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Conmeeism: Giving the Catholic Church a Voice

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 03:35 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Williams, Trevor. “Conmeeism and the Universe of Discourse in “Wandering Rocks”.” James Joyce Quarterly vol 29.2 (1992): 267-279.

Trevor Williams focused on Father Conmee’s appearance in Wandering Rocks to examine the connection between the Church, Ireland under colonial rule, and Joyce’s take on it all. In the article Conmeeism and the Universe of Discourse in “Wandering Rocks”, Williams observed that Roman Catholicism had a distinct lingual style, through Father Conmee’s perspective, and this managed to repress the Irish of the episode as much as the English colonization of Ireland represented through the Viceregal cavalcade. Through Marxism he hopes to prove that Joyce is rebelling against Catholicism’s complicity with the state in keeping the masses oppressed (okay, I’ll stop channeling Buck).

Anyway, Trevor Williams does manage to prove that there is a special style of discourse that we might define as “Conmeeism.” I’ll bite on that, since the “Eastern Star” group spent some time last Wednesday unofficially and vaguely trying to define the language he uses in connection to the disconnect between Conmee and the real world of the Dubliners. Williams did a very good job pinpointing the exact style, and what makes it so oppressive. The style of language used in his episode is for the most part pedantic, precise; it echoes the styles approved by St. Ignatius Loyola for the order that Conmee is a part of: the Jesuits (275). Because Father Conmee has a lack of vocal character, that is, what he thinks about is almost what he says, for example the section where he runs into the wife of the MP, and proceeds to talk about her children, there is a lack of fragmentation in his character that you see with Bloom and Stephen (270). This gives him a sense of wholeness, a “greater presence” so the reader believes that he is speaking for the greater Church (270). At the same time, however, his language creates a barrier between him and the fragmentary chaotic outer world (271). Not being of the world of Dublin, and yet a great force on Dublin, he in turn is never affected by that world, and without that reciprocity he becomes an oppressive force (271).

Specifically, this style represses the female characters that Conmee runs into, as Williams points out (272). I like how he notes that Conmee only seems to interact with women, really, as the men he encounters serve merely to confirm his role as the overall patriarchal Father (276). Conmee is willfully ignorant of the world around him in a way the women are not. The young couple he runs into react radically differently to him. The girl is unabashed, obviously picking the reminding twig from her skirt, as her boyfriend awkwardly salutes the priest. Conmee’s Catholic, chaste authority is challenged by the girl (278). However, he is able to brush this challenge aside, and bury it with what Williams would terms as the authority of his holy book (278). The girl leaves, gravely blessed, and he continues, reducing her to “Sin.”

Williams point is that this repression is typical of the economic oppression of the state, specifically the imperial, colonial state that England represents to the Irish mind (269). There is the same barrier between Conmee and the people as exists between the viceregal carriage. Williams borrows Engles to make the point thatthese two beings don’t see the reality of Joyce’s Dublin , which only enforces the crushing economic dependence on England that Church endorses in its complicit ignorance (269). Religion only needs to be separated from the machinations of the State because it is omnipresent in the lives of the characters, according to Williams (269).

The bright side in Williams article is that the power of Catholicism and Conmee’s language is broken when sexuality confronts the Patriarchal complex that controls capitalism (278). Williams believes that Joyce forms through feminine sexuality as femininity that can be taken on by all characters to combat the oppression (278). So, ideally, the salvation comes from the female, as an “abstract” in Williams’ words (278).

He admits that these ideas aren’t complete, as he does not examine colonialism, except to say that it parallels the church (267).It also would have been nice to see more commentary based upon the world that Joyce inhabited, and the religion of Dublin’s day. The scant “Notes” section reveals a few pieces of Marxist criticism, and some general background to Joyce and Ulysses, however, nothing connecting back to the religious reality of the day that Joyce covers in the novel. I would also have liked possibly to see something on nationalism, and how Catholicism conflicted with colonialism in that regard, if only as a response to possible weak points in the thesis. Anyway, it seems rather ironic that Williams biggest criticism of the Church-through-Conmee is that there is a disconnect between the church and reality, when there is a disconnect between Williams and the church’s reality.

~ ~ ~

Note: I didn’t know where to put this so I’m sticking this completely unrelated thing at the end of my post.

I stumbled onto a little gem in JSTOR by accident. It’s from the “Musical Times” of 1889, and discusses among other things Guido d’Arroz, who might have been the inventor of the musical notation form that we saw in Scylla and Charybdis. Apparently the form of having only a four-line staff is common up to present day! (Thanks to Wikipedia for this info). The four-line staff is used to indicated plain chant, and the notation style was the first kind of notation that actually told pitch as well as timing, which was invented for the use of Catholic monks (Arroz was specifically a Benedictine) for the purposes of basically glorifying God in a way that wasn’t on seven different keys in an atonal nightmare. Anyway, the particle was pretty interesting:

The Great Musical Reformers. II. Guido d’Arezzo, by W. S. Rockstro The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular © 1889 Musical Times Publications Ltd. You should be able to search JSTOR for it pretty easily.

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