…And it all reduced like boiling jam

For my “close reading” post I chose to discuss an excerpt from chapter thirteen of A.S. Byatt’s “Possession”. In my edition of the novel it is on page 253, but unfortunately I believe I have a different version than most of the class, therefore I will simply include the excerpt I will be discussing to save everyone some time:

“Do you ever have the sense that metaphors eat up our world? I mean of course everything connects and connects – all the time – and I suppose one studies – I study – literature because all these connections seem both endlessly exciting and then on some sense dangerously powerful – as though we held a clue to the true nature of things? I mean, all those gloves, giants’ gloves, Blanche Glover, Balzac’s gloves, the sea-anemone’s ovaries – and it all reduced like boiling jam to – human sexuality.” (253)

When Roland says this, it is both metaphorical and ironical in itself. As English majors, we strive to see metaphorical and symbolic meaning in most to all work, and metaphors do, literally “eat up” our world as we pick apart, and pull out these theories in order to discover “what it all really means”. The reader creates the metaphor by seeking and producing meaning within a text, and creates symbols and connections implied by an author, which allows us to create a deeper and more personal meaning. These connections are why we love what we do, it is why we read and take meaning from books like Possession. The irony behind it could be argued that we use metaphors as a vehicle to allow us to make connections, such as, for example, Randolph’s very relationship with Maude Bailey as a metaphorical symbol of the relationship between Cristabel and Randolph. Metaphors play an important role in Possession, and A.S. Byatt effectively gives her readers connections so they feel as though they are on a certain “quest” to find the true meaning in everything, to reduce it “like boiling jam” (253). A.S. Byatt is pointing out what those who study literature strive to find within text; textual evidence which points to deeper meaning.

I would like to take note of the use of the world “reduced”, as in everything in literature simplifies until it comes down into one utmost meaning, in this case, human sexuality. We are always looking for the ultimate meaning behind texts and go in with the assumption that there is one true reason, meaning, or purpose. Everyone is aware that this is not the case and literature can be interpreted from many different angles and is very difficult to “reduce” or “simplify”. From a psychoanalyst perspective, Roland could be arguing that deep meaning, in this case human sexuality, derives from otherwise normal things, such as a sea-anemone. Roland also could be displaying concern within this passage which could be argued that he is concerned that the “go to” underlying meaning for many things literary works is human sexuality. Could there be deeper, alternative meaning? Surely it is possible.

Maude, a psychoanalyst herself, would support the notion that explorations into the deepest parts of the personal psyche through literature can reveal relevant meaning, not only about the literature but about one’s self. What would Roland’s reaction to the “everything reduces to human sexuality” idea mean about his character? Maude also states how interpretations are subjective: “Everything relates to us and so we’re imprisoned in ourselves – we can’t see things. And we paint everything with this metaphor” (254). This could be translated as though what we interpret from literature, whether it trickles down to, for example, human sexuality, it is within the boundaries of our own minds. Arguably, how we reduce the meanings in literature is subjective to an individual’s self.

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