2) “…so capricious are we, that we cannot or will not conceive the past in any other than its iron

memorial aspect. Yet the past assuredly implies a fluid succession of presents, the development of an entity of which our actual present is a phase only” (James Joyce). Discuss the uses of history AND/OR the relationship between past and present in works by Joyce.

Frank Macpherson 27th January 2013 W1/HT

Abstract: In Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (henceforth Portrait) the narrative structure and technique interact with the influence of time on the representation of the literary self, from an internal and external perspective. This varied between the personal past and „historical‟ past, as well as their influence on the present, and connects with the Modernists re-shaping contemporary notions of time. Joyce explores the interplay between different kinds of time, and what they might mean for the present or the future.


In order to do this he rejected the Victorian historicism that had left the present seeming „pre-determined and smothered by the past2‟ in favour of a „fundamental convulsion of the creative human spirit that seem to topple even the most solid and substantial of our beliefs and assumptions… and stimulate frenzied rebuilding3‟. as opposed to the historical past.In the 1880‟s William Wundt performed a series of experiments in order to determine the duration of the present1. whilst „History‟ as an area of study for Joyce‟s contemporaries was still the „study of great men‟. As the Moderns became more conscious of their independence4 they began to be drawn to the examination of the personal past.whilst the personal past was distinctly subjective by its very nature. In this way the full impact of the reimagining of the past by Joyce can be realised. history entailed entertained the desire for objectivity. Whilst the boundaries between the past and the present are not always clear in Dubliners or A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (henceforth Portrait) the difference between the past and history can be brought into focus comparatively: the past specifically referring to the personal past. and his experiments to re-shape way in which we perceived our personal past as well as our histories and their influence upon us show a similar focus on re-establishing a new relationship between people and their pasts. crucially because it was „something 1 2 Kerr p82 Kern p61 3 Bradbury and McFarlane p19 4 Bradbury and McFarlane p98 2 . Simultaneously present in Joyce‟s statement is the causal relationship between our „capricious(ness)‟ and the „iron memorial aspect‟ of memory: memory seems to be so stationary because our characters are so changing and we require memory to be as strong and unchanging as this to give a sense of solidity to the presence. Joyce was born at the beginning of this decade. Furthermore.

At the first paragraph the narrative 5 6 Kern p63 Iser 7 Portrait p5 8 Title Quotation 9 Iser p192 3 . and don‟t know exactly how they affect him in the future. The boundary between past and present is an easy one to distinguish consciously. “Once upon a time…7‟ is such a universal opening line for a story that it is probably recognised in the readers own mind. but unconsciously and intellectually Iser suggests that we are drawing on our own memories and personal past. having read them. Yet with Stephen a reader sees them being acted out. This „entity‟ seen on completing the work could then perhaps be described as Joyce‟s Modernist soul. Equally a reader is conscious that all of these memories somehow form a background of memory for Stephen. Their placement in a text allows us. In Portrait Joyce clearly attempts to refute the „iron memorial aspect‟ of the past and instead display the „fluid succession of presents‟.over which they might gain some control5‟. Whilst it is impossible to effectively externalise and convey a persons complexities to an outsider Portrait attempts to bestow a sense of the unified „single entity8‟ that is Stephen. The language of Portrait is initially sparse and develops as the artist does. to view them almost simultaneously. and our external perspective allows us to effectively perceive the unity of his previous „presents‟ as a synthesised entity. against which new experiences will be played out. This desire for control is directly manifested in Portrait as Joyce returns to the point someone‟s life when they arguably have least control: infancy. and these will interact in new ways9. Simultaneously when reading this opening the consciousness of Stephen that a reader adopts when reading the novel is overlaid the background of our own memories6 and recalls both for Stephen and for the reader what it was like to be a child. externally to the text.

As a whole the work jumps between time frames with no reference or warning. This seems to establish firmly Joyce‟s interest in the internal intellectual development of the reader and the role that memory. However this application of unhiemlich may be an overextension depending on how far a reader identifies with Stephen throughout the novel. Kern‟s assessment of the „thrust of the age‟ establishes this facet of Portrait as a crucial one. the subconscious. In being contemporaneous with the development of Freud‟s notion of the subconscious. and yet allows Joyce to develop a sense of supposedly unbeknownst intimacy with Stephen. Critical and Political Writings (ed. the activity of cognition… and the activity of recognition10‟. Therefore the narrative progression of Portrait is about establishing the bearing of the interior according the exterior. Whilst the opening appears to be from the point of view of Stephen himself. An example of this 10 11 Joyce. This prevents us from becoming Stephen completely.voice cannot even initially be distinguished as that of Stephen or as that of his father. and an events importance within the narrative has little attachment to how long the incident lasted for. part of the contemporary attempt to „affirm the reality of private time against that of a single public time and to define its nature as heterogeneous. OWC 2008) p105 Kern p34 4 . Yet the Iserian notion of background and foreground memory is in fact echoed by Joyce. Occasional. Barry. fluid. in his Paris Notebook on Aesthetics: „the act of apprehension involves at least two activities. the text might also be seen as almost eerie or unhiemlich as we are made privy to the private formative experiences of an individual through his own mind that echo the formative experiences of our own. albeit to a different end. the use of the masculine second person pronoun creates a distinct space between the reader and the character. and reversible11‟. or in his words a „fluid succession of presents‟ plays.

