Details and Prefiguring Order

In his essay “The White Bird”, Berger writes of art as a basis for order. A manner of seeing that attempts to map inherent possibilities and capture the instantaneous in nature into permanence in our uncertain world. Order and its permutations are fascinating. Then it is sheer bliss when writers gather words and string them into harmonious cadences to figure a woven world so near, transformed into comforting refuge for readers.

Over the weekend, I retraced paths back into A.S. Byatt’s “The Virgin in the Garden” and what struck me this time were the subtle orderings of objects. Objects were described in near-perfect symmetry, their niches in the elaborately crafted space of home, theater and English countryside as well-placed as the novel’s characters. How can a butcher shop be a miniature universe of geometry and rhythm, texture and surface interlace in neat coherence? A. S. Byatt shows us –

“From a glittering steel bar on elegantly curved hooks hung the chickens, with plump naked breasts and limbs, and softly feathered stretched necks. The ducks, in line, had their webbed cold feet tucked neatly along their sides, gold beaks, black eyes, neck feathers scarlet on white. Beneath them the display counter was lined with emerald green artificial grass. On this miniature meadow capered various folklorisque figures and mythical creatures” (Byatt 2003: 119)

“On the next layer, white marble below the brilliant green, were enamelled dishes of more recondite goods, alternating in colour and texture. A block of waxy suet, a platter of white, involuted, honeycombed and feathery tripe. Vitals: kidneys both stiff and limp, some wrapped in their caul of fat, the slippery bluish surface of meat shining through slits in the blanket, the cords dangling; iridescent liver; a monumental ox heart, tubes standing out above it, a huge gash in one side, darkening yellow fat drying on the shoulders. Half a pig’s head, boiled, pale and faintly blood-stained, a metal tag clamped to one ear, bleached white bristles round the snout, stiff, salty white eyelashes, a levelled plane at the base.” (Ibid,120)

There is more on this novel’s page and the succeeding chapters. How soothing to be ensconced in a strange world made familiar with skilfully crafted words. The intermingling patterns, texture and color of this butcher shop’s window were enough to draw me into the neat confines of the novel’s wondrous pages of detail!

Cited Works:

Berger, John. 1985. “The White Bird” in The Sense of Sight.Spencer, L., ed. NY: Penguin.
Byatt, A. S. 2003. The Virgin in the Garden. London: Vintage.


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