Tag Archives: Irish

George Bernard Shaw – Pygmalion (1914)

Influenced by Marx, so worth thinking about seemingly conservative linguistic gestures are can be read as socially progressive, even radical. In the play, Higgins observes that language cuts across economic strata: money has skewed social relations, now solving problems, but creating new ones, including humans of all classes being deracinated, disordered, etc. According to the Preface, Shaw sees the play, and all of his work (all art in general), as explicitly didactic in one way or another: he calls for a reformer in the guise of an “energetic phonetic specialist.” In general, Shaw thinks we need a “new sort of human being” to face the problems of modernity; Pygmalion dramatizes the process (sometimes violent) of trying to create this new human. Once said that vegetarian do nto live on vegetables any more than

Drawing from Marx, Shaw does believe that we use the world to satisfy our needs, but that the world is the means through which we express our creative faculties. Shavian “new speech” is one such expression. The broad range of styles in Pygmalion illustrate the “inclusiveness” of this language in contrast to Higgins’ rather narrow idea of what language should be. Higgins has a problem, in short, with Metaphysics, thinking that there is some essence (linguistic, human, etc,) that can be posited and achieved, rather than a more ambiguous collection utterances and performances. One could think of the play itself as a destabilized “absence” that is supplemented by a long preface and a prose conclusion that finishes the story. In other words, the boundaries between performance, real life, drama, fiction, etc. Drama takes on fictional quality, for instance, when in the frist scene the characters are no indicated by their names, but by generic place-holders (flower girl, mother, daughter, note taker) that will be filled out in the coming scenes: this a readerly effect that can’t be performed on stage.


Samuel Beckett – Malone Dies (1951)

Malone, who is naked in bed, tells the story of Sapo, a student that spends some of his time time around the Lamberts, a farming family. When Sapo grows up, Malone changes name to Macmann, finding Sapo ridiculous. Macmann falls over and is taken to St. John’s hospital. He is taken care of by Moll, an old woman with whom he makes love. Moll dies and is replaced by Lemuel. Lemuel supervises a group of inmates on a short excursion. He kills a couple of people, steals a boat, and the text closes with Macmann and others stranded in the water.


More barren than Molloy. All that sustains life, it seems, are stories and possessions (system of elimination and nutrition)–Malone delays his death (equivalent to both the wearing away of his pencil and the filling of his exercise book) through these distractions. Some lines to remember:

“What tedium” (a refrain repeated whenever Malone goes into the details of his own life)

“Nothing is more real than nothing” (Stevens-style, but needs to be related to the conflicted idealism of Jackson’s parrot. See next…)

“Nihil in intellectu” (without the famous restriction given by Aquinas, who argued that God could be proved by way of the senses)

“Groping” (if there is a verb that sums up the actions of the Trilogy, it is this one, cf. Adorno on the work of art’s essential “blindness”)

REST – death, sleep, rest become equivalent in Beckett subject. See Moran crawling, and also “passing from toil to rest in a single unbroken moment.”

“Life perhaps, the struggle to love, to eat, to escape the redressers of wrongs.” (the assumption being that guilt is inherent to human life)

“A few lines to remind me that I two subsist.” (Interesting dialogue could be staged between Browning and Beckett here: the relationship between artici creativity and life-sustaining activity…one is only alive in so far as they can represent their aliveness, or something like that)

“Two is company” (looking forward to later work, in which company is turned into a fiction, one that is unavoidable but inscrutable all at once. Can think of this whole novel as Beckett’s most rigorous attempt (so far) to delineate the bounds of the subject. But even then, the subject is not bound clearly.)

