[ilds] Free Market

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Wed May 18 11:58:11 PDT 2016


James,

As we’ve discussed before, Durrell encourages multiple interpretations of his work.  So one can emphasize Marxism, as you apparently do, or Gnosticism, as I prefer.  But I do think the bedrock of his “philosophy” is some combination of Gnosticism and Taoism.  Superficially, both reject the material world, so in that sense they’re “expressions of the same thought.”  In my opinion, Gnosticism also had great appeal to Durrell’s artistic instincts (it’s exotic, makes for good plots, and sets up conflict), whereas Taoism appealed to his religious impulses (as seen in Heraldic Universe and yoga).

The contrast between the mercantile city and the agrarian countryside is interesting and invites a simplistic dualism:  city evil, country good.  We’re led to see that in Iolanthe’s nostalgia for “her father’s island” (p. 344; 6.1), Caradoc’s apparent escape into an East Indian backwater, and Felix’s apparent disappearance onto some Greek island.  Do these places represent some Marxist haven of proletariat harmony?  I doubt it.  The countryside outside London is no haven—more like a gothic landscape in E. A. Poe.  Yes, Durrell had a strong pastoral instinct (Darley and his island refuge in the Cyclades), but, like Conrad, he was also wary of what it could lead to.  So, Caradoc turns into another Kurtz of Heart of Darkness.  He becomes a wild androgyne (which in itself raises big questions about Durrell’s thought and possible inclinations).  Raymond Williams in The Country and the City (1973) explores the role of pastoralism in depth.

> We're jumping two novels ahead too, but I think the closing destruction of contractual obligation is telling -- it's not that "the social" will evaporate or that folks may even change at all, but rather that spontaneous forms of organization might appear.  That is, something more akin to the village with its more natural order and sense of time in contrast to the clock of the city with its enervating will, domination, and unnatural forms of contract help up by force rather than their own merit.

Yes, this seems right, as far as where Durrell places his hopes.  I wonder about the “natural order” of the village, however.  Durrell liked to interact with the common folk of various village, but villages have complex social organization (so ethnography teaches us).  They’re not the simple peasant writ large, just as English phonology is not simply the “raw material” of 44 phonemes.  Is Durrell dreaming, romanticizing, as Felix does at Iolanthe’s deathbed?

Is the epigraph “anti-utopian?”  I would say it’s anti-logic, anti-causality.  It’s what Durrell describes about the Heraldic Universe in “Ideas about Poems.”

Bruce



> On May 17, 2016, at 3:22 PM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> Dear David & Bruce & Ric,
> 
> I do wonder about this, both because of my other research interests but also Durrell's long and peculiar combination of anti-Marxism and negative comments on industry and capitalism.  After all, while his generation was heading to Spain, Durrell's 1937 /Panic Spring/ opens by invoking "revolution" -- only it's in Greece...  The two capitalists in that book don't seem like model figures in any sense either (emotionally stunted yet rapacious).  It might be worth noting that by 1974 in /Monsieur/, his comments on Marx are quite different.
> 
> The mercantile spirit seems to be distinct from the honest greed he might at some points ascribe to a peasant, as if there's something in the village rather than the city to be celebrated.  While he can mock the peasant in a communist uniform elsewhere, overall Durrell gives his greatest sympathy to working "folk" outside the cosmopolitan world he inhabited.  A real question might also be how power and wealth are entangled in /Tunc/ and /Nunquam/ -- Julian wants to realize a profit off owning Iolanthe's contracts, but at the same time it's also because he can't distinguish love from domination and possession.  I don't think Durrell would reduce the art exhibitions in airports and other muddling endeavours of the Firm to the coercive law of capital's accumulation. Something else is afoot...
> 
> We're jumping two novels ahead too, but I think the closing destruction of contractual obligation is telling -- it's not that "the social" will evaporate or that folks may even change at all, but rather that spontaneous forms of organization might appear.  That is, something more akin to the village with its more natural order and sense of time in contrast to the clock of the city with its enervating will, domination, and unnatural forms of contract help up by force rather than their own merit.
> 
> In the same breath, must that be different from his thoughts on Gnosticism or Taoism?  Can't they simply be different parts or expressions of the same thought?  There are certainly those who see both as being radical.
> 
> I'll press the point a bit -- are these ideas already implicit in the anti-utopian ideas that the allusion to Dostoevsky bring out in the epigram?  They are, in many respects, the same issues Dostoevsky's narrator is grinding on about.
> 
> Best,
> James


Yes, David, indeed.  Good to hear from you.  Near the end of Tunc, we have Julian telling Felix this:  “The firm isn’t just an extension of moral qualities, a product of a wicked human will, of a greedy mercantile spirit.  It goes deeper than that.  I mean, it has always existed in one form or another.”  He continues, “The firm isn’t inflexible … Despite its size it is a pretty fragile thing … that is the sanctity of the contractual obligation.  If you abrogate that you begin to damage the essential fabric of the thing.  Naturally it will try to protect itself like any other organism” (pp. 324-25; 5.4).

In essence, “the firm” has taken out a patent on Felix himself through the “contract,” which is just another Faustian bargain with the devil.  Felix belongs to it or them and has sacrificed his “freedom” (a big word in the novel).  He has become what is now, in today’s lingo, called, a “profit center.”

I think, however, too much can be made of Durrell on the evils of the free market, Adam Smith, and all that.  Rather, I think Gnosticism underlies much of this thinking—“It goes deeper than that”—that is, matter is evil, and the Demiurge (Julian) rules all.  That’s the real basis to his thought, in my opinion.

Keep it coming!

Bruce



> On May 17, 2016, at 1:02 PM, Denise Tart & David Green <dtart at bigpond.net.au <mailto:dtart at bigpond.net.au>> wrote:
> 
> Ah yes, the free market, free to those that can afford it, expensive for those that can't.
> Charlock must have views on this?
> 
> David
> 
> Sent from my iPad
> 
>> On 17 May 2016, at 12:55 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net <mailto:bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>> wrote:
>> 
>> Yes.  Another point about the “paywall.”  I understand that publishers have to make money to stay publishing, but I don’t understand their greed to gouge the public.  Many a time I’ve found an article I’d like to buy—but not if the publisher is charging $25+ to download.  I’ve worked in a publishing house and know how some editors think—charge whatever the market will bear, and if that’s 10x the value of the product, then so be it.  I’ll really against this “free-market” mentality.
>> 
>> Bruce
>> 
>> 

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