Now Tao has been defined as a philosophy which remains always in sharp contradistinction to the Confucian (more generally the ‘Socratic’) dialect of the ethic; but it is more than that. (The word ‘Philosophy’ still carries with it the taint of method given it by the Greeks, from which it has been impossible to free it.) It is an attempt to localize an experience, which itself is too comprehensive to be included in the mere confines of language. Throughout the book one can feel the language probing, like a pair of giant callipers, attempting to circumscribe a realm, for the expression of which we have nothing between the madman’s idiom and the A minor Quartet. The searchlight of the ratiocinative principle is too weak to light up this territory: words themselves are used as a kind of sculpture, to symbolize what cannot be directly expressed: the heraldry of language is called into play to accentuate, to attest to, to pierce through the rind of the merely cognative impulse and delineate once and for all the mystery, the resting place of the Tao.

‘The true Tao is not the subject of discussion.’ In your opening statement you are faced with an attitude which, more exactly expressed as the text proceeds, ends in a complete and final denial of principle; a denial, in fact, of polarity, of schism. The affirmation here is that of a total personality, speaking from its totality. In the symbol of the Simple Way, expressed once and for all, you will find no trace of that abruption of the personality from its cosmos which has hallucinated European thought ever since pre-Socratic times. There is, to write nicely, no human entity; it is merged in the All. Here there is no trace of the rupture between the individual and his scenery. Fused, there remains only the gigantic landscape of the spirit, in which our Aryan problem (‘To be, or not to be’) is swallowed up, exhausted, sucked dry by the eternal factor – the Tao. The house admits its resident: the tenant is absorbed, like a piece of tissue, into the very walls of his spiritual house. The world of the definition is exploded. All this is so exhaustively written out in the book that it seems a little difficult at first to locate those areas in which the conflicting ideas enter. But with this profound clue (the denial, the absolution of principle) it would seem possible to retrace one’s steps; and against this rule, measure the various phases of the text.

Lawrence Durrell, Tao and its Glozes.

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The word Taoism… has always had a dramatic appeal for me, though apart from the great poem associated with it, its Bible, so to speak, I know but little of the Taoists and their beliefs.  But ever since I fell upon that beautiful and concise work, the Tao Te Ching, which contains an enigmatic description of the great motor of the universe and its workings, I felt somehow that that is what I myself believed in – or would believe in for choice if one day I found that belief were absoluetly necessary to me.  But here I should hesitate for a moment – for what do I mean by ‘belief’?  the word is not to be airily tossed away in this cavalier fashion, without some attempt to come to intellectual grips with it.  In my own case I find that with every kind of belief one must exercise a certain caution – for it hardens into dogma if it becomes absolute rather than provisional.  The word Tao, on the other hand, suggests to me different stances (all truth being relative) – a state of total disponibilité, total availability, a total and comprehensive whole-hearted awareness of that instant where certainty breaks the surface like a hooked fish.  Only at this point is the spirit fully tuned in to the great metaphor of the world as TAO.  Reality is then prime, independent of the hampering conceptual apparatus of conscious thought.  it is a flashpoint where the mind joins itself to the nature of all created things.  That poetry is Tao.  When did I first begin to harbour such ideas?  It is long ago now – it must have been during my twenty-third year, perhaps in the island of Corfu… I felt then that in this book I had stumbled upon a Chinese Heraclitus, and that despite the apparent enigmas with which the poem deals, the whole thing made immediate sense to me – somewhat transcendental sense, to be sure, but absolute sense.

Lawrence Durrell, A Smile in the Mind’s Eye.


He broke down twice at Maidstone, once at Leeds and once in London.  Then one day ‘French Marie’ said a tearful and final good-bye and went out like a light.  It was during a private séance given for some close friends, and the medium threw himself on his knees, clasping his hands together and called out to her in great anguish not to leave him.  She was the first woman to whom he had ever made a declaration of love, and it remained unanswered.  He was bitterly humiliated; and found that not only had the spirit vanished, but also the faculty for inducing the seizure which preceded the trance.  His gift, it seemed, had gone.

Lawrecne Durrell, The Dark Labyrinth.


And to-day death comes to the house.
To-day upon the waters, the sunset sail,
Death enters and the swallow’s eye
Under the roof is no larger and darker
Than this scent of death.

