Objects in Space and Time: Metonymy in Durrell's Island Books [*].
Durrell's metonymic descriptions of place, marked by absence of verbs, by infinitive moods, and by semi-colons, simply juxtapose objects, landscape features, or actions within a single frame, and leave the reader to gather an overall impression. At the procession of St. Spiridion  (patron saint of Corfu), for instance, Durrell lists sixteen items for sale in the streets, ranging from "toothpicks" to "ikons." This list is followed by five parallel units of a taxonomic sentence describing participants and emphasizing the act of seeing  (grammatically elided in the central unit), as if people and objects were being pointed out by a guide. The syntagmatic structure, moving from phrase to phrase like a camera panning over a crowd, picks out figures in colorful costumes and presents a vivid cross-section of island cultural life. In Prospero's Cell, Durrell offers other examples of the metonymic method: "The sun shines brightly and the air sparkles with the Albanian snow-caps opposite; wild duck curve and scatte r outside the gulf, and sails [...] are all trimmed in the direction of the old fort" (31). In another instance, a cameo of swimming at night found in Reflections on a Marine Venus [RMV hereafter], Durrell expresses sensations metonymically, using participles with noun phrases and eliminating verbs:
Smell of bitter creeper and claying jasmine. The dark water warm and salty from a day of south wind. Occasional draughts of cool air and colder currents curling in snake-like from the rock-entrances of the harbour. Hanging there in the sea as if in a web [...] to look back and upwards through wet eyelashes at the star-flowered sky. (150)
The viewpoint of this prose-poem is immersed in water, like the swimmer's body: disjunct syntax and parallel structures suspend closure and convey a sensory complex of drifting, smelling, tasting, touching, looking. As Tuan says, "Deep engagement in almost any kind of mental or physical activity can produce [...] the 'flow' experience" (37). In verbless fragments and wavelike alliterative imagery, Durrell thus expresses the effortless sensation of floating in space and time.
Metonymic inventories discard verbs and accumulate substantives. Relating objects by spatial contiguity, one such catalogue in Prospero's Cell contains eleven disjunct units marked off by colons:
The sea's curious workmanship: bottle-green glass sucked smooth and porous by the waves: vitreous shells: wood stripped and cleaned, and bark swollen with salt: a bead: sea-charcoal, brittle and sticky: fronds of bladder-wart with their greasy marine skin and reptilian feel: rocks, gnawed and rubbed: sponges, heavy with tears: amber: bone: the sea. (34)
This is perception degree zero, the radical of things: "[the] sea's curious workmanship" is an active agency molding and linking heterogeneous items by its rough artistry, until they belong in the same sea-family. A live force to the Greeks, the sea that frames the paragraph metaphorically sculpts, shapes, and polishes the objects it (sea or paragraph) contains. Metonymic lists invite one to concentrate on the microcosmic singularity of things-in-themselves and also on the multiplicity of things-in-relation. Durrell uses mosaic form to construct microcosmic impressions: his Corfu is a "[w]orld of black cherries, sails, dust, arbutus, fishes and letters from home" (20). Integrating them into a composite sign, Durrell builds up the island world from separate things.
A Proustian experience of taste is the catalyst for Durrell's gathering a congeries of objects into a single ethos:
The whole Mediterranean--the sculptures, the palms, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers--all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. (96)
Unleashing memory, "A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water" connects the present moment with antiquity. A moment's reflection sets in motion a metonymic process that forges disparate objects into a syntagmatic chain linked to a unified impression of the Mediterranean. In this iconic catalogue, where objects are simply named, not described, Durrell's point is that the range of associations can stem from or lead to a single nucleus. By concentrating on taste at a receptive moment--one thinks of Keats's synaesthetic/synecdochic "beaker full of the warm South"--Durrell activates the symbolic process that links landscape with memory.  His metonymic selection of objects, each with its aura of time and place, offers a measure of personal experience.
