Friday, February 3, 2017

Edward Said: Postcolonial Orientalism

In the mid 20th century, European colonial empires of the previous 400 years began to develop into disconnected and more abstract forms of colonialism. The modern era of Western dominance in the colonized world still prevails in the forms of Neocolonialism and Postcolonialism. Although some traditional structures of physical colonialism remain, the prefixes of the reconstructed “colonialisms” connote new change and consequential aftereffect. Thus, Neocolonialism refers to imperial control via capitalist systems of free market economics and the related concepts of globalization. Postcolonialism refers to a critical theory of analysis that is used to study various hegemonic structures of knowledge, and is the focus of this essay. In this theory, colonial control and subjugation is ideological. The hegemony of the colonizing power is instituted by the creation of knowledge that defines itself through the binary of an idealized Other. That is to say, an identity is constructed and perpetuated by its polarized relationship to something else. As a critical theory, Postcolonialism is a method of interpreting the consequences of historical and contemporary imperialism.

In 1978 the Palestinian-American academic, Dr. Edward Said, initiated the field of postcolonial studies with his book, Orientalism. The text is a critical investigation into the nature of historical representations produced by ideological systems of epistemic power. The postcolonial perspective began with Said’s divergent experiences growing up in the British Mandate of Palestine, Egypt, and later, the United States. He came to feel an incongruence in the representations of the Middle East as portrayed in the West. The individual experience coupled with an amalgamation of interpretative features found in Structuralism, Psychoanalytic theory, Feminism, and the work of Michel Foucault led to an inquiry into the documentation processes of history. The resultant theory of “Orientalism” is both an analysis of traditional orientalist studies that began in the 19th century and a model of analysis that examines the resultant effects of oriental studies on the West. It is important to note that Said’s use of the root “orient” in language functions in a variety of denotative and connotative fashions. As a noun or adjective, the words “orientalism” and “orientalist” can be employed in the same way “racism” and “racist” are used to denote discriminatory practices. In a historical sense, the term “oriental” is not the present-day pejorative phrase that refers to the Far East of Asia, but instead is used in its obsolescent context to designate the Near East or what is now called the Middle East, as well as North Africa and India. Said also uses the terms “Occident” and “Orient” to respectively signify the geographical West and East, and to connote the Western and Eastern worlds as seen from a Western perspective. The positioning and multidimensional use of these terms in Orientalism, attends to Said’s overall thesis that the West has produced hegemonic knowledge of the East, to construct and know itself through the mirror of the East.

Said postulates that Orientalism began with the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt in 1798. This event as opposed to previous European conquests, was an intellectual undertaking that was conceived as a scientific examination and documentation of ancient Egyptian history. The invasion removed the sovereignty of Ottoman Egypt to allow for a French occupation and the creation of the Institut d’Égypte. Hence, “Egypt was to become a department of French learning” (Said, 83) and in the words of French historian, François Charles-Roux, Egypt was to be “‘restored to prosperity, regenerated by wise and enlightened administration’” (qtd. in Said, 87). However, Egypt’s former greatness was now curated by a Western imperial power. The event illustrates the Foucaultian aspect of Orientalist power.

In observing, documenting, and archiving ancient Egyptian history, France created a new history of ancient Egypt. Of course, the French may have had noble intentions in the sense that modern conservation was needed to preserve the history of a society that existed for 3,000 years, and 1,800 years prior, but in no way could this undertaking be done without bias. The bias is not merely the separation of time and technology, but rather the difference in epochs that produce systems of knowledge and belief. Power moves with knowledge, and the conceptual seat of power and overall zeitgeist in 1798 France would have been vastly different from the Egypt of 2,000 BCE. Power is the concern of Orientalism for the reason being, that 1798 France was able to do something that 1798 Egypt was not able to do. The geographical and historical relics do not matter as much as the interpretation of, and then subsequent reinterpretation of knowledge. It is not as if 1798 Egypt would have been better at interpreting the past, but rather the past was interpreted through a modern European power that exists within the current epoch of modernity. To see history as something that is inert and solidified is nonsensical, and should alternatively be viewed as an all encompassing discipline that insists that “ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power, also being studied” (Said, 5). This first modern anthropological invasion of the Orient by a superior power created the foundation for the dissemination of discursive knowledge that is Orientalism.

Whether any knowledge purports to be true or not, the repetition of a certain knowledge is what incorporates knowledge into fact. This is a self-propelling process where the information of knowledge is recycled and sustained into a permanence that eventually becomes commonplace. Said’s Orientalism in this sense, has appropriated Michel Foucault’s use of discourse. Orientalism is a discourse, in that it perpetuates its own design of knowledge that believes itself. Examples of orientalist discourse, on a contemporary level, are the notion that all the variations of Islam in the Middle East are hostile to the West, or that all Arabs want Israel eliminated. These broad assumptions would be supported by repetitive language, literature, media, entertainment, advertising, etc., that in time would produce new knowledge of what it originally set out to describe. In terms of 19th century Orientalism the orientalist work of Alphonse de Lamartine, Ernest Renan, Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy, and Edward William Lane (who also translated and censored One Thousand and One Nights into its English version, The Arabian Nights), influenced the high literary work of Gustave Flaubert, Benjamin Disraeli (he also served as British Prime Minister twice), Gérard de Nerval, and Sir Richard Francis Burton. Discursive knowledge becomes essentialized and regenerates itself into knowledge influenced by generalizations and stereotypes. Orientalist discourse is this knowledge multiplied into the West as culture, arts, language, and histories that crystalize into the mindsets of new generations. The lyrics to opening song of the Disney film, Aladdin, are:
I come from a land, from a faraway place where a caravan camels roam, where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense, it’s barbaric but hey, it’s home. When the winds from the east and the suns from the west and sand in the glass is right, come on down, stop on by, hop a carpet and fly to another Arabian night.      
Orientalist discourse, whether it’s intended for children, readers of literature and journalism, or viewed as films, art, or television, is driven intertextually by any form of information dissemination.

