James Joyce’s Ulysses is an anti-stream of consciousness novel



Statue of James Joyce reading at his grave in Zurich, Switzerland.
STEFFEN SCHMIDT/EPA

John Scholar, University of Reading

This year marks 80 years since the death of the great Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941). His most famous novel, Ulysses (1922), is one of those books, like Moby Dick or Infinite Jest, that more people begin than finish. The tome is widely believed to be a stream of consciousness novel and you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that if, like many, you only made it 100 pages or so in.

I often advise against starting at the beginning of the novel. In the case of Ulysses, you are thrown headfirst into the difficult stream of consciousness of Stephen Dedalus, a precocious 22-year-old writer. The fourth chapter, instead, is a much more accessible opening. It too offers a stream of consciousness but an easier sort belonging to the novel’s other main character, Leopold Bloom, a hapless but loveable 38-year-old advertising canvasser. On the day the novel is set, 16 June 1904, Stephen and Bloom strike up an unlikely friendship in Dublin. To read Bloom’s thoughts is to be taken into a stream of sensations, trivia, and wonder.

However, venture further and you’ll discover that Ulysses morphs, becoming instead a great anti-stream of consciousness novel.

Bergson’s stream of consciousness

For French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941), our stream of consciousness is our continuous sense of time, in which past, present and future merge. It is the fluid life at the heart of our identity. According to Bergson, these streams are at the centre of every object and every person.

Black and white photograph of Henri Bergson.
Philosopher Henri Bergson.
Library of Congress/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Bergson believed we can either “analyse” or “intuit” things or people. When we “analyse” something, we remain outside its stream. We superimpose on its fluid life our own static symbols, like language. Using words means “we do not see the actual things themselves” just “the labels attached to them”.

Another example is numbers. We impose minutes and hours on fluid life. For instance, you can “analyse” a day, breaking it into 24 hours. But to “intuit” it, to see it from within the stream, is to see that time is not so rigid or easily quantifiable – it moves slower when you’re bored or faster when you’re having fun.

In our workaday lives, “analysis” is a necessary shortcut. We need words and numbers, labels and time, to get things done. Artists, according to Bergson, however, have the gift of intuition.




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For example, authors’ imaginative use of language makes words a gateway to the streams at the heart of life, rather than distracting labels imposed upon it. Borrowing such ideas, literary critics posited that the stream of consciousness novelist is one who can “intuit” the stream of consciousness of characters and so become them.

Joyce tries for a moment, becomes his characters but soon gets bored with Stephen and Bloom’s streams of consciousness. By the seventh chapter, he begins a long firework display of other styles. Here on, Stephen and Bloom’s streams of consciousness are elbowed out of the way by newspaper headlines, expressionist drama and even romantic fiction. Or they’re shushed by a scientific manual or an encyclopedia of English prose styles.

Joyce fails to find the stream

So Ulysses is a much less consistent stream of consciousness novel than many. But it’s also an anti-stream of consciousness novel as Joyce comically demonstrates his and his characters’ failure to intuit streams.

Joyce enjoys showing us that people are mechanically absent-minded, often because language itself is a mechanism which gets in the way of our efforts to intuit fluid reality.

Painting of James Joyce holding a cigarette while leaning against a table.
James Joyce, like his characters, fails to enter the streams of conscious.
National Portrait Gallery, London, CC BY-NC

For example, Stephen, though a creative writer, isn’t at all intuitive. All he can see is the labels attached to things, albeit highly literary labels. When he sees a dog on the beach, his love of words conjures a horse, a hare, a calf, a bear, a wolf, a leopard, a panther and a stag. He can’t focus on the dog.

Bloom’s mechanical behaviour is less literary (words) and more scientific (numbers). True, he is better at intuiting his cat than Stephen is the dog: “Wonder what I look like to her?” he muses, trying to intuit himself into her stream of consciousness. But soon his mind turns to numbers: “Height of a tower? No, she can jump me.” Here he reverts to analysis as he strains to make sense of their difference in height using his human scale, not the cat’s.

