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  • Replication and Narration“Counterparts” as a Replicon of Joycean Narration
  • Murray McArthur (bio)

As the long history of narrative theory since Plato and Aristotle attests, narration has always been a function of the replication of language. In the oral traditions of folktale and epic, narrators simultaneously composed and performed through replication of characters’ speech, or mimesis, and their own speech, or diegesis, in Plato’s and Aristotle’s terms.1 Mimesis and diegesis were set within replications, or tokens, of tale-types in the folkloric tradition and type-scenes in the epic tradition.2 In terms of contemporary studies of replication, each type is constituted by the multiple repetitions of its tokens.3 My argument here is that, among all Joyce’s texts, “Counterparts,” written at the beginning of his career, most clearly illustrates his understanding of the constitutive function of replication in narration. “Counterparts” displays the functions of replication at almost every level, from the constitutive play throughout the story on that title word, to Farrington’s vocation as a scrivener or replicator of texts, to his avocation as a repetitive drinker and buyer of rounds of drinks, to his parallel avocations of mimesis or imitation of the speech of other characters and diegesis or narration of a particular embedded pub tale-type, to the complex macro- and micro-structures of the frame tale itself. Like the massive entry on the prefix counter- in the Oxford English Dictionary, which I will also discuss, “Counterparts” situates itself at the axis of doubling, duplication, or replication, at the hyphen in the prefix counter-, that, as the Dictionary observes, is one of the rare universal prefixial modifiers that can potentially modify almost any action.

The purpose of this essay, then, is to situate “Counterparts” in its place in the networks of oral, written, and Joycean narration. The sixth Dubliners story written, completed in July 1905, “Counterparts” retroactively recreates the beginning of the Joyce canon.4 The discoveries that Joyce made [End Page 95] in composing this story, I will argue, influenced the major revisions he made in October 1905 to “The Sisters,” written in its original form in July 1904. The much revised version of “The Sisters” has always been received as Joyce’s first canonic text.5 In the compositional sequence, however, “Counterparts” either precedes the final version or was written at the same time as the major revisions to “The Sisters,” especially to the crucial first paragraph. To borrow a concept from the replicative science of genetics, the primary discovery that Joyce made in the writing of “Counterparts” was of a narrative replicon, that is, a self-replicating unit of narrative information.6 This replicon was encoded in the first paragraph of the Joycean canon as “the word gnomon in the Euclid” (D 9). The Euclidian gnomon functions in the code of Joycean narration much as the replicon functions in the code of the genome in genetics. In 1905, the linguistic and literary replicon gnomon generated these first Joycean narratives, a genetic textual replication that survived in Joycean narration along with multiple other devices to generate his last text, Finnegans Wake II.3, written in 1938.

I am concerned with the complex counterparting relations that Joyce traces between the oral and written narrative networks within the specific Irish situations of orality and literacy. The young Joyce was well aware of the oral tradition in Irish cultural history, at least through the work of Douglas Hyde and Lady Gregory.7 As “Counterparts” so richly demonstrates, however, he was also keenly aware of the structural and cultural tensions between the forces of orality and literacy that animated societies like early twentieth-century Ireland, the kind of literate but still orally archaic societies defined as verbomoteur by Marcel Jousse, Joyce’s later enthusiasm,8 and developed further in our day by Walter J. Ong. We shall see this tension embodied in the writing and the oral narrating of the hulking scrivener Farrington. His profession as a replicator of legal texts will provide the transition from orality to literacy through an examination of the replicative technology of the legal and linguistic counterparts, a technology identical with writing itself. The pairing, doubling, duplicating of counterparts...


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pp. 95-113
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