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Structure of Fatherhood and Authorship

Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 03:16 am Leave a comment Go to comments

“Making a Name for Himself: Paternity, Joyce, and Stephen’s Adolescent Identity Crisis” by Kent Baxter

This essay has a first section entitled “What’s in a Name” dedicated to discussing the relationship Joyce had with his own name, and the relationship  the modernist perspective perceives adolescents have with their surname.  To make it quick, since it has little to do with Ulysses and less to do with what I would like to focus on regarding my obsession of Paternity: Adolescents are striving to “make a name” for themselves and there’s a conundrum because they want to distinguish themselves within society using their name, but their name stems from their fathers’s and they struggle to separate themselves from the father as well.

The next section in the essay is “The Name Game.”  Baxter describes Stephen’s dissection of his name and multiple possible fathers in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen renounces his biological father, Simon, then renounces the Church fathers because he does want to become one of a mass of priests, and at the end of Portrait he remakes his name anew, a morphed version of his father-given name, but it is his own because he was reworked.

In “The Sons of Shakespeare,” Baxter refers to the Scylla and Charybdis episode where Stephen contemplates what he had done with his name in Portrait.  Baxter emphasizes that the Scylla and Charybdis episode is where Stephen is at his most creative, producing his individualized thoughts and as Baxter says: “mak[ing] a name for himself.”   At the same time, Stephen “debunks” the names of the fathers through the “legal fiction” of Shakespeare’s writing himself a son in Hamlet, and writing himself into Hamlet as a father, and, as Baxter notes, “bastardizing” the men’s surnames who are listening to his theory on Hamlet.  In Scylla and Charybidis, Stephen is upending the whole idea of fatherhood, causing it to be a fluctuating, unstable category.  According to Baxter, this is the way Stephen is renouncing his literary fathers.  Baxter then goes on to say something that I find pushing it a little too far.  And by a little, I mean a lot!  I like tangible reality and space and time as concrete things in discourse at least, because how are we going to have a conversation without those things!?   So Baxter says:

what Stephen does …is even more radical than a new way to theorize Shakespeare.  Stephen questions the linearity of time, the                          notion that something always comes before.  And by questioning the linearity of time, he casts doubt on the belief that                                          Shakespeare came before his texts… that there is a literary tradition that comes before and defines what makes a legitimate                                  artist.

He continues saying that through the episode, Joyce is using Stephen to “debunk the notion that… a literary tradition comes before its artists” and therefore attempt to become a legitimate individual artist.  I would like to think that Joyce WISHES he could turn time and space topsy-turvy and not have the literary tradition behind him, pressuring him, molding him, but I just don’t think it’s possible.  Luckily for me, Baxter addresses this.  He goes on to say that the very act of attempting to overthrow the father is something that fathers have done, and therefore is within tradition, literary or otherwise.  Adolescents have attempted to escape the father’s influence and in doing so have completed an act which the father has already done, thus they become the fathers.

Baxter’s best sentence summarizing this cyclical conundrum would be: “the ultimate irony inherent in Stephen and Joyce’s attempt to overthrow the father arises because to make a name for oneself means both to make a name represent oneself as an individual and to affirm the impossibility of this very individuality. ”  Ultimately, Baxter argues that Stephen, in a step between childhood and adulthood, ends up exposing the structure of authorship and fatherhood and this allows Joycean followers to see that structure and work off it.

Baxter, Kent. “Making a Name for Himself: Paternity, Joyce, and Stephen’s Adolescent Identity Crisis” Naming the Father edited by Eva Paulino Bueno et. al.

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