Just as Joyce’s characters can’t intuit streams of consciousness, nor can he. He knows that static literary words can’t account for the fluidity of our interiors. Every time he reaches for a new style, in each new chapter, he acknowledges these failures and moves on with glee to the next.

A stream of consciousness does dominate the last chapter. Here we tune into Bloom’s wife Molly’s stream and hear about her afternoon of sex with a colleague. Is this the stream we have been waiting for? Yes and no.

Molly’s thoughts do flow through past, present and future, uninterrupted and unpunctuated. But the Molly we get to know, while charismatic, is something of a static symbol herself, the stock character of the sexually frustrated wife. As we reflect on 80 years since Joyce’s death, Ulysses reminds us that consciousness will always elude the novel but, really, that’s where the fun lies.The Conversation

John Scholar, Lecturer in the Department of English Literature, University of Reading

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How an obscure 1909 novella that foretold the internet can guide us through the latest lockdown



Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Dan Taylor, The Open University

For most people the latest national lockdown means uncertainty: precarious jobs and incomes, concerns about the safety of loved ones, and – for many parents – the difficulty of combining work with childcare. It also sends us back to a peculiarly confined world unimaginable one year ago – one in which we have come to rely heavily on the internet for work, shopping, leisure and communication with our family and friends. A world where contact with others could have lethal consequences and where venturing outside our homes has become, in some cases, against the law and subject to serious penalties.

How can literature guide us in this strange new world? E.M. Forster’s short story The Machine Stops (1909) presents an uncannily similar world to our own.

Cover of paperback novel The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
Dystopian fantasy.
WLM

It is set in an unspecified future, where Earth has become inhospitable. Human beings live deep beneath the surface in cramped hexagonal chambers. Each person lives alone, yet on the face of it few are unhappy.

A vast, global Machine connects everyone through video communication – a little like Zoom or WhatsApp which have become so important during lockdown. Each day passes from one virtual meeting or lecture to another, the passage of time indicated only by the dimming of artificial light. People can also mute themselves if they wish (they seem to be untroubled by the “you’re still muted” problem).

An Alexa-like monitor supplies everything they might require at the push of a button:

There were buttons and switches everywhere – buttons to call for food, for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button … (t)here was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature, and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.

The narrative follows the encounter of Vashti and Kuno, a mother and son who live on opposite sides of the world, and their uncomfortable attempt to meet in person at Kuno’s request. Kuno is worried about their helpless reliance on this machine. Some have even come to worship it, lovingly poring the pages of the one book still in circulation, the Book of the Machine, which provides an instantaneous answer to any question (sound familiar?)

For many, like Vashti, leaving home is a terrifying experience. Compared to the Machine’s soothing comforts, sunlight appals. Nature is misshapen. Skin-to-skin contact is shocking and sinister. Vashti swallows mood-numbing medication, (a “tabloid”) to cope with the stress of direct experience. Then one day, Kuno asks: what if the Machine stops?

Venturing outside

Bored and disenchanted, Kuno decides to find an exit. In a gesture of romantic if doomed defiance – anticipating that of Bernard Marx and Winston Smith in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1949 Nineteen Eighty-Four – he briefly makes it outside to the surface of the Earth, with its still-beautiful forests, mountains, sunsets, seas – and people. This direct encounter with nature electrifies him.

Large green field with path running through it in Glastonbury, UK
The Machine Stops is a reminder of the value of finding a point of escape and enjoyment of the natural world.
Marco Fine/Shutterstock

It is not easy. In a move not unlike dragging yourself out of the house to start a new lockdown exercise regime, he first clambers out of his cosy room but is soon overcome with exhaustion. But he keeps going. Slowly, he climbs up level after level of identical pods, never encountering another person nor meeting any opposition from the Machine (for who would want to leave?)

