[ilds] Bitter Lemons and Academe

Panaiotis Gerontopoulos pan.gero at hotmail.com
Sun Apr 3 06:48:29 PDT 2016

On March 30 2016, Bruce Redwine wrote to this List under the heading “Bitter Lemons and Academe”:
     What’s the “postcolonial” take on Cyprus, à la Edward Said? The Brits and Turks are bad? The Greeks are good? 
The phrase sounds obscure to the ears of a green grocer as I am. Who, the hell, did say that? Redwine acknowledges the departed Edward Said, as a ‘major critical voice in the twentieth century’ but blames him of seeking to
     Paint the British and the West as behaving deliberately and categorically, in an overbearing dominant and racist way. Said’s method    is typically Marxist. (This List, “Said and Marx”, this List, Monday, 26 Oct 2015)
and, to reinforce the argument, calls in help the historian Niall Ferguson: 
    The central nationalist/Marxist assumption is, of course, that imperialism was economically exploitative: every facet of colonial           rule, including even the apparently sincere efforts of Europeans to study and understand indigenous cultures, was at root designed     to maximize the surplus value that could be extracted from the subject peoples.  
As if it was not enough, Redwine blames Said for distorting the sayings of A. J. Balfour in a 1910 UK Parliament debate with the liberal J. M. Robertson. An illuminating passage of Balfour’s speech transcribed by Said:
     It is a good thing for these great nations [the oriental nations] - I admit their greatness- that this absolute government should be        exercised by us? I think it is a good thing.  I think that the experience shows that they have got under it far better government             than in the whole history of the world they ever had before, and which not only is a benefit to the whole of the civilized West…             We are in Egypt not merely for the sake of the Egyptians, though we are there for their sake; we are there also for the sake of          Europe at large. (Edward W. Said, Orientalism, Penguin Books 1962, p. 33) [my emphasis]
Shortly after landing in Cyprus in the autumn of 1954, the Briton Charles Foley, Director of the “Times of Cyprus’ from 1954 to 1960, finds Lawrence Durrell waiting for him in a Nicosia hotel to give him the “official point of view”. In Foleys’ words: 
     Back at the hotel, I found Mr. Lawrence Durrell, the poet, who had lately taken over the post of Government Information Officer         after a spell as a Pancyprian Gymnasium teacher. Durrell was short and square, with rock crystal eyes set in a craggy face and the        grin of a good-natured satyr. He had been told to see that I understood the official point of view. No nation was more devoted to        the principle of self-determination than our own, but in Cyprus it was simply ‘not on’. The long chain of British withdrawals of              which the last was from the Suez base, must now end: the island would be held for the sake of the Western Alliance, and, of              course, for the Cypriots themselves […] it could undermine the Eastern bastion of N.A.T.O and depress living standards which          were now on the rise as illustrated by the number of bars opened for the troops (Island in Revolt, Longmans 1962 p. 11-12) [my        emphasis]
Unless we are going to accuse Said and Foley of lying, the resemblance of Durrell’s position to Balfour’s, after the elapse of half a century, worsened by the reference to the newly opened bordellos for the troops is, to say the least, striking. 
Adding to the above, Durrell’s little known letter to the Governor of Cyprus on Feb.17 1954 (my post to this List, Oct 25 2015), the point raised by Richard Pine that suspecting LD’s philhellenism, thoughts, and actions is a Greek or Cypriot prejudice does not hold. 
I did not yet read Mindscapes, but I find Pine’s  recognition of Durrell’s ‘financial reasons to work for the British”, “taking their money against his better judgment’ and his ‘head and heart Agon’, interesting and new. This does not change the reading of Bitter Lemons of Cyprus as a naïve attempt to whitewash the criminal handling of the so-called Cyprus Emergency by the British officialdom.  In an interview with the Aegean Review in the fall of 1987 Durrell confessed 
    But I’ve been progressively disgusted with our double-facedness in politics over situations like the Greek situation. Remember I’ve        worked as an official in Cyprus on that disgusting situation which was entirely engineered by us, do you see? (C. Hitchens,                  'Hostage   to History' , Verso ed. 1997, p.3) [my emphasis] 
Be it as it may, erecting brass-busts or, for the difference it makes, bas-reliefs, in the Boschetto of Corfu to honor the philhellene, or the philhellenese Lawrence Durrell (David Roessel, Letters of Lawrence Durrell to Austen Harrison, Deus Loci, NS3 1994, p. 11) remains  a curious post-colonial paradox.

From: bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Date: Wed, 30 Mar 2016 08:14:39 -0700
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
CC: bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Subject: Re: [ilds] Bitter Lemons and Academe

What’s the “postcolonial” take on Cyprus, à la Edward Said?  The Brits and Turks are bad?  The Greeks are good?