Durrell's synecdochic technique sometimes resembles both the pointilliste stippling of neo-impressionism  and the multifaceted planes of cubism.  As Durrell breaks off parallel images and sets them apart by colons, his spots of space form "spots of time" or nodes of being. Durrell remembers "Athenian faces," in which
the thousand and one images of that Greece of ours crystallize into pin-points of light: the book-lined room where the woman of Zante was read: the terrace with the figs and the sound of running water: Tinos where the red sails walk down the main street: Corinth with its vermin: Argos and Thebes with their retzina: Kalamata choked in vines: the warm scent of bruised sage on the Arcadian hills. (132)
Durrell sets down the spotlit images unranked, in parallel units containing few verbs, little subordination, and no main clauses. From these images, the imagination fans out centrifugally, moving from focal object to surrounding space and from visual, aural, and olfactory images to cultural associations. For instance, Durrell uses the image of "[r]ed sails walk[ing] down the main street" as a metonym; based on spatial proximity to the harbor, the image epitomizes Tinos and is linked in a geographic and syntagmatic chain to Corinth, Argos, Thebes, and Kalamata. Thus Durrell reads Greece semiotically as a series of characterological and topographical signs  that form a kaleidoscopic pattern of indeterminate significance in which the illuminated elements retain their separate, but associated, identities. More discrete and concrete than the blurred patches in impressionist painting, these images comprise a wide variety of times and places mapped by Durrell's memory. Beyond succession or juxtaposition in that p ersonal medium, all these images point to a composite idea-Greece-that would be the sum of many different "angles of vision." As in cubist painting, Durrell's fragmentary perceptions come together in a structure that does not subsume the separate, concrete identity of each in any unified abstraction. As a product of the viewer's impressions over time of a plurality of places, the pattern that emerges employs Jakobson's "faculty [...] for combination and contexture" (90). The more a single mind or style can retain and sort, the denser and more convincing the picture.
In his island writing, Durrell encodes cultural observations in synecdochic shorthand. His initial experience of Cyprus is that of an "innocent eye" roving over the scene and perceiving signs yet to be decoded. In a series of first impressions, Durrell sees the "anomalies" between Cypriot and British suburban culture as equivalences. A series of glimpses, reflecting his disappointed expectations of foreignness, culminates in a double synecdoche: "The peasant was already becoming a quaint relic of a forgotten mode of life. White bread and white collars!" (Bitter Lemons [BL hereafter] 34). By stapling images and opinions into tightly packaged units, synecdoche may condense and clarify but it can also become the trope of sweeping judgments.
Metonymic structures are particularly apt for seizing quick, "notebook" impressions. This mode of vision incorporates succession (seeing and saying things one after another) with simultaneity (seeing objects juxtaposed in space). In Durrell's writing, series of disjunct items privilege spatial contiguity over a logical continuity that is deliberately short-circuited to increase the sensory appeal of a passage. Durrell's prose vignettes have the sensuous compression of imagist poetry, for they distill an essence of time and space from light and objects. Considering his active diplomatic life, one may surmise that such vignettes offered Durrell escape from political stresses into a kind of Zen meditation on objects:  "From the balcony, towards four, by westering sunlight: plum-dark mountain roses: green wooden table in the rain: slurring of bees: chime of tea-cups" (BL 103). The metonymic epigraph of Prospero's Cell--"No tongue: all eyes: be silent"-- refers to an art of magic transmutation in Shakespeare's The Tempest and (by implication) to Durrell's highly visualized style. "No ideas but in things," as William Carlos Williams says: so no verbs needed here. A complement of Williams's "red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water," Durrell's "green wooden table in the rain" is the language of presence, of the thing in itself rather than as signifying a meaning beyond itself. Its very lack of causal or syntactic connection creates a poetic sense of immediacy. Brought into focus serially, roses, table, rain, bees, and cups chime imaginatively, as objects of sight and sound in space and time. The loose conjunction of images, ungoverned by verbs, creates a sense of here-and-nowness; nothing has to be explained because everything is sufficient in itself or replete with implications. The social context of the scene is conversation among an expatriate intelligentsia expressing common values of learning and "the good life." So familiar are the voices articulating a shared identity that they mingle timelessly with the "slurring of bees" and the "chime of tea-cups."
