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John Marshall’s “Getting Past No in ‘Scylla and Charybdis'”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 04:04 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Gordon, John. “Getting Past No in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’” James Joyce Quarterly 44:3. 2007.

This article is centered around the same passage I was looking at on Monday (9.1064-85), when Stephen answers no to the question of whether he believes his own theory.  John Marshall’s central claim is that the “no” that we’re hearing is actually more of a “not yet,” and that Stephen is really responding “no” so as to reject the critical conversation that currently surrounds Shakespeare, which Marshall places as analogous to Scylla and Charybdis.

In other words, being a true believer about a nutty Shakespearean theory (like Herr Karl Bleibtreu, the alternative suggested by Eglinton) corresponds to the “Scyllan rock-monster—the one with six maws for swallowing you up,” while the endless whirlpool of speculation found in the library conversation specifically by the likes of Eglinton, Best, A.E., Lyster, and Buck Mulligan correspond to Charybdis. Stephen wants neither of these, so like Odysseus, he makes the better of two choices by trying to navigate through Scylla (i.e. having actual discourse about his Shakespeare theory) than get sucked into the endless whirlpool of his own thought.

This essay helped clarify my original take on this passage, and its close reading throughout is very revealing. As an example, Marshall identifies nineteen instances where Stephen takes something that has either been said to him or written and converts it into part of his own production. He concludes the essay with further speculation of “yes” and “no,” which relates to his assertion that the novel begins with an aura of rejection (Stephen recalling his mother’s rejection at her deathbed, Molly’s “Mn” moment) and ends with an emphatic affirmation (yes, it does yes). Stephen is working with similar ideas, and for Marshall, the Scylla and Charybdis episode represents a key turning point.

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