The Avignon Quintet

roylichtenstein02I just started reading Constance from The Avignon Quintet. It is the third of five volumes of what author Lawrence Durrell referred to as a “quincunx.” Not sure exactly what he meant, but the five books are related to each other, and share the same characters, though in some cases they are fictional characters who are later revealed to be real. Also, the third book, Constance, follows the second book, Livia, chronologically. Constance and Livia are sisters, and another character, Hilary, is their brother. The first chapter has four friends, Aubrey Blanford, Sam, who is with Constance, Felix Chatto, and Hilary, spending the summer in Avignon, as WWII is beginning. The character of Livia may be modeled in part on Unity Mitford, one of the well-known Mitford sisters and a prominent supporter of fascism and friend of Adolf Hitler. I think this first chapter is from Sam’s point-of-view, though the subsequent chapter is from the point-of-view of a Nazi officer, and then the third chapter is from Aubrey Blanford’s point-of-view.

Anyway, I have only read as far as the middle of the third chapter, but I am already hooked. I love Durrell’s prose style, and though it was not as critically acclaimed as The Alexandria Quartet–which I have read, all four volumes in sequence, I might add–it looks to be a continuation of the methods and techniques developed in Alexandria, and I am looking forward to devouring it in the days to come.

Furthermore, the subject matter is one that of late has snared my interest, and coincidentally, one that I was engaged in fierce debate upon, as well as other topics that continue to hold my complete and undying attention. So, the subjects are the Knights Templar and Gnosticism, and the subject of fierce debate is to what degree Hitler and the Nazis co-opted Wagner, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, and also were Wagner, Nietzsche, and Heidegger Nazis, or at the least Anti-Semitic?

First of all, though Wagner was definitely an Anti-Semite, as evidenced by his essays and other writings, he lived before Hitler’s time, so it is unclear whether he would have supported Hitler. Though it is true that Wagner celebrated Germanic or Teutonic myths that played right into Hitler’s idea of Germans as the Master Race, and Hitler sought to align himself with Wagner and Wagner’s family, I stop short of calling Wagner a Nazi, at least insofar as it comes to enjoying his music. He was a very important and innovative composer. I have yet to sit through the entire Ring Cycle, Live, but Wagner has many dedicated fans who follow performances of the Ring around the globe–like Dead Heads used to follow The Grateful Dead–Ring Heads, they call themselves. I in no way condone Wagner’s anti-semitism, but he set the direction for modern music with his rich chromaticism, and Wagner’s music seems unavoidable, to a serious connoisseur of music.

As for Nietzsche, I think he gets a bad rap because his sister married a Fascist and posthumously edited his writing and inserted Anti-semitic material. Nietzsche was also a composer, and he greatly admired Wagner, but he broke with him and repudiated him over Wagner’s anti-semitism. Now, with Nietzsche, a lot of the terms he coined were co-opted by the Nazis, but I think that first of all, Nietzsche did not always express his ideas clearly, and it would be easy to take them the wrong way. Now, at the risk of unintentionally falling for the Intentional Fallacy, I submit that such terms as the Ubermensch, or the Superman, were perhaps meant to be somewhat ironic, and not intended as an endorsement of Hitler’s concept of the Master Race. Call me a motley fool, but that’s how I feel about Nietzsche. Here is an article by David Wroe in Berlin that tends to support that view:

Nietzsche’s Sister was a Cysted Twister

Now we come to Heidegger, who was a brilliant Philosopher, but he was also not only someone who cooperated and supported Hitler and the Nazis, but shared Hitler’s hatred of Jews and Hitler’s intense anti-semitism. So, in this case, there is no getting around it–Heidegger was for sure a Nazi. No doubt, especially if one were to read his Black Notebooks. But the question remains: was this enough to taint his Philosophy if it was focused on things like the nature of Being, far removed from questions of Race and Politics?

Here is an interesting article about that:

Is Heidegger Contaminated by Nazism?

I do not in any way support Nazis!

If I seem to be giving credence to Composers or Philosophers, who were tainted, or connected to Nazis, it is in spite of, not because of their Fascist ideas.