The persuasive and authoritative power of Orientalist discourse emanates from the intertextuality of its sources. While the intertextuality of Orientalism from art to entertainment to journalism is somewhat broad, it can only occur in a contextual relationship to the West. This is the seemingly skewed dyadic of two unequal parties that was seen with the French occupation of Egypt. Yet, Orientalism became what it is, after that event. Consequently, there is no authentic East or Orient in Orientalism – there is only the West and its interpretative construction of a colonized place and its cultures. Hence, the breadth of Orientalism can seem expansive, but it can only ever exist within the confines of Western ideological control. To produce Orientalist art, entertainment, journalism, etc. is to operate, as Said claims, within a discourse that “is a regulated system of producing knowledge within certain constraints whereby certain rules have to be observed. To think past it, to go beyond it, not to use it, is virtually impossible because there’s no knowledge that isn’t codified in this way about that part of the world” (MEF, 10). In such a fashion, hegemony is real and the evidence is the internalized creative limitations of Orientalist representations of artists and audience. It is a system that Walter Benjamin has said “favors the overtaxing of the productive person in the name of a principle: the principle of ‘creativity.’ This overtaxing is all the more dangerous because, even as it flatters the self-esteem of the productive person, it effectively protects the interests of a social order” (Benjamin, 42). Such a system is normalized in the aforementioned intertextual repetition, as well as its condition as static and unchanging. The cultures of the Orient can be both backward and wise in inertia, because the conditions are needed as part of the authority of a normal or standardized entity to galvanize the reality of the Orient. Adopted Hindu and Buddhist wisdom, for example, are facets of Western culture because the West has the authority to present itself as tolerant and maintain its own versions of Eastern wisdom. Concepts like the “wisdom of the East” are a boon to authority in that they remain ancient and static, or synchronic, within and as a possession of a society that is diachronic, or constantly moving. They do not evolve, as the West contextually presents them, but rather function as orientalist representations. Thus, authority has given the West its identity. “There is nothing mysterious or natural about authority. It is formed, irradiated, disseminated; it is instrumental, it is persuasive; it has status, it establishes canons of taste and value; it is virtually indistinguishable from certain ideas it dignifies as true, and from traditions, perceptions, and judgments it forms, transmits, reproduces” (Said, 20). The discursive power that can perform these functions, is a power that can construct binary identities that encourage superficial divides and polemical thinking.

Orientalism operates as a system of opposing binaries that create an idealized Self and Other. This is a relationship of difference. An Other cannot exist without a force to designate it as something else, as something that is not normal. This is ultimately how colonialism can establish a concept like race and how postcolonialism functions to preserve such a concept as an ideology. With the establishment of the Institut d’Égypte, the French began the process of ideologically colonizing the Other. Accordingly, Egypt became an object to study, judge, police, and reinterpret as something different. Through a taxonomy, an identity is created and then supported by the institutional structure of the authority. Validation of the Other, as to reify difference, comes with the highest form of authoritative truth; science. The reasons behind judgment become unchallenged and evolve into common sense, and into an area wherein, as Sut Jhally states, Orientalism can “present itself as objective knowledge” (MEF, 5). In this way, the universality of power has the ability to create racialized or orientalized subjects. This notion of Otherness, according to Said, was, and still is, supported by:
second-order Darwinism, which seemed to accentuate the “scientific” validity of the division of races into advanced and backward, or European-Aryan and Oriental-African. Thus the whole question of imperialism, as it was debated in the late nineteenth century by pro-imperialists and anti-imperialists alike, carried forward the binary typology of advanced and backward (or subject) races, cultures, and societies (Said, 206).  
To possess ownership of the truth is to have the right to morally, spiritually, and intellectually decide what is correct, as well as to suffer at the hands the Other. However, a binary Other is a displacement of abnormality and the opposite of a Self that, is what it is not. In other words, the West projects itself onto the East, to create the Orient and the ideal Occident.

In Orientalism, the West is a reflection of its perfected self. It is the Self that looks to an Other to imagine what it is not. This is twofold by reason of the West’s fascination and subjugation of the Orient. In the former, the Orient is a place and attitude of exoticism. It is a mysterious land of scimitars, sensuality, Arabic music, flying carpets, veils, snake charmers, Rumi, belly dancers, fortune tellers, beautiful desert landscapes, Islamic calligraphy, camels, ornate mosques, etc. These were the great unknown qualities of the Orient that produced awe and curiosity. A desire manifested in the Occident for the Oriental dissimilarity. In this way, the Self recognizes itself in what it does not possess. As Jacques Lacan wrote, “man’s desire finds its meaning in the desire of the other, not so much because the other holds the key to the object of desire, as because the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other” (Lacan, 58). In Orientalism, this desire is self-contained. This is how the Occident comes to construct the Orient in its own contrasting unlikeness. Although the object, or idea in this case, can never be as it appears in the Self. Arjun Chowdhury asserts, “In Lacanian terms, this is a risk prevalent in all situations of desire: desire always misses its object because what one desires is not a concrete object or person but a certain fantasmatic structure” (Chowdhury, 7). This Self/Other binary necessitates the projection of power from the Self to abase the status of the Other.

The exotic, unquenchable Orient in Orientalism is still the opposite of a Western colonial power, but now the exotic is coupled with weakness. “The Oriental is irrational, depraved (fallen), childlike, “different”; thus the European is rational, virtuous, mature, “normal” (Said, 40). This is the reciprocating, love/hate relationship of West to West using the classical, static elements of Orientalism. Hence the East became a place that needed Western ideals of law and morality. “The white man’s burden” became the simple trope appropriated from the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name to rationalize imperial conquest. Now with a physical Western presence in the East, the “Orientals were viewed in a framework constructed out of biological determinism and moral-political admonishment. The Oriental was linked thus to elements in Western society (delinquents, the insane, women, the poor) having in common an identity best described as lamentably alien” (Said, 207). This is the projection that rids the real of the real, to become a simulacrum, to become the Occident divorced of the Orient.

Physically and ideologically, this is still the essentialized vision of Orientalism that dominates Western perspectives of the Middle East today. Said’s example of imperial France’s invasion and taxonomy of Egypt runs a direct course to the American influence in the Middle East today. As a postcolonial ideology, Orientalism is active in Western media and as America’s Judeo-Christian Other. In action films, and journalism especially, American-led support for Israel produces skewed depictions of Middle Eastern peoples as simple and violent adversaries. The Israel/Palestine conflict is inordinately portrayed as the Middle Eastern Other against Western morality. Through repetition and saturation, images of war and Islamic terrorism become synonymous with evil, as well as the direct opposite of what is portrayed as Judeo-Christian America. Essentialist stereotyping of an out-group becomes so prevalent and lasting that almost any terrorist act is labeled as a product of the Oriental Other. When, in 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing happened, it was assumed by many that it was an act of Middle Eastern terrorism:
[CBS News] Within hours of the explosion, local police and the FBI had issued the All Points Bulletin looking for three men believed to be of Middle East origin (MEF, 11)

[ABC News] The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East. ABC News has learned that the FBI has asked the US Military to provide up to ten Arabic speakers to help in the investigation (ibid.).
Orientalist projections not only explicitly demonize people from the Middle East with xenophobic assumptions, but act too easily in a racist manner as they differentiate themselves from the Other. This phenomena is exactly what Orientalism describes and predicts in its model.

Postcolonial theory has come to be recognized as a useful methodology to understand cultural, as well as literary and artistic endeavors. To apply any critical theory, is to analyze a phenomena through a specialized apparatus. Orientalism has been used in its original form to study the West’s relationship to the Middle East, but it can just as well be applied to any relationship involving an imbalance of power. Thus, Orientalism can be applicable to settler colonies, wherein the invading colonizers stay and subsequently construct internal colonies. The internal colonies are physical places that confine subjugated peoples to removed areas like reservations or urban areas like slums. In either scenario, there is colonial control and it is ideological, making it postcolonial.

