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Hugh Kenner, I salute you. [Oct. 11th, 2010|01:04 am]
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[Current Location |on my bed. too close to the ground.]
[Current Music |joanna newsom - peach, plum, pear]

Not all that crisply, but I do anyway. Joyce's Voices is an audacious and useful little book. I must have missed a good deal of his point since I never read Gulliver's Travels, to which he refers quite extensively, but I think I got the gist or a good portion thereof. What I like best about Kenner is the tone he strikes in his criticism. It's not too colloquial, nor does it convey a sense that criticism is Serious Damned Business. Like Joyce, he has fun without ever letting you forget how %$#@in' smart he is.

The problem is that Joyce's Voices is about one hundred pages long and there's a lot to respond to. What should I talk about?

Things That Could Relate (Interestingly) to 'Ithaca', Or Something

--> Kenner's 'Uncle Charles Principle'. Narrative idiom does not have to belong to the narrator, or--rather--"narrative idiom bent by a person’s proximity as a star defined by Einstein will bend passing light." And the star business suits Ithaca well too. Examples of the Uncle Charles Principle would rather stand out if Ithaca let 'em through--I think what Ithaca locks out in idiom it makes up for in attitude. Kenner talks about the chapter being obliging to Bloom? It is closer to Bloom than Stephen, but then again, Stephen does not respond as well to questioning--? Think about this.

-->...when Joyce was unsure of his role words swarmed in his head but all syntactic sense deserted him. Syntax was a function of role: of character. Writing fiction, he played parts, and referred stylistic decisions to the taste of the person he was playing. Isn't there a role that's 'Joyce enjoying the daylights out of himself'? Wordswarm's the right idea, but this seems to limit Joyce, er, syntactically. I guess something interesting to look at would be 'To what extent do the characters in Ithaca affect the syntax of Ithaca'. Or 'What character dominates the narration in Ithaca'

-->Speaking of which, Kenner's personification of the Ulysses narrator--he doesn't subscribe to the single Arranger idea, but casts two speakers--one a Vivid Narrator, a bit old-school but clear and virtuosic and eager to help, and one a great swaggerer and Uncle-Charles-adept, ready to mess with us at any gleeful opportunity. "He has written a great many books before this one, he will have us know," says Kenner, "and arranged a great many pantomimes. Objectivity...was a game he invented." He also gives Ithaca two voices...kind of. The "Tell me, Muse" formula. Not sure how I feel about that or the two narrators. Doubling's terrific and complements Cyclops/loud voices/monocular shenanigans, but. I'm still fond of the idea of Ithaca being the book talking to itself & a bit knowingly at that. It's almost recollective. "Where did they go? Why did he...? Ah, yes." only translated into ridiculous-ese.

-->"the domain of interior monologue is actually external"--Possibly--so, Ithaca is largely external description, concerned nominally with detail and physicality but perhaps getting at a bit of interior stuff also?

-->Though abundant in historical and mythological paradigms, Ulysses tends to refuse us the sensations of time-travel. Without static, but also without anchors. There are reasons for this. Ithaca in particular rooted in a very specific present.

-->"Description without knowledge is always potentially comic. It fails of intimacy with what is described. Being outside, it enacts a certain bafflement, as though it were a periphrasis for the intimate identifying word...That is one reason Joyce drives himself, in Ulysses, to many little triumphs of linguistic virtuosity. He needs, in the ordinary texture of his narrative, to convey the illusion that things are being named exactly..." Ah, yes, definitely.

So tomorrow I should:

1) Get some good textual examples from Ithaca of the Uncle Charles Principle and/or subversions/mutations thereof.

2) Write a dang response.

3) Collapse and read about Hippolytus and translate some Tristia.


One last quote from Kenner: [Ulysses] declines to stick to a plausibility of surfaces, it declines the decorums of unobtrusive homespun prose. It commences as though in homage to those disciplines and proceeds to kick them to shreds.

Those two sentences are terrifically fun to say. Realized on the third re-read, though: 'kick them to shreds'? How do you kick something and end up shredding it? Knives on your boots, or...? Just some brutal kicks! Take that, decorum?