Samuel Beckett – Murphy (1938)

Murphy sits most of the day in his rocking chair, to which he ties himself, restricting his body in an attempt to free his brain. He is a student of Wylie, who has supposedly mastered the art of stopping his heart. Much of this novel will focus on the break down of this Manichaeism. He is romantically involved with Celia, who wants him to get a job. A troupe of minor characters are looking for him throughout the entire book, each with their own reason: romantic, financial, sinister, etc. Chapter six, which is constantly referred to beforehand and after, deals with intricacies of Murphy’s brain: quite simply, a paradoxical fantasy of solipsism that cancels itself out. Eventually Murphy gets a job at an insane asylum through his friend Ticklepenny. He is really good at his job because he can identify so well–too well–with the patients. However, before something goes awry–he loses a chess game to a madman (recounted in full detail)–which leads him to go to his room (resembling a cell), and rock his chair until he dissolves into “superfine chaos.” His remains are entrusted to the drunkard Cooper, who gets into a fight in a bar which leads to Myphy’s ashes being used as a soccer ball, before exploding and integrating with “the sand, the beer, the butts, the glass, the matches, the spit, the vomit.” The final scene shows Celia taking care of Mr. Kelly before the final refrain closes: All out.

The opening line: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Murphy sat, as though he were free, in a mew in West Brompton.” The two sentence mirror one another, thus implicated language itself in the cycles of repetition and habit that structure our lives and determine our possibilities. The reference to Ecclesiastes performs that staleness of the reference. Yet this time–historical time–is offset by Murphy’s existential time, which runs deliberately counter to these objective structures. The fantasy of Murphy being able to establish his own time is held out throughout the novel until he is eventaully dissolved by the forward moving mill of the plot itself. He is metabolized by time.

The caress vs. the kick – Murphy delineates the demands of objective mediation–the violence of bringing the fantasy of the caress into the real world. The caress can never be anything but a kick.

Talk about the dissolution of the body in terms of Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

The heart – relate to Yeat’s portrayal of the heart (Innisfree, Circus Animal’s Desertion), and Ford’s “heart problem.”

James Joyce – “The Dead” (1914)

The last story in Dubliners, it focuses on Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta. Gabriel goes to an annual Christmas party hosted by the Morkan sisters, themselves the center of the music scene in Dublin (significantly, Joyce wanted to become singer when he was younger). Gabriel is the prized guest–his arrival is awaited, he carves the goose, he is the sought-after dance partner, he  gives the toast, and tells jokes as he is leaving. He is the gallant, patronizing/patronized Irishman, frustrated with the conservatism of his country but ultimately unable to take a stand beyond writing an anonymous literary column in a newspaper that is progressive only in the eyes of the most defiantly conservative. He leaves the party late at night feeling lustful. He can barely contain his passion as him and Gretta return to the hotel room they have rented for the evening. His approaches are pathetic, and just as Gretta seems to opening up, she confesses to be thinking about a song she heard earlier that evening that reminded her of a past lover, Michael Furey, that had died for her. Gabriel is full of regret. He wakes up at night and sees the snow falling on the living and the dead.

The dinner scene: battle imagery and Christian imagery are conflated. Gabriel’s preparation of the goose is a literal last supper, presaging his “sacrifice.” According to Ellman, Dubliners was written “on the assumption that Ireland is an inadequate mother, ‘an old sow who eats her farrow,’ and he [Joyce] associates himself with the masticated children.” The nourishment that Ireland cannot offer is plastered over with a feast: a goose that is ostentatiously domesticated (not wild), overly aestheticized fruits–a bourgeois meal in almost all respects à la Bourdieu and Mayol/de Certeau. Connect the undernourishment offered by the mother country with Banfield’s article on Backett–the insufficiency of the mother tongue.

From romantic failure to aesthetic expansion: One can see Stephen Dedalus strung between Michael Furey and Gabriel Conroy. Stephen’s intention to forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race finds its romantic correlate in Furey, but the constrictions set by social forces become apparent in the withered life of Gabriel. However, the final section of the story is the occasion for Gabriel’s expansion from a disappointed romanticism to an aesthetic peculiarly modern:

His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling. (223)

Interesting comparison to the pulsating life felt by Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch. The vagueness of the symbolic world that Gabriel resigns himself to is also related to the transition from Stephen Hero to Portrait–the former engages the discursive contexts that are forming and limiting Stephen, while the latter approaches these contexts through the epistemological boundaries of Stephen’s consciousness. “The Dead” registers this transition–as the world, its sensuous character, accumulates the “value” of a life that is missed. Missed opportunity is converted into aesthetic apotheosis. But the cost of this catharsis is–not the death of the creative subject–but the violent appropriation of historical death as a means for art.