One such internal colony is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The reservation’s troubled history is fairly understood, but it’s current status is not as well-known. By employing Orientalism to analyze the current conditions of Native Americans at Pine Ridge, one can begin to understand the nature and strength of ideological domination. In this case, ideology is very apparent because there is no direct physical control. Rather, Oriental-like effects of power constructs can be recognized in the current state of health, of nearly 100% of Pine Ridge’s residents. The abysmal conditions of the reservation and its relationship to the US government are a fitting example of the effects of postcolonialism.
From the Orientalist perspective, the colonizer overly romanticizes the colonized into a distorted image of a fixed place in time. In this way, the modern Native American is only partially known to the “West” – the US government and most of the American population. Instead, the West experiences the Native American as the original inhabitants of the continent that look more or less, as they did in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are strong warriors, nomadic, bear ornate clothing and headdresses, have a natural command over the fauna as well as ecology, speak in strange tongues, have eternal wisdom, and so on. The known modern view of the Native Americans is the solitary, sad and defeated alcoholic that is wasting away on a reservation. This perspective is true to an extent, but in the reality of Pine Ridge, the situation is a great deal more complicated. The romanticized classic plains Indian is the overall representation of Native Americans today. This is inline with the Oriental Self desiring the Other. The Western Self wants the simulacrum of that which it cannot have. The projected binary opposite of the least desirable aspects of the West are the disenfranchised, broken Indians, that are less seen in cultural representations of Native Americans. There is an unreality at work here as there is with the Orient and Occident dynamic. The classic Indian of the past and the American Western film genre is always of a lower caste than the colonizers even though the colonizer desires certain traits, and the defeated Indian is especially of a lower social rank. These images are the essentialized constructs of the binary that belies the true conditions that exist on Pine Ridge. What Orientalism is masking are some of the disquieting statistics of Pine Ridge:
·      Life expectancy on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the lowest anywhere in the western hemisphere, except for Haiti... Life expectancy for men [is] 48 years, and for women it is 52 years.
·      Native Americans’ rate of amputations related to diabetes is three to four times higher than among the general United States population. 
·      The suicide rate is more than twice the [US] national average.
·      The infant mortality rate is five times higher than the [US] national average (RCIS).    
When these facts are presented to an average authority of the West, the usual response concerns Native American’s laziness, that reservations are “nanny states,” alcoholism, etc. The Orientalist Native Americans are free people that were colonized and became victims of a problem, but then became creators of a moral problem. The colonized are now the burdensome derelicts of the modern West:
The earliest images of the native peoples in the European imagination reveal the projection of European binary alterity and ambivalence (Hulme qtd. in Duran, 118)... The imagery of the drunken native – violent, lawless, impetuous – emerges clearly in this analysis as one of the instruments which attuned Western collective consciousness to the notion of a North America awaiting the civilizing and rationalizing mission of European settlement (Duran, 118).
Orientalist Postcolonial theory is able to show the essentialization and subjugation of the modern Native American. Cultural discourse has portrayed the indigenous as romantic and broken, they have been infantilized to display native incompetence, and objectified into an Other. This becomes practical knowledge by virtue of tainted common sense and is used to understand or gain new knowledge with this hindered perspective. This is Postcolonial Orientalism and the power of its discourse.  

Works Cited:

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print

Edward Said: On ‘Orientalism’. Dir. Sut Jhally. Media Education Foundation (MEF), 2005. Video.

Chowdhury, Arjun. “Shocked by War.” Orientalism and War. Ed. Tarak Barkawi and Keith Stanski. Oxford: Oxford Press Scholarship Online, 2014. 1 – 29. Web.

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. Print.

Duran, Eduardo, and Duran, Bonnie. Native American Postcolonial Psychology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Print.

“Our Story – The Reservation – Red Cloud Indian School.” n.d. Web. 24 March 2016.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Michel Foucault: Discourse, Discipline, and the Construction of Knowledge

In the work of the late 20th century French philosopher, Michel Foucault, “discourse” and “discipline” are terms used to respectively describe conceptions of knowledge and the nature of power. The terms have a symbiotic relationship and are aspects of Foucault’s theories concerning historical and anthropological explanations of ideology formation. The meanings of these words reach beyond standard definitions to demonstrate the malleability of societal and individual perceptions of accepted truths.

The traditional understanding of discourse is to communicate via speech or written text to produce an informative dialog on any given subject. Foucault however, uses the term to define a certain epistemology, which is to say, discourse is the product of knowledge. In this sense knowledge is not acquired onto a blank slate-like condition of mind, but rather acquired through discriminating filters of social constructs. New knowledge can only be influenced by old knowledge. Eventually, according to an interpretation of this Foucaultian concept by Robert Dale Parker, “knowledge constructs what it purports to know.” In this way, an idea or judgment happens and appeals to a dominant power structure, such as a cultural elite entity. The idea then gets recycled to eventually produce a convention. The original knowledge becomes self-perpetuating and thus produces an epistemic byproduct that develops into accepted truth. Knowledge grows into a caricature of itself through reproductive cycles that solidify its authority. It turns into a dogmatism as a result of its internalization by a society. For Foucault this process and result are a cumulative discourse. Internalized conceptions of truth become absolute and are labeled as “the discourse” in a particular subject. Put differently, an individual’s thinking is effected by the historical zeitgeist they are born into and their thoughts are more the product of discourse than original thought.

The conventional meaning of discipline as a punitive way to deter a behavior is used by Foucault in regard to individuals and societies self-disciplining themselves. Using Jeremy Bentham’s model of the Panopticon, Foucault described a system of control where prisoners self-police themselves under the surveillance of an invisible, but present, authority. Societies work like the Panopticon in that they have norms and socially accepted ways of behaving and thinking. Individuals conform to their societal and cultural traditions by operating within the boundaries of what is considered to be normal for the time and place in which they live. If one is to deviate from a social norm, they are punished in diverse ways until they re-adhere to the norm. The punishments for acting or thinking outside of habituated tradition include; social ostracism and isolation, being labeled as a pariah, misfit, outsider, or criminal, seen as abnormal, freakish, dangerous, and teased, bullied, fined, imprisoned or killed. Discipline and punishment are self-enforced as well as maintained by societal expectations and codes of conduct. This system of regulation is seemingly invisible but nonetheless a powerful structure in which authority governs.

The notion of sexual identity as gender can be used as an example to elucidate Foucault’s use of discourse and discipline. The modern discourse on gender creates accepted gender roles more than it defines gender. Conceptions of femininity and masculinity are indoctrinated into societal norms, and are recycled through generations to become a self-perpetuating discourse. The information on gender is not correct or incorrect, but rather a construct that has been strengthened through repetition. The repetition of the discourse is maintained by discipline. Gender roles are established, or just known, and operate within the discourse by disciplined reinforcement. Hence gender is a description of itself, and not a description of the anatomical differences (or intersexual combination) between the male and female sexes.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cornel West and the Roots of Modern Racism

In Dr. Cornel West’s essay, “A Genealogy of Modern Racism” the author suggests that racism is a highly complex device that cannot be reduced to a product of Marxist functions of an economic base driving a superstructure that forms the actual and perceptible conditions of life in a society. In place of the overly simplistic reduction to Marxism, West claims race and racism are derived from a Foucaultian discourse of language and knowledge that employs methodologies from scientism or the authority of science, Cartesian rationality, and a classical revival in the Renaissance of Greco ideals of beauty and human proportional forms. The composite discourse of these three elements is how, as West puts it, the Western world “‘secretes’” the notion and practices of white supremacy.