the mind visualises it in a way that attempts to replay or relive it and equally the conscious mind seemingly has no 12 13 Joyce p91 Joyce p146 14 Bergson. despite their different characters. However its snapshot stories also might be described as a „fluid succession of presents‟ in that they entice us to develop a unity between them. as it is „impoverished…achieved by coming to know it (the object) through symbols or words that fail to render its true nature15‟. Bergson also developed a theory of relative and absolute time in his An Introduction to Metaphysics (1903). The manipulation of the clock in Portrait is an example of relative time. Henri Bergson‟s exposure of fallacies in thinking of time „spatially14‟. This might equally be applied to Joyce‟s Dubliners that is only „coming to know‟ whatever it aims to show by „moving around the object16‟. When a memory is recalled. where for over 10 pages the reader is embroiled in Stephen‟s inner turmoil with no anchor to his physical movement or the passage of time apart from the knowledge that he is on „the walk home‟. Later Stephen‟s Mother has to work out the time for Stephen by „straightening the battered clock that was lying on its side in the middle of the kitchen mantelpiece until its dial showed a quarter to twelve and the laid it once more on its side13‟. An Introduction to Metaphysics. 15 Kern p25 16 Ibid p25 5 . Equally whilst initially Dubliners less experimental narrative might imply that it is an example of the past in its „iron memorial aspect‟. such as on the face of a clock is referenced here. The „thick fog (that) seemed to compass his mind‟ becomes a fog of words for the reader. as in turn time suggests little order for Stephen who is then late to his lectures.is Father Arnell‟s invocation of hell12 and Stephen‟s internal musings on them. Public time has no importance when the private is faced with such serious questions.

and mine if I was ever a child.in which sense it is as close to the „fluid succession of presents‟ as it is perhaps possible to be. slowed down and cut together was enough to attract audiences.control over the memories that are recalled. This persisted until the late 1920‟s. In the early stages of movies being shown to a consumer audience. no conventional story was deemed necessary as the way in which images were sped up. Statues of women. as this form suddenly makes the distinction between reader and narrative voice much sharper but carries with it the readers background knowledge of Stephen as „Baby Tuckoo‟. „6th April: Certainly she remembers the past. this pretends to be an account of the past written in the present. It is unclear whether his questioning of whether she remembers „the time of her childhood. Joyce also managed the first cinema in Dublin. and yet presents them as a single entity in volume form. The diary form might be seen to be consuming the present of the narrator and representing it as past text.just as Dubliners refuses to allow satisfyingly cohesive links between the individual stories to develop. if Lynch be right. The implication is that these thoughts come directly from the character as he writes. Then she remembers the time of her childhood. This rapid cutting and freedom of movement might recall cinema. one hand of the woman feeling regretfully her nether parts17‟. so clearly showed at least an interest in film although it is difficult to know how far this can be allowed to feature in an analysis of his work. At the end of Portrait the novel takes diary form. should always be fully draped. it is almost as Stephen has become a character in his own right and is slowly escaping the world of text. Lynch says all women do. In taking the diary format. as Vertov‟s Man With A Movie Camera‟s fragmented narrative shows. At this point.and mine if I was ever a child‟ is intended to be a joke based on how 17 Joyce p211 6 .

and by implication the historical past. and they have the potential to become jumbled. In this he was representative of the Modernists in general. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man might be read as a slow layering of „successive presents‟ until upon its ending the reader can view a completed „entity‟. Juxtaposed with Lynch‟s comments about statues of women.altered he is from childish innocence. the reader is equally reminded of how quickly this abstract questioning of the nature of time and memory is itself forgotten by more immediate concerns.and yet the reader can hold these successive presents in unity even as the narrator can not. or whether it carries in it a grain of truth that he cannot remember his early childhood. 7 . Therefore Joyce's work is drawn together by his desire to escape and even redefine the conventional notions of time. In framing the phrase within the diary format he acknlowedges the constant absorbtion of the present into memory as well as effectively transposing the idea of „successive presents‟ into literary form as each entry is clearly labelled with its date. as the reader partially absorbs the completed entity and its successive presents alongside its own. but also to re-shape the readers expectation of how they viewed and interacted with the personal past. It almost seems to push at its confinement to text.

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