The effect of condensing a sense of security and solidity into sights and sounds is contemplative; at once simple and mysterious, the scene engages a level of being beyond the merely social.
Jakobson observes that "[a] competition between both devices, metonymic and metaphoric, is manifest in any symbolic process, be it intrapersonal or social" (94-95). Indeed, in some contexts, Durrell favors metaphor over metonymy. Because poetic construction is often so much on his mind, the paradigmatic axis of metaphor subsumes other forms of construction. Durrell watches friends reconstructing his house near Kyrenia,
with a sense of familiarity that one has sometimes when a poem "comes out" of its own accord like an equation, without having to be tortured or teased. It all flowed from the magical black moustache of Michaelis, the brown fingers of "the Seafarer," the lisp and stammer of "the Bear." (BL 102)
The tenor of the metaphoric paradigm that links carpentry with composition is aesthetic "fit"--the right boards or right words in the right place give a sense of ease or satisfaction, of things falling into place. Synecdoche, like a mental synapse, links landscape with character and physical style (black moustache, brown fingers, rough speech) with the confident Greek culture that creates harmony in buildings or poems.
The last chapter of Bitter Lemons, "A Pocketful of Sand," links landscape with memory in a poetry of departures. Assemblages consist of synecdochic items each linked with a particular place or memory. "The cool lower rooms of the house echoed with silence and the sunlight filtered through the bitter lemon trees in the garden" (248). An execution has taken place, Durrell is leaving the island, time is running out--the symbolism is clear. Then Durrell tips out a cornucopia of objects, each telling a story:
I found the old wicker basket which had accompanied me on all my journeys in Cyprus. It was full of fragments collected by my daughter, buried in a pocketful of sand which leaked slowly through the wicker mesh. I turned the whole thing out on to a sheet of newspaper, mentally recalling as I turned over the fragments in curious fingers where each had been acquired. (249)
As the image of sand running out suggests, these heterogeneous objects are also fragments shored against time; touched by hand and mind, they imply tenuous relationships with earlier selves and with the child who had collected them.
The sentence into which these fragments are unloaded is an archaeological treasure-trove. It contains twelve parallel phrases and a baker's dozen of items:
Roman glass, blue and vitreous as the summer sea in deep places; handles of amphorae from Salamis with the hallmark thumb-printed in the soft clay; tiles from the floor of the villa near Paphos; verde-ant ico fragments; Venus' ear seashells; a Victorian penny; fragments of yellow mosaic from some Byzantine church; purple murex; desiccated seaurchins and white chalk squid-bones; a tibia; fragments of a bird's egg; a green stone against the evil eye. [...]All in all a sort of record of our stay in Cyprus. (249)
The symbolic title "A Pocketful of Sand" recalls Blake's microcosmic image of "the universe in a grain of sand," while the metonymic structure of objects in space and time, a kind of labyrinth of disconnected symbols, has the shape of Durrell's "heraldic universe." Each object in this metonymic collection offers a nucleus of personal associations and memories that form a subliminal pattern. Apart from naming the objects and adding a few details of color, shape, texture, and provenance, it would be impossible to put into words such a complex world of cultural and emotive associations; its simple constituent elements, present to hand and eye, belonged to a child who chose them intuitively, without conscious design, in the process of assembling her memories and discovering her identity through things that signify a series of places and experiences.
