[ilds] Bitter Lemons and Academe

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sun Apr 3 13:54:30 PDT 2016


Current “postcolonial” studies owes much to Edward W. Said and his influential study Orientalism (1978).  He was not the first to write on the topic.  This line of argument has many antecedents, including the writings of Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and Frantz Fanon (1925-1961).  Said, however, popularized a major field of discourse in today’s academy.

Gerontopoulos misrepresents my point about A. J. Balfour’s and HMG’s position on Egypt.  Balfour’s statement is one view, highly patronizing, but there were opposing views, which Said ignores.  As I said previously on 26 October 2015 (appended below), my problems with Said are his lack of historical perspective, the one-sidedness of his arguments, and his penchant for making categorial statements, which border on the absurd.  In short, despite his background as a Palestinian exile and being the victim of British racism in Egypt, I find his method too biased and tendentious, no matter how just the cause.  Said would identify imperialism in Egypt as beginning with the French invasion of 1798.  He would ignore the Arab Conquest of 640-41 and all that it entailed—the radical transformation of over 3000 years of Egyptian culture.  So, it’s not hard to conclude that Said sees European colonials as bad exploiters and modern Egyptians as hapless victims.  His method is totalizing—he sees only black and white.

Postcolonialism in the academy has some pernicious consequences.  In a recent article on Joseph Conrad in PMLA, the premier journal of American literary studies, we find this first sentence:  “Critics tend to agree that Joseph Conrad’s novels engage in a critique of imperialism, but, given the novels’ pervasive racism the nature of that critique persist as a source of debate in postcolonial studies” (Regina Martin, “Absentee Capitalism and the Politics of Conrad’s Imperial Novels,” PMLA 130.3 [2015]:  584).  “Critics” do not tend to agree on Conrad’s “racism” (read an eminent critic like Ian Watt on Conrad and the authoritative Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad) but Martin would have it so.  So we now have it taken as a given that Conrad was a racist.  I call this pernicious.  Something similar seems to be happening to Lawrence Durrell on Cyprus, which is why I brought in Edward Said and the postcolonial view of the island during the 1950s.

As to Durrell’s Bitter Lemons, calling the book a “whitewash” of British policy is far, far too simplistic and another misreading of a complicated text written by an author who was deeply conflicted and troubled.  Gerontopoulos’s rhetoric seems to me in keeping with postcolonial tendencies as described above.  I think Richard Pine describes Durrell’s position well.  His was “an agon of head and heart,” as Pine argues.  Durrell may have defended HMG’s position on Cyprus to Charles Foley in 1954, but what was he to do as a representative of the British Government?  It is utterly naive to think he should have contravened the duties of his office.  I assume Durrell took an oath of some sort as Director of Information Services for the Cyprus (British) Government.  Either one fulfills one’s oath or one leaves, which is what Durrell eventually did after sadly realizing, “I had achieved nothing” (MacNiven’s biography, 440).

Bruce




> On Apr 3, 2016, at 6:48 AM, Panaiotis Gerontopoulos <pan.gero at hotmail.com> wrote:
> 
> 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.
> 
> PG
> 
> 
> 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?
> 
> Bruce
> 
> 
> On Mar 30, 2016, at 6:11 AM, david wilde <wilded at hotmail.com <mailto: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 <mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca>> on behalf of Richard Pine <pinedurrellcorfu at gmail.com <mailto:pinedurrellcorfu at gmail.com>>
> Sent: Monday, March 28, 2016 2:41 PM
> To: pan.gero at hotmail.com <mailto:pan.gero at hotmail.com>; ilds at lists.uvic.ca <mailto: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.
> RP
> ----------------------
> 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
> * * * * *

10/26/2016

James,

I would say that Edward Said deviates in Orientalism (1978) from standard Marxist practice in that he sees colonial intentions as originating independently of economic and political conditions (the usual way of acquiring knowledge in “historical materialism”).  Those “intentions” include knowledge of the Orient, which predates by centuries (back to the Middle Ages) European colonialism (pp. 61ff).  It might be better to call this kind of knowledge a form of “discourse,” Said’s preferred term, which he borrows from Foucault.  In Said’s framework, colonial intentions are deliberately exploitive in the same way that Niall Ferguson defines Marxist assumptions in his book Empire.  Of course, I could be wrong.  Said is not always clear in what he is doing.  Nevertheless, when you read the opening section to Orientalism (“Knowing the Orient”), you see how he constructs his argument.  He emphasizes British presumptuousness of knowing Egypt (Balfour’s speech) and deemphasizes British concerns about maintaining order in the country and preparing it for self-government (Robertson’s and other’s speeches).

It’s instructive to read the entire debate in the British Parliament on 13 June 1910, which I assume Said read in full.  The debate is long, about thirty pages of single-spaced text.  In 1910 the Liberals under H. H. Asquith won the election but without a majority of seats.  It was a “hung parliament.”  The Conservatives were led by A. J. Balfour.  The long debate concerned unrest in Egypt, for which the British were “trustees,” i.e., de facto rulers.  As trustees, the Brits, under the authority of Eldon Gorst, HM’s Consul-General in Egypt, were preparing the Egyptians for self-rule.  (The previous British CG was E. B. Cromer, who opposed Egyptian nationalism.)  Earlier in 1910, the Egyptian PM Butros Ghali (a Copt) had been assassinated, calling into question the Liberal policy of granting the Egyptians greater self-government.  All the while, Egyptian Nationalists were agitating and creating problems for the British.

In brief, the Tories criticized HMG for being too lax and permissive, whereas the Liberals denied those charges and argued for Egyptian self-government or, in Robertson’s words, “that you [the British] should in Egypt fulfill your promises of fitting the people gradually to govern themselves … in accordance with the whole decencies of British policy.”

Said makes no mention of “the whole decencies of British policy.”  Instead, he narrowly focuses on Balfour, the Tory leader, and his comparatively short and obviously presumptuous speech:  “We know the civilisation of Egypt better than we know the civilisation of any other country.”  Said takes Balfour’s declaration (along with E. B. Cromer’s management of Egypt) as representative of a “general theory” or Western attitude about “Oriental civilization”:  “There are Westerners, and there are Orientals.  The former dominate; the latter must be dominated” (p. 36).

Said’s method strikes me as tendentious.  He lacks historical perspective.  It’s like looking at the American war in Vietnam, ignoring the massive protest movement in the late 60s, and then saying President Johnson and his generals had the only view on that war.  I doubt there were massive protests in the UK in 1910, but the Liberals had another take on the British occupation of Egypt, which was clearly stated in the official record.

Bruce


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