Note-taking for week 13

In the first presentation, we attempted to define nationalism in general and determine which sort of nationalism it is which Stephen advocates. The presenters defined nationalism as “the assertion by members of a group of autonomy and self-government for the group’s solidarity and brotherhood in the homeland, and of its own history and culture, seeing it as a natural progression which follows colonialism and decolonization”. However, we see in Portrait that things are not as simple as that and the progression is never linear. Going back to the past before colonization is impossible because that heritage cannot be reclaimed, only perhaps as romanticized past. Going forward is what Stephen seems to think as ideal, by using the very tools of colonization like language to reassert one’s individuality and identity. Some critics argue that it is not possible to assert individuality using the language of the colonizers. However, in Homi Bhaba’s “Mimicry”, it is said that English is not owned by anyone and so its usage may be transformed by the colonized writer to write his own freedom into being.

 Initially, Stephen was shown to be colonized and indoctrinated by the coloniser’s values and discourse as he learns by rote and memorises things. This is shown by his quoting from different sources like his school textbooks and religious texts. He also quotes from Aristotle and Aquinas in a way which seems to suggest his lack of understanding according to the presenters and sometimes even quotes wrongly. This shows his discomfort with an imposed sort of learning and culture which erodes his own Irish heritage. However, later he breaks free by playing with the form of language especially in his diary entries in which he finally shifts from the 3rd person to the 1st person which emphasizes his individuality. He makes his own language and his own form of art to express himself and in doing so, expresses Irish identity.

 In the second presentation, the use of symbols and impressions reflects Stephen’s impressions of nationalism and Ireland. The politicians are “intangible phantoms” and patriotic propaganda is reduced to “hollow sounding” “voices”. Surrealism and symbolism makes it obvious that language is vague and ambiguous by nature, and writing in that way self-reflexively draws attention to that fact. By doing so, both the form and content shows imperial ambiguities and ambivalences which supports the assertion of the text being modernist. However, if modernism was supposed to be defined by empiricism (psychology of locke and Hume), then Joyce could be seen as anti-modernist because he destabilizes the notion that we may understand the essence of things and Truth by observation. If observation is unreliable, then the notion of a stable self is also problematized. Thus, modernism which places so much emphasis on the individual’s point of view becomes inadequate. Modernism is too vague to be defined as a single entity and cannot hold it own against realist literature. However, we need not see modernism as simply an offshoot of the enlightenment ideas of scientific positivism (empiricism/ Locke and Hume). There are other ways of defining modernism since it is a broader concept than that thus Joyce can still be a modernist writer even if he contradicts the precursors of modernism as a movement arising from the enlightenment.

Stephen Dedalus, the Irish Greek: Unity through Art

It seems that one of the most obvious aspect of Portrait is the protagonist’s issue with language. I think it reflects, especially towards the end of the text, the direction that he wants to develop his art. He champions for an Irish autonomy that unites instead of disunites — division that is based on an English vs Irish and/or Catholics vs Protestants rivalry. In other words, Language becomes an important premise in the driving forward of such a desire.

If we look at the scene between Stephen Dedalus and his dean, Stephen recognizes that the language he has been taught all his life is an “acquired speech” (195) and this serves as a reminder of his subservient position as he is being cast in the “shadow” (195) of a heritage that he does not identify with.

True enough, the English language belongs to the English or the Anglo-Saxons and differs from Irish historical heritage – that is, Gaelic. However, at the same time, the Irish language is becoming overly charged and associated negatively with (extreme) Irish nationalism. This deters Stephen from accepting it willingly becomes it disunites Irish people, it is obvious that Stephen adopts Parnell’s vision of unity where the differences of factions are negotiated and reached. I believe this is the reason for Stephen and even Joyce’s inclination towards something different, an art that uses the colonizer’s language (I guess strictly speaking, Ireland can be considered the colony of England) but undermines it by subsuming it within a Pan-European experience. And I guess this explains the framing of this text with Greek imageryand Latin, and not just English.

For one thing, Joyce’s inclination is illustrated by the name of Stephen Dedalus, where both names are of Greek origins. Furthermore, Dedalus is the name of a skillful artist from a Greek myth who designed the labyrinth to keep Minotaur ‘imprisoned’. Perhaps, Stephen, the artist and character is tasked with this task to use his art to keep ‘extremism’ and violence, as symbolised by Minotaur in check.

Nationalism and its flaws

Stoler brings to mind something very interesting that I read for another module- Eric Hayot’s review of Arthur Vinton’s “Looking Further Backward”. “Looking Further Backward” was published in the 1890s as a response to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward, 2000-1887”. Vinton envisions a future in the year 2023, when the Chinese immigrants that the United States had allowed into the country eventually took over and annexed the United States as a Chinese colony. The novel was written during the height of anti-chinese sentiment, just after the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. the essay opens with a quote from Professor Won Lung Li:

“Owing to the short-sightedness of your remote ancestors, you have permitted your country to be overrun by the emigrants of the slums from other nations; they had been given equal rights, socially and politically, and they had intermarried with your native stock until it had become so debased that, one hundred years ago, your ancestors were as ready as the Frenchmen of the 18th century to abandon everything for the sake of an idea.”  (Hayot 1)

The idea that Li refers to is that of Nationalism. The annexed United States represents the worst possible fear of the colonial masters. Similarly, Stoler’s essay illustrates the paranoia that the French had towards the Metis, and how they acted on this paranoia in order to protect the concept of their “nation”. Stoler, like Li, puts forth the idea that intermarriage is one of Nationalism’s fatal flaws. The idea that one is defined by their nationality is undermined when you have a child born to parents of different nationalities.