Finally, he reaches a disused lift shaft to the surface. Outside, he collapses into a grassy hollow, blinded by sunlight for the first time. He discovers there are others out there, the “Homeless”, people who want to think, feel and find meaning in their lives by their own design, without surrendering their freedom to the Machine.

Sensing an escapee, the tentacles of the Machine grab Kuno and pull him back under. But he is transformed. He persuades Vashti to leave her pod and travel around the world to meet him, in person at last, to tell her all about it. Later, when the Machine unexpectedly breaks down, plunging the world into chaos, Kuno and Vashti reunite one last time. If there is hope, Kuno says, it lies in leaving the Machine behind.

The Machine Stops is a reminder of the value of finding a point of escape and enjoyment of the natural world during the tough months ahead. For Kuno, life under the Machine has “robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation”.

As we look ahead to a time after COVID-19, The Machine Stops asks us to think about how we recover the qualities that make us human. It also asks us to think about the political consequences of long-term reliance on a handful of unaccountable internet platforms, without leaving our homes or interacting with people who might differ in their outlooks to us.

When we cede control in exchange for convenience, cosy echo chambers and comfortingly familiar illusions, bad things follow.

After the pandemic

Let’s not overstate all the similarities. Forster’s is a world without work, whereas our machines seem to have us working all hours. Everyone has adequate shelter and food. The problem lies less with the Machine than the masses, willingly distracted by an artificial shadowplay of disinformation and instant gratification.

But these strange and unsettling visions ask of us one thing: what kind of world might we want to live in after the COVID-19 era?

How might we eventually overcome the (understandable) fear of touch? How might we cherish and protect our endangered natural world? How, despite the growing ubiquity of AI and automation, might we bring under control the internet monopolies that attempt to meet our every need and desire and restore the civic, communal and embodied life that preceded it?

One thing is clear: only us human beings, with our messy emotions and complexity, can do that dreaming and that rebuilding together, democratically.The Conversation

Dan Taylor, Lecturer in Social and Political Thought, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guide to the classics: The Wind in the Willows — a tale of wanderlust, male bonding, and timeless delight



flickr, CC BY-ND

Kate Cantrell, University of Southern Queensland

Like several classics penned during the golden age of children’s literature, The Wind in the Willows was written with a particular child in mind.

Alastair Grahame was four years old when his father Kenneth — then a secretary at the Bank of England — began inventing bedtime stories about the reckless ruffian, Mr Toad, and his long-suffering friends: Badger, Rat, and Mole.

Alastair, born premature and partially blind, was nicknamed “Mouse”. Small, squinty, and beset by health problems, he was bullied at school. His rapture in the fantastic was later confirmed by his nurse, who recalled hearing Kenneth “up in the night-nursery, telling Master Mouse some ditty or other about a toad”.

The Wind in the Willows evolved from Alastair’s bedtime tales into a series of letters Grahame later sent his son while on holiday in Littlehampton. In the story, a quartet of anthropomorphised male animals wander freely in a pastoral land of leisure and pleasure — closely resembling the waterside haven of Cookham Dean where Grahame himself grew up.

In peaceful retreat from “The Wide World”, Rat, Mole, Badger, and Toad spend their days chatting, philosophising, pottering, and ruminating on the latest fashions and fads. But when the daredevil, Toad, takes up motoring, he becomes entranced by wild fantasies of the road. His concerned friends must intervene to restrain his whims, teaching him “to be a sensible toad”.

Kenneth Grahame, circa 1910.
Wikimedia Commons

Unlike Toad’s recuperative ending, however, Alastair’s story did not end happily.
In the spring of 1920, while a student at Oxford, he downed a glass of port before taking a late night stroll. The next morning, railway workers found his decapitated body on tracks near the university. An inquest determined his death a likely suicide but out of respect for his father, it was recorded as an accident.

Kenneth Grahame, by all accounts, never recovered from the loss of his only child. He became increasingly reclusive, eventually abandoning writing altogether.

