[ilds] Evaluating the Quintet

Richard Pine pinedurrellcorfu at gmail.com
Wed Sep 28 01:19:28 PDT 2016

Bruce is entitled to say that we should question whether authors are the
best judges of their work. And Ravi is not quite accurate in saying that LD
considered the Quintet his 'best' book. His statement to me was quite
clear: The Quartet was his most successful, Tunc/Nunquam his most important
and the Quintet his most ambitious, But who was he to judge? I took him
seriously at the time, because of the emphasis he placed on Tunc/Nunquam. I
think LD knew that, for a variety and concatenation of reasons, the Quintet
hadn't worked - it had been too ambitious. But we can, I think, see the
'plot' of the Quintet as both a narrative and a philosophical plot,
marrying east and west, and it is this difficulty for the author which also
creates problems for most 'western' minds.
I'll quote from my 'Mindscape' (which you can read on the DLC website):

‘It will be my star-ypointed pyramid’ Durrell wrote twice in the quarry
books for the *Quintet.* <#_ftn1> The triple significance of the expression
(which founds its explicit way into the text of the *Quintet* 1300) is
remarkable: not only does it suggest a metaphysical conceit, since it
echoes the ‘star y-pointing pyramid’ which Milton ordained for
Shakespeare’s bones, but also reminds us of the initial memory on which
*Monsieur* is predicated (‘I was reliving the plot and counterplot of
Shakespeare’s Sonnets in my own life. I had found the master-mistress of my
passion’ - *Quintet* 10); it also replicates the pyramidal force-field of
the quincunx as exemplified in architecture from both east and west,
including the Taj Mahal and the temple of Bakheng, of which Durrell had
made particular note. <#_ftn2>

These geometric notions gave Durrell the mechanistic encouragement he
required to ‘build’ a structure of five novels which would then form a
force-field in a truly scientific sense. Thus the quincunxial idea both
provided the basis for what he was trying to achieve in the east-west
*entente* and the vehicle for one of the oldest of grail themes, that of a
square of four trees with a fifth planted at its centre, beneath which the
treasure lay.

But the most significant fact is that Durrell believed that the ‘power of
five’, when linked to his previously elucidated ‘rule of four’, would
provide him with the means to negotiate the hitherto inaccessible, those
‘buried alive’. This would be the true meaning of *anagnorisis*, the moment
of recognition between sisters; between lovers; between writers; between
master and servant, creator and created; between the boy who left home and
the man who returns. It would represent the point at which the man who, all
his life, had told himself ‘*he must not remember*’, could regard himself
in the mirror and, by submitting to memory, name himself. As Kundera
observed, ‘the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory
against forgetting’. <#_ftn3>

PS: I will be posting Bruce's, Rick';s and Ravi's messages on the COMMENTS
page of the DLC website, and others which relate to our understanding and
appreciation of LD's overall achievements as a writer with the ultimate
ambition of the 'Tibetan novel'.


On Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 12:52 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>

> Ravi, whom I respect, reports that Durrell apparently thought the
> *Quintet* his best work.  I doubt the truth of his statement, but my
> opinion is just that, an opinion.  I don’t, however, think that authors are
> necessarily the best judge of their own art.  Hemingway thought that *Across
> the River and into the Trees* (1950) was his best novel.  He even
> compared it to some kind of literary “calculus,” whereas his previous
> novels, presumably, were simply works of arithmetic.  Who believes that
> nowadays?  Few if any, I think.  Durrell had his own philosophy (some mix
> of Indian and Chinese thought), but his real genius as a writer of fiction
> was a blend of storytelling and poetry.  I don’t see this in the *Quintet*
> and think that Durrell went off the deep-end and got lost in the
> netherworld of his own dark obsessions (the philosophy not withstanding,
> which is of great interest, but which doesn’t save the whole enterprise
> from its own self-destruction).
> Bruce
> On Sep 27, 2016, at 9:12 AM, Ravi Nambiar <cnncravi at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dear Bruce
> Your statement, "I think the success of the Quartet depends on literature,
> whereas the lack of success of the Quintet depends on philosophy", prompted
> me to collect some of Durrell's own words from the interviews he gave:
> "...this quintet is more important to me than the Alexandria Quartet".
> "Avignon Quintet will be my last book, a present to France."
> "The English don't very much like ideas and abstraction."
> "The book is really written for learned people."
> "The Avignon Quintet is an intellectual autobiography."
> "Quartet, the hurly-burly and ripening of experience, quintet the
> acceptance of reality."
> "The Alexandria Quartet takes into account Western psychology, dualism,
> and ambivalence."
> "The Quintet accordingly offers a solution: the East as a way out for the
> West. Things are so simple, nor so abstract."
> It is agreed by almost all D scholars that to understand Durrell, one has
> to read all of his work. The Quartet, the four, slides into the five, the
> Quintet ("five baskets of experience"): unlike in the quartet, "...in the
> quintet the last page is really the last page."
> Regards
> Ravi
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