Conditions of Use

Conditions of Use

All comments regarding the life and work of Lawrence Durrell are welcome. Say whatever you like, however you like. Comments are not censored, but they reflect the views of the commentator and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the administrator nor anyone else on this blog. All comments are copyrighted and belong to the blog. Fair use of the blog's material requires proper attribution both to the blog and to the commentator.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

David Green's "Crickets in the Dark"

Lawrence Durrell was fond of crickets and cicadas (I'm not sure if he distinguished between the two).  David's fine poem marks the change in sensibilities.  Compare his with Durrell's poetic description at the end of Justine (1957):  "The cicadas are throbbing in the great planes, and the summer Mediterranean lies before me in all its magnetic blueness."  Things have indeed changed.  —  BR

Crickets in the Dark


As the jets scream home
To cross lit air ports
dumping excess fuel over
Huddles homes in the early dark,
As the eco cars, the muscle cars
And all kind of cars and trucks
Entrain for lurching journey home
And the air is rank
with fumes as bad or worse
Than cigarettes,
I see the sky fade slowly
Like watercolour swept
Across a wet page
And the crickets croak
Like earth fired machines;
Two tone engines pumping life
Beneath the ground
As they have always done —
Below climate change,
Beneath the hooves of giants,
Beneath the feet of man,
Beneath cement and car parks,
Beneath the sewers, the wires
The water pipes,
beyond the hum of cars and trucks;
Simpler, older than cockroaches
And we abide while we may.

— David Green

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Some things bear repeating.  The subject matter of this forum is Lawrence Durrell, man and artist.  All comments about his life and work are welcome, and that includes disagreeing with anything said.  In fact, I expect disagreement.  Say whatever you want.  We all have our owns crotchets and hobbyhorses.  Mine has to do with Durrell's creative processes — why he wrote what he did and what drove him to it.  I see him as a highly complex and obsessive writer, who used his work as a way to deal with his personal problems.  That is my bias.  It is akin to Thomas Mann's treatment of art as a form of sickness.  So I am inclined to explore Durrell's creative psychology or pathology, if you will.  I do not think looking into the complexities of Durrell's life destroys the pleasure of reading his great contribution to world literature.  But you may disagree with that statement, should you so choose.  Durrell's work offers many pleasures and new discoveries, and anything pertinent to the man is open to discussion.  —  BR

Sunday, March 23, 2014

David Green on Hemingway and Durrell

"All good books have one thing in common; they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you've read one of them you will feel that all that happened, happened to you and then it belongs to you forever:  the happiness and unhappiness, good and evil, ecstasy and sorrow, the food, wine, beds, people and the weather.  If you can give that to your readers, then you're a writer.  That's what I was trying to give them in For Whom the Bell Tolls."

— Ernest Hemingway (quoted in Papa Hemingway [1966] by A. E. Hotchner)

Now I would say the old hem hit home with this one.  It is certainly how I feel about some of Durrell's books, especially the island books.  For me Corfu is Prospero's Cell [1945] and when I went there in 1985 it was as the book said.  That was the "dark crystal" through which I saw the island.  So next year I hit Cyprus and Rhodes through the lenses of Bitter Lemons [1957] and Reflections on a Marine Venus [1953], then onto Sicily and Sicilian Carousel [1977], book in hand.  Then we fetch up in Provence with Caesar's Vast Ghost [1990].  I'll be taking pictures and writing stuff along the way.  RW, see you on Milos?


an afternoon at Kelly's I think

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Happy Birthday, Lawrence Durrell !!!

An announcement for the Tatler (Sydney, London, and San Francisco editions).  An early birthday party was held for Lawrence Durrell, his 102nd, in anticipation of February 27th.  It was celebrated today on the beach, Bondi Beach, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.  The charter members of the AALDS gathered together for the festivities.  They traveled from far and wide and each made his or her unique contribution.  Dr. D., bedecked in saffron kaftan and colorful sandals, brought vegetarian delicacies for the barbie.  He was accompanied by a local mermaid, who had swam ashore in a bikini, not unlike Botticelli's Venus on the half shell.  The good doctor spoke about the birthday boy's affinity for whales, especially Hilda, "the great sonsy whale" of The Black Book.  David and Denise brought their special recipe of octopus in red sauce and many bottles of vin rouge and vin blanc, straight from the vineyards of the Blue Mountrains.  Ken and R. W. provided the music and had composed a special piece for the occasion — "Heraldic Ditties Downunder."  As the music played, David extemporized a poem on Lord Larry, and Paul read Anaïs Nin's encomium on young Durrell.  And Bruce (the other one) simply took it all in, listened to crickets in sheltered places, and admired a sky of hot nude pearl.  Nearby, nubile waxed beauties, tattooed bums twitching in the sunlight, watched in amusement.  A good time was had by all.  —  BR

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Durrell at Cambridge

Durrell at Cambridge:  A Thought Experiment

by Bruce Redwine


"I think the first breath of Europe I got was when I went on a reading party for one final cram or something — I think it was for Cambridge again, which I must have tried about eight times [and failed], I suppose."

