“Black Space Is Time:” Intermediality, Narrative, and Community in Michael Ondaatje


  • Serena Fusco




This essay proposes to explore some aspects and implications of intermediality in three novels by Michael Ondaatje: In the Skin of a Lion (1987), The English Patient (1992), and Divisadero (2007); more specifically, my focus is on the exchange involving literature and the two visual codes of painting and photography. I especially underline two possible configurations of a reiterated light/darkness interplay which traverses Ondaatje’s oeuvre. On the one hand, light and darkness mirror each other as extreme poles which blend, in concrete, in infinite shades of grey, mirroring a photographic process; on the other hand, darkness surrounds, in a Caravaggesque fashion, pools of light illuminating fleeting moments in time; the latter configuration is also, to an extent, ante litteram photographic. What should be crucially emphasized in reading Ondaatje is the complex temporal quality of the dark spaces inevitably surrounding the moments of light. In a meta-literary and meta-narrative fashion, intermedial gestures appear to be necessary to the very possibility of narration, to its onward movement in space and time; at the same time, these gestures always entail a level of “fecund invisibility”. In Ondaatje’s literary narrative, the possibility, for various beings (human as well as nonhuman), events, and medial codes to exist next to each other, without one forcefully assimilating the other, is predicated on a Benjaminian kind of historical materialism in which darkness is the indispensable space/time wherein the actions of the present resonate and acquire (historical) meaning.


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