Note-Taking for Joyce (Jessica)

We had two presentations yesterday; we talked about language in Joyce as a tool of re-appropriation. The result of re-appropriating the English language, through deconstruction (and taking quotes out of context as Michelle mentioned) is to create an artist’s ownership of it. Most importantly, this ownership (as painted/achieved by the artist) belongs to the artist alone. Joyce therefore posits the existence of Irish Nationalism (perhaps as a means of dealing with the discourse of colonization) through the assertion of individuality (“a” portrait, not an objective, all-consuming “the” portrait), identity and creation.

However, the class had a bit of a debate over the idea of Stephen’s desire to “fly by these nets”. These nets are identified as nationality, language, religion. The fact that Stephan says “fly by” and not “fly from” strike many as significant, because it undermines the idea of totally escape and denial. During the second presentation, the exploration of myth as a motif in the text supports this idea. Even thought Stephan adamantly declares “non serviam“, he proves himself unable to disentangle his identity from the history of his own existence. If Stephen can be considered both the figures of Daedalus and Icarus, then as Daedalus, he has created art (as the second presentation mentioned, “the fabulous artificer”), but as Icarus, he is unable to escape the prison (ie, the “nets”).

Lastly, we talked about art in terms of modernity and Modernism (the aesthetic movement). Stephen’s search for transcendence has been undermined constantly in the text. His diary entries actually hint at a degeneration of sorts, and as Rebekah mentioned, there are many incidents that undermine other momentary “epiphanies”.

I don’t know how relevant this may be to the module, but interestingly enough, these “little epiphanies” can also be seen in Virginia Woolf’s texts- most specifically, in To the Lighthouse. In the dinner scene at Mrs. Ramsay’s house, she finds a moment of “stability” (Woolf 142), yet she knows that “this [moment] cannot last” (141). There is also an artist figure in the text- Lily Briscoe, who manages to complete her painting, just as Stephen is able to complete his own portrait. Yet, as the class mentioned, with so many instances of irony in Joyce’s text, how transcendental or “successful” is his attempt at transcendental art?

Very interestingly, Rebekah also mentioned that the act of pinning down truth is one that is fixed, ordered and stable. While grabbing at coherence, the act of truth-finding is reductive. This can be seen in A Passage to India, where the image of India can never really be understood or described. There is too much ambivalence, and in trying to “discover the real essence of the land”, the characters find themselves thwarted (they will never know the “real” India), violated  (Adela), or dead (Mrs. Moore).

The myth of Flory as a reluctant colonist

I have been thinking about what we have been discussing in class – mainly, the concept of the reluctant colonist. What exactly is a reluctant colonist was the question that filled my mind. I had a feeling that the concept – reluctant colonist explores the humanistic attitude of a man that conflicts with the need of white man to keep the natives where they are – marginalised and inferior in order to continue their capitalistic enterprise. In other words, isn’t a reluctant colonist inherently a contradiction? Is it ever possible to be both a colonist and a humanist? I think the character of Flory as a reluctant colonist, as discussed commonly in class, is a good site of discussion.

As discussed in class, I find that it is most certainly that the idea of identity should not be confused with a person’s action. In other words, a person’s action does not always express who a person really is. This is why I feel that in Burmese Days, the added dimension of Flory’s thoughts provide readers with an valuable insight to the situation in a colony. As a result of the added dimension, I find it difficult to accept Flory as a reluctant colonist, a term that many have tied him with in class, even if they do not like him much. At the most, I would see him as a sentimental colonist. He might not like what some of the other white men are doing – especially Ellis who openly expresses his condescension towards the natives. However, Flory only expresses it in secrecy towards Dr V. He could have easily assumed a different hiererachy in his own household, instead, his household is like any other colonist household where the servant looks up to the master. Furthermore, he has done many things that he is guilty of racism – like his reluctant signing of the notice just because he “lacked the courage that was needed to refuse” (63). Also, he was given the chance to return to his homeland of which he decided to return halfway because he saw the opportunity to prosper economically.

What I am pointing at are the opportunities for Flory to put his thinking into action even when it is within his means. He could have left Burma when he had the chance but decidedly came back. His lack of action may not correspond with his feeling/thinking but the total lack of it in many occasions got me reluctant to see him as a reluctant colonist.