In his will, he gifted the original manuscript of Willows to the Bodleian Library, along with the copyrights and all his royalties. Upon his death in 1932, he was buried in Oxford next to his first reader, Mouse.




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A ‘gay manifesto’?

Biographical readings are a staple in children’s literature, and the criticism surrounding The Wind in the Willows is no exception. First published in 1908 — the same year as Anne of Green Gables and Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz — the novel was initially titled The Mole and the Water-Rat. After back and forth correspondence with Grahame, his publisher Sir Algernon Methuen wrote to say he had settled on The Wind in the Willows because of its “charming and wet sound”.

Today, one of the mysteries surrounding the novel is the meaning of the title. The word “willows” does not appear anywhere in the book; the single form “willow” appears just twice.

When Willows was first released in Britain it was marketed as an allegory — “a fantastic and whimsical satire upon life”, featuring a cast of woodland and riverside creatures who were closer to an Edwardian gentlemen’s club than a crowd of animals. Indeed, the adventures structuring the novel are the meanderings of old English chaps nostalgic for another time.

The four friends, though different in disposition, are bound by their “divine discontent and longing”.

Restless enough to be easily bewitched, they are rich enough to fill their days with long picnics and strolls. Most chapters are sequenced in chronological order, but the action revolves around different types of wandering – pottering around the garden, messing about in boats, rambling along country lanes.

Messing about in boats: an image from a 1995 film version of the book.
TVC London, Carlton UK Productions, HIT Entertainment

With the exception of a brief encounter with a jailer’s daughter, an overweight barge woman, and a careless mother hedgehog, there are no women in Willows. And excluding a pair of young hedgehogs and a group of field mice, all male, there are no children either.

Given the novel’s strong homosocial subtext and absence of female characters, the story is often read as an escapist fantasy from Grahame’s unhappy marriage to Elspeth Thomson. Peter Hunt, an eminent scholar of Willows, describes the couple’s relationship as “sexually arid” and suggests Grahame’s sudden resignation from the bank in 1908 was due to bullying on the basis of his sexuality.

A retouched illustration from a 1913 edition of the book.
Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, Hunt ventures to call the book “a gay manifesto”, reading it as a gay allegory heavy with suppressed desire and latent homoeroticism. In one scene, for example, Mole and Rat “shake off their garments” and “tumble in-between the sheets in great joy and contentment”.

Earlier, while sharing a bed in the open air, Mole “reaches out from under his blanket, feels for the Rat’s paw in the darkness, and gives it a squeeze.” “I’ll do whatever you like, Ratty,” he whispers.

For this reason, and others, some critics suggest that Willows is not a children’s book at all, but a novel for adults that can be enjoyed by children.




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Conservatism

Whether we read Willows as a simple animal story or a social satire, the narrative reinforces the status quo. Badger, for instance, resembles a gruff headmaster whose paternal concern for his friends extends to an earnest attempt to reform the inebriate Toad.

Toad is a recognisable type of schoolboy, charming and impulsive but wildly arrogant and lacking self-control. In the end, he is punished for his foolish behaviour and forced to forgo his flamboyant egotism in humble resignation at Toad Hall. Similarly, Mole and Ratty are afflicted by wanderlust, but inevitably retreat to their cosy, subterranean homes. All of Grahame’s animals return to their “proper” place.

Toad: charming and impulsive but wildly arrogant and lacking self-control.
Cosgrove Hall Films, Thames Television

This return to civility and quiet domesticity exemplifies a criticism often levelled at children’s literature: that such stories are more about the fears and desires of adults than those of children. (Alice in Wonderland, for instance, emphasises the importance of curiosity and imagination, but is also an attempt to socialise children into responsible citizenship.)

Willows is a story about homecoming and friendship, but also a psychodrama about uncontrolled behaviour and addiction in Edwardian England.

Creatures of habit

Perhaps the most famous scene in Willows — now also a popular ride at Disneyland — is Mr Toad’s Wild Ride. In the novel, the incautious Toad, who is oddly large enough to drive a human-sized car, is frequently in trouble with the law and even imprisoned due to his addiction to joyriding.

