History, Statues, and Representation

Jackson mentions the “ever-impinging presence of official buildings and symbolism” in Ireland, and the kind of  “architectural response” (129) that followed the threat of self-government. This suggestion of an “architectural response” led me to think about statues and monuments, which are symbolic, larger-than-life representations of figures that have made important contributions to a country, and are erected officially for the remembrance and celebration of their achievements. In light of this, I found it particularly interesting when Stephen reflects on Thomas Moore’s statue and the commemorative slab in memory of Woolfe Tone that he passes by in Part V:

While he was striving this way and that to free his feet from the fetters of the reformed conscience he came upon the droll statue of the national poet of Ireland [Thomas Moore]. He looked at it without anger: for, though sloth of the body and of the soul crept over it like unseen vermin, over the shuffling feet and up the folds of the cloak and around the servile head, it seemed humbly conscious of its indignity. (Joyce 193)

And a few pages later…

In the roadway at the head of the street a slab was set to the memory of Wolfe Tone and he remembered having been present with his father at its laying. He remembered with bitterness that scene of tawdry tribute. There were four French delegates in a brake and one, a plump smiling young man, held, wedged on a tick, a card on which were printed the words: Vive I’Irlande! (Joyce 199)

(According to the novel’s footnotes: Wolfe Tone was the leader of the United Irishmen; the slab was laid to commemorate the centenary of the Rebellion of 1798)

What particularly intrigued me was Stephen’s withering sarcasm (“droll statue”, “servile head”, “tawdry tribute”, just to name a few examples) towards these supposedly celebrated figures in Irish history and culture. While these statues can be seen to represent the official national history of Ireland, Stephen’s expression of his attitude towards these figures (and by extension, what they represent), is then his personal interpretation of history. In doing so, the official national history of the public sphere is now conflated with personal history/experiences of the private sphere. Here, we are cleverly introduced to another representation of history; a different perspective that Modernism so champions!

 (On a side note, I do think that it was an interesting choice to represent Joyce/Stephen’s general disdain towards the Irish condition via his contempt towards statues of supposedly representative figures of Irish history and culture, considering that statues are after all another form of art and representation, just as novels are).

Ireland and identity

It was very interesting to read Jackson’s article about Ireland and its place in the Empire. I was always confused with Ireland’s position within the Empire and the present United Kingdom due to the separation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and it seems that this article cleared a lot of my doubts. So far, we’ve been reading texts from a colonizer’s point of view but Joyce’s text is interesting because his (/Stephen’s) position as a colonizer or colonized is quite ambiguous. Ireland, despite being part of United Kingdom, used to be a colony and this notion causes a lot of conflict when it comes to its national identity. I visited Belfast last year, and despite Ireland having long been declared a free state, there is still conflict as to whether the Irish identify themselves as British or Irish (for example, you are not allowed to fly the Union Jack in certain parts of Belfast) and I could still see the effects of the economic drain of Empire on it. I think this conflict of identity really exemplifies the dichotomy between who was considered a subject or citizen within the empire and how this dichotomy affects the creation of national identity. I also feel that a lot of modernist writing concerns itself with the search for identity and Joyce’s text, to me, is about the search for identity – whether it be a national identity or his identity as a writer. However, I think that this identity cannot easily be defined as a simple uniform, permanent entity but a fluid, changing one.

Language, and the Growth of the Artist

 “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” can be seen as a sort of Kunstlerroman, the growth of an artist. It, in a way, describes the growth of the artist from a boy to an artist.  However, by “becoming” an artist, Stephen Dedalus abandons the religion and culture that is “native” to Ireland. On the other hand, to remain “Irish” (eg. Catholic) would be to reject the growing into an artist.

I think that language reflects the growth of the artist. The English used in writing the novel gets increasingly more complex as the novel progresses and as Stephen gradually “grows” into an artist, perhaps reflecting his growing ability to express himself. However, English is the language of the colonizer. By using it in the novel, there seems to be assimilation or a submission of his “Irish” identity to that of the colonizer. This is especially so, because as his English gets more complex, arguably, we can also say that he becomes more comfortable with the language of the colonizer, and more assimilated into the discourse of the colonizer.  

However, maybe we can see this in a different way. As Jackson has mentioned, the Irish view of the British is quite paradoxical as many Irish viewed the “Empire was [as] both an agent of liberation and oppression” (123). In that sense then, even while Stephen allows the language of the colonizer to oppress him, maybe, by using the language of the colonizer, he also liberates himself from the stifling confines of the “Irish” identity. I don’t think the novel offers Stephen’s dream of flying past the nets as a good or conclusive solution. However, perhaps we might be able to see this novel as a breaking of the binary between Colonizer and Native. Perhaps the novel is suggesting assimilation is not necessarily a bad thing, though it is also not necessarily ideal. After all, it is by speaking the language of the colonizer that he can redeem Ireland, and “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (276).

