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Patterns of Light in the Telemachiad

Wednesday, September 9, 2009; 03:10 am Leave a comment Go to comments

My obsession is light, a concept only lightly sprinkled over this section of the work, but still deserving of some attention. Rather than searching for an overall theme this early, I’m going to approach my obsession through patterns formed by appearances of light (and dark).

 

Who:

The first and only time in which a word related to light is verbalized appears in Book 2 when Stephen is talking with Mr. Deasy. Interestingly, both “light” and “darkness” are uttered by Mr. Deasy justifying his anti-Semitism; as he sees it, the Jewish people “sinned against the light…you can see the darkness in their eyes,” a reference which both highlights their physical otherness as Mr Deasy sees it and their departure from his religious convictions (2.361-2).

 

What:

Most of the early mentions of light are in reference to natural light, most particularly sunlight, and usually in connection with the omnipresent sea. The most common word is ironically “dark,” with eight references, but despite this fact, there are more references to light (23) rather than dark (17) (second place is “bright” with six).  Counting these two, there are 14 different light words, including burning, cloud, day, dim, flame, glow, light, lightening, rays, shadow, shine, and sun.

 

When:

In Book 1, the references to light are often in connection to a verb of some sort, specifically movement; “woodshadows” float, an area grows dim, daylight falls (1.242, 1.225, 1.315). Interestingly, the verb attached to each mention of light is not always logical, such as when Stephen “heard warm running sunlight” (1.283).

 

Where:

References to sunlight belong almost exclusively to Book 1. Fire does not appear until Book 3 and even then the mentions are few (2). Book 3 is also where the only reference to lightening appears, a handful of line from the end of the book. Thus, neither fire or lightening, both possibly dangerous incarnations of light, play a heavy role in the Telemachiad.

 

Why:

Excluding the two verbalized instances of light words, most appear in descriptions of Stephen’s, incorporated into his view of nature and his surroundings (as far as I can tell, light is only rarely used to refer to anything other than light, such as a bright student or a dark expression). Outside of Book 3, where the majority of the text is Stephen’s internal narrative, few references appear in his silent conversations, most found, as I said, in descriptions. A key discrepancy from this observation, however, occurs towards the beginning of Book 2, while Stephen is helping Sargent with his homework. Stephen floats off in fantasy about the origins of algebra, from Moorish culture, thinking of “a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could no comprehend,” a direct juxtaposition of a scripture found in the Gospel of John, which states” and the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not” (1.160; John 1:5).

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