Monday, April 1, 2013

Stephen at the Battlements

The Martello Tower in Dublin where James Joyce lived briefly in 1904. Now a Joyce museum.
Chapter One begins on the roof of the Martello Tower in Sandycove at the battlements because Stephen Dedalus is in a battle to protect himself, his identity, from those who would usurp it. Like Hamlet, SD's father is dead. Much of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the process of SD's separating from the father, rejecting his maudlin nationalism and his mindless honoring of the Jesuits. Like Hamlet, however, the ghost of his father exists in other fathers whom he must do battle with: Yeats, whose poem "Who goes With Fergus" recurs when SD contemplates loves bitter mystery, and Wilde, whose puce and yellow garb are so different from SD's ratty clothes, but whose witticisms are so like SD's proclamations such as Irish history is the cracked looking glass of a servant. As a servant to England, he speaks the master's language; as a servant of Rome, his mind is filled with the rituals and obligations of the Catholic church. Mulligan can reject these masters through mockery—his parody of the mass that begins the novel with Buck as priest and SD as his servant boy and through bullying Haines, the Sassenach (Irish for Englishman)—but SD cannot so easily use Mulligan's methods. SD agonizes over these battles. He feels the sting of Mulligan's mockery and the remorse over having to reject his mother's attempt to appeal to his love of her to participate in a religious ritual in which he does not believe. SD may seem like such a brooding, egocentric adolescent to Joyce here that Joyce and Mulligan are allied in their mockery of SD, but I wonder why Joyce changes the circumstance of SD's denial of his mother in Ulysses. In Portrait, SD refuses to do his Easter duty. In Ulysses, he refuses merely to kneel and pray at her deathbed, something that would take so little of SD's self to do that Joyce is either mocking SD more or showing just how seriously SD takes his need to be an isolate to become the artist he pledges to be in Chapter IV when his espies the bird girl who inspires him to create in a way that demands complete and utter fealty to the self, the Ubermench that is Lucifer-like in Portrait.  In Portrait SD rejects the power of the keys the jesuit offers him should he join the order and call God down upon the altar in a convoluted Lucifer-like battle with God. Here in Ulysses, SD tries to hang onto the key to the tower but does relinquish it (and its power, even though he pays the rent) to Mulligan, the primary usurper of Chapter One, who is, because he speaks for SD's mother in her deathbed disagreement with her son, a suitor, whom SD must overcome if he is to be more than "a young man." That Hamlet's mother accepts a suitor that upsets Hamlet continues the parallel with Hamlet just as the titillating riddle that SD and Buck use to undercut Haines. To become men, SD and Telemachus and Hamlet must resist the suitor-usurpers of their stories. The reference to Bloom's daughter as a "sweet young thing" that one of Mulligan's brothers is tasting in Westmeath and Mulligan's climbing naked into the bed of the mother-sea at the clothes-optional swimming hole known as Forty Foot, just down a bit from the tower in Sandycove, suggest the sexual path to adulthood that Mulligan would have taken with Ursula and that Joyce's recent biographers tell us Joyce is celebrating on June 16, 1904, when Nora Barnacle reached into JJ's pants to make a man of him. Mulligan's likeness to Wilde may be JJ's inclusion of another resistance that SD is aware of (at least subconsciously): homosexuality, which is such a mystery in Portrait to the young boys who discuss smugging in Chapter One that it needs no resistance. In Ulysses, however, SD, consciously rejects Mulligan, whose reference to SD as kinch (knife) may be BM's acknowedgement of his interest in SD's sexual tool and weapon. If a knife is merely a knife, must BM beware SD. If a knife is more phallic than a literal knife, is BM another aspect of love's bitter mystery that has led SD to reject EC in Portrait and his mother in Portrait and Ulysses and the Usurper Mulligan (like Cranley in Portrait, both of whom link arms with SD to tempt him). Mulligan's Hellenism, like Haines’ anti-Semitism, afloat in the scrotum-tightening sea, surround SD, but he rejects them both.

Bill G.

No comments:

Post a Comment