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).

An Extremely Brief glance at the ‘Modern Epiphany’ in Portrait

Modern texts place a lot of attention on the mundane and subjective in experience, and likewise a notably strained effort to find someway of reuniting the two.  Taken together, they are hallmarks of the alienated modern sensibility and their separation is at the heart of this alienation.

The Modern epiphany is more difficult to achieve for the modern writers because Truth in general is not clearly  manifest to the writer in everday objects as it was to the poets of earlier periods.  Hence Joyce’s identification of the epiphany as a manifestation through “vulgarity of speech or of gesture” [the clearly mundane, alienated from Truth to the point of seeming profane].  Hence the Modernist epiphany deliberately strains to identify the mundane or particular with something revelatory and in Joyce we see this in his identification of things which are in this very respect quite different, even opposite, such as the anonymous  Bloom with Elijah or Moses, or the Irish with the Greek people exalted in Homeric poetry, or hot cocoa with the sacramental blood.  For Joyce, the effort at reuniting the mind with the objects of experience turned in particular to increasing attempts at identification of the moment with all of time.

In Joyce’s technique, epiphany replaces the role carried out in traditional narrative by the event; the collocations of numerous textual themes in associative moments are the events of the mature works, and they are multitudinous.  Hence the reader should take his understanding of epiphany as axiomatic; explicitly identifying each one by the term “epiphany” would become excessively redundant.

My Literary Bildungsroman

When I read Portrait for the first time in another class (I was year 2 then), I remember that the thing which stuck with me most was the idea of Stephen being stuck in an impasse because in as much as he wanted to “fly by those nets” (220) cast upon him by his national inheritance, there is a simultaneous inability to break through those nets because it was always the acceptance of the Irish themselves of their subjugated positions that make this “flying” literally impossible.

Now, when I’m reading it again, I realize I understand the nuances of this impasse a lot better. Having learnt what modernist art attempts to do by challenging traditional modes of representation (is any form of realist representation real in the first place?) and what post-colonial politics are involved with every writing process ( especially when the writer/artist figure has been previously colonised), I realize that Stephen’s impasse involves many more layers of subjugation than those of his literal circumstances. Because it’s not the just the double binds that Stephen finds himself in: being an artist, no one understands his art and he is thereby an exile; but by following the crowd, he is essentially contributing to Ireland’s continual subjugation because “Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow” (220), it is also the inability to find a language outside of which that he has inherited. This is because English is a language that is not of his own heritage but is also ironically the only one through which he knows how to express himself, hence this mode of artistic representation will forever be self-ironizing no matter how he tries to fly by those nets.

Yet, I think having understood much of what modernist texts try to do with art and representation, the saving grace of Portrait is the idea that perhaps the art is in using the inherited foreign language that is English to convey the subjugated psyches of the Irish. This is very much like what Chinua Achebe talked about in his essay, “The African Writer and the English Language”, where the redemption that an African writer can do for his art is to appropriate the use of English for his art because English is part of his history/heritage and to accept that is to move a step forward in better self-representation. So the importance isn’t in denying the self of the use of English but to appropriate it with one own’s cultural contexts such that English becomes merely the mode of Art through which one’s cultural disposition can be expressed. And in Portrait, the constant self-ironizing, I believe is therefore the way Stephen understands and represents the Irish condition that is in and of itself very ironic in the first place.

Da Vinci is Indian

We discussed plenty about Western cultures colonising the East, read about how the British in India acted with an air of superiority that more often than not lapsed into sheer racism and how even the sky itself denied this bonding between “native” and coloniser in “Passage To India”. So what happens when reality is thrown a crisis of knowledge and the “natives” start making a claim to art that we thought was originally European?

Da Vinci is Indian

Comic relief aside, the video (and the series “Goodness Gracious Me” for that matter) emphasises the impact of colonialism on ethnicity, culture and the everyday life in the modern world. It draws laughs, and then attention to our perceptions of India(colonized) and its relations to Britain(colonizer), without causing racial sentiments on either side of that gap to boil over. Fanon’s article seems to emphasize (overly, in my opinion), the need for blood, guts and gore to level the playing field between the colonialists and the natives. Granted, there probably is a very significant disparity in time between the end of colonialism and this BBC comedy series, but art and humour wound in places bullets can’t reach. Forster’s novel, while I’ll admit will never ever be one of my favorites, is to be appreciated for being unique in that it doesn’t exoticize the East; it doesn’t lapse into a romantic attitude of India and other British colonies that can simply be understood by “visiting”. It haunts readers because it reminds us that there are forces that have the potential to keep people apart no matter how much we try to bridge that gap, or how much we try to cruelly absorb another culture.

Forster’s novel may not be as humorous as the video (you guys absolutely HAVE to laugh at it; I shun the unappreciative), but both draw on colonialism and modernism to express deeper anxieties in mankind that cannot simply be smoothed over by shedding the blood of a generation or two of the “Other”.