Durrell's collection of cultural artifacts, odds and ends, resembles an "anatomy." He says, for instance, that his book on Rhodes "is by intention a sort of anatomy of islomania, [one] with all its formal defects of inconsequence and shapelessness: of conversations begun and left hanging in the air: of journeys planned and never undertaken: of notes and studies put together against books unwritten" (RMV 16). Shapelessness leaves room for contingency and rapid shifts of focus. Displaying intuitive movements of the mind, objects and events retain a sensory integrity unmodified by a logos of preconceived ideas. A pattern or ethos emerges only after all the pieces have been assembled.  Durrell catches the spontaneous rhythm of experience in an irregular pattern of time and space: "In Rhodes the days drop as softly as fruit from trees. [...] They follow each other in scales and modes too quickly almost to be captured in the nets of form. Only by a strict submission to the laws of inconsequence can one ever wri te about an island--as an islomane, that is" (16). Obeying these oxymoronic "laws," one must clear one's mind of habitual ways of seeing and thinking and attend to the quiddity of objects in space and time.  Such writing of place, intuitively open to the flow of experience, is less a matter of cognition than of recognition or empathy.
Durrell's interest in objects is inseparable from their cultural and ontological associations. The iconic Venus in Reflections teaches him "to see Greece with the inner eyes--not as a collection of battered vestiges left over from cultures long since abandoned--but as something ever-present and ever-renewed" (179). The key to this vision, as Lillios points out, is the "world of Platonic forms" (79). The concrete thing is saturated in the matrix from which it springs, "the symbol married to the object prime--so that a cypress tree, a mask, an orange, a plough were extended beyond themselves into an eternality they enjoyed only with the furniture of all good poetry" (179). The difference from Platonic philosophy is the concreteness of Durrell's vision, the resonance of synecdoche that grasps the unchanging ethos within the individual form. This is a matter of transposing the visual into the verbal, of contextualizing the nuclear object in space and time, perception and memory. As Heidegger says, "Only image fo rmed keeps the vision. Yet image formed rests in the poem."  In the book on Rhodes, that image for
Durrell lies in his contemplation of the Venus's white stone features, worn smooth by the sea, for the book, like the Venus, concerns the refinement and completion of experience (telos) as embodied in objects shaped by time or in works of art.
While a synecdochic object can embody the Spirit of Place, no verbal image can fully convey it: there is always a gap, as Durrell realizes, that can only be filled by personal experience and memory. But as he describes the raising of Venus from the harbor of Rhodes, stone becomes form and artefact archetype:
She rose as if foamborn, turning that elegant body slowly from side to side, as if bowing to her audience. The sea-water had sucked at her for centuries till she was like some white stone jujube, with hardly a feature sharp as the burin must originally have left it. Yet such was the grace of her composition--the slender neck and breasts on that richly modelled torso, the supple line of arm and thigh--that the absence of firm outline only lent her a soft and confusing grace. (37-38)
As "presiding genius of [the] place," the Venus is a symbol "Of Paradise Terrestre" (Durrell's chapter title) and of long-lost Greek ideals of harmony and wholeness, the union of spirit and senses. Dredged up from the seabed, the stone Venus is the symbolic embodiment of cultural forces linking past and present; her ontological status, as central icon of the book, symbolizes the reading of objects across time.
She sits in the Museum of the island now, focused intently upon her own inner life, gravely meditating upon the works of time. [...] Behind and through her the whole idea of Greece glows sadly, like some broken capital, like the shattered pieces of a graceful jar, like the torso of a statue to hope. (38)
In what amounts to a synecdochic version of the hermeneutic circle, Durrell reads his own profound meditation on Greek culture into, and then back from, the sculpture.
On an island, because objects are isolated from the mainstream of time and necessity, each seems formed and complete in its own space. Human portraits, instead of being psychological studies, become the fruit of non-analytic appreciation. In "Landscape and Character," Durrell "willingly admit[s] to seeing 'characters' almost as functions of a landscape" (156), figures played on by climate, custom, and the tempo of local life. "I have not attempted to cut down below the surface of my subjects' poses," he says of Reflections on a Marine Venus. "I have attempted to illumine a single man by a single phrase, and to leave him where he sits embedded in the slow flux of Grecian days, undisturbed by literary artifice" (RMV 16). In that book, a gallery of six mini-portraits of his friends follows this metadiscursive comment, each portrait treating a characteristic pose or activity as a synecdoche of self. In the looseness of form, characters do not conform to an authorial idea, but simply manifest essential selves in the synecdoche of gesture or facial expression. Yet permeating these eccentric English characters, backlit against Greek space and time, is something of the postwar climate, its reliefs and stresses. "If I have sacrificed form," Durrell concludes, "it is for something better, sifting into the material now some old notes from a forgotten scrap-book, now a letter: all the quotidian stuff which might give a common reader the feeling of life lived in a historic present" (16). More like cooking than collage, his metonymic method of composition blends fragments in a mixture that brings out the overall flavor of experience.
