an island narrative

The horizon of what is known extends far out beyond what is seen. But there is still doubt about whether either has any bearing on what is.

Lawrence Durrell writes, We all seek rational reasons for believing in the irrational. This statement comes as a note, an excerpt from the writing of the character Pursewarden, in The Alexandria Quartet, a character of whom one critic has said that he is Durrell’s finest achievement, a writer who is, in fact, a better writer than Durrell himself.

The horizon of what we can potentially know extends far out beyond the horizon of what we can possibly see. But neither potentiality nor possibility is universal. There is still doubt as to whether we will be allowed to see what is granted to others to see and as to whether those who know will pass on or be permitted to pass on to us the benefits of their knowledge. We also doubt our desire to see and know insofar as there is neither universal nor natural right to knowledge and vision and the privileges and benefits that accrue are not ours of right or sight, or out of mind. And we doubt our desire to see and to know because whatever right there is must be that for which we work hard, from the start, to be selected and for which we are, from start to finish, selected to work.

So, three figures: copyrighted knowledge and proprietary vision, and, at once, the assumed neutrality of knowledge workers and the works of vision; their contingent lack of neutrality, however, having been imprisoned in organisational bodies, enslaved by corporate entities and buried in institutional apparati; specialisations of fields of knowledge and arenas for vision, partitioned amongst specialists, experts, technicians and scientists.

The fourth figure would be the scientist as the model of the knowledge worker and seer. Therefore an idealisation: the scientist is free, regardless of the prison, the chain gang or the grave in which he or she works and regardless of the imprisonment, enslavement or the burial from which he or she makes work, seeing and knowing to the horizon of what can be seen or known.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon, in the last part of The Shadow of the Wind, similarly to Lawrence Durrell, invents a writer, in Zafon’s case, a writer-narrator, who is a better writer-narrator than the narrator himself, the voice we we have followed through the body of the book. Daniel, the primary narrator, uncovers, after her death in the novel, a letter written to him by Nuria. Nuria, a secondary narrator, is not only in possession of knowledge necessary to Daniel in relating the events of the story but also sees more, possessing powers of expression and resources of sensitivity to those events, to challenge, in the eyes of the reader Daniel’s right to act as primary narrator.

Nuria performs the role of no clunky narrative or expositional device. She leads us to question Daniel’s role precisely as such, as providing a narrative in which such a clunky device could have appeared. What she imparts to the reader, putatively through the eyes of Daniel reading, appears in excess of what she could possibly know about or potentially have seen of the story’s events.

Hence, I think, the similarity between Durrell’s Pursewarden and Zafon’s Nuria, better writers than their writers. In Durrell’s case, we ask, what if Pursewarden had written the book, a book? In Zafon’s, what if Nuria, from the start, had narrated the story or, from start to finish, was allowed to narrate a different story?

Within the horizons of what is seen and known, then, regardful of the priority of either – what is seen, like a coral atoll bounded by its lagoon and what is known, like the far horizon of the ocean against the sky – who are the characters and how do we arrive at the characters in whom the rights and privileges are vested and to whom the benefits already accrue – precisely because they are invented, living on this island in its lagoon and surrounded by its sea – who are those characters, and how do we invent them, who are not so lazy and stupid as us, who are not victims of prohibitions and exclusions, and whose very excess fits them to see and to know at the limit of what can be seen and known, from the beyond of their absurd existence as virtual, to see and know, better than us, without doubt as to what is but that it is – and bears on – the narrative of the world?