Seamus Deane, ‘Joyce the Irishman’, in Derek Attridge, ed., The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce (Cambridge UP 1990), pp.31-54.

Joyce’s repudiation of Catholic Ireland and his countering declaration of artistic independence are well-known and integral features of his life-long dedication to writing. [Like] Yeats he was formed by the Ireland he repudiated and his quest for artistic freedom was itself shaped by the exemplary instances of early Irish writers who had, in his view, failed to achieve that independence which he sought for himself, an independence which was at once preconditioned and the goal of writing. (p.31.)

Wherever he looked, in Irish political or literary history, he found there the master-theme was betrayal. The great political crisis which dominated his early life - the fall of Parnell - probably governed this reading of his country’s past and helped to define for him the nature of the embattled future relationship between him and his Irish audience [...’; incls. ref. to Joyce’s remarks: “They did not throw him to the English wolves; they tore him to pieces themselves”, CW226; &c.].

It was Mangan’s downfall as an artist that he could not free himself from the tragic [33] history of his nation [...] Mangan’s art is [...] caught in the toils of a political crisis from which it can never be freed until that crisis has been resolved. (pp.32-33)

[Deane speaks of Mangan’s ‘fascination with translation as an act of repossession’, adding:] he betrays other languages into English, the better to possess both them and the English in which he writes; but his ultimate “betrayal” is that of his own authorship. He is not the original author, merely a secondary, intermediate author. He is an artist whose relationship to his material is oblique, regarding it as something rare and strange which passes over into language that cannot but be secondary, insufficient. In this respect, the role of translation in Irish letters had, at least from the beginning of the nineteenth century, become crucial in a country in which the riches of the native literature were being made accessible in the English language as part of the effort of the new cultural nationalism which had emerged after the Act of Union in 1800.

[Deane speaks of the Ordnance Commission as] simultaneously, an estrangement from the original and also a means of repossessing that which had been lost. [He continues:] Joyce’s own career as a writer is dominated by the same linguistic anxieties. He could write the spiritual history of his own country, but only when he found that mode of English appropriate to Irish experience, through which the Irish could repossess their experience in English which was unmistakably Irish English. (p.34.)

Although he shared the general view that Mangan was a nationalist poet, he also recognised that the poetry would not be seen for what it truly was as long as the two imperialisms, [34] British and Roman Catholic, prevailed. Nor did he believe that nationalism was anything other than an extension of those imperialisms, despite its apparent antagonism to them. (pp.34-35.)

[On Buck Mulligan’s ‘cracked looking-glass of a servant’ and Stephen’s allegorical reading of it:] ‘The mirror is offered by the mock-Wildean [Mulligan], the fake artist who steals from the servile the emblem of reality. (p.38.)

Like Mangan, Joyce and his contemporaries wore their linguistic [?] with a difference. Their language did not represent an identifiable world beyond itself. It represented the ways in which the idea of Ireland represented the reality of Ireland. It was, in effect, an exercise in translation. (p.39.)

Ireland was indeed a special country. It lived under the political domination of England and the religious domination of Rome while it espoused a rhetoric of freedom, uniqueness, especial privilege. Ireland was, in fact, especially underprivileged and was, on that account, more susceptible to and more in need of an exemplary art than any other European country. (Idem.)

Joyce’s civilisation was not, therefore, that of Myles Joyce, of Yeats and Lady Gregory and the Abbey Theatre, or of Mangan. Equally, it was not that of the comic dramatists, Sheridan, Goldsmith, Wilde, and Shaw, all of whom performed the role of “court jester to the English” (CW202). It was the civilisation of Catholic Dublin, related to but distinct from that of Catholic Ireland. Joyce tried to persuade the publisher, Grant Richards, that his collection of stories, Dubliners, was about a city that still had not been presented, or represented, to the world. He insists, on many occasions, on the emptiness that preceded his own writings about that city. It is an historical but not yet an imaginative reality. Although Dublin has been a capital for thousands of years and is said to be the second city of the British Empire, Joyce claims that no writer has yet “presented Dublin to the world”.

[Deane quotes sundry letters to Richards of 1906 incl. allusions to ‘chapter of moral history’, ‘spiritual liberation of my country’, ‘odour of ashpits’, ‘nicely polished looking-glass (Letters, I, pp.63-64) and his remarks on ‘the expression “Dubliner” (Letters, II, p.122).]

The mirror held up to Culture was going to reflect a reality no-one [sic] had presented before. Dublin would find it an unwelcome sight, but Dublin and Ireland would be liberated by it. Joyce is an author without native predecessors; he is an artist who intends to have the effect of a missionary.

By insisting that Dublin had not been represented before in literature, Joyce was intensifying the problem of representation for himself. He abjured the possibility of being influenced by any other Irish writer, because there was, in effect, none who belonged to his specific and peculiar version of his civilisation. He was bound, therefore, to find a mode of representation that was, as far as Irish literature was concerned, unique. But the literature of Europe did offer possible models. [...] To be truly European, the art would have to represent the city as an inheritor of the Judaeo-Greek civilisation, in a language which would be as diversified and varied as the city’s dense and intricate past.

First provincialism had to be exposed and explained as a disease, a paralysis of the will. (p.41.)