Edit 10/13:

At the heart of Hugh Kenner’s Joyce’s Voices seem to be an amused disdain for objectivity and something he calls the “Uncle Charles Principle”, the latter validating the former through frequent and effective use. Kenner defines the Uncle Charles Principle as “the narrative idiom need not be the narrator’s”; he later refers to it more fancifully as “narrative idiom bent by a person’s proximity as a star defined by Einstein will bend passing light”. The idea of a character’s proximity coloring the narrative, or even changing its shape—I believe that it happens in ‘Ithaca’ as much as in any other chapter of Ulysses, though less on the level of idiom than attitude or attention. Though Kenner only briefly discusses ‘Ithaca’, and then only in the context of a structural nod to Homer and part of the Nostos section’s return to a more sensible conception of truth, I think his views on objectivity are particularly relevant to ‘Ithaca’. More than any other chapter ‘Ithaca’ uses the language most strongly associated with objectivity, though (pseudo-)scientific as opposed to narrative. Objective “is exactly what [Ithaca] is not,” Kenner remarks. “It is incomplete and only intermittently straightforward…and it refuses restriction to the experience of the senses” (96). Yet understanding what’s meant by the supposedly objective language in Ithaca means grasping the tone of the narrator, and the narrator’s intention.

Kenner does not subscribe to the idea of a single Arranging narrator for Ulysses, instead proposing—for the sake of argument—two narrators: one the Vivid Narrator, precise, virtuosic, perhaps old-fashioned but willing to help clarify the text’s subject whenever allowed to speak, and one a swaggering ventriloquist and Uncle-Charles-adept, invasive, imitative and intent on luring the reader into traps. "He has written a great many books before this one, he will have us know," says Kenner, "and arranged a great many pantomimes. Objectivity...was a game he invented” (75). Both maintain a presence throughout the novel (until ‘Penelope’, at least) but Kenner proposes that the second gains supremacy during Ulysses’ second half; the second is responsible for pasting headlines all over ‘Aeolus’ to announce his presence, for fusing and confusing vignettes in ‘Wandering Rocks’, for spontaneously twisting the voice of ‘Cyclops’ into out-of-place pastiche and parody, etc. I’m intrigued by the concept: doubling the narrator is a proper complement to some of the loud monocular voices of Ulysses. What interests me most is his suggestion that the first narrator’s domain is internal, and the second’s external: that is, that the descriptions of supposedly certain, physical surroundings are more deceptive than thought-transcriptions and the view from inside a character. I was reminded of Senn’s warnings about the painstaking accuracy of Ulysses’ Dublin geography. Long before outlining his double-narrator theory, Kenner argues that Joyce “needs to convey the illusion” (my emphasis) “that things are being named exactly,” a claim that has bizarre but somehow appropriate implications for ‘Ithaca’ (30). He concludes:

…from this often subliminal contrast between the careful recital of events, or the careful description of surfaces, and the swift knowing intimate Name, an odd conclusion emerges: that the domain of the interior monologue is actually external. It is the idiom of the perpetual outsider. (32)

He uses examples of Bloom reaching for (and failing to find) the right words to describe what he sees in his early chapters to support this idea, sketching a relationship between Bloom and the narration wherein Bloom is circumlocutory and unclear, while the narration is able to grasp and convey Bloom’s surroundings succinctly and (?) accurately. When the second narrator begins to gain the upper hand, however, this relationship is reversed, and it is Bloom we look to for anchors of clarity. It is precisely because external narration is meant to be supremely objective that the supposed “ironic, malicious” second narrator’s task is to trick and distract us. Like Stephen, Joyce’s distaste for authority is pervasive and unmatched, though Joyce’s matured (in some respects) into incisive amusement while Stephen’s stayed a characteristic mix of arrogance and frustration (one of the reasons why, as Kenner says, we receive from Stephen “so much theory…and such meager practice (82) ). Objectivity is the authoritative, Truthful narrative position. As such, in its purported dimensions it’s entirely impossible to achieve, and believing in it is (to Joyce perhaps, and certainly to Kenner) as naïve as believing in fairies . Andrew Gibson argues in Joyce’s Revenge that ‘Ithaca’ constitutes a rebellion against the tyranny of language belonging to modern (British) scientific discourse; empiricism as a tool of Empire and so on, much like he supposes ‘Eumaeus’ to be a similar attack on some kind of tyranny of phrase and authoritative grammar. ‘Ithaca’ doubtlessly mocks the diction in which it revels, and revels as much in the mockery as the use (I think), but along with Kenner I see ‘Ithaca’ as more concerned with curiosity than condemnation.

