Impressionistic Aesthetics in Growing

I’m going to hop on the fictionality bandwagon here too. I found the autobiography to be strangely surreal and impressionistic in the way everything is portrayed such that, like Russell, Peiyi and Yuying, I found the believability of this self-claimed autobiography quite questionable. However, to me what really highlighted the artifice of this autobiography is not just the references to the fictional characters or the theatrical elements mentioned in the text that my classmates have already brought up. Instead, I believe that this questioning of the text’s reliability can also be examined via its aesthetics.

The impressionistic way in which the landscapes are drawn up in Growing – the descriptions elephant pass and the “thick jungle thin[ning] into scrub jungle and then into stretches of sand broken by patches of scrub” and the “gaunt disheveled palmyra palms […] sticking up like immense crows” – sounds a lot, to me, like rather vague and brush-stroke-blending way of glossing over the landscape. While the writing of an autobiography banks a lot on memory and remembrance, I couldn’t help but notice how the writing is really veiled by a layer of rose-tinted of nostalgia, and that the descriptions are reflecting psychological landscapes and the overall impression of the place rather than placing emphasis on any type of accurate representation. And this is why I want to suggest that his writing is actually very impressionistic; because the attention he pays to detail in the landscape isn’t really a matter of trying to convey accurate and realistic portrayals of landscape-mapping but rather, his descriptions perform an attempt in trying to achieve an overall effect of what it looks like the perceiver’s mind’s eye. And it is the impressionistic element of his writing that, to me, undercuts a lot of the reliability of what he is saying in the text. I’m not suggesting that he is deliberately lying or changing facts but I think the impressionistic aesthetic really highlights just how re-constructed his stories and recounts are and we really ought not to take everything he says to the last word, because there is a sense that these stories are told as he remembers them in the overall memory he has of Ceylon, more so than what exactly transpired in that land.

2 thoughts on “Impressionistic Aesthetics in Growing

  1. Omg I just finished my post and saw yours… “impressionistic” is exactly what I was thinking when I read this:

    “the ocean laps against the verandah. The evening air is warm and still and gentile. An enormous sky meets an enormous sea. The stars blaze in the sky and blaze in the sea. Every now and then- it seems almost at one’s feet- a long, snake-like, black head rises out of the stars in the sea, remains for a moment motionless above the water looking at stars in the sky, and then silently slides back into the sea.”

    I don’t know why he says that “nature seemed to tremble on the verge… of vulgarity”, but I thought that maybe it might have something to do with the fact that his “impressions” are so idealised (and almost cliched) that Natures becomes too obvious, and therefore too vulgar?

  2. very good, ritchell. your reading makes me think of some of walter benjamin’s essays on memory.