A disciple crossed over by water.
The acorn was planted.
In the Ionian villa among the marble
The fountain plays the sea’s piano,
And by the clock the geometric philosopher
Walks in white linen while death
Squats in the swallow’s eye.

The dogs are muzzled. Lord,
See to the outer gate, our protection.
I rest between the born and the unborn.
The father, the mother, the baby unicorn
Intercede for me, attended the christening.
Exempt me.
I have friends in the underworld.

Lawrence Durrell, Egyptian Poem.


“…As well as writing her poetry and impressing her with exiled royalty, Gasworth took Nancy to the Café Royal where he held forth loudly, and introduced her to Aleister Crowley, the legendary apostle of sex-magic and demonology.  Now fifty-seven, Crowley’s reputation as ‘the wickedest man on earth’ had just received a boost from Nina Hamnett’s book Laughing Torso, in which she called him a ‘black magician’.  Two years later Crowley was to sue her for libel, with the result that his notoriety was fixed in stone and he was bankrupted.  When Nancy met Crowley, his reputation for evil and his dark personal magnetism were enough to frighten her out of her wits, which presumably was the intention…”

Joanna Hodgkin, Amateurs in Eden: The Story of a Bohemian Marriage: Nancy and Lawrence Durrell.


All this is an evasion of the true disease, the disease which I try to drown in books, in bright pictures.  All day long I pace the museums, inspecting the relics of our history, all carefully laid out and labelled in scholarly hands on postcards.  At night I meditate on the quantities of pure gold which we house so carelessly in glass cases, unaware that this same putrid stuff is decaying in our arteries.  Is it possible to keep the vitality of the centuries in a bottle, with a postcard on it to hint at an identity long since lost!  My own history, my present, is confused by the death which I see gathered around me, here a jawbone, there a femur, here a wedding ring, there a pickaxe.  I cannot live because the decomposing bodies of my ancestors dog me at every turn.  They are not living in their myth, but dead, influencing my dying, not my life.  That is why action is so erratic, so full of extremes, because the hypaethral universes which should live in us today are dead, and behind glass.  Instead of nourishing us they are the umpires of our defeat, our decline and fall.

The circuit is complete.  We have put our myths in the cellar and must start building again with new implements, a new tongue.

Lawrence Durrell, The Black Book.


Everything is plausible here, because nothing is real.  Forgive me.  The barriers of the explored world, the divisions, the corridors, the memories – they sweep down on us in a catharsis of misery, riving us.  I am like a child left alone in these corridors, these avenues of sleeping doors among the statuary, with no friends but an audience of yawning boots.  I am being honest with you for once, I, Death Gregory, the monkey on the stick.  If I were to prick out my history for you, as Lobo his plans on the mature parchment, would you be able to comprehend for an instant the significance of the act?  I doubt it.  In the field of history we all share the irrelevance of painted things.  I have only this portion of time in which to suffer.

The realms of history, then! The fact magical, the fancy wonderful, the fact treasonable.  All filtered, through the wretched instruments of the self.  The seventy million I’s whose focus embraces these phenomena and records them on the plate of the mind.  The singularity of the world would be inspiriting if one did not feel there was a catch in it.  When I was nine the haggard female guardian in whose care I had been left exclaimed: “Horses sweat, Herbert.  Gentlemen perspire.  Don’t say that nasty word any more.”  I shall never forget the phrase; it will remain with me until I die – along with that other useless and ineradicable lumber – the proverbs, practices, and precepts of a dead life in a dead land.  it is, after all, the one permanent thing, the one unchanging milestone on the climb.  it is I who change; constant, like a landmark of the locality, the lumber remains.  Like a lake seen from different altitudes during a journey, its position never varying: only its aspect altering in relation to my own place on the landscape.  I think that what we are to be is decided for us in the first few years of life; what we gain afterwards in the way of reason, adjustment etc., is superficial: a veneer, which only aggravates our disorders.  Perish the wise, the seekers after reason.  I am that I am.  The treasonable self remains.  I am not more astonished now by the knowledge that gentlemen can, if they want, have wings, than I was by that pithy social formula; or, for example, that red blood runs in fishes.  I shall never be more amazed.

Lawrence Durrell, The Black Book.