"Post-colonialism and Lawrence Durrell: The Politics of Perception in Durrell’s Novels of Exile: Pleasure, Philosophy, Sexuality and Colonialism?" Durrell School of Corfu. 26-30 May 2002. Faliraki Cultural Centre & Corfu Reading Society. Corfu, Greece.


Post-colonialism and Lawrence Durrell: The Politics of Perception in Durrell’s Novels of Exile: Pleasure, Philosophy, Sexuality and Colonialism?

May 27 – 31, 2002.

James Gifford - gifford@ualberta.ca

This seminar will encourage reading for pleasure while examining both 'reading' and 'pleasure' as political acts. We will examine the Imperial aspects of Durrell's novels, as well as the challenges that his works pose to Empire, established sexual and gender categories, and the philosophic foundations of post-colonial studies. The primary texts by Durrell cover his early, middle and late career, as well as depictions of India, Egypt and Britain. Durrell came to all these societies as an outsider and saw them with an outsider's eye, for he was the British-subject born in India, but also the Anglo-Indian who could not call Britain his home. Within the context of post-colonial studies, Durrell's 'homelessness' and 'exoticization' of the foreign become problematic, as the terms imply a both home and stable national identity. Neither 'home' nor the 'exotic,' like gender and sexuality, are simple terms in Durrell's writings, where every country is foreign and the influence of desire on perception is an explicit theme. Drawing on Nietzsche's works, Durrell is continually aware of how "our needs... interpret the world" and of the problem of constructing a 'real' world that exists somewhere 'out there,' beyond our lying senses and biased perceptions. Durrell's play with these ideas cannot entirely de-politicize his narrating of the Middle and Far East; however, it does complicate any discussion of representation, knowledge or power in his texts. Durrell's works go to great lengths to throw the reader "back upon his own resources—which is ultimately where every reader belongs" within a self-contemplative context that acknowledges that "the artist... [tries to] impose a pattern upon [life] which he infects with his own meanings." Returning to the reader's pleasure, we will consider how our creation of these foreign locales, in the act of reading, can act as a politically charged 'knowing' of them or 'infection of imposed meaning,' as well as a mystification and acceptance of their difference. If Durrell's texts suggest a skeptical approach to 'knowing,' we should ask how does the reader discover the exotic and erotic spirit of place? The suggested theoretical readings are intended to give a readable and 'pleasing' overview of the issues involved, as well as the current state of post-colonial readings of Durrell's novels.


Primary Texts: (students should use any convenient edition)

  • Durrell, Lawrence. Mountolive and Balthazar. Penguin/Faber. (also available in the one-volume The Alexandria Quartet from Faber).
  • "Macabru." from Monsieur or The Prince of Darkness. Faber. (recently reissued). pp. 93-177.
  • "Oil for the Saint; Return to Corfu."” from Spirit of Place. (in the coursepack). pp. 286-303.
  • "Prologue" and "Book I." from Pied Piper of Lovers. (in the coursepack). pp. 1-154.

Suggested Critical Readings: (provided in coursepack)

  • Bowen, Roger. "Closing the Toybox." Studies in the Literary Imagination 24.1 (1991), 9-19.
  • Hawthorne, Mark D. "The Alexandria Quartet: the Homosexual as Teacher/Guide." Twentieth Century Literature 44.3 (1998), 328-48.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. Penguin. (available via the Internet Public Library: www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html)
  • Said, Edward. "Introduction." from Orientalism. Vintage Random House. pp. 1-28
  • Zahlan, Anne. "The Destruction of the Imperial Self in Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet." Perspectives on Contemporary Literature 12 (1986), 3-12.

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