Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Opening

JP, half-cut, stepped from the car. Half-cut, he made himself conscious of his bearing, the solemnity of his gait. Ministerial. He 1) inhaled through his nose deeply, suddenly, 2) straightened his back, 3) waited for Conren, drunker than he was, to extricate himself from the back seat.

Feck him, he’d to be getting on with this. He left him to struggle with the door and sped in ahead. Roomfuls of people would not defeat him; roomfuls of people were never a problem for him.

-Hello, Minister, how are you?

-Minister, pleasure.

-How’re yeh, howreyeh.

Whirl of handshakings, small words with faces encountered before in airless rooms of bespectacled tweeds. Less of a lark than usual, though, this bunch.

-introduce, the curator, Miss-

-How are you at all?

Kiss on either side. Bit sloppy.

-Have you a speech to be doing before or?

-Em, yes, well I’ll do a bit of a preamble and then you can-

Hands wide.

-Fine, fine, that’s fine.

-say whatever it is-

-Yep, yep.

Conren trailed and attached himself to a wall, behind a cluster of the in crowd. He had in his left hand the first tumbler of cognac he had liberated from the tray of one of the waitresses. He had in his right hand the second.

-Thank you and thank you.

The first one, in his left hand, had a pink glass straw. The second one, in his right hand, had a green glass straw. Both had the ministry’s logo on them. Due for a re-brand, I think, he thought, knocking it back.

-Gregarious fellow isn’t he, one of the in crowd had ventured.

Meaningful snort from the group.

-Quite a handshake, said another, clenching and unclenching a tender hand. It positively reeks of livestock already.

-Where he’s from it means you’re married now.

-And his skin, jesus. He looks like a roof.

Conren was about to contribute his own witticism, before realising at once his exterior position relative to the group and his drunkenness. Waitress.

-With no further ado, I’d like to invite our current minister for the national arts, JP, to say a few words about today’s exhibit.

JP made a triangle with him arms on the podium. It took his weight, until he felt the beginnings of its collapse. He righted himself and it.

-It, eh, gives me great honour and indeed a great pleasure, to be speaking here today, at the first of the eh, opening of this great artwork.

Of those books contained in the Jefferson building, they have been lacquered into a perfect solidity. Removing one book from the shelf cannot but result in the removal of all books from the shelf. This process may be viewed in the accompanying visual display.

-This building is of a great, history to me personally, my grandfather. I used to come here, I used to look at the em,

Where were those names?

-the paintings of Turner, em, Vermeer and Dante.

Note: Though this institution commits itself to the utmost in the fostering of a collaborative environment, we request that patrons of the installations do not attempt to replicate the process of removing a book from the shelf. This process may instead be viewed in the accompanying visual display.

They all agreed that it was a most radical work.

-Ha!

One or two of the faces turned. Recognised?

Of those books contained in the Adams building, they have been harvested inside of a drillbit designed to the exact specifications of this, the second part of the exhibit. The drillbit has a radius of approximately 25cm, for maximal extraction of extraneous bibliographical matter, retaining a single circle in the centre of the drillbit and the centre of the book. The drillbit was then retracted and through use of its ingenious design, the central parts of the books were threaded into one another, the result of which is what you see in front of you. This process may be viewed in the accompanying visual display. The drillbit used for the execution of this piece may be viewed above you.

Note: Due to the fragile state of the central ‘line’ of literary material (caused in part by the imperfect design of the drillbit) it was necessary to use string to suspend the work on some shelves. Though this institution commits itself to the utmost in the fostering of a collaborative environment, we request that patrons of the installations do not attempt to touch these strings, as they may disturb the exhibit. They may instead view the preparation and restoration of the piece in the accompanying visual display.

Being shown out to the car, he turned to Conren.

-D’you know, I had no idea Dante was a painter. No idea. And me from the Christian Brothers.

Conren had whispered his reserved witticism in the ear of the curator. Something about a balloon, JP had looked deflated, something.

