The Literary Flâneur Looks at Ravicka

If you find Ravicka on the map, throw the map away. The map is not the territory, no matter what the cynics might tell you. It will keep you from ever finding Ravicka. You will never believe in the city unless you become a part of it.

In the beginning of Renee Gladman’s Event Factory, the narrator arrives in Ravicka, a small city-state possibly located in Eastern Europe. The narrator, a “linguist-traveler,” tells us that “[f]rom the sky there was no sign of Ravicka. Yet, I arrived.”

As a reader of Event Factory, I had the opposite problem: I saw all the signs of Ravicka, but I couldn’t seem to arrive. Before departure I’d read a few reports from other readers, so I knew I was in Ravicka from the yellow sky, from the vitality of the architecture, from the citizens fleeing in advance of an unnamed crisis. But characters didn’t make sense, spaces turned out to be mirages, time stood still/reversed/repeated. Though I was there in Ravicka, I couldn’t get into it; the book held me at arm’s length. Nothing seemed to mean anything.

In her foreword to Jessica Fisher’s book of poetry, Frail-Craft, Louise Glück distinguishes Fisher’s poetry from the poetry of the Modernists, pointing out that for the Modernists the meaning of the work was of paramount importance. In contrast, Fisher and her contemporaries, she argues, write about the moments before meaning coalesces from chaos. It is not that meaning is less important to them—it just hasn’t arrived yet.

When I applied this idea of deferred arrival to Ravicka, I found it was easier to understand. Rather than trying to get somewhere, I just hung around like a literary flâneur and observed the city.

If you want to know what happened, click here to read my Music & Literature review of Renee Gladman’s Ravicka novels, Event Factory, The Ravickians, and Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge. 

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