Going Home: Figures of Enchantment and The Triple Mirror of the Self

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2005
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay; Excerpt
Length: 8,193 words

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[(essay date 1993) In the following excerpt, Kanaganayakam examines Figures of Enchantment and The Triple Mirror of the Self in terms of Ghose's feelings of diaspora, noting that Ghose's writing at this point addresses the lack of a homeland and that his writing style reflects an attempt to recreate a "home" environment, with all its contradictory elements.]

Zulfikar Ghose's ongoing preoccupation with the thematics of exile and native-alien experience, the ambiguities that underline the relation between text and reality, and the problematic status of language as a vehicle for consciousness becomes increasingly evident in his next novel, Figures of Enchantment. A moment that comes to mind is the first meeting between Popayan, the magician and at times the novelist-surrogate in the novel, and Federico, the ill-fated exile, condemned to pursue an always compulsive and inevitably futile quest for a satisfying vision of permanence. As Federico stands outside Popayan's shop and wonders if the latter's magic would reverse the circumstances that torment him, Popayan, from inside, appraises the boy:

Popayan had seen the boy earlier, standing outside and looking at the articles in the shop window a few minutes after the cafe proprietor from across the street had come to change a note. The boy had a haunted look, the kind he had seen on people who had the compulsion to flee, an anxiety to be leaving some place, without knowing what they were running from, and, in the majority of cases, not even knowing that they were engaged in flight. He himself had known the demon that could suddenly possess the soul and draw it to some landscape as if it were a bird migrating from a dusty scrubland, where it had twittered and warbled, that can discover the full range of its singing voice only when it finds itself, after a journey forced by blind instinct, in a cool, dark forest that is as unlike its native habitat as is the terrain of the moon from that of the earth.(61-2)1

The passage, with its deliberate pronominal ambiguities, passive structures, repetitions, multiple clauses that resist closure, and essentially metaphoric mode of writing, leads the reader away from the immediate referential context to one that foregrounds language and artifice. The identification between the two anticipates Popayan's subsequent gesture of giving Federico an amulet (significantly, shaped like a book) and a gown (again, with stars and crescents on it) that would pass on to Federico the power of the artist and the torment of quest. The passive construction of 'compulsion to flee,' combined with 'haunted' and 'demon,' point to levels of consciousness that are dimly perceived, to the disturbing presence of the Other, which can neither be fully comprehended nor totally abandoned. The juxtaposition of 'twittered and warbled' with 'dusty scrubland' suggests paradoxes that involve a sense of place, identity, and exile. Finally, the possibility of discovering the 'full range' of one's singing voice only in a fictive construct that hardly resembles the one left behind raises questions that relate...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100063033