He had made himself known to the in crowd. All were surprised, one looked scandalised. He was the one who had turned, visibly aggrieved by JP’s speech. It wasn’t half-cuttedness. Intoxication of all kinds was de rigeur at these things, but inarticulacy? Philistinism? Conren vaguely recalled this being raised to him, but elliptically, by someone who did not know better. He had said something unpopular in response.

Drunkenness had alienated the complexities of his experience. Disparate recollections became disparate impressions became nothing when they were called upon directly. They had to be viewed askance if they were to maintain their shape. And. There. A few non-chronological senses. The heat of the room in his suit, finding it difficult to hear someone and the awareness of having committed a social faux pas, the violent quelling of the regret that resulted from it.

All in all, it had been a successful launch.

The Informant (with apologies to Mr. Joyce)

The Informant

When Daniel became enraged, a single fleck of spittle formed on one of his lips, and transferred itself back and forth back and forth from one lévre to the other. Frank watched this process take place now. It soothed him as Thornton bleated himself back into placidity. He was off on one of his about Jimmy’s playing to the top the night before. Lowered the tone, he had said. Undermined the dignity of the office, he had said. Such rot. If it wasn’t for Jimmy’s clowning they wouldn’t have wrangled the audience’s attention worth a damn the entire tour.

-As we were?

Jimmy, sundered to meekness, had retreated the stage. He sat now, beside Frank and leaned in.

-Wasn’t I just saying to myself there, and your man Daniel saying this place isn’t a circus for clowns, and he having a fierce resemblance to a rhino, with the horn on him? Hah?

He wheezed, clapping Frank on the shoulder. Frank chortled, easily, in response.

Finding this insufficient, Jimmy turned instead to Molly, on his right.

-Wasn’t I just saying to Frank there, and yer man Daniel saying this place is to be a circus for clowns, and he having a fierce resemblance to a rhino, with the horn on him? Hah?

Molly had abandoned her expression of polite attentiveness at some point in the course of Jimmy’s sentence. She blinked slowly and then excused herself.

-I believe they’re sweethearts now, Jimmy.

Jimmy was not someone liked, but indulged.

***

Molly, adjusting herself before the mirror.

Daniel, approaching from behind, slid his hands easily onto her hips, encountering there her ample flesh and encountering there on its surface, no resistance.

-Will you

Kiss.

-be at

Kiss.

-Hardwicke Street

Kiss.

-this evening?

Kiss.

She did not turn, but allowed him to continue planting them on her nape.

-I’ll see you there later on.

-My girl.

Kiss.

-My best girl!

***

Good old wit of the Dublin small boy ever ready to your tongue!, said the newspaper.

The Freeman’s Journal found little in the play itself to praise and had devoted its document of the performance to the contribution of an audience member leaning over the balcony.

-‘More power to your elbow!’ added another Queen’s Theatregoer to the general merriment of all, the pit, the galleries and even some of the actors onstage.

-My foot.

Frank was sure it was the same man every night, sitting there, his throat itching for the first act to end, knowing his cue better than some of those paid to do so knew theirs, waiting to shout to Major Sirr that Fitzgerald and his bride-to-be had escaped to stage left and he’d better get after them if he hoped to place them under arrest.

Frank thought often of skipping the scene, depriving the man of his opportunity. Thinking of him there, sitting confused in the darkness, gave him pleasure. Frank thought often, in fact, of changing the play in such ways. He had noticed that in the course of a lengthy tour, somewhere around the 9th or 10th performance, things would begin to ossify and the play became stubborn and resistant to change. A shift from a town hall to a proper theatre and back again could upset the younger plays and then upset things in general, resisting this underhanded force of consolidation, but it was often at that point that Frank himself had begun to lose interest. The Queen’s was a general occasion of upset. Audience contributions were to be expected, as was a sore throat.

Pfui! Like a mine in here.

Frank longed to be the occasion of such upsets himself, to cause them and to once again see the paly acted, no longer enacted, to break its mould in some way, to yield its ripe latency.

It would’ve been no use, these types always fastened onto something.

