Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

A MEMORY TRIP: Partly in Tandem, Partly Quadrilogical

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

A MEMORY TRIP: Partly in Tandem, Partly Quadrilogical

Article excerpt

SCENE: There are four interlocutors (Gordon Collier, Marc Delrez, Anne Fuchs, and Bénédicte Ledent), sitting together after their months - indeed, years now - of highly rewarding slog (sorry: change that to 'editorial work') preparing a suitably massive tome in honour of Geoffrey V. Davis. At times losing sight of the man himself when engaged in tidying up the intricacies of this or that essay on that subject or this author, at other times having his image reflected back at them by the appreciative passing comments of contributors, this quadrumvirate (doesn't Latin have a word that can embrace two women as well as two men?) has decided to pool the resources of memory to see if they can come up with something more substantial than a few 'enigma variations' on this solidly unchanging if protean figure. Memories being subjective and selective, their formulation can hardly jettison the experiencing self altogether - which goes some way to explaining why comparatively subdued modesty alternates with unbridled egocentricity in the following. Let the conversation commence.

GORDON: How do we kick off here? Or, rattier, when? You're clearly the grande dame, Anne; maybe -

ANNE: - Thanks for drawing attention so subtly to my seniority, Gordon, but appearances can deceive, though I will have something to say about the when and where, and temporal precedence, a bit later on. You kick off, perhaps.

GORDON: Well, Geoff has been a stable and originary presence in my life, and in Rodopi's book series Cross /Cultures and Matatu; but where and when did it all begin? Picture a mild, warm, sunny June day in 1985, with a high blue sky for a Sistine ceiling. I am sitting, in the company of my customary solitary self, on the bottom-burnished wooden slats of a bench on the top deck of an excursion vessel chugging through the waters of West Berlin - Havel, Wannsee, Glienicker Lanke - the murmurous drowse of conference sessions thrust aside to make room for the primary reality of disengaged plein-air rubbernecking. I have escaped from the confines of the Eighth Conference on Commonwealth Language and Literature, "North-South Tensions in the Commonwealth," being held, under the auspices of the Freie Universität, at Schloss Glienicke, a palatial heap on generous parkland. A stocky, ruddyfaced, long-haired young man sitting opposite me leans amiably and amicably across, and we engage in conversation; I notice, with pleasure, that he has a touch of Lancashire in his accent. Because he is a stranger to me, but clearly a participant in this conference run by our eccentric, sibylline, already legendenshrouded hostess, Edith Mettke, I am unguarded in my pronouncements. It seems clear to me from what this young man says that this is the first such conference he has attended, which fact encourages me to (figuratively speaking) reach down my superior index finger to touch his, infusing him with the life-breath of ill-digested facts about the history of Our' New Literatures in English organization, to which I have belonged since its inception in 1977. Subsequent to the boat-trip, I must have spent some more time together with Geoffrey V. Davis (I had surreptitiously checked the conference programme; the onomastic resonance ofthat middle initial would emerge only much later), but I also recall something that I never cease to observe with envious irritation: in any larger gathering of people, there was little hope of having Geoff all to myself; he is a nuclear element in his own social quantum system - wherever he goes, he attracts the particles of other people effortlessly, creating an atmosphere of conversational good-will.

What, for me, was magnetic about that first meeting, and what has kept the iron filings of my otherwise vacillating self inclined towards Geoff ever since, was his straight-shooting honesty and openness. Having, as a comparatively early-generation New Zealander, inherited a long legacy of suspicious prejudice about patrician airs, I felt and still feel that I could trust him. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.