At times delusional, the self-proclaimed “terror of the highway” writes off several vehicles before spiralling into a cycle of car theft, dangerous driving, and disorderly behaviour.

‘Messing Around in Cars’. Scene from the 1985 animated musical film version of The Wind in The Willows, directed by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass.

Eventually, Toad’s motorcar mania becomes so unmanageable that his exasperated friends are forced to stage “a mission of mercy” – a “work of rescue” that contemporary readers might recognise as an intervention. This subtext of addiction underpins the arc of recovery, and is crucial for understanding the novel’s key themes: the limits of friendship, the loss of pastoral security, and the temptations of city life.

Interestingly, in Badger’s attempt to help Toad break the cycle of withdrawal and recovery, and in Toad’s temporary abatement and relapse, the text points to another form of addiction: to alcohol.

A British postage stamp featuring the Willows gang.
shutterstock

When Toad is banished to his country retreat — a typical “cure” for upper-class alcoholism at the time — Badger stresses he will remain in enforced confinement “until the poison has worked itself out of his system” and his “violent paroxysms” have passed.

Again, the biographical foundation of the work is clear. Grahame’s father, Cunningham, was an alcoholic whose heavy drinking resulted, like Toad’s intoxication, in social exile, financial strain, and the loss of the family home.

In The Wind in the Willows, Grahame employs animals to render all the ups and downs of human experience. In doing so, he captures the conflict and consonance between freedom and captivity, tradition and modernity.

Productions of The Wind in the Willows will be held in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens and Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens until January 24.The Conversation

Kate Cantrell, Lecturer – Creative Writing & English Literature, University of Southern Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Not My Review: A Promised Land by Barack Obama


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Finished Reading: Nottingham (Book 1) – Nottingham by Nathan Makaryk


NottinghamNottingham by Nathan Makaryk
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Not My Review: A Promised Land by Barack Obama


The link below is to a book review of ‘A Promised Land,’ by Barack Obama.

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In its portrayal of women, the classic South African novel Mhudi was ahead of its time



A statue of the author, Solomon T. Plaatje, in Kimberley, South Africa.
flowcomm/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Jenny Boźena du Preez, Nelson Mandela University

Solomon T. Plaatje was born in 1876 and was one of the founding members of South Africa’s current ruling party, the African National Congress.

He was a politician, intellectual, journalist and author of the seminal Native Life in South Africa. He was also a writer of fiction. His first and only novel, Mhudi, was written in 1920 and published a decade later.

Despite being the first novel by a Black South African in English, it had little impact on the literary landscape of the country at the time. However, over the past century, the novel has garnered great interest from scholars.

One notable aspect of the novel is that it centres a woman as its protagonist – the Mhudi of the title – and her role in resistance. Her proactive, adventurous, quick-witted character has led a number of scholars to consider the novel from a feminist perspective. In fact, it has been described as “ahead of its time” for its portrayal of women in an era when women had few rights, and Black women almost none.

When working on my chapter for the new book, Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi: History, Criticism, Celebration, I found that most feminist scholarship on the novel has focused on the individual character of Mhudi. So, I turned my attention to Mhudi’s solidarity with other women and what this might tell us about Plaatje’s view of the nature of political struggle.

What the novel’s about

Mhudi takes place against the backdrop of fictionalised versions of actual historical events in what is today called South Africa. The action of the novel is set off by King Mzilikazi’s massacre of the Barolong people at Kunana in 1832. Mzilikazi was king of the Matabele, a group of people today known as the Ndebele and living mostly in Zimbabwe. The Barolong, now called the Rolong, are a clan of the Tswana people living largely in Botswana.

Mhudi, a young Barolong woman, manages to escape the massacre with her life, but believes she is the only one of her people left alive. However, after wandering in the wilderness, she meets a young Barolong man, Ra-Thaga, and they get married. The story follows the couple on several perilous adventures, in which Mhudi frequently saves Ra-Thaga through common sense and uncommon bravery, until they are united with the other surviving Barolong.