— "Lawrence Durrell:  An Interview," Paris Review, Autumn-Winter 1960

Lawrence George Durrell, age eighteen, passed his entrance exams on first try and was admitted to King's College, Cambridge.  He went to King's knowing Latin and French and was assigned a tutor, Elyot S. Poundsworthy, who specialized in Roman poetry and early French literature.  Poundsworthy had published articles on Catullus, Virgil, Horace,  Bernart de Ventadorn, and Montaigne.

Tutor and student had their first meeting and enjoyed a cup of tea together.  Tutor asked pupil what his areas of interests were, and pupil said he liked the classics but he especially liked modern poetry, beginning with G. M. Hopkins.  Tutor nodded and assigned student a selection of poems, all in the original Latin and French, and included Montaigne's essay, "On Vanity," also in French.  Then he told him to write an essay on vanity, to integrate all the authors in the assignment into a coherent argument, and to come back in a week.  Five pages would do.

Student returns.  He has written an essay in over one thousand lines of free verse, with occasional rhymes.  The pair enjoy another cup of tea.  Then Tutor slowly reads the essay, nods, and compliments student on his spelling, particularly in the original languages.  No mistakes.  He smiles and remarks that Pope also wrote essays in verse, although in heroic couplets and with considerably more concision.  Then he says, "All very interesting, yet a bit prolix, epic, if you will.  It's longer than any book in the Aeneid, if that was your intent.  I like the images, however, in particular how you compare Catullus's 'fuck face' with Montaigne's 'chamber pots.'  But what's your point?  I can't find a point."  Student waves his arms and says, "How can an essay have a point when the subject matter has no point?  Montaigne goes all over the place and never settles on anything.  He just rambles, so you never know what he means.  If he can get away with that — so can I.  Montaigne's mind skips and hops like a stone skimming over a pond, never getting below glittering surfaces."  Tutor nods again and says, "That's very good.  I like that.  I don't agree with it, but I like it.  Now, why didn't you say that or even suggest that in your essay?  Or are you just interested in trying to be as clever as the authors you write about?"

Three years later, L. G. Durrell obtains his degree from King's, upper second, and soon leaves for the island of Corfu.  He now knows about brevity and concision and clear thinking, but he decides to use these tools sparingly and to rely on his instincts, except when talking about French thought and Einstein's Relativity.

Elyot S. Poundsworthy did not go to Italy and broadcast speeches on behalf of Benito Mussolini.  Instead, he stayed at King's and eventually became Master.  He had a lively career, highlighted by fierce battles with Frankie Leavis over the course of English literature.  F. R. L. once challenged E. S. P. to a duel, with collier picks, the ghost of D. H. L. presiding.  Elyot always remembered his star pupil, L. G. Durrell, whom he considered brilliant but incorrigible, and always bemoaned the fact the famous poet never learned the lessons of reading Montaigne's "On Vanity."  Some people never learn, he would say, shaking his head sadly.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Forster on Durrell

 E. M. Forster on Lawrence Durrell
by Bruce Redwine

E. M. Forster and Lawrence Durrell admired the city of Alexandria, Egypt, but mutual admiration did not foster mutual respect.[1]  The former lived in Alexandria during World War I, the latter during World War II.  Forster’s experiences resulted in Alexandria:  A History and a Guide (1922), and Durrell’s culminated in The Alexandria Quartet (1960).  When Durrell lived in the city, he used a copy of Forster’s book as a guide and would later comment that the work "contains some of Forster’s best prose, as well as felicities of touch such as only a novelist of major talent could command."[2]  The two writers never met, and P. N. Furbank’s biography, E. M. Forster:  A Life (1978), does not mention Durrell.
E. M. Forster, however, did have an opinion about Lawrence Durrell.  Awhile ago Andrew Stewart, an old friend, told me an anecdote.  Between October 1966 and May 1969, he was an undergraduate in Classics at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge.  Forster was an honorary fellow at King’s College.  King’s was then renovating its halls and kitchens, and its fellows would eat at St. Catharine’s.  ("A Cat may look at a King," so went the adaptation of the proverb.)  On one occasion, Stewart was invited to the High Table and sat next to Forster.  This was before Forster went "gaga."  Lawrence Durrell came up in conversation, and Forster's eyes immediately lit up.  The old man unleashed a number of unkind words about Durrell.  The gist of the tirade was that Forster considered Durrell a sloppy writer and guilty of deplorable Romanticism in his depiction of Alexandria.  My friend thought Forster had written up his opinion in an essay.  I haven’t found it.  But I do recall D. J. Enright's essay, "Alexandrian Nights' Entertainments:  Lawrence Durrell’s 'Quartet,'" which says much the same thing and ends with, "[W]hen Durrell is good he is very good, and when he is bad he is horrid."[3]  Enright also graduated from Cambridge, so there may be another one of those Forsterian "connections."


