Caught between a rock and a hard place.

The Irish possessed an interesting position within the British empire. On one hand, they had been annexed by the British and had functioned as part of the empire for some time. On the other, they themselves were colonized by the British. Jackson argues that Ireland represented the problems and struggles of the colonial empire. This crisis of identity is evident in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as Stephen Dedalus constantly thinks about the Irish, the Irish identity and their relation to the world. The colours green and maroon are associated with Dante and the Irish resistance leaders, reinforcing Dedalus’ need to reclaim his Irish identity.

While Jackson posits that the complexities of the relationship between the Irish and the British are most evident in the economy, in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man this complexity is manifested by through the language that Stephen Dedalus chooses to use. Here, we see language as a symbol and by extension, an agent for colonization. Stephen Dedalus wants to “forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race”- he uses his art (language) in order to subvert the hegemony of the British and thus reclaim his Irish identity.

However, I am quite certain that the Irish would not consider their colonial counterparts in the other colonies (India, Africa, South East Asia etc) their equals. Perhaps the best evidence of this can be seen during the California Gold Rush in the USA, where despite being immigrants themselves, the Irish began resenting the other influx of immigrants (the Chinese, Latin Americans, Africans).

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).

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.

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.

Art and Religion

Can language truly liberate us from ourselves as social beings? Joyce’s question struck me – ‘What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?’

The former, upon which Joyce’s childhood and world view was brought about,  ‘an absurdity which is logical and coherent’, refers to the structure by which religion is constituted, it is absurd insofar as it is an invisible structure founded upon by our faith and belief in the supernatural, the miracle and a higher divine order that transcends ourselves and our earthly realm. The Bible as the canonical text is essentially ‘logical and coherent’, since it informs us about the values and beliefs of Christianity which is founded upon the teachings of Jesus, moral goodness, the depravity of sins, amongst others.

Yet to ‘embrace one which is illogical and incoherent’ – that is to embrace the atheist life of a modernist writer and to forge a path for himself in an aesthetic experiment which demands that he becomes the creator, basing his art on the experiences of reality and everyday life, while doing away with past burdens and beliefs, seems a terrifying but nonetheless exhilarating experience to me. As much as the world is governed by systems, laws, rules and order, one’s consciousness and feelings often times remain in Joyce’s words, ‘illogical and incoherent’. Even as Stephen goes ‘to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race’, I get the sense that Joyce’s semiautobiographical work of art has achieved precisely this aim, in his ability to articulate and pour forth his “stream-of-consciousness” into the ordered world of language and cement his place as one of the greatest modernist writers of the twentieth century.

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.

Thoughts on The Artist

Reading Ritchell’s post on how the artist uses the inherited foreign language to express the subjugated psyches of the Irish reminded me of this poem I came across in Prof Patke’s Irish Poetry module. It’s a poem by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, an Irish poetess who writes strictly in Irish, called The Language Issue. For those who’ve not taken the class before, or who’ve not heard of Nuala, I’d just post a link to the poem so you guys can take a look: . In this particular poem, Nuala expresses the irony that it is only through the translation of her poetry from Irish to English that the Irish language will survive. Instead of resisting against the dominant English language, the artist (or whatever indigenous language he/she uses) must somehow be co-opted by it. Having this comparison between Nuala and Joyce in mind, I find that this colonial baggage/ language struggle runs across most Irish literature (and post-colonial ones for that matter).

What makes A Portrait so different then? What particular kinds of contradictions and problems does a writer like Joyce, who operated within the modernist period and who is labeled a high-modernist writer, face? In many ways, he resembles Woolf (the husband), Conrad and Orwell- who are all at once (and of varying degrees) part of the system and not. If we have the reluctant colonizer (in many of the characters we’ve seen so far in the module), couldn’t we see Joyce/ Stephen as a figure of the reluctant colonized? I agree that there are many ironies inherent within the text and I feel that, given the position of Joyce, this is necessarily so. The ending, therefore, is not entirely problematic for me. Stephen decides that he needs to go into exile in order to leave behind religious and political and family constraints but he also expresses a wish to write in service of his race. There is no way he can deftly negotiate these contradictions, at least not at that point of time when the novel ends. However, does the distance between Joyce, the accomplished artist, and Stephen (as yet fully formed) signify that there is really a way out? At least for me, this novel throws up more questions than it answers them!

Modernism- representation or symptom?

