Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Durrell's the Revolt of Aphrodite: Nietzschean Influences

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Durrell's the Revolt of Aphrodite: Nietzschean Influences

Article excerpt

Although The Revolt of Aphrodite is often considered an aberration in Lawrence Durrell's career, its scholarship insufficient compared to that of The Alexandria Quartet and The Avignon Quintet, the author argues that The Revolt makes significant contributions to Durrell's oeuvre and to modernist debates.

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The Revolt of Aphrodite, completed in 1970, is often seen as an aberration in Lawrence Durrell's writing career, standing between the commercially successful The Alexandria Quartet and his artistically culminating The Avignon Quintet. Critical reaction has generally "failed to grasp" (Fraser 149) The Revolt's ultimate purpose. It has been the subject of less that one-sixth the number of scholarly articles dedicated to The Quartet, and many reviews of the work are derogatory in tone: consider, for instance, Boston's comment, "Durrell says [...] he 'tried to move from the preposterous to the sublime.' To me it seemed firmly settled in the preposterous, with no sign of shifting from there" (Boston 20). Such unease has also prevailed among Durrell's friends and otherwise-favourable critics. In France, where Durrell's works enjoy a degree of canonicity, Marc Rolland notes that in The Revolt "Nous abordons ici une ceuvre de Durrell qui a pu sembler mineure apres la grande-messe de Quatuor. En tout cas, elle a derou te son public en 1970 et n'a pas vraiment retenu l'attention des critiques" (179). While work exists on the structure of the two novels (see Dickson or Rugset), relatively little has been done to show The Revolt's place in Durrell's development from The Quartet to The Quintet, or in twentieth-century literature in general. Most importantly, no study has yet examined The Revolt in the context of Durrell's lifelong interest in Friedrich Nietzsche. Mainly using Durrell's echoes of Nietzsche, this essay locates The Revolt in the context of Durrell's development and the theoretical concepts that inform his works, and I specifically argue for The Revolt's critical value as a literary exploration of postmodern concepts (specifically related to perceptual acts) rooted in Nietzsche.

Unlike the popular The Quartet, the unpopular The Revolt reverses Durrell's famous technique of gradually revealing facts into what, here, becomes an untenable approach to a multiplicitous world that is more familiar to a late-twentieth-century frame of reference than the World War II setting of The Quartet. I agree with Reed Dasenbrock that The Quartet works "comfortably within the modes of modernist fiction" (516), where the complete uncertainty that "represents a revolt against those modes" (516) has not yet appeared. In The Quartet, it is not entirely clear what Durrell's organizing thoughts are with regard to the relationship between the individual and social institutions; nor had he overtly addressed Nietzsche's distinction between a "real" versus an "apparent" world, despite working in a perspectival frame, as John Rose has persuasively argued. While perspective and artistic autonomy are major subjects in The Quartet-foreshadowing their development in The Revolt--Durrell had not yet worked on the prob lem of the institution versus the individual, nor had he abandoned a phenomenological approach to perception akin to the early Husserl. To make this more difficult, by the time of The Quintet, Durrell's explicit focus on the individual in society was subsumed to his broader questioning of the philosophy of history. In order to recover this middle period in Durrell's novels of ideas, it is necessary to examine his overlooked and often disdained works. Although I have limited space (and inclination) to refute scholarly derisions, I contend that a doser reading of The Revolt provides a context where previous readings of only the surface or form of the text are problematic.

While The Quartet primarily develops phenomenological introspection as its central theoretical "idea' along with a sense of uncertainty about some distant but acknowledged "reality prime' The Revolt moves to a framework where phenomenological truths are totally unavailable, and where multiplicity--paired with irresolvable estrangement--becomes the normal relationship between the individual and a reality peppered with mutually contradictory knowledge systems, including that of self-knowledge. …

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