[1] My thanks to Andrew Stewart for permission to relate this anecdote.  He is Nicholas C. Petris Professor of Greek Studies, University of California, Berkeley.
[2] E. M. Forster, Alexandria:  A History and a Guide, Introduction by Lawrence Durrell, Afterward and Notes by Michael Haag (London, 1986), xv.
[3] D. J. Enright, Conspirators and Poets (London, 1966), 120.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mind and Durrell 2

The following is an edited and fictionalized exchange between Dr. D. and BR.  Dr. D. is a psychiatrist in Sydney, Australia, where he founded the Mood School.  He is a practitioner of Yoga and has made many trips to India.  BR lives in California.  He writes fiction and criticism and travels frequently to Southeast Asia.  —  BR

BR.  Durrell was an avid practitioner of Yoga and an avowed Taoist.  How do you think he viewed the mind and human consciousness?  Brain and mind are two different entities, and the connection between the two is now the center of a big philosophical debate.   I've been reading John R. Searle's The Mystery of Human Consciousness (1997), which provides a good summary of the main issues, their origins, and the "state of the art."  What do you think of Durrell's "mind's eye?"

Dr. D.  What did Larry think of mind-brain models?  He was certainly intrigued with consciousness and the brain, neurons, memory, artificial intelligence, mood and dreams.  I wonder what concepts he held about his own brain and mind and whether he gained insights during his meditation time and yoga.

Brain-mind models were sent into a bit of a spin around Larry's time by the confusion about microscopic brain structure.  The Nobel prize for neurology research, at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, was given to both Santiago Ramón y Cajal [1852-1934] and Camillo Golgi [1843-1926].  Ironically their respective brain model views being diametrically opposed. 

Golgi stated firmly that he had proven the brain is one large open syncytial blob.  Whereas Cajal using Golgi's revealing silver stains took a closer look and then stated firmly that there were certainly slim spaces between neurons, they nearly touched but fall just short.

This gap he correctly observed we now know as the synaptic gap.  How funny that one of the most important parts of the brain is the "empty" space between cells where they nearly touch!

BR.  Ah, "the synaptic gap."  I suppose you see some similarities to the Buddhist concept of śūnyatā, the fundamental emptiness of all things?

Dr. D.  When I say "empty gaps" I fully accept that the universal presence of "dark-energy" fills this emptiness with potentiality . . . So strictly speaking true and complete "emptiness" is a bit hard to achieve!

BR.  Searle would probably discount this line of argument as wild speculation.  He thinks there's a biological connection between brain and mind, although how this happens — the exact causal relationship — presently eludes our understanding.  But why not speculate and let the imagination drift into dark matter and dark energy?  In Shadows of the Mind:  A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (1994), Roger Penrose argues that the biological basis of "mind" has something to do with quantum mechanics.

Dr. D.  Durrell believed in the "unstable ego."  I'd say he believed in no-ego, no-self.  Does this have any relationship to quantum mechanics?  Maybe.  Let me quote Osho, the Indian mystic, who died in 1990, the same year Durrell died, which is a little bit of synchronicity:  "Once the ego is not there, there is no expectation, frustration, no desire, no despair.  Suddenly one finds oneself falling into a deep harmony with the cosmos.  And that harmony is God; that harmony is nirvana; that harmony is tao."

BR.  So, the famous Zen koan — "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"  The answer:  "Mu!" (no, not, nothing, nothingness).  I think it's safe to say that whatever Durrell meant by "mind's eye" that his idea was aesthetic and not based on any deep appreciation of the philosophical "mystery of consciousness."  As you suggest, the deepest he went into the matter was into the Buddhist or Taoist notion of mindlessness or egolessness   Which, however, may be very, very deep indeed — Mu!  Durrell also wanted to do away with causality and time, and I have big problems with this program.  For example, can you conceive of the self without a sense of time?  I can't.  This also seems to counter or undercut Durrell's great gift — to locate people and things in an imaginative moment.  That seems to me the great achievement of his best poetry and The Alexandria Quartet.  On the other hand, maybe this is what Durrell really wanted — maybe in the end what he was really after was self-extinction.  Remember, Sappho Jane Durrell said her father was suicidal.

Dr. D.  Mu!