Durrell -- The Work of Love and Art, pt.1



[Sargent -- Street in Venice]


Oh this tyranny of page-turning tonight! I brought home a haul of new texts (by Thomas Bernhard, Kafka, Yukio Mishima, de l'Isle-Adam, etc), but I've found myself wrapped up in Kierkegaard, in Hume, I even dipped through Rousseau.

I'm re-reading the Philosophical Fragments, with attention to the footnotes and with attention to my recent reading of the Symposium. They seem endless, these connections. Kierkegaard says of the paradox of erotic love:

A person lives undisturbed in himself, and then awakens the paradox of self-love as love for another, for one missing.

And Durrell uses this too -- this Aristophanic notion of the missing self -- the absent self as the self that is loved. In Durrell, the work of art and the work of love, they seem to dovetail. Justine is the ultimate love because she requires the most creation. She is an element and an enigma, she is the ideal woman for these men, for she is vampire, nymph, goddess, priestess. She is every sort of woman that man has ever dreamed up. And she negates them all -- for, as Arnauti and Darley both realize (Pursewarden from the beginning), she is protean and she does not love as the artist imagines love. Darley says in Justine:

There is no pain compared to that of loving a woman who makes her body accessible to one and yet who is incapable of delivering her true self -- because she does not know where to find it.

Of course this is also the early Darley, the artist who believes that it is the work of the artist to rework reality, to make reality 'show its significant side.' Later, he sees further, sees more, and the picture of troubled love we see at first is drastically different. What is the love between Nessim and Justine? In Mountolive it seems to be some sort of Fasutian compact -- a transaction, but one that forms stronger bonds than any notion of missing selves or lofty ideals.

She realized that she was not being asked merely to share his bed -- but his whole life, the monomania upon which it was built. Normally, it is only the artist who can offer this strange and selfless contract -- but it is one which no woman worth the name can ever refuse. He was asking, not for her hand in marriage [...] but for her partnership in allegiance to his ruling daimon.

And thus begins the destruction of the image of Justine which had existed in the first two volumes. No more is she the creation of the artist -- for in the revelation of this compact she becomes herself -- Darley writes of the "absolute feminine submissiveness" -- the woman who exists only for those who believe in her -- and finally someone has believed in her, not just in some artistic re-working of false facts. But at this point Justine becomes a caricature, and eventually a wild, hysteric sort of woman. She uses her beauty always, uses it, exploits it, and triumphs for herself and for Nessim, her chosen partner. In this breakdown of the character of Justine -- the character created by successive artist-lovers, it seems that we're given a picture of a Justine that is closer to reality -- and ultimately uninteresting to the work of the artist.

I know there is much more to be said there -- but what's interesting to me is the union in the final volume, one which is hinted at early on in this story -- of Clea and Darley. Of course there is the supreme artist of these stories -- Pursewarden, but what do we make of his great loves? Of his blind sea-witch sister-lover -- this Egyptian, hidden love? But it is the union of Clea and Darley, artist and artist which seems preferred -- preferred in the text at least. And it is strange and of course attractive.

But I will stop here for now -- these texts that I'm working with are so rich, so heady even. And it's too easy to work through the darkness, placing word after word, sentence after sentence, watching as they pile up and begin to resolve, even just a little. And then the ideas in one's own mind begin to clarify and crystallize.