He could hear Molly’s consolation already. Sceptical of the column she had not read, yet pre-emptively discredited.

-Sure what’s that? Some poet? Couldn’t stage a town meeting, there’ll be no fearing him.

-Sure they see ten Fitzgeralds and Major Sirrs a year, they’ve to keep themselves amused somehow.

He read the initial. G.C.

Much of the cast had either not arrived or had visibly sore heads. He jeered them lightly, and checked the progress of the girl readying the set.

-Have we the country scene ready yet?

-Nearly sir, nearly. It’ll be ready for tonight.

He regarded the canvas. It would not. The castle was tiny and the rhododendrons (were they rhododendrons?) were too sparsely dotted across a distant hillside. She would later decide that they were too difficult to dot individually and would simply do the whole hillside in violet.

-Good.

Molly did not console him, there had been no need.

-We were up till the wee hours in Hardwicke Street, the landlady was disgusted that we got into the booze. Very proper. But wait till I tell you, we were up and Jimmy blind drunk, starts putting about his one about Daniel with the look of the rhino and the horn, only he was blind drunk and Daniel not hearing the end of it all night, so he makes to be going up to bed but he turns back around on the landing.

-I have, but one piece of business to which I must now attend.

Molly laughed in starts, stuttering phonograph.

-So he punches him one into the jaw! And there’s Jimmy, crying into my lap-

She adopted a most convincing likeness of the man.

-‘Ah jay, jay, my face is ruined altogether, I’ll be off the tour tomorrow, I’ll be off it now!’ And wasn’t I saying to him, ‘Ah mavourneen Jimmy, not to worry, sure you can always do a show as a minstrel, with the shoe polish on you no-one’ll mind your black eye!’

Frank was glad he had lodged elsewhere. Not that his involvement in the scuffle would have been required, but he had avoided having to listen to Jimmy tell the Joe Miller again. It had never been a good joke.

***

-It is Major Sirr’s men! I hear them approach! O! O! My love he is here, he has come for you!

-I must run, my fate is to be shared with that of my country, not to be wasted in a lonely prison cell!

-But my love, where will I go? I cannot throw myself upon his mercies knowing myself to be pledged to another?

Frank fiddled with the buttons on his uniform, waiting for the couple to escape, then walked onto the stage, to loud hisses from the audience both in the pit and the balconies.

Thoughts on James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or ‘Revenge of the Cringe-Inducing Marginalia’ Part 2

In the previous post I confessed to having a first-year-of-undergraduate-itis when it came to annotating books that I was reading, taking up space in margins that should probably be reserved for my future self who (hopefully) knows a thing or two more about a thing or two than I do.

In the library, it’s generally the texts that are prescribed in first year that are in the worst nick, not least for the often jaw-dropping levels of hubris exhibited by its readers. If you want to see a sequence of teenagers who have recently encountered Karl Marx for the first time quibble uselessly with Terry Eagleton about his definition of a novel, you’ll know where to look. It sometimes impresses me that students in later years make an effort to respond; as if the page functions as an analogue comment board and that the conversation is some way ongoing.

As was made clear below, I wasn’t immune from the tendency myself, I also once explained Roland Barthes’ theory of the honest sign as reminiscent of the way Heath Ledger’s Joker moves in the Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight. But occasionally my notes aren’t as oppressively baffling, as I found in my copy of James’s Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The paragraph in question reads as follows:

“Now it seemed as if he would fail again but, by dint of brooding on the incident, he thought himself into confidence. During this process all those elements which he deemed common and insignificant fell out of the scene. There remained no trace of the tram itself nor of the tram-men nor of the horses: nor did he and she appear vividly. The verses told only of the night and the balmy breeze and the maiden lustre of the moon. Some undefined sorrow was hidden in the hearts of the protagonists as they stood in silence beneath the leafless trees and when the moment of farewell had come the kiss, which had been withheld by one, was given by both. After this the letters L. D. S. were written at the foot of the page, and, having hidden the book, he went into his mother’s bedroom and gazed at his face for a long time in the mirror of her dressing-table.”