The language of the oppressor

It is common knowledge that the relationship between the Irish and the Empire has always been complex, with the Irish harboring ambivalent feelings towards the imperialism; Jackson’s article contextualizes these feelings by illustrating the benefits and the drawbacks of the Empire that were felt by the Irish:

For Ireland, therefore, the Empire was simultaneously a chain and a key: it was a  source both of constraint and of liberation… The Empire was not only a form of outdoor relief for impoverished Irish gentlemen: it also served as a vehicle for the upward mobility of the Irish middle classes, both Catholic and Protestant.  (Jackson, p136, 140)

Like many of its other colonies, the Empire was seen by the Irish as an oppressive force, an “imperial economic vampire”; it acted on its self-interest, resulting in the suffocation of Irish economy. Unlike its other colonies, the Irish were able to participate in Empire to reap personal economic benefits. This shows that shifting one’s political allegiances could result in the difference in one’s social position. The Irish ambivalence towards the Empire reminded me of the Joyce’s struggle with the English language in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. With the death of the Irish language (the Irish Gaelic language is after all seen as a dead language: the dean not recognizing the Irish word ‘tundish’ for funnel in Portrait suggests the colonization of Irish by the English language, and Stephen’s recognition of the impossibility of resurrecting the Irish language), the adoption of English language becomes a given, even if it suggests a betrayal of one’s cultural allegiances.  However with the appropriation of the language of the oppressor, Stephen struggles with his ambivalence towards his adopted language:

His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired         speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language. (Joyce, p. 205)

Stephen is torn between using and rejecting the English language. He acknowledges that English does not belong to him because of his Irish identity, yet he is also aware that Irish is not his speech either. The colonization of the Irish language by the English language is akin to the Empire rule over Ireland. Like Stephen, Joyce appropriates the language of the oppressor to write the novel. Perhaps like the article by Jackson, although the Empire is being seen as an oppressive force that suffocated the Irish language, it provides another language (that is wider used, and hence allowing a wider readership for the novel) for Joyce to appropriate, and a medium that gives Joyce and Stephen voice.

The white man colonised.

Jackson’s careful consideration of both sides of colonialism in Ireland fascinated me in the same way Woolf’s entrapment within the structures of colonialism, and the disempowerment even of the European woman in colonialism presents an essential paradox of imperial rule. Traditionally I suppose the black-and-white thinker would see the imperialists as Europeans (or more generally Westerners) and the colonised as non-Europeans. Yet as KY pointed out in his blog post, the Irish were as much entrapped as colonised within the structure as they were c0ntributers to colonisation.

I found it also interesting that Jackson deliberately drew the parallels between Ireland and India, to break down the preconception that to be colonised one must be non-white. The Irish are an example that run counter to this assumption, and certainly the historical account of Irishmen on both sides of the fence serves to prove the paradox of imperialism.

Fundamentally, even among Europeans, like I mentioned in class discussion last week, the empire collapsed upon itself. Unable to sustain economically and certainly politically, there are in some ways no distinctions that can be drawn between Ireland’s experience coming into independence, and that of India. Within the imperial structure, maybe the lines drawn distinguishing East from West are not as clear as one would wish them to be.

Nationalism as Result of Weak Colonisers?

I read Alvin Jackson’s essay with delight and reservation: his central idea that “the Empire was both an agent of liberation […] and the shackles of incarceration” (p123, emphasis own) is certainly taken by me; yet, I oppose to his final argument for that notion rather strongly. Specifically, Jackson states that it is the “failure of the British to define Ireland either in fully metropolitan or colonial terms” (150) which had ultimately caused the “break [in] their hold over the island” (150).

This greatly disturbs me because it suggests that the colonized (here being the Irish) ought to accept their status as a colonial subject had the colonizer (the British) fully abrogated the colony’s political vis-à-vis socio-cultural identity. To me, the very act of an Ascendancy rule is itself a cause for “patriotic feeling” (151) – regardless of “the ambiguities of British rule in Ireland” (151), if any. As many post-colonial writers and critiques have argued, the quest for decolonization starts (or ought to have started) from the very moment of colonization itself.

While the “irony” (135) of a colony participating in Empire may in many ways be seen as inevitable, it is certainly not ironic that the Union – which I perceive as euphemized colonization – would thereby invoke the sentiments of “nationalism and the revolt against imperial rule” (136). Such is indeed the central preoccupation that I discern from the growing consciousness of Stephen in Joyce’s Portrait, of course, along with all the endearing aesthetics of modernist literature.