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Determined to defeat the Matabele, the Barolong form a coalition with the Boers, the white, Afrikaans-speaking farmers descended from Dutch settlers. Ra-Thaga takes part in the successful battle, but is wounded. Mhudi, seeing this in a dream, leaves her children with her cousin and travels to aid him. On her way, she befriends Hannetjie, a young Boer woman, and Umnandi, the favourite wife of Mzilikazi, who fled her home because of the scheming of her co-wives. The Matabele routed, Mhudi and Ra-Thaga happily return home.

Women’s solidarity

The most obvious of women’s solidarities in the novel are those with their husbands. The second most apparent are the friendships Mhudi forms across racial and ethnic boundaries with Umnandi and Hannetjie. While personal, these relationships also have political implications.

An old book open at the first page, with text in an illustrated frame reading, 'Mhudi - an epic of South African Native Life a Hundred Years Ago.'
First edition of Mhudi, Lovedale Press.
Blessing Kgasa/Kanye Records Centre/Twitter

Mhudi’s relationships with these two women allow her to see the humanity of the Matabele and the Boers, who she had, until this point, seen as inhumane and violent. This is because these two women also express their disapproval for unjust violence and suffering.

Mhudi’s friendships with these two exceptional women and their significance has been discussed in feminist analyses of the novel. However, the collective solidarity that Mhudi has with Barolong women has not really been considered. And yet, this is important in how we understand Plaatje’s view of resistance. We can see this idea of collective solidarity – standing together – in a story Mhudi tells Ra-Thaga about how she escaped being killed by a lion when she was a girl.

The story goes that Mhudi is out picking berries with a number of other Barolong girls and comes face-to-face with a lion. The other girls initially run away, but when they see Mhudi is paralysed with fright they run back and manage to scare off the lion. The fact that the girls are willing to return to Mhudi, even to die alongside her, suggests a deep sense of solidarity and commitment, the kind that arguably binds together successful political movements.

The individual and the collective

The reception of the lion story among the Barolong shows a tension between the collective and the individual. Ra-Thaga knows the story well. Mhudi’s bravery has been celebrated and she has even been called a heroine. However, the collective role of the girls in saving her has been lost in the story’s retelling.




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We might understand this as a critique of individual heroism in stories of resistance (especially if we read the lion as a symbol of British and other imperialism) to the exclusion of the recognition of the collective that makes resistance possible.

It’s significant that Mhudi’s most productive relationships are with Barolong women from her community. Her relationship with Hannetjie has no real political impact besides shifting Mhudi’s view of the Boers. Despite herself and Hannetjie sharing a horror over the treatment of the servants, their friendship does not result in any material resistance to injustice.

Her relationship with Umnandi creates a deeper solidarity, as they both promise to use their influence on men to promote peace. However, it is her cousin looking after her children that allows her to make the journey that leads to her relationships with Umnandi and Hannetjie and to assisting her husband.

A book cover with a linocut-inspired illustration of a man and a woman, her arm around his shoulders.

Jacana Media

Therefore, I read in Mhudi a sense of the importance of collective, communal forms of solidarity. Even when resistance requires alliances across racial, ethnic and gender boundaries, it is the communal solidarities women form that allow for individual and boundary-crossing solidarities to exist.

This might serve as a reminder to consider how we intrepret Plaatje’s place in the history of struggle in South Africa. While Plaatje is a fascinating and notable figure, whatever legacy he has left us was created and preserved through solidarities with others.

This article is based on Jenny Boźena du Preez’s chapter in the book Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi: History, Criticism, Celebration published by Jacana Media.The Conversation

Jenny Boźena du Preez, Postdoctoral Fellow, Nelson Mandela University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Finished Reading: Life’s Little Instruction Book – Simple Wisdom and a Little Humor for Living a Happy and Rewarding Life by H. Jackson Brown Jr


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