Becoming the Third Dimension: Cubism in in the Skin of a Lion

Topics: Novel, In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje Pages: 5 (1871 words) Published: May 6, 2001
Becoming the Third Dimension

Images splatter against the viewer's face like a moth on the windshield when gazing at the pigmented speckles dappled along the textured canvas hanging on the wall in the local gallery. Examining the seemingly incomplete picture before them, the viewer may inquire as to the perception of the painted figure from various angles as opposed to the solitary linear image presented by the artist. Mona Lisa's intriguing smile may birth more questions if the art critic could view it from a profile, or the back of her head, or even from the underside of the canvas as a whole. Although a picture may say a thousand words, a panoramic view of the same subject would utter a hundred thousand more. Realizing the human desire to know and understand what they witness in full, artists such as Pablo Picasso began a style known as cubism between 1907 and 1914. Cubism acknowledges the idea that objects (and perhaps ideas?) are three-dimensional and should therefore be expressed as that. The cubist theory drives itself into the minds of artists of numerous mediums including literature. But in bringing a prismatic feel to a two-dimensional topic, the audience is bombarded with more questions than answers given. This reader then is likely to draw a blank at the images forming in his mind as he pieces the angles together. By producing these multiple angles, whether it be in art or literature, the creator fails to emphasize any particular perspective and often leaves one of them open without explanation, that of the reader. Through its development in the literary cubism method, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje defies the reader's initial perception of a single story by trivializing the narrow linear view of the lead character and in turn completing the multidimensional view of the story by invoking the reader's own perspective. In composing this multidimensional story line, Ondaatje eradicates the reader's inclination to base the story off of the linear perspective of one character by delineating the main character's nugatory existence. Obliterating the linear perspective concept, the author allows the cubist conditions of portraying a three-dimensional story contrived from the perspectives of a multitude of characters to unfold. This destruction begins when he states, in reference to Patrick Lewis' homeland, that "He was born into a region which did not appear on a map until 1910, though his family had worked there for twenty years and the land had been homesteaded since 1816" (Ondaatje 10). The Canadian government's failure to recognize the existence of his birthplace manifests into the minute role that Patrick actually plays in the natural order of the world. Born in an unknown region within a comparatively insignificant country, Patrick personalizes this blatant disregard for his homeland as a worldly negligence of his own being. This fact places the leading character as merely a common person of little importance. After leaving this geographically unimportant region and arriving in Toronto, Patrick "spoke out his name and it struggled up in a hollow echo and was lost in the high air of Union Station. No one turned" (Ondaatje 54). The people's ignorance of his call define once again that the reader should refrain from placing specific faith into Patrick's angle of the story's events. His voice simply harmonizes with the narratives of each character and therefore should not receive a greater weight. Along with these other characters, Patrick's tale is necessary to compose the entire train of events that will mold into a complete story within the cubist perspective. Working alongside men on the Prince Edward Viaduct for example, Nicholas Temelcoff "never realizes how often he is watched by others" (Ondaatje 42). Although Nicholas accepts the idea that his life is relatively unimportant in the overall scheme of things, his coworkers monitor his daily actions thereby glorifying his...

Cited: Ondaatje, Michael. In the Skin of a Lion. Vintage Books, New York; 1997.
Simmons, Rochelle. "In the Skin of a Lion as a Cubist Novel." University of Toronto Quarterly Sum 1998: 699-715.
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