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Pressburger’s Law of White Spaces

May 31, 2007

Giorgio Pressburger’s The Law of White Spaces was the perfect book for me to read at the perfect time. Acquiring the book had been an elusive challenge for some reason. I ordered a copy from one bookseller who emailed me a couple weeks later to tell me that the book had been somehow misplaced from their inventory. They apologized and told me how embarrassed they were, and how this never usually happened. I then promptly ordered a copy from Amazon with a repeat of the same scenario. I finally obtained a copy from a third source, but after reading it just noticed that Amazon now has multiple copies available for sale. That is the world of The Law of White Spaces. Things happen for mysterious and unknown reasons, but they happen for a reason.

The Law of White Spaces works on a number of levels. In the author’s introduction he tells a story of how he became acquainted with the stories of a number of doctors. The stories are structured as the author’s summaries of conversations he had with a history scholar named Professor S. “During our brief conversation seven years ago I was able to establish that for Professor S, medicine, and indeed science in general—notwithstanding the huge advances in the last few decades—represented ‘the darkness born from light.’ I well remember his exact words, as I remember his hasty correction: ‘or rather, the light which feeds on the darkness’” (12). Here like in many parts of this novel the author uses references to numbers for symbolic reasons. I also read this reference to the darkness born of the light as a reference to science and medicine’s empirical approach as a degradation of spiritual truths. The “correction” he made metaphorically implies that Professor S is transforming this situation where “darkness is born from light” into one where the “light feeds on darkness.” It is a metaphor of healing closely linked to the stories of the doctors. Building on a metaphor that where there is darkness (sickness), one discovers hidden light that must be revealed. It is an individual’s path through adversity and darkness that produces more light in the world.

Underscoring this type of reading, the next paragraph continues discussing Professor S’s “compassion” (12), which is a metaphorical reference to the Sfirot Chesed, which corresponds to compassion. Making this more explicit is the follow-up line, “He had a kind word for all of them, but not for himself. ‘They’re deciding on my destiny in the Fourth Palace’” (12), which refers to the Sfirot of Judgment. In other words compassion balances out negative judgment (sickness). An individual’s journey through the world’s darkness reveals light when approached with compassion (also translates to loving/kindness from Hebrew). From this viewpoint the novel is set up as a series of allegories of a soul’s journey.

In addition to this formalized structure, the world the author evokes as he discusses each doctor’s case study is one of bizarre and mysterious beauty. One of the strongest stories in the collection entitled Vera takes place in a truly haunted and hallucinatory city in Hungary. The city is a bombed out and decimated shell inhabited by the desperate survivors ravaged by war. The doctor is sent in to deliver provisions. What greets him was “old cinemas, ruined school halls and bombed theaters” (59) where he gives supplies to “silent crowds of evil-smelling people who tore them from our hands” (59). Each doctor is undergoing some sort of test with unseen rules and consequences. In the process the world Pressburger created is a haunted place with layers of references and meaning compressed into each of the five stories.

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