‘A Momentous Nothing’: The Phenomenology of Life, Ekphrasis and Temporality in John Banville’s The Sea
Art opens us to knowledge of an entirely different nature: it is a knowledge without object. Life is its ontological milieu, a life which embraces itself entirely without ever separating from itself and without being placed in front of itself like an object […]. One must stand within life in order to gain access to it; one must begin from life.
— MICHEL HENRY, Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky
Like so many of John Banville’s protagonists, Max Morden in The Sea has problems making sense of his life and indeed of life itself. Like a number of his fictional predecessors he is tormented by the indifference of the physical world: ‘I marvelled, not for the first time, at the cruel complacency of ordinary things. But no, not cruel, not complacent, only indifferent, as how could they be otherwise’?1 As in the whole novel, the ubiquitous affective mood is here that of suffering: Morden’s wife has just received her cancer diagnosis, and this is an important detail. It is made clear that suffering is felt not to be part of exterior reality, which is something that frustrates the narrator. As for instance Freddie Montgomery in Banville’s trilogy of novels on art2 and Victor Maskell in The Untouchable, Morden tries to make sense of the human condition and like many of Banville’s characters, especially in and after the art trilogy, he tells his story by frequently using pictorial art as ← 183 | 184 → scaffolding for his seemingly futile...
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