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Don't Talk to Me About Matisse

Summary and analysis of Don't Talk to Me About Matisse, from Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
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Tannya Cai

on 11 December 2012

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Transcript of Don't Talk to Me About Matisse

Don't talk to me
about Matisse From Michael Ondaatje's
Running in the Family Tongue &
Sweet Like A Crow Tongue -
Motifs, Symbols, Imagery Tongue - Themes Themes St. Thomas' Church Styles, Themes, & Motifs
Monsoon Notebook St. Thomas' Church Summary Summary Themes Motifs, Imagery, & Symbols Tabula Asiae - Describes false maps of Ceylon on his brother's wall (in Toronto)
- Suggests maps are more artistic works than factual representations
- Turns more personal near the end as Ondaatje describes the origin of his name
- Demonstrates changes in Ceylon
- Portrays sense of romanticism of Ceylon - "old portraits of Ceylon"

- Motif: rumours - Mythical, mysterious Ceylon - "translations", "result of sightings, glances from trading vessels, the theories of sextant", "growing from mythic shapes into eventual accuracy", "rumours of topography"

- Western views of Ceylon, exotic imagery - "rumours", "dark mad mind of travellers' tales", and "blue-combed ocean...", "drawings of cassowary and boar...", "a white queen offerring a necklace to natives who carry tusks and a conch"

- Weak or feminine -"wife of many marriages", "courted" - Romanticism of the past & mysteriousness
of Ceylon - exotic imagery

- Colonialism/Imperialism - "claimed everything with their sword or bible or language", "The island seduced all of Europe...and so its name changed, as well as its shape", "wife of many marriages"

- Search for personal identity - ancestor's name - Travels to church to discover more about his family history
- He finds Ondaatje's name engraved on floor
- Introduced new characters - Reverend Jurgen Ondaatje, Ondaatje brothers (William, Matthew, Philip) - "She was fifteen! That can't be right. Must be." - shows difference in culture, which can create bias (preconceived notions based on what we are "used to")

- Symbol of engraved name: shows family legacy, "To kneel on the floors of a church built in 1650 and see your name chiseled...in some strange way removes vanity, eliminates the personal." - shows importance of discovering self identity to Ondaatje

- Difficulty in seeing objective truth in history - "old paper going down the drain", past washes away with time - Water imagery - monsoon season, showing power of rain & its unpredictability (like structure here): "wet sand", "curl of a wave", "rainstorms that flood...", passed me like snow", "fully wet once more and again dry in five miles"

- Sensory imagery - exotic: "eighteen ways of describing the smell of a durian", I would wake and just smell things for the whole day, it was so rich I had to select senses"

- disjointed, like stream of consciousness, bits & pieces from his own notebook (like this memoir) - Romanticism of past - "It makes your own story a lyric"
- Search for personal identity



- Western views of the exoticism of Ceylon - monsoon & water imagery, wet vs dry, unpredictability, noisy, sensory imagery Motif: Thalagoya tongue - represents culture & tradition
- Lalla forced Uncle Noel to eat one - she adopts these traditions

- Once again demonstrates exoticism of Ceylon

Motif: Myths/Rumours - "There is a myth that if a child is given thalagoya tongue to eat he will become brilliantly articulate..."
- shows how little West knows of Ceylon - Western views of Ceylon & "exotic" places (which could be potentially falsely based)
- eating tongue makes you sick - could lead to Western belief of Asia being savage, needing to be tamed

- Search for personal identity: "as children we knew exactly what thalagoyas and kabaragoyas were good for...", "It is my first memory" St. Thomas' Church
& Monsoon Notebook (i) Monsoon Notebook Summary - Description of monsoon season, shows how rain rules all during that time Style, Motifs, & Imagery French artist known for his use of colour, most known for sculptures and paintings; was leading figure in Modern Art

Mentioned in poem by Lakdasa Wikkramasinha later St. Thomas' Church Monsoon Notebook Sweet Like Crow - Themes Post-colonialism and contrast between Western and Eastern views:

- "The Sinhalese are beyond a doubt one of the least musical people in the world." Sweet Like Crow -
Imagery, Symbols, Style Symbol - Crow:
- represents Ceylon music and culture (ugly, can't sing, unpleasant)

- many similes used to show auditory imagery of ugliness of sound - "your voice sounds like a scorpion being pushed through a glass tube"
- "someone walked through my room in ankle bracelets" - sweet, charming sound (referring back to oxymoron of title)

- again, disjointed, no set rhyme scheme, much like this memoir Summary of Tongue: - walking along beach with group of children and sees kabargoya
- explanations and descriptions of karagoyas and thalagoyas
- describes culture and traditions
- Uncle Noel was forced to eat it - became ill Summary of Sweet Like A Crow: - poem describing unpleasant auditory images describing Ceylonese music, culture The Sinhalese are beyond a doubt one of the least musical people in the world. It would be quite impossible to have less sense of pitch, line or rhythm.
~ Paul Bowles

Your voice sounds like a scorpion being pushed
through a glass tube
like someone has just trod on a peacock
like wind howling in a coconut
like a rusty bible, like someone pulling barbed wire
across a stone courtyard, like a pig drowning,
a vattacka being fried
a bone shaking hands
a frog singing at Carnegie Hall.
Like a crow swimming in milk,
like a nose being hit by a mango

...

like 8 sharks being carried on the back of a bicycle
like 3 old ladies locked in the lavatory
like the sound I heard when having an afternoon sleep
and someone walked through my room in ankle bracelets. Sweet Like a Crow oxymoron - juxtaposes sweetness to ugly black crow (which is generally not known to be melodious symbol for Sri Lanka's music, culture, maybe even island as a whole unattractive, unusual, coarse, but that's the source of the beauty of Ceylon -Western critics fail to see this beauty - Post-colonial views If one remains open-minded, Sri Lanka can show its beauty