My note helpfully notes: “Women, Freud, Lacan.”

What set me of on this trail was the presence of the mirror in the above scene, a bit of home décor that can get the interpretative ball rolling in any novel handily.

This is due to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage, a juncture in a person’s life in which their self begins to exist. According to Lacan, this happens when a child first perceives themselves as an individual subject, a being that is distinct from their mother. It doesn’t necessarily involve an actual mirror.

This is fitting and is a loaded scene because of how Portrait is a novel concerned with how its precocious child Stephen Dedalus grows into a pretentious aesthete. Portrait is an extended exploration of Dedalus’ mirror stage, as he begins to see himself ‘mirrored’ as a literary artist. This can be seen in Dedalus’ emulation of Narcissus, cosying up to his new self-image as a writer.

Anne Enright once said that becoming a writer is to adopt a position of importance. Dedalus’ swollen ego certainly comes across in his preening, gazing and autographing a piece of juvenilia with his whimsical pseudonym “L. D. S.,” as if mindful of future antiquarian Christmas addicts who will come calling for the relic of the author’s manuscripts.

Joyce is ambivalent about his creature, not just in the above quotation, but in this novel in general. Throughout, he leans a bit more heavily than he does in Dubliners on the irony dial, giving us plenty of hints that the reader shouldn’t be taking the antics of this aesthete seriously. Far from a budding Joyce, Dedalus may be what Joyce was at risk of becoming, if his self regard and consciousness had overwhelmed his capacity to write anything of note.

The rather ingenious way that Joyce has this come across in this scene is the fact that Dedalus’ mirror stage takes place while he inspects his reflection in his mother’s mirror, after having written what sounds like a horrendous poem.

It is just as likely that Dedalus’ mirror stage marks the futility of his adolescent declaration of “Non serviam!” He pinched the line from Milton anyway.

The page 99 test: Samuel Beckett’s Company/Ill Seen Ill Said/Worstword Ho/Stirrings Still

The page 99 test (explanation here) is in many ways a somewhat imperfect methodology. Many texts, such as Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet are immune to the approach, due to it being 79 pages long. The Faber edition of Samuel Beckett’s Company/Ill Seen Ill Said/Worstword Ho/Stirrings Still, a collection of not-quite short stories, not quite poems, not quite proems is another problematic test case.

Company obviously receives top billing for a reason; it is one of the only ones of Beckett’s later works that can be read in polite company. For example:

“There on summer Sundays after his midday meal your father loved to retreat with Punch and a cushion. The waist of his trousers unbuttoned he sat on the one ledge turning the pages. You on the other with your feet dangling. When he chuckled you tried to chuckle too. When his chuckle died yours too. That you should try to imitate his chuckle pleased and tickled him greatly and sometimes he would chuckle for no other reason than to hear you try to chuckle too. Sometimes you turn your head and look out through a rose-red pane. You press your little nose against the pane and all without is rosy. The years have flown and there at the same place as then you sit in the bloom of adulthood bathed in rainbow light gazing before you.”

As you can see, it’s very nice.

Unfortunately, it’s only nice for 42 pages, and then it ends.

The page 99 test therefore takes us to the mid-point in Worstword Ho. The fact that we start reading it halfway rather than at the beginning makes little difference, the staccato monologue in which it is written, not to mention the demi-paragraphs in which it is arranged do more to obfuscate rather than to illuminate.

“Stare by words dimmed. Shades dimmed. Void dimmed. Dim dimmed.”

The above quotation expresses the kind of distaste for words that only a self-conscious practitioner of them can have. Nevertheless they are a necessary evil, when we think and when we speak, they are the tools that we think through and with.

“No. Shades cannot go.”

Thoughts on James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ or ‘Revenge of the Cringe Inducing Marginalia’

One of the guilty pleasures/occasions for misery that comes from re-reading a book is the re-inspection of old marginalia. It allows for the momentary solemn reflection on how far you have indeed come since those long gone dearly departed days, while simultaneously and no less solemnly jotting down new observations, truly the best observations that any observer has ever observed while reading James Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners on the 130 bus.