West’s use of discourse as the cumulative effect of three contributing factors is Foucaultian in the sense that knowledge is produced by power and is then insured by power. West’s first case of scientific authority illustrates discourse in action. Preceding the Renaissance, the authority of the Christian churches of Catholicism in the West and Orthodoxy in the Byzantine East reigned supreme and were untouchable in their absolute authority and dogmatic reasoning. Science slowly started to challenge and somewhat supersede Christianity in what West calls “the age of genius” (93) with figures like Copernicus, Galileo, Da Vinci, and Newton. At the heart of this scientific revolution were the concepts of observation and evidence. These words and their connotations have;

played, in an isolated manner, a role in previous paradigms of knowledge in the West (since the times of Aristotle and Aristarchus). But the scientific revolution brought these ideas together in such a way that they have become the two foci around which much of modern discourse evolves. The modern concepts of hypothesis, fact, inference, validation, confirmation, and verification cluster around the ideas of observation and evidence (West, 94).
After the initial revolution, science became the de facto tool to validate everything. This is how the concept of “race” was conceived. To identify phenotypical differences in colonial subjects and vassal states, science was employed to document and validate phenotypical traits as differences of human races.

The second discursive factor is the “Cartesian transformation of philosophy” (West, 93). In concert with science the Cartesian revolution helped to bring abstract concepts to material realities. From this mindset, Cartesian rationality helped to create and gate-check modern discourse as validated philosophic and scientific knowledge. In supporting science, West states;

Descartes’s conception of philosophy as a tortuous move from the subject to objects, from the veil of ideas to the external world, from immediate awareness to extended substances, from self-consciousness to things in space, and ultimately from doubt to certainty was motivated primarily by an attempt to provide a theoretical basis for the legitimacy of modern science (West, 95). 

Lastly, the classical revival of Greco aesthetic qualities aided scientific and Cartesian discourse. Knowledge of idealized concepts of beauty as perfection, as opposed to naturalized concepts and representations, led to an objectification of artistic qualities. These strict limitations began with the Renaissance and proceeded though the Baroque period of complexity, to the Enlightenment, the Reformation, Romanticism and its ironic idealization of a limited ideal, and to the Victorian age of the Industrial Revolution and the Western colonial era that initiated racism. The classical aesthetic became a monopoly of truth in representation and a fetish in the pursuit of material beauty in reality. Specifically, this validation of Greek qualities are the “Greek ocular metaphors – Eye of the Mind, Mind as Mirror of Nature, Mind as Inner Arena with its Inner Observer – [that] dominate modern discourse in the West” (West, 96).

These three aspects of Cornel West’s thesis on the origins of racism rely on Foucault’s ideas of knowledge creating power. As knowledge becomes solidified through West’s scientific, Cartesian, and classical paradigms, it turns into uncontested fact. Discourse as knowledge that takes on a life of its own and starts a process of creating new knowledge derived from West’s three knowledge bases, comes to define history and shape modernity. It becomes extremely difficult to think outside of the discourse that has now been historically established. These constructed truths that West has postulated, run in opposition to Marxist ideas of race formation. In this fashion, race is a product of capitalism. And capitalism is the result of a shift in the economic base from the inability of feudalism to provide populations with the material means to live. Thus a capitalist system resulted which relied on hierarchies of wealth and the pursuit of capital as the new means of providing for the material conditions of life. The Marxist model of capitalist social hierarchies have produced racism. Both West’s discursive theory and the Marxist model allow for racism to develop from purported and supported knowledge of scientific authority that justifies colonialism and the genealogical methods needed to define phenotypical and socioeconomic differences that work to create race.

Page numbers refer to Race and Critical Theories (2002)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Notes From the Existential: Friedrich Nietzsche

I. The fall of the Dionysian/Apolline dialectic and the rise of Apolline culture.

To aid in the explanation of the Apolline/Dionysian dialectic he posits in The Birth of Tragedy (BT), Friedrich Nietzsche explores the roots of the Greek culture that became Apolline. At the end of section 2, he claims the existence of an “Apolline consciousness” that masks the human Dionysian drive (Triebe) to blissful “intoxication” and “self-abandonment” (BT 21). Nietzsche examines the “artful edifice of Apolline culture” (BT 22) in section 3 and finds this culture to be based on two distinct foundations.     

The first foundation is the legend of Silenus and King Midas. The king wanders through a forest in search of Silenus, the daemon (an entity with god-like and human qualities) companion of Dionysus. Once found King Midas asks “what is the best and most excellent thing for human beings” (BT 23). Silenus laughs and replies:

Wretched, ephemeral race, children of chance and tribulation, why do you force me to tell you the very thing which it would be most profitable for you not to hear? The very best thing is utterly beyond your reach not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. However, the second best thing for you is: to die soon (BT ibid ftn. 38).

In essence this proclamation functioning as new knowledge to the Greeks, removed meaning from human life. According to Nietzsche this legend, which the Greeks regarded as true and genuine, became the impetus for a new vision of humanity.

The second foundation of Apolline culture is the reaction to Silenus’ knowledge. The Greeks responded with an attempt to discard the Titanic era of gods that included Dionysus and the hordes of followers that celebrated him in mad ecstasy. The “Titanic divine order of terror” (BT ibid) was gradually replaced with the Apolline order of Olympian gods, which Nietzsche describes metaphorically as roses emerging from a bush of thorns. This was the only way in which humanity could survive knowing the terrible truths of Silenus. Essentially the Greeks created the Olympian gods in their own likeness. The self-image of beauty and structure as the pinnacle of Grecian existence is manifested in the god Apollo and the Apolline culture that pursues art as beautiful, embodies the Olympian reality. In effect this inverts the truths of Silenus in that now human life has meaning again and is justified as the constant pursuit of perfection that is represented in gods that reflect back this image of humanity.   

Nietzsche refers to Apolline culture as an “artful edifice” (BT 22). The term “artful” reinforces Nietzsche’s idea that the Dionysian/Apolline aesthetic drive is the basis for existence. “Edifice” acknowledges that the Apolline is an illusion that was created as a necessity to “veil” (BT 21) the Titanic age of Dionysian madness. Nietzsche refers to the Olympian gods as “dream-born figures” (BT 23) to assert that these deities are the product of humanity’s needed illusions. The Greeks replaced their gods with idealized representations of human beauty, while also including “their extreme sensitivity, their stormy desires, their unique gift for suffering” (BT 24), because but they could not replace the natural Dionysian drive in humanity’s collective consciousness. In this sense the “veil” is known to be a mask or illusion to humanity and is now a required mechanism to accept the Dionysian world. However the necessity of the illusion also makes the illusion real, as it is a product of consciousness in the same way dreams are part of human reality. For all that the Apolline “artful edifice” was a response to the Dionysian drive, the Apolline drive does not work in opposition to the Dionysian drive, but rather in conjunction as a symbiotic dialectic.

