restricted access Resistance to Paralysis in Dubliners
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Resistance to Paralysis in Dubliners

As everyone knows, paralysis reigns supreme in Joyce's Dubliners. Or does it? Even Joyce himself was concerned to suggest a way out of the paralysis that blocks all exits in the first fourteen stories: "The Dead," by celebrating Irish hospitality, as Joyce put it, was supposed to redress the balance by offering some glimpses of light. Criticism has then divided, conventionally, over whether the snow symbolism connotes purification and rebirth or rather a massive reassertion of paralysis. I want to argue in this essay that, from a marxist-feminist viewpoint, "The Dead" does indeed offer ways out of paralysis that have nothing to do with that final symbolism. And not just in "The Dead"; other stories also occasionally flicker with small signs of resistance to the deadening paralysis. But (a question not often enough asked) where does the paralysis come from? Perhaps the answer—Catholicism and colonialismƒis too obvious to be stressed, yet it does no harm, I think, to politicize the obvious and recuperate it from the dark realm of patriarchal "common sense" into the light of a feminist analysis. Besides paralysis, two of the key effects of catholic/colonialist oppression are, first, what Georg Lukács calls "the contemplative stance" (further defined below) and, second, a loss of linguistic ownership. Adapting this term from Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, I [End Page 437] mean the tendency (frequent in Joyce) for characters not to be in control of language, indeed for language sometimes to speak the characters, as in the hell-fire sermons of A Portrait, and, above all, for characters simply not to possess a language, to be, like Eveline, voiceless. What I want to stress here is that, although most females, like most males, in Dubliners are (and no moral judgment is implied, it being merely a historical fact) complicit in their own oppression, it is females alone who, in "The Dead," resist the mystification and reification of the male world. But in the first half of the essay I want to look at the question of linguistic ownership, for it is on the terrain of language that many feminists in the last twenty years have chosen to do battle.

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Joyce's artistic apprehension of the "problem" of Dublin under colonialism parallels the theoretical insights of Georg Lukács into the capitalist mode of production generally. In particular, Joyce's key term "paralysis," the moment of stasis to which each narrative in Dubliners is brought, strongly resembles (seems almost a metaphor for) Lukács' view that capitalism (specifically) induces a "contemplative" relationship between man and the world. Lukács, speaking of man's relationship to his own labor, puts it thus in a passage that no reader of Dubliners should have difficulty in applying to the individual narratives:

As labour is progressively rationalised and mechanised his lack of will is reinforced by the way in which his activity becomes less and less active and more and more contemplative. The contemplative stance adopted towards a process mechanically conforming to fixed laws and enacted independently of man's consciousness and impervious to human intervention, i.e. a perfectly closed system, must likewise transform the basic categories of man's immediate attitude to the world: it reduces space and time to a common denominator and degrades time to the dimension of space.

(89)

What Lukács is describing essentially is the process whereby the individual loses control over the production and reproduction of his or her world. Joyce's characters are precisely in this position of loss of control, and consequently as human subjects they are deactivated. However, they are not inactive; they continue to function as human beings, their activity merely being displaced into certain kinds of false consciousness. Or else into dreams of escape, the only form in which a future is available—and even dreams, in Dubliners, are rare: Eveline off to "Buenos Ayres" (the quotation marks signify the unreality of the destination); Farrington's attraction to the woman with the London accent (D 95); Mr. Duffy's immersion in Nietzsche; Lenehan's dream of bourgeois comfort (D 57-58); Ignatius Gallaher's embodiment of the outside...


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