameless loader who appears and disappears within one paragraph of the Quartet after the supposed death of Capodistria (Quartet 76- 7), or Krov, the ‘slave-prisoner’ of General von Esslin (Quintet 877-83), take on a vital role illustrative of some mythological level far out of proportion to their social or narrative function, precisely because that function is not part of the cultural values Durrell shared with the nineteenth century. Durrell employed this kind of simplicity as a means of communication – one he particularly valued in the ‘minor mythologies’ – because it made the reader an accomplice at the deepest level of story-telling at which the primitive, as opposed to the sophisticated, method of narrative is revealed as the more effective bonding mechanism of society: <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn3> think of Pater’s Marius: ‘his life had been so like the reading of a romance to him’, <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn4>or, as Groddeck put it in The Book of the It, ‘read [my letters] as though they were travel books or detective stories’. <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn5> It was thus possible to engage not only in narration but also in analysis without the reader becoming aware of the ulterior project. 

Writing of Wells’s The Time Machine and Rider Haggard’s She which, Durrell said, embodied for the Victorians ‘the great popular myths of the age’, he made a case (in the latter instance by tracing that myth through the Prester John legends to de Mandeville) for these and other ‘great folk-metaphors’ (Frankenstein, Dracula and Jekyll/Hyde), that ‘their literary ancestry stretches far back into the age of the magicians and miracles’. <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn6> This resort to the merveilleux and the miraculous is one of the trademarks of the baroque novelist, and was an integral part not only of Durrell’s technique but also of his faith in the novel. He made a critical connection between gothic narrative and the myths of magic, showing us that the modern juxtaposition and interaction of science and art is merely another form of an all-embracing philosophy told, like so much of Buddhism, through the visions and spectacles of everyday life. Quotidian activity, rather than the characters who enact it, has its own characters. 

Thus it is easier to spell out the ‘miracle’, the successful dénouement, if it is already anticipated as part of the reader’s act of faith within the act of reading <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn7> It would only be with the cæsura after the Quartet that this faith hit the rocks of Durrell’s despair. To the genre of adventure in Kim we can add Durrell’s childhood introduction to the works of Dickens and, on the evidence of Pied Piper of Lovers, Henty, Ballantyne and Dumas (PPL 124, 192). Durrell’s library contained several examples of Buchan’s work, together with volumes of Baroness Orczy and Anthony Hope <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn8> and he often referred to Wodehouse as an important example of subversive humour – a technique he put to use not only in the ‘Antrobus’ pictures from diplomatic life but also in the structure and texture of The Revolt (indeed, as I shall demonstrate in Part 4, there is an organic connection between the two types of writing). 

Milan Kundera makes the point that a novel requires four special ‘appeals’: those of ‘play’, ‘dream’, ‘thought’ and ‘time’, <applewebdata://41AD9AD0-9A90-4271-B751-CF8949E94C50#_ftn9> and it is important to note that it is the combination of seriousness of intent with lightness of touch which gives Durrell’s fiction its onward drive: while he is capable of arresting our attention with some lapidary insight into the human condition, the dynamic in the reader’s mind is the question ‘what happens next?’. The book must be a place of intellectual excitement which is leavened by the idea of life-as-a-game. 


Apologies for such a long quote but some on this list may not have Pine's book, which I understand is hard to find in the second edition.

I would only add to that that I don't agree with Professor Gifford about Durrell writing "Panic Spring" "to emulate the formal effects of the high modernists". In my opinion, he wrote it (with a pseudonym) as an attempt to make a Greek-island novel using the tools available to him, which did not include any deep understanding of the modernists, high or low. 

Maybe I'm ill-versed, but I don't get the rhetoric about the mud bricks.

James Esposito

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