Symbol: Gabriel engages in his own sort of of Marlow-Dowell narration:

There was  grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. (210)

It’s not that Western literature does not offer an answer to this question; it is  that this is particular narrator cannot readily access that source of meaning. And, further, it points to the irony of a disappointed artist who, instead of seizing the facts of life, resorts to symbols as explanations for experiential impressions.

Yeats – Easter 1916 (1921)

Dated September 25, 1916, but not published in the volume Michael Robartes and the Dancer until 1921. Refers to the Irish uprising of 1916 (cf. September 1913). Opens with anonymity of the urban (cf. Wordsworth’s peregrinations in London and Eliot’s “Burial of the Dead” section for more on “faces”). First stanza ends with refrain that will be repeated thrice:

Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

The effect is chorus-like, umpersonal construction. The next stanza continues the trope of comedy (motley, casual comedy, etc.) but gives it tragic (now fatal b/c of repetition) ending: A terrible beauty is born. Final stanza marks out the role of poetry interrelationship to the divine and human sufficiency. The question: where is hope and how?

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name

And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in verse –
ManDonagh and MacBride
And Connoly and Pearse
Now in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Direct citation of names recalls similar move in September 1913. Can think of this murmuring as working around to dialectically mediated articulation of beauty. Connect perhaps to Ithaca chapter in Ulysses, where referential specificity amounts to an epiphany. But here it is death in particular that is being raised to cathartic status (talk about the problems but also the necessities of this life-art exchange). Also, remark on the universality of this poem: “All changed” is connected with tiny domestic troubles and the death of four men on  one day in 1916. Yeats is constructing a new relationship between universal and particular and their relationship to historical transformation.

Yeats – No Second Troy (1910)

The poem is part of The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910). It explicitly refers to Yeats’ fractious affair with Maude Gonne, a revolutionary muse that married one of his friends. But this personal event gets couched within a mythical frame imported from Homer, which in turn frames the revolutionary impulses of the Irish. Thus a very good poem for looking at the convergence of the subject, history and politics. Formally, the poem is a series of four questions: the first two are entire quatrains, and they therefore lose their interrogative character as they expand from the inside into something very much like declaration. This reflects Yeats own ambivalence to the the political activities of Gonne and others. The final two questions, one line each (making to lines of alternating rhyme) intimate resignation and awe:

Why, what could she have done, begin what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Here we see the problematic importation of the mythic impulse into the political landscape of 1910.  Yeats seems to claim that such fervor is ultimately destructive when unleashed by “ignorant men” without “courage equal to desire.” Thus “hurling little streets upon the great” is a diminution of the mythic impulse that cannot entirely disregard the heroism of this poetic-political activity, “simple as a fire.”


Yeats – Who Goes with Fergus? (1893)

Part of The Rose, a collection that marks a retreat from the political turmoil of the day (as well as from emotional and social problems) into the mythic Irish past and some sort of universalized nature. “Who goes with Fergus?,” which famously acts as a refrain in James Joyce’s Ulysses , directly asks youth whether they will remain focused on the immediate turmoil of romantic love, or whether they will follow king Fergus (who previously turned to the Druids and got more than he bargained for): “Who will go drive with Fergus now?” The second stanza opens, famously:

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;

This gets picked up in Ulysses as a call to both forget the pressing demands of family life (Bloom and Molly, Stephen and mother), but also as the means by which various Irish nationalists (mourning Parnell) dream of a bygone Ireland to which there is no return. The final claim that Fergus rules “all disheveled wandering stars” links with Yeats’ many other poems that call attention to the stars’ insufficiency, such as The Song of the Happy Shepherd. Going into nature may initiate one into a knowledge deeper that that offered by the present political-social state, but that knowledge may be nothing more than a full relinquishment to contingency.