[ilds] Evaluating the Quintet

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Sep 29 08:35:05 PDT 2016


Rick,

Good question.  I was primarily thinking of the ending to Monsieur, the “Envoi” and all the “begetting,” which looks like a linguistic or kinship tree.  “D.” is the head or beginning of a breakdown of narration which proceeds to shatter the very idea of characterization as any kind of stable technique.  And who is “D?”  Well, Durrell himself presumably—but the initial could also refer to “Dog” as an inversion of “God.”  And so we have D./Durrell as some kind of Gnostic Demiurge—the “Monsieur” or “Prince of Darkenss" of the book’s title.  (Recall “Count D.” in Prospero’s Cell.)  Inversion is a key concept in Durrell’s world.  The Quintet is rife with inversions of identity (hence the obsession with mirrors) and sexuality (hence the obsession with incest and homosexuality).  Durrell’s problem with identity goes back to his use of Freud’s ideas of the unstable ego, which becomes the author’s “multiple selves.”  All of which he explores through narration.

Indian metaphysics, Buddhism, and Taoism also fit nicely into this personal philosophy—the idea of the “no self.”

Postmodernism obsesses with the trope of narration (what it means, how it’s done, its unsubstantiality), which ultimately becomes a questioning of the basis of reality or the reality of reality or the unreality of reality and so on and so on.  So mirrors and their infinite reflections—as Orson Wells shows in his Citizen Kane (1941), when Kane walks in a hall of mirrors, a film which Durrell surely knew.

A few important players in Postmodernism are Jorge Luis Borges, John Hawkes, and John Barth, the latter’s “Lost in the Funhouse” being a study in narration and fictional conventions.  I would also add Isak Dinesen and her Seven Gothic Tales.  Durrell knew or met Borges, Hawkes, and Dinesen.  He admired Dinesen in particular.  They all had a lot in common.

Bruce






 
> On Sep 29, 2016, at 5:08 AM, Frederick Schoff <frederick.schoff at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> 
> Bruce -  Can you elaborate on your idea that the Quintet 'shatters under the weight of postmodernism'? I'm embarking on another read of it and would like to understand your view better. Thanks!
> 
> - Rick
> 
> On Sep 28, 2016, at 7:16 PM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net <mailto:bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>> wrote:
> 
>> Yes, the opening to Monsieur is strong, along with the first 100 pages or so, but that slow train to Provence, like “some super-glow-worm,” seem prophetic about what eventually happens to the novel’s narration.  That is, from the very start, it seems infested with its own disease, the worm of death, if you will.  At the end, the story breaks down, shatters under the weight of Postmodernism.  Durrell was a gifted storyteller.  But he rejects that gift—it’s almost an act of self-loathing.
>> 
>> Bruce
>> 
>> 
>> 
>> 
>> 
>> 
>>> On Sep 28, 2016, at 12:05 PM, Kennedy Gammage <gammage.kennedy at gmail.com <mailto:gammage.kennedy at gmail.com>> wrote:
>>> 
>>> Agreeing with Bruce, my opinion is that the Avignon Quintet is overall very strong, starting with the first 170 pages of _Monsieur or The Prince of Darkness_ (1974). 
>>> 
>>> Here’s a parallel I just thought of: the writer characters Blanford and Sutcliffe, representing two sides of Durrell’s writerly persona (the pedant and the drunk) are both wounded in their sex - by shrapnel and due to an inverted marriage.
>>> 
>>> The beginning of Livia is a bit of a chore: the dialogue between the writers, but around page 26 the flashback begins and it becomes quite wonderful: “It was to be their last term at Oxford and Hilary had invited them both to journey with him to Provence for the long vac.”
>>> 
>>> Each of the books has its iconic and memorable passages. There are a few flaws of course.
>>> 
>>> Thanks - Ken
>>> 
>>> 
>>> On Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 8:50 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net <mailto:bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>> wrote:
>>> Richard, your explanation in Mindscape is a very informative discussion of the significance of the quincunx in the Quintet.   I also see a connection to Durrell’s Heraldic Universe and its advocacy of symbols and metaphors as the ultimate reality.  But I don’t know how successful this level of abstraction is in a work of fiction.
>>> 
>>> Bruce
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>>>> On Sep 28, 2016, at 1:19 AM, Richard Pine <pinedurrellcorfu at gmail.com <mailto:pinedurrellcorfu at gmail.com>> wrote:
>>>> 
>>>> 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. <> 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. <>
>>>> 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’. <>
>>>> 
>>>> 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'.
>>>> 
>>>> RP
>>>> 
>>>> 
>>>> 
>>>> On Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 12:52 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net <mailto:bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>> wrote:
>>>> 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 <mailto: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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