For Nietzsche this mutual dialectic is the ideal that took time to coalesce. In the initial reaction to Silenus’ knowledge, the foundation of Apolline culture began and later overtook the Dionysian culture. Nietzsche relates this Apolline saturation to the epic poetry of Homer and its effect on a society in which humans have a sense of heroic honor. In Nietzsche’s Homeric age, humans have achieved a kind of enlightenment at the realization that the Apolline triumph of essential illusions over the Dionysian drive is natural. With this knowledge, humanity feels close to nature and is satisfied with the quality of unification of nature and humanity. In response to this achieved unity, the Homeric human creates art to reflect the connection to nature, which Nietzsche refers to as naïve art. In this way naivety is another Apolline illusion, but not the variety of known illusions humanity is comfortable with but rather a byproduct of the Apolline mindset that works to consume itself with illusions that function unconsciously. The Homeric human is static in an Apolline process that is ongoing. The evidence for this, Nietzsche argues, is naïve art that represents a triumph of humanity in its collective realization and understanding that humanity has discovered its righteous existence through nature and Apolline illusion. Thus Homeric Apolline culture has been duped into believing its own vainglorious dogma.
Nietzsche identifies the force that controls humanity’s journey of actions into eras such as the Apolline as the “Will.” He adopted this from Arthur Schopenhauer’s concept of the Will, in which nature controls humanity in an irrational non-cognitive fashion. The Will is a “blind” force in the universe to which humanity’s sense of representation is only a facet of the Will. Hence, humans only think they have self-determination when in fact they are merely subjects of the all encompassing Will. Apolline culture has been blindsided by the Will to the extant that their illusions have become their confining delusions of grandeur. Nietzsche ends section 3 by articulating the imbalance of the life defining aesthetic drives and its effect on Grecian society:

[the Greeks] had to recognize a reflection of themselves in a higher sphere without feeling that the perfected world of their vision was an imperative[a command]... With this reflection of beauty the Hellenic ‘Will’ fought against the talent for suffering and for the wisdom of suffering which is the correlative of artistic talent (BT 25). 

II. The origin of the tragic chorus and an aesthetic meaning of life.

Nietzsche wrote BT to elucidate his aesthetic theory. The book’s overarching claim is that the ancient Greeks arrived at the most supreme way in which to live, through their tragedies of Greek drama. They had achieved the perfect balance of Dionysian and Apolline artistic forces that Nietzsche treats as an ideal way in which to live a life. Hence the book’s title refers to the origin of this perfect symbiotic tragedy and calls for its much needed rebirth in Nietzsche’s 19th century.

There were three physical elements in ancient Greek drama; the stage where the actors performed the play, the audience or spectators, and the chorus. While there has been debate as to what all three of these actually are and what their respective functions accomplish, the latter has been notoriously difficult over the ensuing centuries in the attempts to designate a succinct connotative meaning. It is especially hard to give the chorus a single meaning and raison d'être‎, as it is something that evolves over time. Additionally it’s something that’s used differently with different playwrights. In Euripides’ tragedy Medea, the chorus is a group of people, assumed to be women, that either speak all at once in a choral fashion or in an alternating way that has each member speaking at different times. Medea uses the chorus as a kind of sounding board for her ideas and intentions, and the chorus likewise reply. It also acts as a medium between the stage and audience wherein the chorus narrates to the audience in a manner similar to the way an omniscient narrator speaks to the reader in a literary novel. This is a general description of the chorus in Greek tragedy. Although for Nietzsche, Euripides represents a decline in the art form.

In section 7 of BT, Nietzsche sets out to explain the chorus and its origins. Almost immediately he claims the ancient Greek chorus to be inherently tragic by asserting, confusingly, “that tragedy arose from the tragic chorus and was originally chorus and nothing but chorus” (BT 36). Toward the end of the section he elaborates to say the chorus consists of satyrs belonging to the cult of Dionysus. A satyr is a being that is half man and half horse or goat that celebrates Dionysus in ongoing festivals to honor the deity with music, intoxication, self-abandonment, and general hedonism. The satyrs that sing and play unstructured music to Dionysus are known as dithyrambs. As Dionysus’ daemon companion, Silenus is among the satyrs and knows the bliss of the Dionysian world. As mentioned earlier, humanity after Silenus’ revelation knows that the best thing for humanity is to not exist at all, and the second best thing for humans would be to die as soon as possible. With this in mind, the human that accepts this terrible truth and rejects the Apolline world of image, appearances, and illusion, is able to know and understand the knowledge of Silenus. That is to say, humans that realize genuine pain and suffer honestly are able to revel in the tragic celebrations of the Dionysian chorus, and then suffer again at the new awareness of the Apolline façade and discover the illusion that separates the two aspects of humanity. The human that transcends to this place, in what Nietzsche credits to an analogy his then friend Richard Wagner articulated, as a process similar to being “absorbed, elevated, and extinguished... just as a lamplight is superseded by the light of day” (BT 39). Notice that this light as knowledge is not subtractive. The light is not turned out and replaced with more light, but the light as knowledge is added and expanded to with more knowledge. This new place of additional understanding is the realization of the needed illusions of Apolline rationality, order, and beauty, as well as the assumed illusion between Dionysian and Apolline worlds to be false. The person now understands that the aesthetic drives of Dionysus and Apollo work together for a greater common good. This attained understanding of Dionysian/Apolline balance without division becomes a state of mind and being that obtains a middle way in the knowing of the unity of Dionysian/Apolline drives. And this middle or enlightened area is also where the birth of tragedy has taken place. Nietzsche refers to this space or state as the “metaphysical solace” that gives rise to “true tragedy” (BT ibid). In a comparison to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Nietzsche writes that both men and women in possession of metaphysical solace;

have gazed into the true essence of things, they have acquired knowledge and they find action repulsive, for their actions can do nothing to change the eternal essence of things; they regard it as laughable or shameful that they should be expected to set to rights a world so out of joint. Knowledge kills action; action requires one to be shrouded in a veil of illusion” (BT 40).

The Greeks no longer need to be saddened and opposed to Silenus’ wisdom. To obfuscate the daemon’s truths, to prop up an “artful edifice” (BT 22) is to take action where none is needed. The world does not need to be corrected with illusions. Yet the Apolline perspective of images and dreams to explain beauty is good when it has an equal in the Dionysian rawness of euphoric ecstasy. So tragedy as fist born in the Dionysian cults that became the chorus of Greek dramas, is now fully realized as the enlightened middle of Dionysian and Apolline perspectives.
The new view of tragedy as originating in the chorus is at the heart of Nietzsche’s aesthetic philosophy. His claim that tragedy as briefly seen in the eras of Aeschylus and Sophocles represents the pinnacle of aesthetic experience in all history. And for Nietzsche the aesthetic experience of art is the ultimate way in which humans can be in touch with nature. The dialectic of Dionysian and Apolline aesthetic drives is not a binary system in the Hegelian sense, but rather a firm affirmation in the power of art to give true unmitigated meaning to life. He asserts that art and its appreciation through its purest form of music and tragedy produce a new myth as an order to live through. This position is in opposition to the pessimism of Schopenhauer and the later shift to morality as humanity’s purpose and its subsequent universalization through dogmatic piety. Nietzsche writes that art’s purpose is to unify humanity with nature, or better yet it’s to say that art is humanity’s nature. The German term “ureine” meaning a primordial oneness is the purpose of aesthetic experience in which “Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art” (BT 18).