Here’s a quote that really got me thinking and from which i started working towards for my presentation tomorrow 🙂 :

“The experience of modernity is fostered by the rise of the modern city, and works of modernism do not so much convey this experience as they betray the strain of surviving it and detail their various strategies for doing so. Thus modernism might be regarded less as a representation of modernity and more as a symptom of it.” (Garry Leonard)

I’ve been thinking of how Modernism relates to Empire in our module and thought that perhaps Modernism seems opposed to the idea of Empire because it is supposed to be about validating individual subjectivity which goes against the grain of any colonizing discourse. However, if Modernism is just a symptom of Modernity, then by extension did Empire really cease because of this enlightened idea of Modernism or simply because of the conditions of modernity? When empire ceased, could it be that it is not because people suddenly realized the Truth but because of so many social forces which renders empire outmoded and forces it out because it just cannot coexist with the other elements. It is not freedom but no choice :p So what new mode of colonization have we come up with now? Capitalism?

According to a critic, the lack of money drives Stephen to be an artist because he has no other means to validate his position as a member of the middle class. Thus, at the downturn of the family’s fortunes, Simon Daedelus sends Stephen to be educated,  giving him all the necessary resources to develop his aesthetic theory. He seems more obsessed with articulating it than actually producing a work of art, perhaps a reflection of his anxiety?

Nationalism and Joyce/Stephen

It is often thought that nationalism is a natural progression from colonialism and decolonisation. Yet, after reading Joyce’s novel, there is the sense that things are never that simple and there is never a linear progression. Nationalism is seen to be an assertion of individuality and it is the culmination of various factors. Although much attention has been given to the importance of race and gender in nationalism, I feel that language plays an imperative role as well.

It has always been stated that nationalism is about the independence of a country, the capability of the natives to undertake roles of governance after having been educated by the colonial masters. Yet, the colonised countries have always adopted the language and culture of the colonial rulers resulting in the loss of their own cultures and languages which ends up in a loss of a unique identity of their own. It is the beginnings of the breakdown of the colonial language and culture with the rise of individualism that perhaps, forces the colonial rulers to recognise that there is a gradual subversion of the power relations between the colonials and the colonised. The fact that decolonisation and nationalism takes place concurrently cannot be dismissed as a coincidence. The contrast of language between Stephen’s childhood obedience and his “rebellious” youth then portrays this measured subversion. In the novel, this is evident through Stephen’s childhood and youth respectively which shows that it is only by breaking down colonial structures and finding one’s “voice” in the process of restructuring that a true individual emerges. Only then can there truly be nationalism/individualism when shadows of colonialism are removed and Stephen does this with his “art.”

As a child, Stephen uses a lot of repetition, quotation and constructed rhythmic effects in his sentences. I feel that this is important because language functions as tool of colonialism. His ability to articulate in fluid English mirrors the gradual loss of the Irish vernacular in Ireland during colonial rule. The young Stephen’s adherence to the rubrics of the English Language shows the entrenchment of the colonial system and it is of no coincidence that at this point in the novel, he conforms to expectations and he takes his English lessons seriously. To repeat is to perform an identity and this performance is essential for maintaining solidarity. The young Stephen then continually performs the identity of the colonised with his reiteration of the colonial language and he has no notions of any individuality, relegated to being another member of the oppressed Irish community. Of course, this also shows that the oppression of the Irish is not only enacted by the English but it has been deeply ingrained into the Irishmen’s way of life. They have become comfortable with it and they are afraid of embracing changes.   

In his youth, Stephen’s articulation becomes to be disjointed and this happens in tandem with his assertion of individuality. It is suggested that he experiences these disjoints because the colonial language has become insufficient. He begins to adapt and re-structure the colonial language to his need and in the process of doing so, he makes it “his own language.” Language then becomes a form of art. This is significant for art has no “real” rubrics. With this “art,” emphasis is placed on the failure of language and the need to adopt other modes of representation. Stephen/Joyce hence shows that Irish nationalism requires the willingness of the Irish to stop perpetrating the old systems of colonialism and to find their own ground.

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.

Tundish? – English or Irish?

– That? – said Stephen. – is that called a funnel? is it not a tundish? –
– What is a tundish? –
– That. The…funnel. –
– Is that called a tundish in Ireland? – asked the dean. – I never heard the word in my life. –

This was really one of those ‘moments’ that struck me when I read Portrait of the Artist for the first time some years ago. It just seems so ironic that the dean, who is an Englishman, ‘a countryman of Ben Jonson’, needs to be taught by Stephen on what the English word ‘tundish’ is about, or that it actually is an English word to begin with. In spite of his brilliant grasp of the English language, Stephen also suggests how the borrowed language makes even the most familiar things seem distant and foreign when he says, ‘How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot read or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words…’
The idea of an ‘acquired speech’ is really what hits home, i supposed. In spite of its foreignness, the underlying self-referencing that this borrowed language belongs ultimately to the English conqueror, imposed upon the subjugated Irish, the English language is however, central to Stephen’s own artistic quest. As he acknowledges towards the end of the novel, the only way for him to utilize this condition is to shape the English language into a medium for him to convey and express the conditions of the subjugated Irish race.