Palimpsest is Durrell's chosen term not only for the layering of images and memories in a landscape but also for the semiotics of reading objects in space and time. The palimpsest image offers Durrell a vertical (or temporal) dimension of perception and memory inscribed upon horizontal (or spatial) patterns of association and metonymic writing. In Bitter Lemons, for instance, he posits "the mythopoeic image of the Englishman which every Greek carried in his heart, and which was composed of so many fused and overlapping pictures" (242). The converse of the synecdochic portrait, with its concrete presence in space and time, this "mythopoeic image" is clearly a synthetic mental construct on the pattern of the palimpsest. Because its architectural layers represent different cultures, Mediterranean archaeology speaks a hybrid language, so that "you wonder whether this mauled assembly of stone is Frankish or Mycenean, Byzantine or Saracen" (RMV 141). But, says Durrell, "the eye of a specialist can read it like a p alimpsest, text imposed on text, each dedicated to its peculiar folly or poetry" (142).
Such an aesthetic palimpsest is also seen in the stratification of a Corfu town. In Prospero's Cell Durrell describes how the town is "built up elegantly into slim tiers with narrow alleys and colonnades running between them; red, yellow, pink, umber--a jumble of pastel shades which the moonlight transforms into a dazzling white city" (12). Durrell explores an archaeological site on Rhodes, which he also sees in the moonlight. There, he "suddenly remember[s] other moments of time spent in this landscape, time printed upon silence with all its real colours up" (RMV 123). Here, the "colours" of time turn out to he aural images associated with places--"the faint burring of honey-bees in Agamemnon's tomb [....] the noise of snow melting among the meadows at Nemea [.. .,] a bird singing stiffly at noon [..., and] the crash of a falling orange in an island." These separate images, triggered by night-sounds in the moonlit amphitheater and presented contiguously as momentary perceptions, lead to a synthesizing refle ction:
all isolated moments existing in a peculiar dense medium of their own which was like time but not of it. Each moment to itself entire, populating a whole continuum of feeling...] And these separate moments, quite loose, not stitched together except by their parentage in the same quality of feeling, suddenly added themselves to this quiet second of time.
Such epiphanies, coming from what Durrell calls "quiet inner identification" ("Landscape" 158), allow synecdochic images of experience to surface from the subconscious. In the dialectics of object and space, moment and continuum, these "spots of time" bring with them something of their sustaining matrix. In Durrell's reconstructions of the past, synecdoche is the key trope: in his use of it, sensations, impressions, objects, cameos, and portraits retain their integrity while forming structural relations that imply a timeless ethos.
In impressionism much depends on the "angle of vision," a leitmotiv in Bitter Lemons (16, 92, 119, 125, 146, 160). There, Durrell struggles to get the history and conflicting cultures of the island into perspective simultaneously. The balcony of his house presents such an "angle of vision":
Below us, the village curved away in diminishing perspective to the green headland upon which the Abbey stood, its fretted head silhouetted against the Taurus range. Through the great arches gleamed the grey-gold fields of cherries and oranges and the delicate spine of Kasaphani's mosque. From this point we were actually looking down upon Bellapaix, and beyond it, five miles away, upon Kyrenia whose castle looked absurdly like a toy. [...] Immediately behind, the mountain climbed into blue space, topped by the ragged outcrop and moldering turrets of Buffavento. (58)
Comparable to a panning shot, this "metonymic 'set-up'" (Jakobson) creates a dynamics of space, emphasizing eye movements through concentration on plastic, magnetic, or kinetic verbs ("curved away," "stood," "silhouetted," "gleamed," "climbed") and directional signals ("below us," "against," "through," "from this high point," "looking down," "beyond," "immediately behind," "topped by"). Durrell clearly demarcates spatial relationships, for the abbey is foregrounded against headland and mountains, and orchards and mosque are framed by arches. Durrell's "angle of vision" empowers a process of scanning, selecting, focusing, identifying, and integrating objects into the Gestalt or visual field of the landscape. From this set-up, comparisons and contrasts between metonymic symbols such as the abbey and mosque (representing Christian and Islamic cultures) arise, as Durrell reads identity and difference through landscape.
