Space and spatial form traditionally bear directly upon the visual arts, and only metaphorically, by virtue of the tradition of the sister arts (Ut pictura poesis), upon literature. The language of literary criticism is rich in spatially metaphorical terms such as “background,” “foreground,” “local color,” “form,” “structure,” “imagery,” and “representation.” The opposition of literal and metaphorical spatiality in literature could be accounted for as a residual effect of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing ’s classic and influential attack in the eighteenth century on the Ut pictura poesis tradition.
Lessing maintained an absolute distinction between the verbal and visual arts based on a belief that an essential difference between poetry and painting is the divergent perceptions of their signs: The proper domain of language is temporal, since its signs are sequential, unfolding one by one in linear fashion along a time line, whereas the proper domain of painting, whose signs are simultaneous images juxtaposed in space, is spatial.
The modern mind, nurtured in Einsteinian physics, would have no trouble collapsing the mutual exclusivity of Lessing’s categorization by way of the notion of space-time, in which the description of an object consists not merely of length, width, and height but also of duration. The fourth dimension is the inclusion of change and motion; space is defined in relation to a moving...
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