Joyce's Portrait of the Artist II
Bill Long 11/10/08
Confusions and Mental Wanderings in Ch. 1
Before ilustrating other examples of Stephen's confusion, I would like to get right to point 2) above because Joyce's narrative lets Stephen's mind "wander" after discussing whether it is right to kiss your mother goodnight at bedtime. Playground time ended and Stephen and the boys filed into the school. But his mind wandered and he thought about kissing:
"What did that mean, to kiss? You put your face up like that to say goodnight and then his mother put her face down. That was to kiss. His mother put her lips on his cheeck; her lips were soft and they wetted his cheek; and they made a tiny little noise: kiss. Why did people do that with their two faces?" (pp. 11-12).
Brilliant, isn't it? Joyce realizes that the actual reality of our minds is that they wander, even if we are supposed to be "on task" or doing something else. America in 2008 is caught up in the frenzy of money-making (maybe it always has been); there is really little time or leisure to "daydream," especially if you then go and write about it. It shows either a lack of discipline of mind, a paucity of focus, or a sort of indolence that should be rewarded with poverty or worse. That, I fear, is the way that "day-dreaming" is largely considered in American culture today. But, just as thoughts of sex rip through our minds, thoughts that the most rigid and powerful gate-keepers can't keep out, so daydreams occupy us. Joyce shows us how Stephen's mind worked. It is how our minds work. His portrait of the mind is only brilliant because we don't have the patience, or courage, to follow the way our mind leaps from idea to idea. It just isn't "productive."
Confusion # 2
Stephen's second confusion relates to politics. Indeed, since Joyce writes about Irish politics at the end of the 19th century, all of us are at a disadvantage in 2008. But Stephen is confronted with politics because of the disagreements at home. His aunt Dante thinks that the priests can do no wrong, and that they, as the moral teachers of the nation, are right to intervene in political struggles. On the other hand, Stephen's father and other relatives think that the way the priests (and Brits) treated Parnell was atrocious. What is Stephen's reaction to all of this as a boy?
"It pained him that he did not know well what politics meant and that he did not know where the universe ended. He felt small and weak" (p. 14).
He had the hope of someday attaining knowledge into all of this, but for now he was confused. I remember a similarly confusing feeling I had about politics in the 1960 Presidential election, when I was eight years old. My family was for Nixon, but my close friend Mike Fahey (hm..Irish) said his family was for Kennedy. Some of the kids had a little ditty at school,
"Nixon's in the White House;
He is waiting to be elected.
Kennedy's in the garbage can;
He is waiting to be collected."
I remember so much wanting to know what it meant that Nixon was in the "White House." What was the White House? Why was he there? Why was he waiting? What was he waiting for? Who was Nixon, in fact? And, then, what about Kennedy? Was he really in a garbage can? I remember going home one day after hearing this rhyme and looking at the garbage cans near our back door and saying to myself, "I wonder if a man could fit into the garbage can?" I knew that I, as a third-grader, could, but could a grown man? And, why would Kennedy be waiting in the garbage can? Didn't he have better things to do? Had someone put him in the can or had he willingly clambered in? Who was going to collect him? And, when they collected him, where would he be dumped? All of these questions raced through my mind as a child when I heard this little ditty on the playground.
Back to Stephen Daedalus and the wanderings of his mind. After we witness his confusion at not knowing how to understand politics, and thinking that "he felt small and weak," his mind wanders:
"When would he be like the fellows in poetry and rhetoric? They had big voices and big boots and they studied trigonometry. That was very far away. First came the vacation and then the next term and then the vacation again and then again another term and then again the vacation" (p. 14).
His "quest" for understanding triggered thoughts of when he might gain other kinds of understanding. It would take a long, long time. But the thoughts of vacations and terms coming one after another triggered another 'wandering' in his mind.
"It was like a train going in and out of tunnels and that was like the noise of the boys eating in the refectory when you opened and closed the flaps of your ears. Term, vacation; tunnel, out; noise, stop" (p. 14).
Images fly together as the mind wanders. All of this makes him tired and long for bed--which takes his mind off in another direction.
So, is this wandering just the "stuff" of youth? Or, is is also characteristic of later life? And, if characteristic of later life, is it something that needs to be "controlled" so that we can "get to work," or should it be indulged, as an expression of the journeying capacities of the human mind? I favor the latter, but only after you have your Ph. D. That is, study hard, get your languages and degrees in order. Get a competence. Perhaps you will even be able to find a job. But then, let the mind be free again. Don't be so quick to rein it in. Maybe there will be found in the deepest recess of the most non-sensical or most seemingly irrelevant thought, a kernal of an idea, a wispish thought, a cloud no larger than a man's hand, a hint at something, which might lead to something, which might be picked up by another person, which might lead to a revolution in thought or action today. I think it is always best to let the mind flow without being too quick to force discipline on it. Then, tell us all what you "saw" or "heard" when the mind flowed. Perhaps the world will need to hear those ruminations some day.
I guess I am really just getting started....