Using changing light and powerful contrasts to highlight the geometry of form, Durrell's perception becomes analytic as in Greek thought or Cubist painting:
The shadows came out to meet me, and with them the chill of the earth as it turned on its axis towards the darkness; the island was sinking into blueness as if into some great inkwell. But when I looked back the Mosque still blazed in sunlight, vertical and emphatic, echoing those ancient discoveries in space which still haunt our architecture--the cube, the sphere, the square, the cylinder. (241)
This spatially and culturally retrospective view displays "the manifestly metonymical orientation of cubism, where the object is transformed into a set of synecdoches" (Jakobson 92). Functioning as a magnetic node dominating space, a symbol of form abstracted from particular cultural phenomena, the mosque becomes a metonym of the mind itself that structures forms.
In Durrell's handling, remote angles of vision control perspective, preempt distraction, and create space for reflection:
from the eyrie I had established in the lemon groves high above the Abbey I could watch [the mule-teams] from an eagle's angle of vision as they slipped and staggered up the stony incline. From the cyclamen-bewitched patch of shadow where I spent my day now they looked like ants hastening back to the nest, each with a grain of wheat in its jaws. (92)
Metonymic directional signals ("from the eyrie," "high above," "from an eagle's angle of vision") marshal the act of looking. The viewpoint from the writer's retreat sets up a two-way (centrifugal and centripetal) interaction of eye and mind, as Durrell looks out over the landscape, then returns to the eagle's nest of reverie.  Although he watches travellers in the distance, he is not a traveller but one who has "stake[d] his claim"  to a permanent place in the landscape, a position that symbolizes spatially configured thought-processes. While his eye actively scans the landscape, an aura of contemplation "bewitche[s]" the "patch of shadow" from which he looks out. Adopting a variety of spatial and cultural angles in Bitter Lemons as in his earlier island books, Durrell joins subject and object and experiments with the relativism that would become a structural principle in The Alexandria Quartet.
Indeed, Durrell's use of metonymy relates to his metaphysics of space and time. A single object or idea, in his heraldic universe, implies "the whole body of thought" (Key 2): to grasp the thing-in-itself is the first step towards fitting it into a mosaic of intelligible forms. "The act of thinking about something," Durrell writes, "creates a field around the object observed, and in order to think about that object you must neglect the whole from which the object has been separated." In such thought, synecdoche is the appropriate trope: first the object must be seen in itself, whether it be a grain of sand or a sunlit landscape; then, through an unconscious process of selection, condensation, and transformation, it is assimilated to the mindscape. That innerspace of impressions and memories constitutes a continuous present, circular rather than linear in form. Time merges with space in a "luminous halo of consciousness" that is the writer's matrix and medium.  Durrell advocates "complete surrender to the associative flux and reflux about the observed object" (45). Citing Einstein and Eliot, he "suggest[s] that [modern poetry] unconsciously reproduces something like the space-time continuum in the way that it uses words and phrases: and the way in which its forms are cyclic rather than extended" (26). He links relativity with a new subjectivity in literature: everything is related, "nothing [is] simply one thing" (Woolf 286).
