Monday, April 29, 2013

Prose for the Hangover

It seems animal crackers and scotch go really well together but, oh, the hangover. Compounded with lack of sleep from it being almost eighty Fahrenheit half the night . . . Yes, just technically pushing my brain through the pipe of the day. Good thing all I have to do for school to-morrow is read James Joyce. I just read his story "Araby" while I ate lunch.

Reading British literature in chronological order like this gives one a nice perspective on its evolution. For the "Modernist" section, particularly with Woolf and Joyce, I'm perceiving mainly a new kind of restraint in writers. It's been more than a decade since I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I wish I could remember it better. The introduction to Joyce in my text books says he felt the writer should aim for a great "neutrality," and I can see the sense of what he meant with "Araby" and "The Dead". It's more than refraining from moral sympathies with character; it seems to be about divesting the author's ego completely to reveal the humanity of the characters. It's very Coen Brothers.

I bet "Araby" ends too abruptly for a lot of people. But I love how there's no come-uppance, no justice, nothing in there to explain to the kid everything was okay. We, as readers, know his experience isn't the end of world, but we can appreciate the moment of self-reproach for the gravity he sees in and the naive intensity of his affection for the girl before he even speaks to her. Joyce's descriptions are so great.

Her brother and two other boys were fighting for their caps and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.

And so subtle. Joyce never says she's beautiful. He doesn't have to, we know because we can just barely see the curve of her neck and because light lit up her hand on the railing. Things are implied so completely by point of view. We know what things mean because they happen, because the narrator reacts to them in a certain way. Joyce lets our own minds do the rest.

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