Catharsis in Joyce’s “Eveline”

October 4, 2008

A whistle calls. Pulls.
Young and old the same.
Consented away, toward a distant unknown.
Tales of distant countries.
The air whispers terror.
This old country,
Still, pulling.

If there’s one thing to take away from “Eveline,” it’s the scene; the moment frozen in time which Joyce has set up to epitomize his short story anthology. With “Eveline” he ratchets it up a notch.

Change is uncomfortable. Relocating one’s body—truly affecting it—is the ultimate expression of change; change can result in a backfire, of sorts. Paralysis: the inability to move, no matter how strong the desire.

Eveline is set to leave the country with Frank. The tickets are bought, the boat has a schedule which will be kept. In the final moments, flashes of memory come, to tempt and remind her.

For Eveline, marriage is advancement, not just financially, or a move toward independence, but in womanhood.

Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been.

Yet, she worries about how she is perceived: “What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow?” Say she was a fool, perhaps;” and yet, she is conscious of her duties to family, to those who depend upon her:

She knew the air. Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could.

In her last moments, her mother had given out a cry. “Derevaun Seraun! Drevaun Seraun!”

She is stuck between desire and commitment, or two conflicting commitments. She feels compelled to “escape,” but when Frank calls, she “answers nothing.” When it came down to finally taking the plunge, she hesitated; “she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty.” Frozen, Eveline is stricken by the nausea of indecision. Standing there on the dock, all perception is culminated toward that moment in time; the pressure is building up to now.

In these final words, Joyce sets the scene, one of conscious incapacitation:

No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish!

He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes game him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.

The words are their own commentary. For both Eveline and her mother, their respective cries are a catharsis—a release. Yet, Eveline grips the railing.

1. Joyce, James. “Eveline.” Dubliners. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. 36-41.

Joyce, Suspension of Time, and the Inner Voice

June 19, 2008

James Joyce’s mixture of narrative forms in Ulysses is daunting, at least at first read. He presents his characters’ speech without quotations; the text fluctuates between real time and “thought” time; there’s a chapter given in screenplay format; the pacing alters from segment to segment; the story adopts multiple perspectives, from different characters; and the seeming fluidity of some of the text, when juxtaposed with experiments in form, can be jarring.

Eventually, though, all of this seems to become irrelevant. Over time, the format in which the symbols are suspended becomes less distracting, and we begin to take in the overall image. The list above is merely a way of describing the way the content is fixed on the page. Joyce as a writer and communicator of ideas has to effectively impress the meaning upon the reader. Does it matter how he does it?

I contend that, while I’m glad he does it effectively, I’d sure like to know how and why; we are benefited by exploring this. One aspect of Joyce’s style that really catches my curiosity is his presentation of plot and theme information through “internalized speech” or “suspended thought”, as I’ll refer to it. The characters’ private soliloquies, interspersed among references to other works, significantly contribute to the unique pace and texture of Ulysses.

One result of these moments is that there is less emphasis on plot or movement. (When this is the case, I am allowed to better appreciate the language).

An example of “internal speech” occurs at the beginning of the second episode (Nestor, if your comparing Ulysses to Homer’s The Odyssey). Here, Stephen Dedalus, whom we remember from Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is now the mentor expounding wisdom to a group of young students. During the morning lesson, somehow Stephen Dedalus arrives at John Milton’s Lycidas, a section of which one of his students begins to recite:

—Tell us a story, sir.
—Oh, do, sir, a ghoststory.
—Where do you begin in this? Stephen asked, opening another book.
—Weep no more, Comyn said.
—Go on then, Talbot.
—And the history, sir?
—After, Stephen said. Go on, Talbot.
A swarthy boy opened a book and propped it nimbly under the breastwork of his satchel. He recited jerks of verse with odd glances at the text:

—Weep no more, woful shepherd, weep no more
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor…

At this point in the text, a literal and meta-structural ellipsis seems to imply that the boy continues reciting from Lycidas (1638), Milton’s pastoral elegy to his friend Edward King, who died by shipwreck in the “Irish Seas”. Joyce’s text, however, enters into an unspoken speech by Stephen Dedalus:

It must be a movement, then, an actuality of the possible as possible. Aristotle’s phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.

And then Talbot seems to interrupt, continuing his recitation: “Through the dear might of Him that walked the waves.”