But Joyce’s enterprise was founded on a paradox. Dublin was an absence, a nowhere, a place that was not really a city or a civilisation at all. It was a Cave of Winds [...] Joyce wanted to dismantle its provincialism and its pretension; yet he also wanted to envision it as the archetypal modern city, as the single place in which all human history was rehearsed. It had to be both nowhere and everywhere, absence and presence. Somehow, he had to find the language which would register both aspects of the city. He had to scorn it for its peripherality and praise it for its centrality. Between these two possibilities, his strange language vacillates and develops.

Like the other Irish writers of the turn of the century, Joyce learned the advantages of incorporating into his writing the various dialects or versions of English spoken in Ireland. This was not simply a matter of enlivening a pallid literary language with colloquialisms. He went much further than that. He incorporated into his writing several modes of language and, in doing so, exploited the complex linguistic situation in Ireland to serve his goal. The chief features of that situation included a still-living oral tradition which had begun to influence the writing of fiction in Ireland more than sixty years before Joyce was born [... 42; see further under Deane, Quotations, supra].

Subversion is part of the Joycean enterprise. However, the bitterness attendant upon it is accompanied by the joy of renovation. There is nothing of political or social significance which Joyce does not undermine and restructure. Dublin and Ireland are dissected and yet both are revitalised; the English language is dismembered and yet reinvigorated; Catholic hegemony is both destroyed and reinstated; the narrowness of Irish nationalism is satirised and yet its basic impulse is ratified [... The] sense of a community, city-wide and country-wide, was possibly more alive and more widespread in his generation than any since. His interest in Irish politics confirmed his sense that the Irish community was susceptible to a reformulation of the idea of its essential and enduring coherence. (p.44.)

Discusses the Catholic Church’ hostility to ‘almost all movements for Irish liberation’ along with its hostility to ‘individual liberation’ and discusses the ‘two forms’ of Catholicism in Joyce’s work, ‘Irish and European’. (p.46.) ‘The notion of self-authorship (p.47.)

Ulysses is [as] concerned as is Dubliners with failure [...] In his 1907 lecture, “Ireland, Island of Saints and Sage”, Joyce declared, “It is well past time for Ireland to have done once and for all with failure.” Yet much of his own work is precisely on this theme. He analyses the psychology of subjection in his people by showing the paralysis which has overtaken them in their endless, futile quest for an origin which will provide them with an identity securely there own. Such an origin is always beyond history, since history, as we have seen, is for him a sequence of betrayals, the effect of which is to leave the Irish people leaderless, subjected to an authoritarian Church, bereft of that spiritual life which only the artist, in his quest for origin, can provide.

Characteristically when Joyce does find an originary story [Fall of Man], it involves betrayal. (p.49; further indicates the execution of Roderick O’Connor in 1923 as the source of the “King Roderick” episode of Finnegans Wake.)

Yet just as Ulysses had made real order out of apparent chaos, Finnegans Wake sustains individuality within the frame of the archetypal. The Earwicker family, for instance, is a version of Joyce’s family [...] The events of the Irish War of Independence against the British, the signing of the Treaty, the civil war which followed, and the subsequent entry of De Valera into parliamentary politics are all presented in fractured form as specific happenings in themselves and also as representative events. We can see here, a little more clearly, how Joyce grappled with the problem of representation. Individual items, which by themselves might be meaningless, gain significance when seen as part of an overall pattern. (p.50.)

Joyce is involving [50] himself and us in a stupendous act of retrospective translation, whereby the distinctions and differences between words and languages are collapsed into a basic, originary speech native to the subconscious, not the conscious, mind. This is his version of the lost language of Ireland; it is also the lost language of the Irish soul, that entity which had not been articulated into existence before Joyce. In effect, what this lost language tells is the story of the transgression which led to its loss, the story of the life of the soul lost to the life of the conscious mind, the narrative of an Edenic Ireland which, through sin, became postlapsarian and British. (pp.50-51).

The Irish had dreamt in their own language and then betrayed the dream into the English language in such a manner that the original meaning had been lost, misread; as a consequence, for this transgression, they had been punished. English did not translate the dream because the Irish did not possess, had, indeed, refused to accept, the culture which English represented. So Joyce, following in the steps of all of those who had been busily translating Irish material - especially legendary material - into English, went very much further than the second-hand Carlylese of Standish O’Grady, or the Kiltartan dialect of Lady Gregory, or the peasant speech of Synge, who takes a drubbing, chiefly from Mulligan, in the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode. Joyce translated in the other direction. He brought English and as many other languages as he could manage - including Irish - back to the literary equivalent of the Indo-European from which they had all [51] sprung. (pp.51-52.)

There is no question any longer of a skeleton key which will turn in all the locks. This translation does not translate. The thousands of proper names in the text are so interwoven that even the minutest knowledge of Irish affairs [...] does not legitimise, say, a reading of the text as a version of Irish story in a Babylonian dialect. (p.52.)

The treachery which obsessed Joyce is fundamental to his practice of writing. For he leaves us to wonder if the text that he offers is one which has been so fully articulated that it can go no further; or if it is a text which is blurred that it awaits and invites full articulation. This was not only a problem for him. He saw it as the problem of his culture. [...; 52]

For all that Joyce was, and knew himself to be be, part of the Irish Revival. (p.52). [...]

The sense of renewal is clear throughout Finnegans Wake [...] Time and time again in his writing Joyce characteristically salutes and bids farewell to the Ireland he had left and to the Ireland he created in his absence from it and its absence from him. (End; p.53.)
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