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from the cover of Winged Shoes of Emydio Alves

The phrase negative space in the title of Chapter 9 is intriguing. Negative space is used on the cover of Straka’s book Winged Shoes of Emydio Alves. If you focus on the negative space between the birds drawn in white, you will see the shapes of other birds.

So why is negative space so important to Chapter 9 – to Ship of Theseus. Where might focusing on negative space lead us?

We typically think of negative space as visual. But what might literary negative space look like?

In Chapter 9, Sola returns the valise that S left in The Territory (p392). S recalls seeing Sola in The Territory and deduces that Sola retrieved the valise from the trunk of a dying possumwood tree where he left it (p353). That part of the story – Sola actually retrieving the valise – is told via negative space. It’s never actually stated. We just “put it together” with everything else we know. That’s how we see negative space – we see everything around it until we see what shape is left by the gaps.

Perhaps this is a clue that we are to fill in the gaps and that we have enough story to do so definitively. And we can’t solve the puzzle until we reconstruct the full story. It’s like the frigatebird insignia of the pirate Juan Blas Covarrubias (p410). What we read is the field of red. Once we have read everything well, when we step back we will see the unwritten story told in negative space. That is where the treasure waits.
It’s like a logic grid puzzle. You are given enough information to solve the puzzle, but you have to read the story carefully. Then, after making the right connections and using the process of elimination, you can come to the right conclusion by deduction. Sola did this herself when searching for S after he was banished to the Winter City.
“How did you find me?” he asks.
“It was the only place left,” she says. (p382)
Sola found S in the Winter City by process of elimination.
There are margin notes on p382 next to the circled phrase a bird of negative space. Eric responds to an earlier note of Jen’s and notice something new. He says, “Wait. He said ‘you all?'” Jen answers in a different ink than her earlier comment, “Just double-checked. He did.” Eric is rereading Jen’s old orange-inked notes, and just realizing something important. He is deducing.
Consider this example. On p403 we read about a woman who was murdered by being drowned in wine. Jen Hayward comments that a newspaper in Marseilles actually reported this on 3/19/1948. It happened, she writes. The negative space from this revelation is obvious: Either VMS did not die in Havana at midnight on June 6, 1946, or FXC wrote this section under Straka’s name. We know it is one or the other. And some other clue will reveal which of these two is true.
What are we to deduce from this fact? It means either that VMS did not die at midnight June 6, 1946 – or it means that FXC wrote the section of the manuscript and mislead us. One of those two things must be true.
This is actually encouraging news. The story of Ship of Theseus and the story told by Eric and Jen in the marginalia seems at first glance to be tragically incomplete. We seem to be left with so many unanswered questions. But we are not – all the answers we seek are there in front of us. We just have to shift our focus onto the negative space.