On Mar 30, 2016, at 6:11 AM, david wilde <wilded at hotmail.com> wrote:RE Panhellenism.  Arch-bishop Makarios was a thorn in the British Establishment side and forced the polarisation of views to be exacerbated.  Bitter Lemons exposes this polarisation in time and in memories -at least in my own memory of the period which are and still will remain vivid for the rest of my life of my boyhood days growing up under the empire driven mantle of this post war tectonic era!  David Wilde
From: ILDS <ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca> on behalf of Richard Pine <pinedurrellcorfu at gmail.com>
Sent: Monday, March 28, 2016 2:41 PM
To: pan.gero at hotmail.com; ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Subject: [ilds] Bitter Lemons and Academe As the Durrell Library mailbox is temporarily unable to transmit messages I am sending this from my personal mailbox.
I find myself in the curious position of both agreeing and disagreeing with Panayiotis (his message is below)
I agree with both him and James Esposito about the need to avoid technical jargon and obscure theories when discussing literary texts - except perhaps when they, the theory-critics, are doing so amongst themselves and not in front of the students. 
But I disagree with Panayiotis' views on Durrell's philhellenism.While I can understand any Greek (and especially of course a Cypriot) suspecting LD's thoughts and actions, as  a member of the British 'occupation' of Cyprus whose job was to bolster the British fight against the enotists, I think Panayiotis is wrong to assume that LD was not a philhellene. He certainly came from a colonial background but there is plentiful evidence of his rejection of much of the Raj's purpose. I am certain of two things in his position in Cyprus: 1) he was obliged for financial reasons to work for the British and 2) he loved Greece and the Greeks all his life. The excerpts from his private notes which I quote in my book, regarding his view of the way the British were handling the enosis situation, convince me that he was reluctantly taking the money against his better judgement. A very clear parallel can be drawn between LD's attitude in Cyprus and that of W E Gladstone in the Ionian Islands in the 1850s when  he was sent to assess the enotist situation here. As a philhellene he believed that these islands should join the state of Greece; as a British government minister he was responsible for maintaining the link with Britain. In both cases, it was an agon of head and heart. 
I do not see "Bitter Lemons" as a whitewash - it is clear to me, as a philhellene myself, resident in Corfu, that the book reflected this head-heart agon. It is also clear to me that it rightly attracted criticism publicly from writers like Roufos and Montis and, privately, from Seferis. But that does not diminish LD's anguish at the situation in Cyprus nor does it invalidate his undoubted philhellenism. But it deepens the problem of fruitful Anglo-Greek relations.
One further point: yes, I (not 'Price') was responsible with Spiros Giourgas (correct spelling) in persuading the municipal authorities in Corfu to name the 'Bosketto', 'Bosketto Durrell' (not Durrell Park as , apparently, reported by Helena Smith in the Guardian). And subsequently a private sponsor paid for the placing of 2 bas-reliefs (not 'brass-busts') of the brothers Gerald and Lawrence in the Bosketto. This was not done by the municipality but it was done with their agreement. Panayiotis must surely be aware that Gerald loved Corfu, probably more than did his brother, because it meant almost everything to him in terms of what he achieved in adult life.
Whack, pow, thud. bang! Uurrah for teachers and critics, beware of and shame to irriverent grocers and pub-tenants dealing with high literature seated on their toilets where they belong. We heard all this, in this List in the few past days. The fact is that nobody put in question the need to have teachers and critics, provided they base their teachings and critiques on the contents of a text and on what we know about the circumstances under which the author wrote it. In other words in plain words, understandable by the "common reader"and the next door grocer. They are not so stupid after all. What is to avoid is to speak about simple texts using high flown words and post-modern lingos neglecting solidly established facts.Good examples of the accomplisments of this school of thaught are the various readings of Bitter Lemons as a marvellous travel book, taking in serious the first words written in 1957 by Lawrence Durrell in his preface:This is not a political book, but simply a somewhat impressionistic study of the moods and atmpspheres of Cyprus during the troubled years years 1953-1956.In 1957, the atmosphere in Cyprus continued to be troubled and in December, Bitter Lemons won for its author the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. The Queen Mother told him during the ad hoc ceremony held at Kensington Palace that she had enjoyed the book and Lord Salisbury, top exponent of the ultra-conservative Tories asking for tougher measures against the revolted Cyps, disected the book with a tender little speech (Mac Niven, A Biography, 464). Actually, Bitter Lemons was an awkward attempt to white-wash the blind British policies in dealing with the decades-old demand of Greeks (including Cavafy) and Creek-Cypriots for self determination. Durrell was not a policy-maker and he is not to blame if he lied for his country but make of him a Philhellene is quite another story. Nonetheless, at the insistance of Dr. Spyros Georgas, "physician of elderly British aristocrats and retired civil servants who moved in the island from India in the 50s and 60s" and Richard Price [Pine?] director of the Durrell School of Corfu, the Bosketto Park of Corfu was renamed in 2006 Durrell Park (Helena Smith, the Guardian, September 22, 2006). In addition, in 2008, the Municipality of Corfu erected in the Park two brass-busts to honor furtherly the two authors and philhellene brothers.I believe that if Bitter Lemons were read with the pragmatism of a grocer, taking into account Durrell's letter to the Governor of Cyprus on February 17 1954, published by Barbara Papastavrou-Koroniotaki this embarassing situation could have been avoided and if only they could both brothers would agree. Panayotis Gerontopoulos

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