Kenner sees ‘Ithaca’ as a return to something Homeric, and the catechism as reminiscent of a “Tell me, Muse” dialogue (and ‘Penelope’ in turn as the Muse speaking by herself, with no interruption from poet-narrator). If I understand him correctly (and I’m not certain I do), he also implies ‘Ithaca’ is a kind of reconciliation between the two narrators. Reconciliation does run through the veins of ‘Ithaca’, whether by association with character dynamic (a potential reconciliation between Molly and Bloom; the (re)union of our Telemachus and Odysseus) or resulting from the text itself, a breath of fresh air after ‘Eumaeus’ and a calming step back from the cacaphonies of ‘Circe’ and ‘Oxen of the Sun’. One can assume the presence of both narrators if there are in fact two, either speaking to each other or for once speaking in unison—‘Ithaca’ uses language typical of exclusively external description, sometimes for landscapes and sometimes to articulate the interiors of both Bloom and Stephen (Bloom moreso than Stephen, of course). There are no interior monologues in ‘Ithaca’; though two conversations are had we read neither as dialogue; all voices are conveyed only through indirect speech. If “the domain of the interior monologue is actually external”, then perhaps in ‘Ithaca’ we see that the inverse is also true; that the so-called objective exterior narration is actually quite concerned with the internal. This goes back to the Uncle Charles Principle and its manifestation in ‘Ithaca’: while the style of ‘Ithaca’ cannot allow itself to be contaminated by idiom, the focus of ‘Ithaca’ is directed by Bloom, and occasionally Stephen, and its own potential desire to reconcile the temperaments of the two within itself. The scientific and the artistic: ‘Ithaca’ achieves a wavering balance between one and the other. It begins by assuming in its first question that Bloom and Stephen are on parallel courses—what were they?—“Starting united,” the answer begins. Kenner believes that ‘Ithaca’ is “responsive to Bloom’s wishes” because the budget contained within it is inaccurate, and believes it is deceptive (on his behalf) in offering such a surfeit of evidence. I think Ithaca’s responsiveness to Bloom is more in its style, and its willingness to thoroughly follow his scientific curiosities, outlining them with a polysyllabic vocabulary he does not himself possess; in its oddly respectful detachment discussing personal artifacts from his life and his house; in its knotting together of his sensibilities and Stephen’s so that, though the two of them do not really come to a sure understanding by the chapter’s end, steps they could not take towards each other are taken by the text (to which they owe their creation). And I am not really convinced that Ithaca is the work of two distinct narrators, despite its structure; I’m still more attached to the idea of “a book talking to itself”, mirroring the Ouroboros-like nature of its diction. Ascribing only one narrator to ‘Ithaca’ could give the rigid catechism/scientific inquiry a more relaxed sense, as well; an almost recollective one—questions asked of oneself trying to remember a particular detail, and then the answer from one’s memory, here impossibly detailed (but still flawed, probably). Not the reconciliation of two narrators with a previously uneasy relationship, but the decision of a single narrator to practice a different kind of dislocution, a different kind of translation, and a different use of the Uncle Charles Principle from any found in Ithaca’s predecessors.

Encouragingly, Gloria highlighted bits of the last section as "This could be the thesis of your paper!" Exciting! And a relief too, since what she liked--the theme of reconciliation and/via translation, Stoom and Blephen contaminating the narration, etc.--is what I could actually manage to talk about for a reasonable length. Dang, it's almost like I might write Plan or something.