[ilds] Wordspinners

Kennedy Gammage gammage.kennedy at gmail.com
Thu Mar 24 10:44:34 PDT 2016

FYI: http://lawrencedurrell.org/wp_durrell/deus-loci/

On Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 10:34 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>

> 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.”
> Bruce
> 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’
> <#m_5996440815883147648__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.
> <#m_5996440815883147648__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: <#m_5996440815883147648__ftn3> think of
> Pater’s Marius: ‘his life had been so like the reading of a romance to him’,
> <#m_5996440815883147648__ftn4>or, as Groddeck put it in *The Book of the
> It*, ‘read [my letters] as though they were travel books or detective
> stories’. <#m_5996440815883147648__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’. <#m_5996440815883147648__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 <#m_5996440815883147648__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
> <#m_5996440815883147648__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’,
> <#m_5996440815883147648__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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