As space and time merge in modernism and modern physics, subject and object come closer together. Durrell notes that relativity theory has had "a disruptive effect upon linguistic structure": language "is [now] trying to render [...] the impact of all time crowded into one moment of time" (36). He points to a "Semantic Disturbance" in literature, which can no longer attempt a unified picture of the world. It is Durrell's Einsteinian metaphysics that inclines him to metonymic representation of objects in space and time. For Durrell, the principle of indeterminacy in physics means that "there are no more 'facts' but simply 'point-events' strung out in reality" (39). The irregular placing of these "point-events" parallels the modern writer's serial focusing on objects and images. In imagism and travel-writing particularly, ways of seeing and constructing the world resist the totalizing intellect once attributed to literature and the author.
Durrell connects his methods not only to modern physics, but also to psychoanalysis. He quotes Freud's statement that "[the] dream always turns temporal relations into spatial ones" (Key 55). As various scholars have suggested, Freud's condensation and displacement in dream psychology correspond to Jakobson's syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes in language. In Durrell's object catalogues and spatial panoramas, serial connection prevails over a paradigmatic structuring that would organize items in relation to an overall idea. In Durrell's method, the physical density of objects and their spatial relations become more important than "vertical" relations of object and idea. A taste of black olives can be the catalyst for a complex of associated images, without short-circuiting the system of concrete relations. By presenting objects to the reader's sensory imagination, metonymy stresses perception and "Is-ness" (29) rather than meaning. And because the nature of perception and unconscious selection leads one to vi ew objects from relativized angles within the same field, subjectivity enters the picture. In Durrell's method, the writer's psyche, like J. Alfred Prufrock's, is obliquely projected into objects, "as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen." But by contrast with the paradigmatic structure of Eliot's "Prufrock," where objects become metaphors or symbols in a symptomatology of self, objects in Durrell's island writing relate to each other in syntagmatic chains: serial focus and gaps highlight objects that function as "point-events," or microcosmic nodes into which space and time are condensed. Durrell's technique also works in a temporal dimension through its layering of memories or historical artifacts. As a rhetorical device, metonymic arrangement such as Durrell's displays in concrete form a writer's cultural values and sensibilities.
Looking is an existential engagement of subject with object: by a selective focus that comes with experience, each viewer constructs his own picture and in the process constructs himself. "Greece" is not a concept to be learned through history, myth, or geography: it is a certain intensity of light and expansion of space that maximizes perception and being. Intuitively Platonist (as well as Einsteinian), Durrell experiences the ethos of Greece as an energy or "eternal delight" felt in a multiplicity of forms. His "Greece" is at once a relativistic response in space and time and a transcendent experience of "Spirit of Place." Only a metonymic poiesis could express such a polymorphic reality.
Jack Stewart is professor of English at the University of British Columbia and author of The Vital Art of D. H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression (Southern Illinois UP, 1999). Specializing in the interrelations of literature and painting, he has contributed articles to Style, Novel, Mosaic, Canadian Literature, Philological Quarterly, D. H. Lawrence Review, Twentieth Century Literature, Studies in the Humanities, and other journals.
(*.) An earlier version of this essay was presented at the Ninth International Lawrence Durrell Conference, Alexandria, Egypt, June 24, 1996.
(1.) See photograph in The Greek islands 27.
(2.) "You will see the piled coiffures of Gastouri [...] You will see the staid blue and white of the northern womenfolk [...,] you will see the verminous Abbots of Fano [...,] and you will see the woollen-vested sailors of the opposite coast" (PC 31; my italics).
(3.) Schama writes: "Before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock" (6-7).
(4.) George Steiner writes of the Alexandria Quartet:
The style is a mosaic. Each word is set in its precise and luminous place. Touch by touch, Durrell builds his array of sensuous, rare expressions into patterns of imagery and idea [...] "The clicking of violet trams" is as complete a sensuous rendition as might be achieved by a pointilliste painter, breaking light into minute, precise flecks and reassembling the elements of vision into memorable design. (122)
Steiner's analysis shows a close relation between Durrell's metonymic constructions of space in the island books and in the Quartet.
(5.) Jakobson points to "the manifestly metonymical orientation of cubism, where the object is transformed into a set of synecdoches" (92).
