Hugh Kenner: The "Portrait" in Perspective

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)

Text of Hugh Kenner: The "Portrait" in Perspective

  • H U G H KEN N ER zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBAHugh Kenner is Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is the author ofzyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA The Poet ry of Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Flaubert , Joyce, and Becket t : The St oic Com edians.

    The P O R T R A I T in Perspect ive

    L I N K I N G T H E M E S

    I n the reconceived Port rait Joyce abandoned the origin al in -t en t ion of wr it in g t h e account of his own escape from D u b l in . O n e can n ot escape one's D u b l in . H e recast Stephen Dedalus as a figure wh o cou ld n o t even detach h im self from D u b l in because he h ad form ed h im self on a den ial of Du b lin 's values. H e is t h e egocentric rebel become an u lt im at e. Th ere is no quest ion whatever of his regenerat ion . "Stephen no longer in t er-ests me t o the same exten t [as Blo o m ]," said Joyce t o Fran k Budgen one day. "H e has a shape t h at can 't be changed." H is shape is t h a t of aesthete. Th e Stephen of the first chapter of Ulysses wh o "walks wearily," constan t ly "leans" on everyth ing in sigh t , in variably sits down before he has gone th ree paces, speaks "gloom ily," "q u ie t ly," "w i t h bit t erness," and "co ld ly," an d "suffers" his handkerch ief to be pu lled from his pocket by t h e exuberant Mu ll iga n , is precisely t h e priggish , humourless Stephen of the last chapter of the Port rait wh o cannot remem-ber wh at day of t h e week i t is, sent imentalizes like Charles Lam b over t h e "h u m an pages" of a second-hand La t in book, conducts t h e in h u m an ly pedant ic dialogue wi t h Cran ly on mother-love, writes French ified verses in bed in an erot ic swoon, an d is epiphan ized at fu ll len gt h , like Shem th e Penm an be-

    From Dublin's Joyce by Hugh Kenner. Reprinted by permission of Indiana University Press and Chatto and Windus Ltd .


    Hugh Kenner 417 neath t h e bedclothes, sh r in kin g from th e "com m on noises" of d ayligh t :

    Shrinking from that life he turned towards the wall, making a cowl of the blanket and staring at the great overblown scariet flowers of the tattered wallpaper. He t ried to warm his perishing joy in their scarlet glow, imaging a roseway from where he lay upwards to heaven all strewn wit h scarlet flowers. Weary! Weary! He too was weary of ardent ways. [P, 221-222.]

    Th is new primrose pat h is a private Jacob's ladder let down t o his bed now t h at he is t oo weary t o do an yt h in g b u t go t o heaven.

    To make epic an d drama emerge n at u rally from t h e in t r in sic stresses an d distort ions of t h e lyr ic m aterial m ean t completely new lyr ic techniques for a constat ion exact beyond iron y. Th e Port rait concentrates on st at in g themes, arranging apparen t ly t ransparent words in t o configurat ions of t h e u t m ost symbolic density. Here is t h e d irector proposing t h a t Stephen enter t h e pr iesth ood :

    The director stood in the embrasure of the window, his back to the ligh t , leaning an elbow on the brown crossblind, and, as he spoke and smiled, slowly dangling and looping the cord of the other b lin d . Stephen stood before h im , following for a moment wit h his eyes the waning of the long summer daylight above the roofs or the slow deft movements of the priestly fingers. The priest's face was in total shadow but the waning daylight from behind h im touched the deeply grooved temples and the curves of the skull. [P. 153-154-]

    Th e looped cord , t h e shadow, the sku ll, none of these is ac-ciden t al. Th e "wan in g d ayligh t ," twice emphasized, conveys t h a t den ial of nature wh ich t h e priest 's oflice represented for Stephen; "h is back t o t h e l igh t " co-operates t oward a sim ilar effect. So "crossb lin d": "b l in d to the cross"; "b lin d ed by t h e cross." "Th e curves of t h e sku ll" in t roduces another death-image; the "deat h bon e" from Levy-Bruhl's Aust ralia, poin t ed by Shaun in Finnegans Wake, is t h e dram at ic version of an id en t i-cal sym bol. Bu t t h e cen t ral image, t h e epiphany of the in ter-

  • 41zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA8zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA Crit icism view, is con tained in the m ovem en t of t h e priest 's fingers: "slowly dan glin g and loop in g the cord of t h e other b l in d . " Th a t is t o say, coolly proffering a noose. Th is is the lyr ic mode of Ulysses' epical h an gm an , "Th e lo rd of th ings as they are wh om the most Rom an of Catholics call dio boia, hangm an god ."

