James Joyce's Dubliners
A Visual Response
The Artist’s Intention
These are abstracts from my research notes in support of the Dubliners traveling exhibition and are intended to provide an insight into my thinking. It is anticipated that there will be strong disagreement with many of my conclusions.
This body of work comprises hung prints from scanned watercolour paintings, montage, collage, a video sequence and the artist’s book James Joyce Dubliners – A Visual Response, in an Edition of 15. The body of work continues to be Work in Progress.
An overview of the work can be found via this link:
http://www.saatchionline.com/dessat under the Events area on that page.
It is not my intention to go into detail on the “aboutness” of each of these works. My intention as an artist is to provide some information, a series of clues perhaps, that will assist the audience to address the work and use the clues to refer to their own individual reality.
For information on my most recent Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man work, please refer to my website.
Story 1 - THE SISTERS
Father Flynn died July 1st 1895. The day of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne and William Prince of Orange’s victory over Catholicism. This fact indicates the complexity of Dubliners, sometimes referred to as Joyce’s Ulysses apprentice piece.
Paralysis and epiphany are probably the most important features of Dubliners. The word paralysis was actually used only once in the book in the first story The Sisters, but Joyce himself stated that Dublin “the city seemed to me the centre of paralysis”. The Gnomonic Clue to James Joyce’s Dubliners. Gerhard Friedrich. The John Hopkins University Press. (http://www.jstor.org/pss/3043368)
But Joyce is about complexity and metaphor, the word paralysis would also almost certainly be used as a metaphor, perhaps this can also be illustrated by Father Flynn’s symptoms of mental illness, most recently attributed by some to be symptomatic of syphilis and that “paralysis was often used synonymously, at that time, with paresis (general paralysis of the insane)”. Paresis and the Priest. James Joyce's Symbolic Use of Syphilis in "The Sisters" BURTON A. WAISBREN, M.D., F.A.C.P.; and FLORENCE L. WALZL, Ph.D. (http://www.annals.org/content/80/6/758.abstract)
Story 2 - AN ENCOUNTER
Another introduction to the darkness of Joyce’s thinking and the use of Gnomon. The boy (narrator) and friend Mahony encounter a “queer old tosser” on the banks of the river Liffey.
Of course in my opinion the word “queer” is unlikely to have been a reference to homosexuality from these boys, even in my childhood in Ireland we had no perception of the existence of homosexuals. However the same could not be a said for Joyce himself and he was fully aware of all human traits, far beyond his age.
This story has gnomic references to child abuse and masturbation, never stated but clearly implied, as well as references to Catholicism and the religious undercurrents that contributed, and still contribute to the paralysis of Ireland.
Throughout my paintings in the Dubliners body of work, the use of red pigment indicates some darkness or sinful thought or action.
Story 3 – ARABY
The boy (narrator) and his coming to terms with the mysteries of Mangan’s sister, the object of his fantasy and sexual awakening. As so often with Joyce and in life the fantasy proves to be just a fantasy and life grinds back to reality and normality.
Disillusionment, religion and political idealisation. Araby is the name of the market, suggesting Middle Eastern glamour and wonder, but which in “reality” turns out to be seedy and not so attractive.
Story 4 – EVELINE
The young woman trapped in a life of drudgery and possible abuse is seduced (not physically sexual) by Frank the sailor to run away with him to Buenos Aires.
Similar to Araby, this is about fantasy, breaking away from a life that is unbearably dull, but concluding that it is only a fantasy with the young woman deciding not to board the ship at the last moment as Frank sails away from her. Leaving her condemned by Joyce to possibly lead the life of a virgin Nun.
Story 5 - AFTER THE RACE
Jimmy Doyle gets out of his depth with the Englishman Routh and European friends. He fails to hold his own during a heavy drinking session and looses all his money playing cards.
Allusions to the futility of the cause of Irish Nationalism and the general paralysis of the Irish and the backward state of their country.
Story 6 - TWO GALLANTS
Corley shows Lenehan the gold coin that he has probably encouraged the maid to steal from her employers.
Implies the poor state of Ireland and the Irish people. The two gallants are obviously educated middle class men, but they are weak and caddish.
Story 7 - THE BOARDING HOUSE
Polly the boarding house daughter’s candle has blown out and she seeks out Mr Doran to see if she can light her candle from his.
Dublin society and Ireland trapped by it’s own duplicitous standards of morality. As Mrs Mooney seeks to entrap Mr Doran into marrying Polly.
Story 8 - A LITTLE CLOUD
Little Chandler, following a drinking session with London based friend Ignatius Gallagher has an epiphany, the realisation that his life is worthless. Consumed with frustration, anger and jealously Chandler broods on his failure to capitalise on his superior intellect and rage is triggered by the bawling baby son in his arms.
Story 9 - COUNTERPARTS
Farrington, the man, with an “Ulster” accent once again experiences an epiphany about his inadequacy. A heavy drinking session leads to him viciously beat his son despite his son pleading with promises to say a Hail Mary for him.
Story 10 – CLAY
Maria, spinster and catholic laundress in a charitable protestant laundry business is everybody’s perfect woman. She used to nurse Joe when he was a child and visits his family regularly.
The Dublin by Lamplight laundry is thought to have been a home for reforming prostitutes but there appears to be no suggestion that Maria was anything other than a deserving good catholic girl in need of a position and somewhere to live.
