The Motif of the Collector and History in Ondaatje's Work

Jon Saklofske, Department of English, University of Manitoba, Canada

Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

This abstract from the CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture appears with the kind permission of Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek. Copyright remains of course with the author and CLCWeb

Jon Saklofske recognizes that Ondaatje rescues Buddy Bolden from historical obscurity by elevating and complicating the musician's largely forgotten history with a self-conscious and largely fictional synthesis of memory and imagination. The liberties Ondaatje takes in Coming Through Slaughter with his subject to achieve this re-presentation and the ownership of the portrait that results exposes this type of authorial activity as a problematic appropriation. Saklofske suggests that to understand the implications of Ondaatje's activity it is useful to compare his efforts with Walter Benjamin's "collector" figure, who is both a selfish, destructive thief, and a careful preserver. As a collector, Ondaatje becomes the owner and an essential part of this transformed and personalised image of Bolden. Further, Saklofske argues that Ondaatje preserves Bolden's presence, actively confronts historical exclusivity, and interrupts his own authority over his subject. Although his interaction with actual historical figures decreases with successive novels, Ondaatje's personal encounter with the impersonal machine of history continues, asserting itself repeatedly as a successful strategy against destructiveness or authoritative exclusion.

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Postcolonial Web India OV Canada Michael Ondaatje

Last modified: 12 August 2004