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The really Dead

Thursday, September 3, 2009; 07:22 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

Owing to the tardiness of my post, Pok!, I’d like to comment on our in-class discussion of ‘paralysis’ in ‘The Dead’. For me, Gabriel is the most apt metaphor for this paralysis because of his ties to systems of re-presentation, and temporal displacement. First, Gabriel’s job as book reviewer immediately establishes him as a mediator or relayer of information rather than ‘originator’. Moreover, the examples we are given of Gabriel’s writing style (i.e. “One feels that one is listening to a thought-tormented music”) and oratory prowess (Irish hospitality) both ring incredibly hollow–rather vague commentaries on a time period and place he really ought to know more about (Ireland, the present). Second, and in a similar vein, Gabriel’s retelling of the Johnny horse story alludes to his passive and regurgitant relationship to the past. Here, Gabriel mimics, as well as embodies, his Grandfather’s malfunctioning beast of burden in a stultifying and multi-layered portrayal of the absurdity of ceremonial repetition. Through his reenactment, Gabriel becomes the psychologically abused horse, an image of subordination to both paternal past (“Out from the mansion of this forefathers” 179) and present senility (it is Aunt Julia who invokes the story of Johnny to begin with).

Given Gabriel’s implied cosmopolitanism (he bikes in France, Germany, etc.), Joyce seems to question the relation between place, time, and dymanic identity. Gabriel is mobile and yet stagnant.  For me this raises questions that I’m sure will reappear as the course goes on: What is the importance of historical and contextual understanding in Joyce’s view?  Considering Joyce’s own emmigration, is it possible to map a productive envisioning of transnational identity in Ulysses?

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