Question 3

1

In the rooms, with the statues, and a few pieces of detritus, there's a lot of symbolism, right? Did anything symbolic stand out for you?

Comments

  • 1

    No, to me this book was a layer of textures. These textures stood out to me more than any specific bit of symbolism. I'm not deprecating the specificity, and I picked up on a lot of it, but even more prominent to me was the gauzy sense of reality and of symbolism.

  • 0

    Yes, I picked up the CS Lewis allusions very fast, starting IIRC with Mr Tumnus but becoming a major theme through the book with various character names pointing at Narnia. Which made me wonder a lot, since there does not seem to be any obvious thematic link between what Lewis was doing with Narnia and Piranesi. I haven't done any reading around to find out what people have speculated about this, but sometime I must do that.

  • 0

    Something to add here which I meant to write earlier but forgot... were the statues intended to be archetypes (in the Jungian or any other sense)? I don't think so, but I often wondered. Alternatively, the closing pages suggest that the statues were actually of things or people that Piranesi had seen in the "real" world prior to going to the House - eg an old man becomes a king. But again, there are some statues that don't fit this interpretation either... I can't remember too many minotaurs wandering the streets of London, for example. So I played with multiple origin stories for the statues and found none of the really convincing...

  • 1

    The concept never entered my pointy little head, Richard!

  • 2

    A few things came to mind regarding the symbolism.

    One is the Jungian archetypes as @RichardAbbott pointed out. Piranesi spends a lot of time contemplating what the statues represent and chooses different statues to witness his different actions.

    Another is the Freudian id-ego-superego layering. The lower halls, full of swirling hidden currents are the id. The middle halls, where Piranesi spends most of his time, are the ego. The upper halls, full of air and birds (air for reason, birds/owls for Athena) are the superego.

    Finally, I read an indirect interview of Clarke. She suffered from severe Chronic Fatigue after writing Norrell & Strange. She said her reaction to that was initially great frustration, which she finally came to terms with. Part of that was her thinking not that she was trapped inside, but she had been gifted the time to explore all the world's literature. That process seems to parallel the journey of Sorensen to Piranesi.

    For CS Lewis, there's a quite from him in the preface.

    But in terms of specifics, the House and Piranesi gave the impression of some mid-Victorian setting, making things like plastic bowls incongruous. It didn't fit with Arne-Sayles's view of an ancient realm. Why did Clarke want to give that impression?

  • 2

    Another thing that came to me while answering question 6. The book is about hidden knowledge. The House was accessed? created? to get to the hidden knowledge of the ancients. Sorensen was forced there to explore it, but in doing so his own self-knowledge was lost. Ketterley trying to find hidden knowledge for his own selfish ends. The statues have deliberate form: they were created to represent something, but we don't know what. The pattern of the tides is hidden from Ketterley, but Piranesi has learnt to predict them. Similarly, Piranesi has learnt how to survive in the House, unlike all the others trapped there before him. Even when people return from the House, they can't persuade the rest of the world what they've seen and where they've been.

    Everything is there, but hidden.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Yes, I picked up the CS Lewis allusions very fast, starting IIRC with Mr Tumnus but becoming a major theme through the book with various character names pointing at Narnia. Which made me wonder a lot, since there does not seem to be any obvious thematic link between what Lewis was doing with Narnia and Piranesi. I haven't done any reading around to find out what people have speculated about this, but sometime I must do that.

    It's playing with ideas developed in The Magician's Nephew, I think, of the Wood between Worlds, of other worlds and the spaces between them, of what it means to meddle in them and to belong in them. Mr. Tumnus is a figure who represents coziness and hominess amidst the strange (or a strenge thing which is also cozy and homey). He's a fantastic creature, a Faun! but he's also quintessentially English, serves tea in his cozy home from when he has just returned with his parcels from shopping. I'm not sure what better represents the way Piranesi makes his home in the strange world of the house.

    That said, I think the allusion and reference is one of the weakest parts of the book. In as much as the statues represented allusions to other works, they did nothing for me except to make me feel smart (Minotaurs are connected to labyrinths, aren't I clever?), which is a good feeling, but doesn't do much to make the world feel expansive, or interesting. The statues that were less obviously direct references were often more evocative, and pointed in multiple directions, with ambiguities that I think were more interesting than ones I could say, "Oh X=Y."

  • 1

    @Jesseabe said:
    It's playing with ideas developed in The Magician's Nephew, I think, ...

    That's the book referenced at the start of Piranesi. I've not read The Magician's Nephew, so I can't comment on the closeness.

  • 0

    Mr Tumnus belongs primarily in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but also to a much smaller extent in The Horse and His Boy and in The Last Battle.

    A major connection with The Magician's Nephew is the name Dr. Valentine Andrew Ketterley, who is said to be the son of a "Ranulph Andrew Ketterley", and furthermore that "the Ketterleys are an old Dorsetshire family", precisely the same phrase as used by Uncle Andrew when attempting to assert his credentials.

    Personally I don't see any kind of systematic attempt by Susanna Clarke to leverage these links, which is why I was wondering why she put them in in such an overt manner.

  • 1

    This may not be answering the right question, but it reminded me a lot of Gris, a video game I played right at the start of lockdown - it's a platformer representing dealing with grief, and is similarly filled with vast statues and floods of water. It's similarly enchanting without having huge feelings of threat.

  • 1
    Hey, I also played Gris this year. My first theory was that Piranesi was a person in the middle of a psychotic break who had retreated into a mental world of their own making. The statues represented people or events from their past. The Other was their psychologist.

    Piranesi, with his meticulous note taking and cataloging, reminded me of a fellow I often see outside near my office. I first noticed on one stretch or toad that there was a lot of garbage in the trees - newspaper and plastic bags - along this stretch of road. Up in the branches. Later I noticed these things were bundled together and placed in the branches, as if someone were trying to give the birds nests. Now I know it’s this particular fellow who does this. Reading this book often reminded me of him and my presumptions of his mental state.
Sign In or Register to comment.