[ilds] Evaluating the Quintet

Rick Schoff frederick.schoff at gmail.com
Sat Oct 1 07:13:17 PDT 2016


Thanks Bruce! That's helpful to me. I was accustomed to distortions of
time, after Bergson and Einstein, etc., but only through Durrell's fiction
came up so clearly against the idea of the non-stable ego. I knew he was
criticized for his characterizations being thin, really only providing him
the opportunity to declaim about things psychologic and philosophic. The
interleafing of the supposedly real narrative with the fictional within the
fiction (within the fiction? The Envoi never made me feel I had things
clear in my own mind) created a new dimension wherein different Durrell's
announced themselves as such. At least, that's how I've explained it to
myself! We circle back to my original point: the delight in the language
enabled me to continue all the way down the garden path he created without
misgivings.

On Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 11:35 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
wrote:

> 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>
> 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>
> 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
> > 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>
>> 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> 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> 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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