III. Nietzsche really hates Socrates and Euripides.

Part of Nietzsche’s BT is to lament and ascribe a cause to the eventual corruption and downfall of the perfect form of Greek tragedy seen in the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles. His analysis of the corruption leads to three root causes; the misunderstanding of the Dionysian/Apolline dialectic, an over analyzing critique of the function of art and its subsequent quantification, and the end result of producing dramatic art that has placed moral judgment as the prime mover of artistic gratification and audience appeal. The two culprits of this problem, Nietzsche has determined, are the playwright Euripides and the philosopher Socrates.

As a chronology in Classical Greek history, Aeschylus was the first playwright to embody the perfect tragic form. Sophocles followed roughly a generation later and was also a master of the Dionysian/Apolline dialectic. Euripides was born ten years after Sophocles, and Socrates was born ten years after Euripides. All this is to say that, with the exception of Aeschylus, the latter three were all contemporaries of each other. In this sense Euripides was writing alongside a master playwright that wrote in the tradition of Aeschylus, while also being influenced by his friendship with a non-playwright in Socrates. Nietzsche argues that Euripides was a thinker and not a poet. Nietzsche’s rationale is that Euripides misunderstood the affect and pathos of Aeschylus and Sophocles, but did not know that he misunderstood their work. Likewise, Socrates as a philosopher not only was incapable of understanding the dialectic form, but as a result did not respect the Dionysian/Apolline approach. Nietzsche quotes Socrates as saying “‘Everything must be conscious in order to be good’” (BT 64). The meaning of this requires that there be no subtext in art, and that with subtext art cannot possibly be good. Therefore art for Socrates needs to make complete sense on a conscious level. However Nietzsche as a proponent of the Dionysian, gives his trust to the irrationality and ambiguities that compel an observer or audience member to implicitly deduce the feeling or meaning in an artistic construction. So perhaps it is strange that Socrates would put all his trust in a purely surface level consciousness because it seems to maintain that all artistic works are good because they are conscious and therefore equal in their artistic merit. With this mode of thought, Socrates would only have two kinds of art in his world; those that are good and those that are not good. This directly translates to his famous judgments of people and situations as either just or unjust. As Socratic thought was an influence on Euripides, Nietzsche claims Euripides’ aesthetic principle was “‘Everything must be conscious in order to be beautiful’” (BT ibid) as well as “‘In order to be beautiful, everything must be reasonable’” (BT 62). And so here is one reason why, according to Nietzsche, Euripides under the influence of “aesthetic Socratism” (BT ibid) helped to destroy Greek tragedy.
Nietzsche writes that this aesthetic Socratism motivated Euripides to reinvent and restructure Greek drama to fit this new aesthetic form. One way Euripides did this was to eliminate the Dionysian elements from the chorus structures of Aeschylus and Sophocles. As the previous components were disorder and randomness, the new chorus was Euripides himself in the guise of a common human or “everyman.” This satisfied the Socratic element of reason as good, as well as the chorus’ direct unambiguous narration to further explicate the happenings on the stage to the audience as conscious. For Nietzsche this was seriously flawed because Euripides as an everyman or a spectator within the narrative to achieve ultimate consciousness was betraying the fact that he was not in fact a spectator, and was merely an elitist playwright attempting to portray himself as an everyman spectator with the cumulative effect of pandering and thus insulting the intellectual abilities of his audience. Additionally, this method assumed the audience or public to be a single entity with only diametrical Socratic interpretative abilities like right or wrong. Nietzsche writes of this artist/audience relationship, “Why should the artist be obliged to accommodate himself to a force which is strong only by virtue of its numbers?” (BT 57). Herein lies the importance of multiple interpretations of an artwork and why Euripides under the influence of Socrates misses the point. Of this limited black and white Socratic thinking (which ironically is not thinking enough), Nietzsche criticizes Euripides further; “he draws up his plan as a Socratic thinker; he executes it as a passionate actor. Neither in the planning nor in the execution is he a pure artist. Thus Euripidean drama is simultaneously fiery and cool, equally capable of freezing and burning” (BT 61).

With the simple subtractive quality of Euripides’ new tragedies established as conservative and bland, Nietzsche now attests that aesthetic Socratism has moralized Greek tragedy. In the previous Dionysian/Apolline dialectic, morality was not at the forefront of the artistic pathos. This is because the Dionysian element would not allow for it due to its unpredictable nature. As a result there was mathematically more possibilities for the art to work. Also it is thought that this ambiguous, uncertain nature correlates and is more relatable to real human nature. Under the establishment of aesthetic Socratism, real human nature is jettisoned in favor of a didactic approach where human nature is portrayed as is should be according to the philosophy of Socrates. Not surprisingly this makes for dull moralistic stories designed to condition with little artistic potential. Nietzsche points to “Socrates’ dictum that ‘Only he who knows is virtuous’” (BT 62). Nietzsche then describes the result of this aesthetic philosophy as:

With this canon in his hand Euripides measured every single element – language, character, dramatic construction, choral music – and rectified it in accordance with this principle[the aforementioned dictum]. What we criticize so frequently as a poetic flaw and a step backwards in Euripides’ work, as compared with Sophoclean tragedy, is mostly the product of that penetrating critical process, that bold application of reason (BT ibid). 

In this overly meticulous creating, morality is lost to formulaic constructions that dictate virtue as dogma. Of course this is the downfall for Nietzsche that led to the moralized art of an all too realistic and dogmatic era. Accordingly the moral ambiguity and likeness to the Dionysian part of humanity, the new tragedy forms as Socratic and predictable are unable to use the Apolline element to the same degree and is ultimately a very derivative form art that is closer to pastiche.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Presence of Absence

In “The Sisters” and “The Dead” from Dubliners, James Joyce explores the symmetry between absence and presence. The author employs these mutually dependent devices both in the structure of the narrative as well as a force to articulate aesthetic qualities of the stories. In these two stories specifically as well as much of Joyce’s work, absence conveys a presence in a way that compels the reader to participate in the interpretation of meaning. 

“The Sisters” begins with a young boy thinking of death. He walks by a window “night after night” looking for the two candles that would signify an Irish wake. The boy contemplates the paralytic condition of his friend, the Catholic priest Father Flynn, after sustaining his third stroke. Remembering Father Flynn’s recurring statement, “I am not long for this world,” the boy thinks the words of the phrase to be “idle” and knows these words are now “true.” How this truth has evolved from the phrase is not immediately revealed, though Joyce allows for his audience to consider its tacit meaning to the progressing narrative with subsequent references to forms of inertia. The boy’s thoughts move on to the audible sounds of the words; paralysis, gnomon, and simony. Under the circumstances the boy feels that paralysis in particular sounds like “the name of some maleficent and sinful being.” The direction of thought, all contained in the first paragraph, conveys a young mind attempting to understand a potential loss.

