“We Are Text”: Reading, Dwelling and Narrative Identity in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Divisadero

Thomas Stephan Christianson


Outlining two ways of thinking about the relationship between speaking and writing—one which holds speech as anterior and superior to writing, which it sees as a secondary system of representation, and the other which views speech as being a form of writing itself operating within the play of difference and deferral that is language as such; the essay suggests that the two novels in question propose a third position that contains elements of both the previous two. This position is captured in key instances in both The English Patient and Divisadero of the written word being read out loud in a communal setting.

     In view of Lucien and Marie-Neige’s and Hana and the English patient’s practice of reading out loud to each other, Divisaderoand The English Patientsuggest that reading—whether it be studious, curious, or otherwise escapist in nature—is a vital act of incorporation, a political act of consumption wherein words become flesh and the stories in books come into confrontation with the texts of our selves in an explosion of intertextuality.


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