Thursday, 13 August 2009

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On James Joyce, who is very important, and Jacques Derrida, who is also very important, though more to other people than myself, but nevertheless is still more representative of this blog's content than a picture of two dirty-minded Muppets. As a few people have expressed interest (and because Inside Higher Ed chose to link here on a day in which a picture of Bert and Ernie ogling a young woman has primacy of place), I thought I'd share a bit of the soon-to-be-published essay that will knock the socks off anyone who loves James Joyce or is passionate about newspapers and tramlines. Of particular interest to longtime readers is the deft and not-the-least-bit-overcompensatory inclusion of Derrida halfway through the paragraph, because when I began my graduate career, I could barely write a paragraph without dropping an Important Name; but by its end, I managed to write an entire dissertation without ever mentioning a single theorist. If you think that last bit constitutes evidence of an overcompensation as powerful as the earlier one that drove me to lard every paragraph with one luminary or another, you probably wouldn't be wrong. But enough about that. Here's the excerpt: References to [William Martin] Murphy’s tramlines bookend “Aeolus,” a chapter [in Ulysses] that structurally and thematically criticizes the workings of the Irish press. Although the majority of the chapter occurs in and outside the Freeman’s Journal and not Murphy’s Irish Independent, the coincidence of these two industries is significant. As in “A Painful Case,” a tramcar stoppage is recounted through a narrative structured as a newspaper article: in “A Painful Case” it was an actual article, in “Aeolus” a sequence of headlines. Importantly, the headline that prefaces the first mention of Murphy’s tramlines, and in fact the very first headline, is “IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN METROPOLIS” (7.1). Immediately below that headline we learn that “[b]efore Nelson’s pillar trams slowed, shunted, changed trolley, started for Blackrock, Kingstown, and Dalkey, Clonskea, Rathgar, and Terenure, Palmerston Park and upper Rathmines, Sandymount Green, Rathmines, Ringsend, and Sandymount Tower, Harold’s Cross. The hoarse Dublin United Tramway Company’s timekeeper bawled them off” (7.3-8). In “Devant la Loi,” Derrida claims “that the power and import of the title have an essential rapport with something like the law” (132), that is, that a title has a determinative effect on the “meaning” of the text that follows it. The title cordons the play of signification in the text below it in such a way that, despite its exclusion from the text proper, it becomes an integral part of the text. In another Joycean anticipation of Derridean thought, the relationship of titles to texts is deconstructed in “Aeolus” (if not in the novel as a whole, as the obsession with the Homeric parallels present in each unofficially named chapter demonstrates). The title of this first section, “IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN METROPOLIS,” literally cannot contain the text beneath it, which describes the movement of tramcars away from Nelson’s pillar towards the remoter areas of Dublin. (In fact, the tramcars are bound for Kingston, as were those that struck Mrs. Sinico at the Sydney Parade Station, and Sandymount, where Bloom alighted from the Haddington Road line [the so-called “little Sandymount”] and...

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