Later at home, the boy finds out Father Flynn has in fact died and chooses reticence in the presence of his uncle, aunt, and family friend Mr. Cotter as they voice their concerns about the relationship between the old priest and himself. Joyce has Mr. Cotter speaking of the priest in an elusive, mumbling manner in which he doesn’t complete his thoughts; “--No, I wouldn’t say he was exactly ...... but there was something queer ...... there was something uncanny about him. I’ll tell you my opinion. ...” The boy thinks these people have misunderstood, and believes he alone knows the true ecclesiastic and learned nature of Father Flynn. Here the reader is made aware of the boy’s frustration with his dismissive silence. It is the reticence that speaks of the boy’s certainty toward his emotionally and literally disconnected family. Mr. Cotter’s objections are also spoken as though he’s nervous or it’s the first time a negative sentiment concerning Father Flynn’s behavior has been vocalized. The scene renders the priest a powerful presence of the past that still exists in his absence.

That night in his bed, the boy has the beginnings of a dream in which he tries to extract meaning from Mr. Cotter’s unfinished thoughts but is interrupted by the image of a paralytic;
In the dark of my room I imagined that I saw again the heavy grey face of the paralytic. I drew the blankets over my head and tried to think of Christmas. But the grey face still followed me. It murmured, and I understood that it desired to confess something. I felt my soul receding into some pleasant and vicious region; and there again I found it waiting for me. It began to confess to me in a murmuring voice and I wondered why it smiled continually and why the lips were so moist with spittle. But then I remembered that it had died of paralysis and I felt that I too was smiling feebly as if to absolve the simoniac of his sin.
The audience and young narrator are reminded of the priest’s paralytic condition, and are thus compelled to think of death, paralysis, fear, and an ecclesiastic crime as one entity. Father Flynn is now known to be a figure of binary possibilities; from friend to “maleficent and sinful being” that exist in the boy’s mind. What’s confessed by the priest’s likeness in the dream is never made clear by Joyce. The reader knows something was imparted to the boy but can only speculate on its content. The reason for his mentor-like relationship with Father Flynn, the absence of the boy’s biological parents, or any backstory informing of the general circumstances of the story, are all communicated to the reader by way of an absence of information. These facets of the story are clear because, like the paralytic nature of a fearful and reticent environment, they are unmentionable, yet felt.

The next day the boy visits the house and shop where Father Flynn and he had spent time together. The place is named “Drapery” and consists of umbrellas and children’s bootees. The reader and narrator simultaneously read an official notice of Father Flynn’s death, respectively in the story’s text and as part of the boy’s narrative discovery;
“July 1st 1895
The Rev. James Flynn (formerly of S. Catherine’s
Church, Meath Street) aged sixty-five years.
For the reader, this is new information regarding James Flynn, though for the boy, it is merely a confirmation of death which then prompts him to think of the “little dark room behind the shop” where he would’ve been with Father Flynn if he had still been alive that day. The narrator recollects and informs the reader further on some details of the priest’s life and education while then confessing; “I found it strange that neither I nor the day seemed in a mourning mood and I felt even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed by something by his death.” Here Joyce conjures the boy’s dream again and reminds the reader that something was said by Father Flynn but he still cannot remember what. Nonetheless, the boy leaves and comes back with his aunt to view his friend in his coffin and pray. Later that night he listens to his aunt talk with Father Flynn’s sisters. One of the sisters tells of her brother’s later struggles: “The duties of the priesthood was too much for him. And then his life was, you might say, crossed.” After a long silence she goes on to mention a chalice he broke during a service that “contained nothing.” and how he could sometimes be found alone “talking to no-one.” Finally she tells them of the night two other priests found Father Flynn “sitting up by himself in the dark in his confession box, wideawake and laughing-like softly to himself.”

Joyce propels “The Sisters” with the silence of negative space. A literal silence is displayed in the narrator’s reaction toward Mr. Cotter’s unfinished sentences, as well as the lull in the aunt and boy’s astonishment regarding the sister’s description of her brother’s deteriorated state. Also, the reader follows the narrator’s young mind in his misunderstanding of circumstances around him. The boy superficially perceives Father Flynn to be solely a man of the church without moral fallibilities or a degenerating mind, but grants the possibility of something foreboding in his friend. In this way, Joyce uses the boy’s undeveloped mental grasp to communicate misunderstanding through a lack of knowledge. Similarly the reader is also without knowledge and perceives the circumstances differently by filling these information gaps with assumptions that point to ethical culpability on behalf of Father Flynn. Further concerning these lapses of information to be transgressive or a kind of censure that’s only known to the reader, and hence entangled in a larger truth, Margot Norris writes;
The holes in the Dubliners stories open up the possibility of transgressive reading in two senses or layers. First, the reader (like the characters, on occasion) entertains the suspicion that the gaps and ellipses in the narration hide or occlude evidence of transgression. Second, the suspicion itself becomes a form of readerly transgression by implicating the reader in imagined transgressive knowledge... In this way the reader confronted by the gaps and ellipses of “The Sisters” shares the vulnerability of the boy who risks a loss of innocence by the very fact that he must confront gnomic language (Norris, 19).      
Joyce of course, does not reveal any truths close to literal or absolute, and instead evokes a feeling of complex ambiguity that sits in the mind of his reader.
James Joyce uses absence in both the structure, and as as a narrative element in “The Sisters.” The artistic form and musical nature of the story are dependent on the breaks of knowledge that intersect with the reader’s imagination. The effect is reminiscent of rests or breaks in melodic lines over an undercurrent of rhythm. Father Flynn’s influence on the narrator as well as his significance in the lives of all the characters is especially disquieting since he is never alive in the story. Just as silence and absence echo throughout “The Sisters” in the physical non-presence of Father Flynn, emotional absence looms within the characters in “The Dead.”

Joyce begins “The Dead” at the turn of a new year in the shadow of a previous year. It’s cold outside with a rare Dublin snowfall making an impression on the characters of the story, “we haven't had snow like it for thirty years, and I read this morning in the newspapers that the snow is general all over Ireland” remarks the main character, Gabriel Conroy. The setting is an annual Christmas and New Year’s themed party hosted by two aged sisters, Kate and Julia. The sisters are worried as their favorite nephew, Gabriel and his wife Gretta, have not yet arrived while Freddy Malins is most likely late due to his drunkenness. Almost immediately Joyce tells of three literal absences and hints at their respective importance to the subtext. When the anticipated young couple do arrive, Gabriel blames his wife for their lateness. The housemaid, Lily, asks Mr. Conroy if it’s still snowing as she takes his coat and he scrapes snow off the bottom of his shoes. He answers and then patronizes her with an attempt at small talk: “I suppose we'll be going to your wedding one of these fine days with
your young man, eh?” Lily retorts and consequently Gabriel offers amends in the form of a gratuity, which is misunderstood as an act of charity. This initial scene establishes a lack of depth in the personalities of Gabriel and his elderly aunts. Gabriel’s superficial remark about his wife, the bungled conversation and redemptive pay off to Lily, display an insecure man with a crude awareness of social caste. Even though Freddy Malins turns up intoxicated every year, Kate and Julia routinely invite him anyway but then worry of the potential problems he will cause to their gathering and reputation. Joyce establishes the two aunts as charming, yet a bit overbearing and shallow.