(6.) In "Landscape and Character," Durrell maintains that "the important determinant of any culture is after all--the spirit of place. [...H]uman beings are expressions of their landscape" (156-57). Cryptically he remarks: "You can extract the essence of a place once you know how. If you just get still as a needle you'll be there" (162). His "diviner's art" involves observation, concentration, and "a sort of science of intuitions" (160).
(7.) Roland Barthes observes:
Writing is after all, in its way, a satori[...] And it is also an emptiness of language which constitutes writing; it is from this emptiness that derive the features with which Zen, in the exemption from all meaning, writes gardens, gestures, houses, flower arrangements, faces, violence. (4)
(8.) In Friedman's words:
The technique is one of planned formlessness, a deploying of the many pieces comprising the Rhodian mosaic, rather than a straight-forward guide to the island or a continuous narrative of events [...] Durrell's Greece functions as complexly in his island books as it does in much of his poetry, and as Alexandria does in the Quartet: as a pervasive motif and atmosphere, as a metaphorical control, and as a concrete manifestation of his often shadowy figures. (62, 69)
(9.) As Durrell puts it in "Landscape and Character," "The great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not too much factual information" (162).
(10.) Epigraph to "The Origin of the Work of Art." Heidegger emphasizes the "thingly element" in the work of art, Plato the ideal behind the forms.
(11.) This "metonymic set-up" has marks of the "prospect-refuge" symbol in landscape, as theorized by Appleton (70-74).
(12.) In "Landscape and Character," Durrell states:
I am not really a "travel-writer" so much as a "residence-writer." My books are always about living in places [...] Everyone finds his own "correspondences" in this way--landscapes where you suddenly feel bounding with ideas [...] It is here that the travel-writer stakes his claim, for writers each seem to have a personal landscape of the heart which beckons them. (156, 160)
(13.) Virginia Woolf, whose "Modern Fiction" Durrell quotes (Key 45-46), also treats memory as a spatial palimpsest. A character in To the Lighthouse "search[es] among the infinite series of impressions which time had laid down, leaf upon leaf, fold upon fold softly, incessantly upon his brain; among scents, sounds; voices, harsh, hollow, sweet; and lights passing, and brooms tapping; and the wash and hush of the sea" (260-61). Impressions, temporally assimilated by the mind, are spatially arrayed around the searchlight of memory. Durrell seems to have derived significant clues from Woolf's metonymic structuring of the stream-of consciousness.
Appleton, Jay. The Experience of Landscape. London: Wiley, 1975.
Barthes, Roland. Empire of Signs. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hall, 1982.
Durrell, Lawrence. Better Lemons. London: Faber, 1959.
___. The Greek Islands. A Studio Book. New York: Viking, 1978.
___. Key to Modern Poetry. London: Nevill, 1952.
___. "Landscape and Character." Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel. Ed. Alan G. Thomas. New York: Dutton, 1969. 156-63.
___. Prospero's Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corcyra. 1945. London: Faber, 1962.
___. Reflections on a Marine Venus: A Companion to the Landscape of Rhodes. London: Faber, 1960.
Friedman, Alan Warren. "Place and Durrell's Island Books." Critical Essays on Lawrence Durrell. Ed. Friedman. Boston: Hall, 1987. 59-70.
Heidegger, Martin. "The Origin of the Work of Art." Basic Writings. Ed. David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper, 1977. 143-87.
Jakobson, Roman, and Morris Halle. Fundamentals of Language. 2nd rev. ed. The Hague: Mouton, 1971.
Lillios, Anna. "'The Blue of Greece': Durrell's Images of an Adopted Land." Studies in the Literary Imagination 24 (1991): 71-82.
Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1996.
Steiner, George. "Lawrence Durrell I: The Baroque Novel." Critical Essays on Lawrence Durrell. Ed. Alan Warren Friedman. Boston: Hall, 1987. 122-27.
Tuan, Yi-Fu. Passing Strange and Wonderful: Aesthetics, Nature, and Culture. Washington, DC: Island, 1993.
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. 1927. London: Hogarth, 1967.
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|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2000|
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