I intend to examine what is literally happening here. (1) The student begins reciting the poem at the request of the principal character and voice of this chapter: “Weep no more”; (2) The principal character is thinking/contemplating, and the image of the scene is now focused on this internal soliloquy; (3) The internal speech ‘comes out of the other side’ at the instant of “Through the dear might…”; So, the entirety of Stephen Dedalus’s thoughts occur here (staging wise) between “Weep no more/ … / Through the dear might…”.

It takes me approximately 25 seconds to read aloud this section of the poem. For the record, here is the Lycidas text in question (lines 165-173):

Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more, / For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead, / Sunk though he be beneath the wat’ry floor; / So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed, / And yet anon repairs his drooping head, / And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore / Flames in the forehead of the morning sky: / So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high, / Through the dear might of him that walked the waves…

But, the internal speech occurs after “watery (wat’ry) floor” (putting it between lines 168-173), which for me takes 16 seconds to read aloud. You can see where this is going. The Stephen Dedalus internal soliloquy takes me 50 seconds to read aloud, and 40 seconds to read silently (apparently I’m not a fluid speaker, but it’s the thought that counts, right?). Juxtaposing these two supposedly concurrent events, the internal speech is a tight squeeze if we are to take this scene literally.

Granted, these are thoughts that are going through Stephen Dedalus’s mind, not direct speech, but it still seems like quite a dense selection for a mere daydream.

Ultimately, it’s all intangible (and thus immeasurable). The reader gets whatever the writer wants to give. But the implication is too much for me to ignore. It’s as if time is suspended, at least from the perspective of Stephen Dedalus (and the author who pens the text) to create an impressionable moment. As spectators, we see the action and the accompanying commentary. Through the separation of the mind from the standard meter of the text, the author seems to have an advantage in conveying ideas.

Does this stretching of time really exist? I mean, on a personal level? I’d like to think that the mind is capable of stretching any moment to its limit, but every time I look at a clock, it seems to be moving at an uncompromising pace. In texts such as Ulysses (which purports to cover the timeframe of one day, yet is 780 pages long!), much of the achievement is done through the manifestation of the “inner voice” on the page.

1. Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Random House, 1961.
2. Milton, John. “Lycidas.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams. New York: W W Norton & Company, 2000. 1790-6.

Introduction; Bloomsday 2008

June 16, 2008

Today, June 16, is Bloomsday, the annual celebration of Leopold Bloom’s odyssey through the city of Dublin as told in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The action is presumed to have taken place on June 16, 1904, though parts of the story were serialized beginning in 1918, and the completed book was published in 1922.

Ulysses is, of course, fiction. At the most, I would say it’s a fictionalization inspired by everyday events. This is what gives the story its appeal, in addition to the style of language in which it is written. It speaks to the everyman in us, convincing us that even our own thoughts can be poetic. Today, I woke up, made some toast, glanced at the morning newspaper, and caught a glimpse of a city skyline on my way to work. Each of these can be said to have some parallel to the types of events penned in Ulysses.

To coincide with this literary holiday, I am launching The Modern Dash, an online account of my exploration of Modernism, the movement which was defined by (and defines) James Joyce, among many other writers, painters, architects, musicians, and artists. I have seen fit to publish this blog in part due to my desire to enter into a discussion of the topic of Modernism as a movement and aesthetic (and literature in general), and to keep me accountable in learning about this topic.

I am not an expert on Modernism; however, I am convinced that studying it holds insight for anyone who is disciplined and thoughtful, and I believe that one can do literature by examining it in the context of our own lives, provided that we exact restraint in the conclusions at which we arrive (some meanings and interpretations, while sounding insightful or intuitive, may simply not be warranted).

This is also my experiment in offering a new type of blog as regards the blog-as-interface aspect of presenting information. I am fascinated by the concept of the hyperlink, and the ease of information proliferation that it affords. Data and commentary which can provide needed context—as well as pictures, videos, and other media—can be creator-directed to provide a user with a more fluid experience. However, it is possible for this power to be abused. Furthermore (and as stated above), it is important that one be judicious and exact in making statements.

Finally, I invite anyone who passes by to participate in the discussion. If you have a response to anything written herein, then add a comment, or respond on your own site and leave a quick note. This is a personal blog, but it is also topical, and I will not be writing posts on current events (except those related to the topic) or random thoughts that come my way. Please see the pages above for more information on the aim and rules of this site.

Happy Bloomsday!