Friday, 15 June 2012

oxford canal, oclw, dr nicoletta demetriou, lawrence durrell, bitter lemons

















Went to another literary event earlier in the week--the Life-Writing Lunch at Wolfson that was led by Dr Nicoletta Demetriou from St Antony's College. A terrific talk followed by a fascinating discussion. I only hope my notes below do the event justice.

(The photos btw were taken along the Oxford canal this morning.)

Oxford Centre for Life-Writing lunch, Wolfson College, Tuesday 12th June 2012 (see www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing)

'The OCLW is delighted to welcome Dr Nicoletta Demetriou (Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford) as speaker at this term's Life-Writing Lunch: Dr Demetriou will be exploring the ways in which biography can sometimes turn into autobiography, taking the lead from her biographical work on Lawrence Durrell (whose centenary is celebrated this year) and his years spent in Cyprus.

...The choice of a biogrpahical subject is, in a sense, an autobiographical one. (Reference to Biography: A Very Short Introduction by Hermione Lee (OUP, 2009): 'No such thing as a purely objective treatment.' (sic))

Ref: experiences shared between writer and subject--examples of when it is hard to escape subjectivity.

But what if the biographical subject is a hate figure--a terrorist, for example? Subjectivity enters work in ways other than sympathy: 'We' as authors would end up, perhaps, bringing our outrage at atrocities to the text.

'We' write from a position--but concession that end product might not be autobiographical, as such. [See question about impersonal academic biography below.]

NOTE: Nice reference to writer being 'invisibly present'--ie in a third person narrative.

Talk based on one writer's experience.

Durrell was in Cyprus in 1950s--53-56. (Speaker's work is partial or microbiography.) Cyprus was then British colony. Durrell taught English to make money. Then held official post at Public Information Office. This was on the eve of the revolt against British rule that was to lead to independence. At first Durrell was welcomed by writers and intellectuals but when he took up his official post he was regarded by many as a traitor. His work, Bitter Lemons, published in 1957, draws on his time in Cyprus. British critics thought at the time that his account of British rule was fair but his erstewhile Greek friends did not.

Nicoletta Demetriou was born in the late 70s immediately before the Turkish invasion and the division of the island. Huge change in Cypriot life resulted. In part ND's book became a quest to explore the 'lost' Cyprus.

Preparing to write it forced her to face certain questions about her identity and the voice she wanted to use in order to narrate the story. Discussions with friends. In the end the 3rd person voice no longer seemed valid because it would divorce her from the forces and tensions that produced her--and her interest in Durrell and his Cypriot world.

Book will include her family's experiences after the island was divided, her memories, interviews with people who knew LD (after Turkish invasion community he lived in was forced to move into southern, Greek half and dispersed), and 'travel' sections about places LD knew (he lived in what is now northern, Turkish Cyprus but worked in the south). First draft of book to be completed at end of summer.

ND made a decision to 'live' the book--to go to places where LD lived--and to contrast her experiences with his. The book that she is now working on has become a blend of personal reminiscences, travel writing, history and biography.

--

Questions

--Reaction of family? Family pleased. Friends: a friend bought 10 copies of Bitter Lemons in Greek and circulated it amongst other friends. Divided reactions about LD. One friend described emerging book as a love story between ND and LD.

--(per Liz): Target audience? Primarily English. May be translated. Turkish audience? Maybe.

--(per me): How was blend of diverse elements (personal, travel, biographical etc) structured? Planned or instinctive? To begin with, confusion. No structure. Decision to let stories guide her. No artificial divisions. Resistance to imposing structure. Allowed structure to suggest itself.

--Self-indulgence? Yes but LD is always there, so reader will learn a lot about him. (His centenary this year. Conference 'starts' 13.06.12. Ref to LD not being as popular now as he was. Suggestion from audience that for this reason and in order to illuminate the complexities of Cyprus, ND was a necessary guide to subjects.)

--Nostalgia for lost Cyprus apparent in the book? Not really because there is a lot about the division during the 80s and interviews with people who knew LD.

--A criticism of Biography: A Very Short Introduction could be that it leaves out academic biography. Does biography always have to be subjective? Is it possible to be objective and impartial? ND asked in turn, Is there any impartial academic work? (Ref during discussion to biography as 'the bastard child of history'.) Questioner wondered if what she thought of as academic biography was now considered an old-fashioned approach--compared to the more self-reflexive contemporary one. Somone suggested that biography always involved the question of where the author was positioned realtive to the subject. ND finished by saying that perhaps she and the questioner could agree on the idea of the 'subjectively objective'.
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2 comments:

  1. Just a small correction, Cyprus, was invaded, or liberated, depending on your point of view, in July 1974.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ah--thanks very much for that correction, Rupert!

    ReplyDelete