[ilds] Evaluating the Quintet

Kennedy Gammage gammage.kennedy at gmail.com
Mon Oct 3 11:44:44 PDT 2016

Putting this supposition out there for discussion: that Jolan Chang was the
inspiration for Sebastian / Affad in the Quintet – infamously for all the
annoying tantric sex with-and-in Constance, which I consider somewhat of a
drawback for the central book in the Quintet and a Booker Prize shortlist.

Please feel free to disagree - Ken

On Sat, Oct 1, 2016 at 7:13 AM, Rick Schoff <frederick.schoff at gmail.com>

> 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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