I also very much like books that delve into this subject, like what do you do if you are living in such a time where the Fascists are taking over? How does an Artist respond? It is a question we should be asking ourselves today. There was an interesting film called Mephisto that is about this period in time, and what an actor, who was famous for portraying Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust. It was based on a book by Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann (The fox has his den, but the son of Mann, it seems, has nowhere to rest his weary head).

Another book that dives into this subject, for Artists, but also for a Nazi officer, is Constance, by Lawrence Durrell. It is very interesting that it tells the story from the Nazi point-of-view, and describes the meeting where Adolf, and then Goebbels, gives the Nazi officers their marching orders. He gives them two pamphlets, one a testament from Peter the Great, and the other, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The latter is a well known hoax that described horrific crimes perpetrated by Jews in their quest for world domination.

I hesitate to even bring these topics up, so controversial do they remain, even after almost four score years–but nevertheless, I am reading Constance, by Lawrence Durrell, who was already one of my favorite authors. He is becoming even more so as I read Constance. The fact that I am reading them out of sequence doesn’t seem to ruin my enjoyment of this enchanting Quintet. Nor does the controversial content. I welcome such fodder.

The Avignon Quintet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Avignon Quintet
Author Lawrence Durrell
Country Great Britain
Language English
Series The Avignon Quintet
Genre Novel
Publisher Faber & Faber (UK) & Viking (US)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 1376 p. (Faber edition)
ISBN 0-571-22555-1 (paperback edition)
OCLC 173163835

Preceded by The Revolt of Aphrodite

Followed by Caesar’s Vast Ghost

The Avignon Quintet is a five-volume series of novels by British writer Lawrence Durrell, published between 1974 and 1985. The novels are metafictional. He uses developments in experimental fiction that followed his The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960). The action of the novels is set before and during World War II, largely in France, Egypt, and Switzerland.

The novels feature multiple and contradictory narrators, often with each purporting to have written the others as characters in a novel. The thematic materials range from a form of Gnosticism blended with Catharism, obsession with mortality, Fascism, Nazism, and World War II to Holy Grail romances, metafiction, Quantum Mechanics, and sexual identity.

The five novels are:

Monsieur (1974)
Livia (1978)
Constance (1982)
Sebastian (1983)
Quinx (1985)

Durrell often referred to the work as a “quincunx.” He described them as “roped together like climbers on a rockface, but all independent… a series of books through which the same characters move for all the world as if to illustrate the notion of reincarnation.”

The books were not published together as The Avignon Quintet until 1992, two years after Durrell’s death in 1990. They were described as a quincunx in the first edition of Quinx. The notion of the quincunx challenges any linear approach to the novels, which is reflected in their stylistic features. The character of Livia may be modeled in part on Unity Mitford, one of the well-known Mitford sisters and a prominent supporter of fascism and friend of Adolf Hitler.


4 comments on “The Avignon Quintet

  1. As usual, you’ve misstated the point of the argument, which I will repeat:
    Nietzsche and Heidegger being co-opted was not especially important, because if N & H had never existed, they would have co-opted somebody else, to similar effect.

    Otherwise, a very fine post.


  2. The book I am reading, Constance, by Lawrence Durrell, has a lot of debate on this issue, and talks a lot about how the beliefs of Hitler inspired the Nazis, and how for instance The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-semetic tract, was used for propaganda. The title character is a Logical Positivist, and Affad, an Egyptian, is a Gnostic. They make love and Constance is swayed. Freud, Einstein, Marx, loom large on the intellectual discourse of the day. Hitler very much believes and is trying to find artifacts of the Knights Templar, but wants to found his own order of Black Knights, completely subverting the Templar’s intentions. I don’t think the people who are facing the Nazi threat would agree with you. Even the Logical Positivists are expressing doubt.

  3. Well, anyway. I finished Constance and gave it 5 stars, but one thing I must clarify, that I thought that Sam was narrating, or one of the other characters, but it is all really 3rd person. I am sure that in a way it is Lawrence Durrell, and he projects himself into the other characters, especially if they are writers. So, 3rd person but he kind of looks into the heads and through the eyes of some more thaqn others.

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