Maria reflects on the marriage and men that never were, apparently in the most innocent way.
Story 11 - A PAINFUL CASE
James Duffy conducts an lengthy affair of the heart with Mrs Sinico, a married woman, but breaks it off after Mrs Sinico attempts to move towards a more physical relationship.
Some years later James reads that Mrs Sinico has turned to drink and died, killed by a train. He is disgusted that she committed suicide and questioned why he had ever had a relationship with a person of such weak character. Soon after however, the epiphany was his realisation that he was the reason for Mrs Sinico’s death. He is haunted by her image.
Story 12 - IVY DAY IN THE COMMITTEE ROOM
Betrayal, and Charles Stewart Parnell. Pok, is considered to be Joyce reflecting on the sound of gunshots saluting Parnell during his burial.
Story 13 - A MOTHER
Mrs Kearney, (nee Miss Devlin), is portrayed as an interfering obstructive mother that is over ambitious for her musician daughter Kathleen. She makes enemies at every turn and is seen to be doing more damage than good in defence of her daughters pecuniary rights.
But many have failed to note that Miss Devlin possibly refers to to Anne Devlin “the hero of Robert Emmet’s failed 1803 Dublin uprising”. “In Ulysses, Joyce mentions Emmet’s uprising, subsequent trial, and execution”. Robert Emmet’s 1803 Rising and Bold Mrs Kearney: James Jouce’s “A mother” as Historical Analogue”. MARTIN F. KEARNEY. http://jsse.revues.org/index585.html
This would put Mrs Keaney in the position of hero, fighting for what is right against all adversity.
Story 14 - GRACE
Tom Kernan, a catholic converted protestant through marriage, is epitomised as a hopeless case. This possibly reflects the hopeless paralysis of Dublin society and Ireland particularly under the leadership of the Vatican and it’s infallible Pope.
Coerced into a retreat. the confession box and mass, Kernan goes half heartedly through the motions of mending his ways.
Story 15 - THE DEAD
The final and perhaps most complex story.
Contrary perhaps to most views, yes I see Gabriel’s epiphanic revelation, but not of his lack of understanding of Gretta or the shallowness of his love, but the realisation of his own “self pitying egocentric self”.
Gabriel was attempting to understand Gretta’s rejection of him, wondering what he had done wrong, whereas her distress was nothing to do with him whatsoever. The tears are, yes, tears for Gretta but perhaps more; tears of regret at his own selfish egocentric persona.
My painting showing Gabriel with moonlight streaming across his tears cannot even begin to convey the depths of despair of this story. This the final story presents the greatest epiphany in Dubliners, Gabriel’s spiritual awakening and Joyce’s expression that there was snow falling all over Ireland and the Universe.
PARALYSIS and SISTERS TWO
Paralysis is made over a recent photograph of the Apprentice Boys headquarters in Derry. Splattered with paint the façade is cold and uninviting, however the door is open. On the day I shot the photograph Sinn Fein representatives had reportedly been visiting the hall for the first time ever. Paralysis is a core theme throughout Dubliners, paralysis of Dublin and Irish society. My painting is intended to bring this paralysis into sharp contemporary relief.
It is tempting for the reader to take the broken chalice in Sisters at face value in that this could be considered a great sacrilege. However, I feel that the alter boy referred to, along with the chalice could be a metaphor for child abuse. This would be more in keeping with Joyce’s great intellect. But of course this interpretation has no foundation on my part and would probably be vehemently resisted. Even if it were the case, this would have been too sensitive a topic to be aired by literary critics at least right up to the recent past; as evidenced by Vatican cover ups of that nature.
Refer to Paralysis, paresis and syphilis in the notes on Story 1, The Sisters.
New media and technology processes here provide a metaphor or an intellectual connection between early twentieth century and modern twenty first century philosophies our current reality.
The scanned painting Ivy Days with intaglio overprint refers to Charles Stewart Parnell. Whilst the news cuttings refer to Mrs Robinson and her sexual affair that almost derailed the current Northern Irish peace process. The common denominators being sex, politics and paralysis inflicted by morality. This montage/collage includes a photograph of an important Street Art painting by The Bogside Artists: http://www.bogsideartists.com/
GRACE, THE TRINITY
Refer to YouTube via this link for notes on Grace, The Trinity and Stanislaus Joyce.
As in any work of art, particularly where metaphor provides the basic construct, there is a risk that more can be read into the work than actually exists. The “artists intention” can become irrelevant. Why for example should we allow the truth to get in the way of a good fantasy.
Richard Wolheim’s “Seeing In” provides in my mind a perfect analogy between literary art and fine art. Wollheim in his, Art and Its Objects (1968), proposes that “we see an object in the paint with which a surface is marked rather than simply seeing the marks. This he regarded as a primitive human ability; it is exercised when we see faces in clouds for example, or as Leonardo noticed, landscapes in the stains on a wall”. Obituary Richard Wollheim, Brilliant philosopher engaged with the interaction of art and psychoanalysis. ARTHUR DANTO, THE GUARDIAN 5/11/2003.
With Joyce there has been and will continue to be endless “Seeing In”, the invention of new, previously undiscovered metaphorical references. No doubt this includes me.