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davidlavieri

All the World's a Page

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The Adventures of Augie March
Saul Bellow, Christopher Hitchens
Image-Music-Text
Roland Barthes, Stephen Heath
Selected Poems and Four Plays
W.B. Yeats, Macha Louis Rosenthal
On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague
Igor Lukes
Dubliners - James Joyce, Terence Brown Dubliners is so short, yet so vast. I didn't love every story equally, but I plan to at least write here my thoughts on every one of the stories, but I plan to do so over time, and some maybe I will have to re-read. I read this collection as part of my Ulysses book-club preparation, and it definitely got me geared up to devour more of James Joyce. His prose and insights are beautiful, even though his Dublin is sort of beautifully ugly and malignantly beloved. After my first reading, the story which stays with me most resolutely is Araby which had such aesthetic and emotional impact on me I couldn't read a second story the whole day, and kept turning over in my head the story's denouement.

"The Sisters" is a strange story, but a very fitting start to the collection. Nothing is fully explained, though her is a mysterious redolence which pervades the story. Father Flynn has died, or is dying, of paralysis and strokes, and his effect on the narrator, a young boy, is something which remains vague - though many of the adults consider it to have been a corrupting force. The boy and his mother visit the sisters of Father Flynn to pay their condolences, and the sisters describe the strange descent of the Father into his fatal illness, and perhaps his insanity. I could not shake the feeling that this was a ghost story. The air of the story felt haunted by Father Flynn's presence: physically absent but somehow ever present. The story's ambiguity, its unspoken violence, the corrosive mist of corruption, and the lost innocence of children set the tone for the remaining stories; though despite it's consistence of tone and theme, I felt it one of the less memorable, and less lovable of the stories chronicled in Dubliners, perhaps for its almost chilly detachment of the narrator.

"An Encounter" is an unsettling confrontation between the innocence and gaiety of youth, and the pernicious influences of the real world. Two youths play hooky from school in order to go on an adventure across Dublin. Though the restraints of time leave their journey unfulfilled, they are abruptly confronted with a strange man. The man is a hauntingly spectral figure, with an apparently lascivious taste in the young boys. He asks them increasingly inappropriate questions about how many girlfriends they have, etc. and the tension reaches a climax when he walks away and exposes himself to them. There is something unsettling to me, always, about children in literature. Perhaps it is that I am not some years removed from my own childhood, and so it is a period which has become so ensconced in nostalgia, that I cannot make heads nor tails of it anymore. It is a fond period of innocence, but innocence that is ever fleeting, as if every moment children corrode a bit more under the harsh winds and rains of the real world. The children in this story do not start out wholly innocent, but what they are exposed to is a kind of corruption which exceeds the normally encountered dangers of childhood. The abrupt shift in tone, from the jollity of childhood trickery to the forlorn and disturbing "encounter" is startling, unsettling, and moving.

"Araby" is a hymn to mistaken desire, to fruitless journeys in search of hollow ideals. The unnamed narrator pursues an unnamed woman, the sister of a friend on his street. The neighborhood is poor. The lack of names makes the story feel universal, outside of time, but irremediably within Joyce's bleakly poetic Dublin. A coming of age story, “Araby” feels like a first love story – a kind of vain obsession with an amorous ideal. He idealizes her appearance, her gestures, her interest in the titular Arabian craft fair, etc. When he arrives at the fair, after much argumentation with his father to allow him to go, after having to pay a more expensive fare than he intended out of desperation against time, he arrives when the fair is closing for the night.
I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

His affections for the woman, his interest in the bazaar, fades in a flash like the lights going out of the fair. In his epiphany, he realizes how little he actually feels, he is removed from the illusion of his desire – but this disillusionment is accompanied by anger, it is a fire which burns in him, a passion. Nothing pains us more than to lose our precious illusions. I forget where I read it, but someone said, or maybe I have made it up entirely, that we are happy to live and lose our innocence a million times, but to lose even the smallest of our illusions feels like a million deaths. Our illusions are the only idols we actually worship because we really love them – religious idols, societal ideals, etc. we love distantly, with reverence but without passion. We feel that those ideals are good for us, but out idols, our hidden internal loves, we feel that we are good for them and yet at the same time that we can never deserve them. And to discover that what we felt was perfect is something less, something we might not even want, devalues instantly everything which was once below that ideal in our estimation – and that is devastating.

Poor "Eveline" - I hope she finds happiness, though I suspect she will not. The story encompasses her circuitous mental journey, her moral ping-pong, back-and-forth, her petal-picking dalliance "I love him, I love him not, I'll go with him, I'll go with him not!, ..." Eveline is a young woman, the daughter of a violent and abusive father who she wishes desperately to escape, and she has the opportunity to go with a man to Buenos Aires and live as his wife. At first glimmer, this opportunity is immeasurably valued by her, she so desperately wants escape, liberation from her physical and emotional abuse, and from the shackling convention of her environment. On the other hand, she is bound by her mother's dying wish that she will care for her father and brother. While on first blush this decision seems straight forward, a perhaps easy way toward self-preservation, she is concerned about what might await her in Buenos Aires, and whether she really loves the man with whom she would tie herself to for ever. She is a part of Dublin, and it has become a part of her, it permeates her, much like it permeated James Joyce (and can we imagine him abandoning it, really?). Her story is a sad one, and it seems she has no options - and we are left with only the hope that perhaps her father with drink himself to his death.

"After the Race"
"Two Gallants"
"The Boarding House"
"A Little Cloud"
"Counterparts"
"Clay"
"A Painful Case"
"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"
"A Mother"
"Grace"
"The Dead"

(I will update this with more of the stories soon, when I have the time!)