Sammas ja labürint: Jüri Ehlvesti tekstuaalsest ruumist. Column and Labyrinth: On Jüri Ehlvest’s Textual Space

Virve Sarapik


The purpose of this article is to analyze the connections of spatial relations and settings with narrative, and the presentation of these relations in Jüri Ehlvest’s texts. Distinctions are made between textual space (as designation, description, or rhetorical presentation) and fictional space (the space in which narrative action takes place and the site of the denouement of events). Fictional space can be expressed as textual space in one of the four following ways: (a) perceived space (b) experienced space (c) logical space (d) alogical space. The multilayeredness of Ehlvest’s texts, their fragmentariness and dislocated reality, entail a complicated reception. In contrast, however, the geographical space represented in the texts is generally quite clear and accessible, with the effect of seeming real and humanly possible. Indeed, specific spatial elements are one of the sources of the verisimilitude and plausibility of Ehlvest’s texts. For the most part, the place where ehlvestian narrative plays itself out is a clear topographical environment, usually an interior; the textual representation of spaces is minimalist, avoiding descriptions, and with practically no impression of movement. In addition to representation of places, rooms, houses, and open space using ordinary, direct, (yet very minimalist) means, several more indirect strategies of creating space can be found in Ehlvest’s texts. This article calls attention to some characteristic devices from this indirect repertoire, grouping them as follows: things; window and picture; repetition, fragment, and mirror; body and emptiness. Of the four types of textual space mentioned above, the one most characteristic of Ehlvest’s stories is experienced space, which could also be described as haptic space of experience. However, due to the fragmentariness and bricolage typical of Ehlvest, there are certainly also plenty of examples of the other types, particularly perceived and alogical space. Many transformations can be noted when comparing Ehlvest’s earlier and later texts. First, many earlier images disappear (tree, mill, bridge). Second, the first-person protagonist’s bodily experience becomes more important (eating, illness, pain). Third, the borders between consciousness and the world become nebulous, yet the boundary between the protagonist and his environment does not disappear completely. Neither does the text become a meandering between consciousness and the world. Indeed, narrative emphasis shifts to this very boundary, and to the possibility of its erasure. As such, however, the plausibility of the space where action takes place is maintained, much as in Ehlvest’s earlier stories.

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