- Art & Ontology
Jack Stewart investigates how the uses of color and space contribute to the creative achievements of two writers of interest to the ELT audience, Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence, as well as Joyce Cary, Lawrence Durrell, and A. S. Byatt. He does so with an engaging, wide-ranging, and ultimately ontological predisposition throughout. In Woolf, Stewart explores the means by which her "creative vision" works as "active engagement with human experience." According to Woolf herself: "'painting and writing … have much in common. The novelist after all wants to make us see.' … 'All great writers are great colourists.…'" Is Woolf's a rather self-evident observation? Perhaps so, but Stewart, like Woolf, takes admirable advantage of what might otherwise be overlooked: that Woolf's as well as Cary's, Lawrence's, Durrell's and Byatt's work exemplifies fiction that thinks with the senses, powerfully so. [End Page 125]
Stewart's attention to color leads to insights into characters and their depths in each of the works he investigates. Of Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse, Stewart observes that "the 'essence' of 'that woman in grey' … is seen as a paradoxical fusion of presence and absence, fullness and emptiness, color and void," while Mr. Ramsay is associated with "various reds" that "form a masculine complex consisting of [his] red-hot pokers, red geraniums, and reddish brown hedge." It is no surprise, perhaps, but revealing nonetheless that, as Stewart observes, "feminine/intuitive wavelengths are more subtly varied than the dense glow of male egotism." Whether such is the case only in the world of Woolf and not universally is a question that Stewart sagely does not ask.
However, Stewart does inquire into the meanings of spatial planes in Woolf's work, and by doing so he arrives at similarly gendered insights into character. Of the novel's opening panorama and its "'great plateful of blue water'" with the prominent lighthouse in its midst, he notes that "space is gendered. The logocentricity of the 'hoary,' 'austere' tower on the rock links it with Mr. Ramsay's intellect and gender. He finally reaches the lighthouse, but only because he gives in to Mrs. Ramsay's spirit, internalizing her will rather than expelling it beyond the margins." Observations such as these on spaces and their meanings in relation to characters and to the novel in its entirety are exemplary of Stewart's helpful insights throughout.
In respect of his three Lawrence chapters, many readers may be well prepared by his extensive earlier work on Lawrence's painterly imagination in The Vital Art of D. H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression, in which Stewart investigates Lawrence's "verbal imagination" in connection with the "'vitalized space' of Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin." In Color, Space, and Creativity, Stewart continues his detailed exploration of Lawrence by studying him as a traveler who "looks outward but also inward, responding to the environment and reorienting himself to cultural realities." Stewart notes that for Lawrence "the stimulus of unfamiliar landscapes activates his deepest desires, dreams, and values," and "place takes on ontological dimensions.… Sea is a writerly as well as a painterly text" (italics his). Stewart points to instances in which for Lawrence "the eye sees; the mind selects and interprets"; he adduces moments when Lawrence sees "'almond trees in full blossom … their pure, silvery pink gleaming so nobly, like a transfiguration,'" and remarks that "almond trees are transformed by a vitalist vision. Metonymic impressions of objects in space are not enough. He sees the life in things and grasps the noumenal at the heart of the phenomenal [End Page 126] in an intensely figurative expressionist style. The metaphoric process connects subjective and objective, seeing and seen, fusing the wide-open eyes of the traveler with those of the radiant blossoms."
Stewart suggests that in the otherness of exotic landscapes Lawrence discovers—and continues to rediscover—himself. Not only in Lawrence is "imagery … the key to creative thinking and poetic discourse," it—and the "creative process" of which it is a part—"joins being...