However, occasionally a note from the undergraduate days, those long gone dearly departed undergraduate days, when an interpretation will strike one by virtue of its idiocy. I found one such the other day in the short story ‘Clay’ and it merits this public self-flagellation.

The paragraph reads as follows:

“But wasn’t Maria glad when the women had finished their tea and the cook and the dummy had begun to clear away the tea-things! She went into her little bedroom and, remembering that the next morning was a mass morning, changed the hand of the alarm from seven to six. Then she took off her working skirt and her house-boots and laid her best skirt out on the bed and her tiny dress-boots beside the foot of the bed. She changed her blouse too and, as she stood before the mirror, she thought of how she used to dress for mass on Sunday morning when she was a young girl; and she looked with quaint affection at the diminutive body which she had so often adorned. In spite of its years she found it a nice tidy little body.”

At the point in which Maria sets her alarm, I had written: “mastery over time. Derrida?”

Analysing the note, I find it to be indicative of the kind of critics I was into at the time. I wanted to find whatever critical approach, no matter how ostentatiously difficult, that would help me fashion a chart in which I could look up any book and therefore be able to stop worrying about how little I understood in the books I was reading.

I bought a book on metre in poetry and rigidly memorised the definitions of the terms ‘dactyl,’ ‘anapaest’ and ‘pyrrhic’ with the same intention. This all missed the crucial point in the application of a schema. What I didn’t learn until much later was that a character setting an alarm, a pyrrhic emphasis does not always mean the same thing in every situation. What is really at stake in the context in which these tropes are deployed.

Which is why the marginal note above is so fabulously ridiculous. Rather than reflecting a supposed mastery over time, a point at which one could bring in Mr. Derrida’s assault on the sacred cows of Western metaphysics, Maria’s setting of the alarm is intended as an assertion of utmost mundane-ness, just another part of her daily ritual of little, nice and tidy propositions.

Like the proverbial boiling frog (and the metaphor is particularly apposite, bearing in mind Joyce’s malevolence towards his creatures in this sequence of fifteen stories) each of ‘the Dubliners,’ are steeped in mundane details that are the unsung gems of the novel, stacked neatly and with admirable restraint before the apex/nadir of the epiphany. These are the hands of Maria’s clock, the bookshelf of James Duffy and the petit bourgeois existence of Jimmy Doyle’s father. Beyond the book’s famous snow, they deserve attention.

V.S. Pritchett’s ‘lyrical glints’ in the rough of Samuel Beckett’s ‘How It Is’

In his review of Beckett’s final novel, How It Is, V.S. Pritchett concluded that Beckett had paid ‘a heavy price in obscurity, pretentiousness and awful boredom.’ Evidently Pritchett was not a fan of Beckett’s free-wheeling with punctuation, lack of a plot and experiments with language. Blasphemous as it is, it’s possible to see his point of view, reading about the exploits of someone traversing a barren desert landscape with a bag of tins around their neck, seeking an other to rhythmically mash with a can-opener isn’t everyone’s idea of a good story.

Pritchett qualifies his critique with the point that there are ‘lyrical glints’ aplenty that mollify his more righteous instincts in his crusade against all things pretentiously boring and obscure. This can sometimes reflect the experience of reading texts that are in some ways manufactured to be monotonous and alienating, the Pritchetts of the world soldier vainly onward like the ‘protagonist’ Pim on his face in the dirt, (‘mouth opens the tongue comes out lolls in the mud and no question of thirst either’) tongue lolling outwards, thirsty for some more ‘lyrical glints’ amid the discordant grikes.