Forget original preconceptions (Western society views) of music, beauty, artistry, & what is normal Despite odd sounds, there's something sweet & graceful sounding after all Entire poem of unusual similes that produce both auditory and visual images to evoke unpleasant sound (makes you think twice)

Could mean human voice cannot be described fully - no regular rhythm scheme
- disjointed (like rest of memoir)

- may be challenging Western art forms (that are now dominating) by avoiding traditional poetic structures
- reaffirm value of non-Western art forms Use of numbers (instead of their word form) breaks up structure

Causes us to really picture the image depicted Don't talk to me
about Matisse (Cont.) From Michael Ondaatje's
Running in the Family Women Like You &
The Cinnamon Peeler Women Like You -
Motifs, Symbols, Imagery The Cinnamon Peeler - Themes Themes High Flowers Styles, Themes, & Motifs
To Colombo High Flowers Summary Themes Motifs, Imagery, & Symbols The Karapothas -Ondaatje comments on the Sinhalese alphabet and its beauty.
-There are many foreigners in Ceylon and the heat shames them.
-Different Sri Lankan plants and their uses are discussed.
-Ondaatje talks about how citizens’ voices and writings were silenced during the insurgency in the 1970’s.
-Lakdasa Wikkramasinhna's poem at the end of the chapter is about European's and the Western civilization, and also how the violence with the insurgency was dealt with properly. -Motif: foreigners and the heat, it is unnatural for them to be in Ceylon because they can’t handle the heat: “heat disgraces foreigners”, “he went into a rage”-Nature: “ants crawl onto the desk”, “tamarind, wild indigo, deers’ horns, elephant tusks…”-Ceylon as a paradise: “From Seyllan to Paradise is forty miles”, “ and if this was paradise, it had its darker side”.-Allusions to Othello: “Desdemona could understand truly the Moor’s military exploits”, “Othello’s talent was a decorated sleeve she was charmed by”. -Botany (herbs) as a symbol of knowledge: “cinnamon”, “knew at least fifty-five species of poisons”, “a man at Jaffna committed suicide by eating the neagala root”. -Writing is a method of telling stories of past events: “When the university opened, the students found hundreds of poems written on the walls…”, “students went around for days transcribing them into their notebooks...”.

-Cultural Identity: “[the Englishmen] came originally and overpowered the land obsessive for something as delicate as the smell for cinnamon” a poem describing daily Sri Lankan life. Explanation of different activities such as rice shuffling and chopping coconuts. Also talks about the making of toddy drink. - Knives: there is lots of knife imagery and they are used as a symbol. The knife is passed down through generations, shows a legacy: "the curved knife at his hip." -Knives are another symbol in this poem: "the women, the coconuts, the knives."

-The irregular structure of the poem is challenging the Western culture and typical poem structure.

-Natural light imagery depicts Ceylon's natural beauty: "on a bench behind sunlight, the women the coconuts the knife." East vs. West and post colonialism: "the shape of the knife and pot do not vary from 18th century museum prints."



The Romanticism the Past and the Pastoral: in both poems, Ondaatje outlines daily life in rural villages. The audience is distanced from the colonialists and brought closer to the villagers. Personal Identity: this poem reinforces the connection between the past and the present. 'Running in the Family' is the title of the book and the inspiration of the novel could be the idea that the individual is very connected to the culture they come from. -The war between men and women: this poem demonstrates the power and dominance that men have over women. The Cinnamon Peeler wants to leave his mark on his wife so that she can be identified as his: "You will be known among strangers as the cinnamon peeler's wife." High Flowers
& To Colombo To Colombo a poem outlining a journey and the characteristics of Colombo Style, Motifs, & Imagery High Flowers To Colombo Women Like You - Themes Men vs. Women: although men are more dominant in the culture, the men in this poem are so overtaken with the beauty of the women in the stone carving that they write poems to them.

-"Women like you make men pour out their hearts." The Cinnamon Peeler -
Imagery, Symbols, Style Cinnamon as a symbol: cinnamon has a strong scent, and this sensory imagery is demonstrated in the play: "I am the cinnamon peeler's wife. Smell me."

Personal Identity: without understanding of the past, present, and others around you, you have no personal identity. Summary of Women Like You: -a poem describing the strength and charming effect that women have over men in the culture.
-women are carved into a stone, the men wrote poems into the women in the carvings. Summary of The Cinnamon Peeler: - a poem describing the characteristics of a cinnamon peeler and his identifiers
- the cinnamon peeler wants to leave his mark (scent) on his wife. Summary -Snakes are very common in Sri Lanka, but his father’s spirit has reappeared as a cobra that never left his stepmother’s family.
- The rebels against the government in the insurgency collected weapons from his stepmother’s house, and usually they ransacked everything else in the house. Because of Ondaatje’s fathers donations to a local playground that many of the rebels had taken advantage of, they were kind to the family. Themes Motifs, Imagery, & Symbols Kegalle (ii) The insurgents in the last chapter are searching for a personal identity. They are trying to have a say in their own government, and hence trying to create an identity for themselves.

The snake in the chapter is a symbol of Ondaatje's father, family tradition and beliefs. -The goal of the insurgency was to create a independence and a cultural identity. The insurgents were violently oppressed.

-Ondaatje's retelling of the insurgency is somewhat selective. This could be because he loves his family, culture, and country, and he is ashamed of what happened in the past.
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