Unreal Nature

May 12, 2017

Against Its Own Desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… achieved, not in a working out, but a working loose of these tight equivalences.

This is from the chapter on ‘Dubliners’ in James Joyce (2nd Edition) by Steven Connor (1996, 2012):

… On the one hand, then, the epiphany is a showing forth, a spontaneous revelation of the essence of an ordinary object: Stephen describes it in Stephen Hero unambiguously as the moment when ‘Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vesture of its appearance,’ On the other hand, and to to the precise degree that the epiphany must be a revelation for some perceiving consciousness in particular, it is not essential or self-sufficient, but brought into being in, and probably also by, the act of interpretative seeing itself.

[ … ]

… The fastidious, introverted scholar and writer, James Duffy [in ‘A Painful Cause’], who prides himself on his austere aloofness from the pettiness of bourgeois urban life, becomes entangled in an embarrassing affair with Emily Sinico, a married woman. He breaks off the affair, and hears nothing from Emily Sinico until reading of her death after she has been hit by a railway engine while apparently inebriated. At first, Mr Duffy is revolted by the vulgarity of her end, but becomes more and more aware of his culpability:

When he gained the crest of the Magazine Hill he halted and looked along the river towards Dublin, the lights of which burned redly and hospitably in the cold night. He looked down the slope and at the base, in the shadow of the wall of the Park, he saw some human figures lying. Those venal and furtive loves filled him with despair. He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life’s feast. One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness: he had sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame. He knew that the prostrate creatures down by the wall were watching him and wished him gone. No one wanted him; he was outcast from life’s feast.

… However, there is a detail of the narration which seems to prise open a chink of incongruity. ‘He gnawed the rectitude of his own life; he felt he had been outcast from life’s feast,’ we read. The slightly self-conscious elaboration of this metaphor is forgotten as Duffy starts to articulate to himself the nature of his guilt.

[line break added] But this sequence ends with a repetition of the phrase, which suddenly must be read as embodying a kind of relish: ‘No one wanted him; he was outcast from life’s feast.’ Mr Duffy, it seems, is rather pleased with this phrase. In the light of this awareness, which Mr Duffy does not share with us, the rest of his internal monologue starts to seem more like a performance than an unfolding self-confrontation.

[ … ]

… The famous passage which concludes ‘The Dead’ by evoking the falling of the snow all over Ireland is diffusive and excessive, where so much of the writing of the book had worked to concentrate and limit.

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gates, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

The words and cadence call attention to themselves, in their alliterations and repetitions, but they also point beyond themselves. [ … ] The passage describes and enacts relinquishment rather than mastery, and Gabriel becomes himself at the moment at which he loses himself. Similarly, the book becomes itself in the moment of losing its bearings.

[line break added] The consummation of the work, which everything leads us to expect to see coinciding with the advent of fulfilled self-knowledge in the interpreting self, is achieved, not in a working out, but a working loose of these tight equivalences. The interest of Dubliners lies, not in its evolution from the incoherence of snapshots or impressions into the wholeness of a completed work, but in the manner in which it continues to work against its own desire for definition and self-completion.

I’ve read that ending of The Dead so many times (and you probably have, too) … yet it never fails to be just as alive as the first time.

My previous post from Connor’s book is here.

-Julie

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