    T H E C O N T R A P U N T A L O P E N I N G

    Accord in g t o the pract ice inaugurated by Joyce wh en he re-wrote "Th e Sisters" in 1906, the Port rait , like t h e t wo books t o follow, opens am id elaborate coun t erpoin t . Th e first t wo pages, t erm in at in g in a row of asterisks, enact t h e en t ire act ion in microcosm. An Arist ot elian catalogue of senses, facult ies, an d m en tal act ivit ies is played against the u n fold in g of the in fan t conscience.

    Once upon a t ime and a very good t ime i t was there was a moo-cow coming down along the road and this moocow that was com-ing down along the road met a nicens lit t le boy named baby tuckoo. . . .

    His father t old h im that story: his father looked at h im through a glass: he had a hairy face.

    He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down along the road where Bet ty Byrne lived : she sold lemon plat t .

    O , t he wild rose blossom s On t he lit t le green place.

    He sang that song. Th at was his song.

    O , t he green wot he bot het h.

    W h en you wet the bed first it is warm then i t gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. Th at had the queer smell. [P, 7.] Th is evocat ion of holes in ob livion is conducted in t h e m ode of each of t h e five senses in t u r n ; hearing ( t h e story of t h e m oocow), sight (h is father's face), taste ( lem on p la t t ) , t ouch (warm an d co ld ) , smell ( t h e oil-sheet ). Th e audible soothes: the visible disturbs. Th rou gh ou t Joyce's work, the senses are symbolically disposed. Smell is t h e means of d iscr im in at in g em pirical reahties ( "H is m oth er h ad a n icer smell t h an h is

    Hugh Kenner 419 fath er ," is t h e next sen tence), sight corresponds to the phan-tasms of oppression, hearing to the im aginat ive life . Tou ch and taste together are t h e modes of sex. Hearin g, here, comes first , via a piece of im aginat ive lit eratu re. Bu t as we can see from th e vantage-point of Finnegans Wake, the whole book is abou t t h e encounter of baby tuckoo wit h the m oocow: the Gripes wi t h the mookse. Th e father wit h t h e h airy face is the first Mookse-avatar, the Freudian in fan t ile analogue of God the Father.

    I n t h e Wake

    . . . Derzherr, live wire, fired Benjermine Fun klin g outa t h 'Em -pyre, sin right hand son.

    Der Erzherr (arch -lord ), here a Teu t on ic Junker, is the God wh o visited his wrat h on Lucifer; the h airy at t r ibu t e comes t h rou gh via t h e music-hall refrain , "There's hair , like wire, com-in g ou t of the Em p ir e ."

    Dawn in g consciousness of his own id en t it y ( "H e was baby t u ckoo") leads to art ist ic performance ( "H e sang t h at song. Th a t was his son g."). Th is is hugely expanded in Chapter I V :

    Now, as never before, his strange name seemed to h im a prophecy . . . of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being. [P, 168-169.]

    By changing the red rose to a green and d islocat ing the spell-in g, he makes the song his own . ( "Bu t you cou ld n ot have a green rose. Bu t perhaps somewhere in the wor ld you cou ld .")

    His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor's hornpipe for h im to dance. He danced:

    Tralala lat a, Tralala t ralaladdy, Tralala lala Tralala lala. [P, 7.]

  • 42zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA ozyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA Crit icism Between th is innocence and its Rim bau d ian recapture t h rou gh th e pu rgat ion of t h e Wake there is t o in tervene the hallucina-t io n in Circe's sty:

    T H E M O T H E R

    (Wit h t he subt le sm ile of deat h's m adness.) I was once the beautiful May Goulding. I am dead. . . .

    S T E P H E N

    (Eagerly.) Tell me the word, mother, i f you know i t now. The word known to all men . . . .

    T H E M O T H E R

    ( W i t h smouldering eyes.) Repent! O , the fire of hell! [ U , 580-581. Reprinted in this volume, p. 306.] Th is is foreshadowed as the overture t o the Port rait closes:

    He h id under the table. His mother said: O , Stephen will apologise. Dante said: O , if n ot , the eagles will come and p u ll out his eyes.

    Pull out his eyes. Apologise, Apologise, Pull out his eyes.

    Apologise, Pull out his eyes, Pull out his eyes. Apologise. [P, 8]

    Th e eagles, eagles of Rome, are emissaries of t h e God wi t h t h e hairy face: t h e pun isher. Th ey evoke Prometheus an d gnawing gu ilt : again-bite. So t h e overture ends wi t h Stephen h id in g under t h e t able await in g t h e eagles. H e is h id in g under some-t h in g most of t h e time: bedclothes, "t h e enigma of a m an n er ," an in durat ed rh etoric, or some other carapace of his private wor ld .

    Hugh Kenner 421

    T H E M E W O R D S

    I t is t h rou gh t h eir names t h at th ings have power over Ste-ph en .

    Th e language in which we are speaking is his before i t is m ine. H ow different are the words hom e, Christ , ale, m ast