The following is one such lyrical glint:

we are on a veranda smothered in verbena the scented sun dapples the red tiles yes I assure you the huge head hatted with birds and flowers is bowed down over my curls the eyes burn with severe love I offer her mine pale upcast to the sky whence cometh our help and which I know perhaps even then with time shall pass away

Pritchett is correct in pinpointing these as one of the stand-out features of the novel, they are indicative of a certain kind of childhood memory that circulate throughout the text and occur compulsively, saturated in the sepia of nostalgia. But what makes them that much more poignant is the contrast with Pim’s reality, the seeming intensity of his inner life at one point, (whether it can be said to be dormant or a remnant of what it once during the narration of How It Is is somewhat moot) makes the degradation of his current state all the more incomprehensible and, though one shouldn’t be prone to making these sort of value judgements on a novel that repudiates the mechanism of characterisation, upsetting.

For example, a section of his monologue rendered below. Words that are capitalised are ones he is communicating to his ‘companion’ Bom, by smacking him with a can-opener.

as it comes bits and scraps all sorts not so many and to conclude happy end cut thrust DO YOU LOVE ME no or nails armpit and little song to conclude happy end of part two leaving only part three and last the day comes I come to the day Bom comes YOU BOM me Bom ME BOM you Bom we Bom

Jack Emery does Samuel Beckett’s ‘Malone Dies’

Jack Emery’s take on the opening lines of Malone Dies is a strange beast. One is struck initially by his somewhat cartoonish intonation. He furthermore deviates from the text a couple of times. These are, however, only ever merely minor infractions, the insertion of a mere where it is unnecessary once or twice – as I say, minor infractions, minor, think no more of them.

For the most part then, Emery is felicitous to words and punctuation, not so much delivery. Emery will occasionally become excited and raise the pitch of his voice to emphasise that which he may have possibly believed merited apotheosis, particularly when citing the various days of celebration that he believes his death may occur before.  What emerges from the text on reading it is the absurdity of keeping track of his progress relative to days in religious and civic life known for their feasting and celebration, for Malone they have morbid tinge. Emery will develop his excited pitch while listing them off, as if invigorated by the thought of publicly brandished bunting, something that I can’t imagine Malone being. When Emery recites the line about Malone’s ‘old debtor,’ death, Emery speaks as if death was an old friend who just walked into the room for a long ‘aul confab.

Another impression one gets is that Malone sounds like the beneficiary of elocution classes. Every syllable is enunciated precisely, the words ‘neutral’ and ‘inert’ are sounded in a sing-song tone. When he declares that his stories are to be as lifeless as the teller is, it seems somewhat nonsensical; Malone as he appears here seems explosively spontaneous and hopped up on his own vim.

It is possible that it is the residua of a national pride within me that reacts against Emery’s accent and is determined to view Malone as being Irish. This is possibly counter-intuitive, as, despite his name, the novel was written originally in French. This is possibly why the fourteenth of July is named with the reverence that it is. From Malone’s description of the view from his window I had assumed that he lived in London, perhaps the bed-sit in Paultons Square that Beckett himself lived in. However, Beckett neglects to mention the charming Georgian square garden that sits between him and the woman he sees going about her chores every evening. Either Malone has a predilection for taking a negative view of his situation (probable), or Beckett, glimpsing the future of Blarney-inflected Joyce walking tours of Dublin and, not wishing to be burdened with a similar legacy, purged his writings of all geographic identifiers (unlikely). This is Beckett’s decision to not state the location directly. I suppose that it is equally possible that he lives in a small bed-sit in Paris with a view into a woman’s flat. Then again, Malone says he doesn’t have to lift his head of the pillow to see her, so maybe the square is there. Then again again, Malone probably wouldn’t be able to see the whole way across the square, assuming that he’s visually impaired. In any case, one could say that Emery’s accent contributes this over determined palimpsest of conflicting national identities.

My issues with the Beckett monologues, as spoken by Emery and Pinter have been their tendency to either dabble in grandiloquence and to occasionally build momentum, attempting to deepen a sense of narrative or imminent arrival at some ‘point.’ The pursuit of an ictus or the speaking of one sentence in such a way that makes it more important than any other, the performer channels interiority, that I find sits uncomfortably with the source material. Perhaps am being too hard on both Emery and Pinter, their performances may reflect an attempt to introduce contrast and the demands of live performance simply would not work for this cool recitation on the subject of one’s demise.

En bref: Less is more.