The odd combination of insecurity and shallowness continues as Gabriel becomes distressed and increasingly anxious about the impression he will make on others:
He was still discomposed by the girl's bitter and sudden retort. It had cast a gloom over him which he tried to dispel by arranging his cuffs and the bows of his tie. He then took from his waistcoat pocket a little paper and glanced at the headings he had made for his speech. He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning, for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers. Some quotation that they would recognize from Shakespeare or from the Melodies would be better. The indelicate clacking of the men's heels and the shuffling of their soles reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his. He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand. They would think that he was airing his superior education. He would fail with them just as he had failed with the girl in the pantry. He had taken up a wrong tone. His whole speech was a mistake from first to last, an utter failure.

While Gabriel is not confident in his social abilities at the party, Joyce manages to channel a supreme sense of confidence in his life outside of the narrative. In the excerpt above, Gabriel is insecure in the text but is known to have made choices that reciprocate his anxiety as arrogance. He has the gall to choose the subtle poetry of a Victorian Englishman for his oration. In the climate of Irish nationalism in which the story takes place, it could not have been lost on Gabriel that his choice of poetry might not be properly understood, but the poet’s native ties to Pax Britannica would. Still at his moment of indecision, he feels his listening audience to be comprised of simple-minded philistines and further in the story refers to them as “vulgarians.” In this instance of superior air, Gabriel feels he needs to dumb down his choice to recognizable names and familiar Irish sung poems. Joyce then dismantles the edifice and shrinks Gabriel back to the apprehensive personality the reader encountered earlier when he acknowledges himself to be a failure that will only continue on a path of disappointment.

Like Father Flynn, Gabriel is a complex character that inhabits polemical areas. Joyce has crafted dialectical contradictions in his stories and characters to reflect their moral complexities. Thus in Gabriel’s case, the man is capable of denouncing a crowd of lowbrow “vulgarians” for their assumed misunderstanding, while at the same time feeling that he has failed them and is an “utter failure” himself in his misunderstanding of the situation. One aspect of Gabriel’s personality is visible to the reader while the other is not. However, the absent side of his personality is also known because it too alternates and becomes present in the story. This dynamic can be likened to the early 20th century philosopher of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl and his “transcendence within immanence” concept using a cube as a metaphor for Joyce’s Gabriel Conroy. If one is to hold a cube, “one can never see more than three sides at one time, although we know there are in fact six sides... there is no such thing as omniscience, no absolute knowledge, since everything that is visible (the visible symbolized by the three exposed faces of the cube) rests on the foundation of invisibility (the three hidden faces of the cube)” (Ferry, 234). In this example, both Gabriel and Father Flynn are explained as to how other characters see and interact with them in Joyce’s stories as polemical individuals. Thus, the reader has the benefit of omniscience and is able to see the full multifaceted characters, or six sides of the cube at once. The dialectic of an absent character would provoke the notion of a present character. The knowledge of both instances in the reader gives a construction of a knowable unknowable. In “The Dead” this phenomena is experienced by Joyce’s audience progressively into the stories of Gabriel the individual, as well as Gabriel and Gretta as a married, dialectical unit.  

Kate and Julia’s party continues with more guests arriving, including the not-yet intoxicated Freddy Malins. The niece of the two aunts, Mary Jane, plays the piano but Gabriel finds the music irritating and moves around until he sees a photograph of his deceased mother. He recalls his two aunts always looked up to their older sister even though she didn’t have the musical ability they possessed. Aunt Kate tells Gabriel she referred to her as the “Brains-carrier” of the family. Gabriel remembers his mother Ellen being dignified and traditional, and made it possible for his brother Constantine and himself to receive an education. Even though she’s physically gone, Gabriel’s mother has a strength over him that he appreciates and then distains as his memories of her turn dark;
A shadow passed over his face as he remembered her sullen opposition to his marriage. Some slighting phrases she had used still rankled in his memory; once she had spoken of Gretta as being country cute and that was not true of Gretta at all. It was Gretta who had nursed her during all her last long illness in their house at Monkstown.
The symbolic shadow that moves over Gabriel’s face, impels the reader to feel the presence of his mother. Nothing more of Ellen is said in the story, but it is obvious she has a sway over her son’s life. She is always with him in a stark fashion. There’s also a sense that something about Gretta is unknown to both parties. Gabriel feels his mother was ungrateful and could not have understood his wife’s nature. Likewise, Ellen’s essence seems to know a truth about Gretta that Gabriel does not, and she speaks to him in silence. He feels this and the absence of knowledge only angers him further into a fear of sadness that might come to be.

Gabriel then allows himself to be drawn back to the dance. He gets partnered with the “frankmannered talkative young lady” Miss Ivors. She promptly toys with Gabriel by saying she has a “crow to pluck with [him]” and then confuses him further over his gullibility. Next Miss Ivors outright attacks him with a rhetorical question, “I have found out you write for the Daily Express. Now aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” As a result of this, she goes on to associate him as a “west Briton” or specifically an Irish citizen with sympathies toward Britain’s colonization of Ireland. Gabriel is blindsided by her accusation as he considers himself a book critic: "He continued blinking his eyes and trying to smile and murmured lamely that he saw nothing political in writing reviews of books.” Again, Joyce reduces Gabriel to a victim, incapable of understanding why he is being admonished. He thinks of the potential words of his defense, but they only remain in his imagination. He fears any defensive response might adversely affect his professional standing being that Miss Ivors and he are contemporaries. She then aggressively suggests he vacation on a remote isle in western Ireland where Old Irish, or Gaelic, is still spoken. Here Gabriel is at a total loss because he feels minimal to no connection to his native country and has concentrated on a worldly education primarily on the European continent. He pathetically maneuvers with weak excuses not to go, but then as she continues to press, and upon seeing the reaction of others on the dance floor he shouts, “--O, to tell you the truth, retorted Gabriel suddenly, I'm sick of my own country, sick of it!”
Joyce puts Gabriel outside of belonging. With no close family left other than Gretta, he has no mooring to any kind of home and has thus focused his energies in greater European studies:
He also feels an alien in his own country, because he is trained in modern European languages and is primarily interested in the international literary movements of the Continent instead of the revival of Gaelic, a dead language for Irishmen... in his personal life, he is timid, fearful, and ineffectual... Such details are merely outward signs of the deep, basic self-distrust and timidity he feels (Bowen and Carens, 211).
After the incident, Mary Jane begins to sing as the other guests migrate toward the dinner table. Miss Ivors announces she’s leaving early and weathers the gentle protests of all but Gabriel when he politely asks, “--If you will allow me, Miss. Ivors, I’ll see you home if you really are obliged to go.” After some mannerly goodbyes, she answers with, “--Bleannacht libh” a Gaelic farewell. In this exchange Joyce manages to force each of their impending absences on each other with a drastic kindness.
For Gabriel, his assurance expands when he is asked to carve the holiday goose. He takes pride in being at the head of the table, customizing food portions “--Now, if anyone wants a little more of what vulgar people call stuffing let him or her speak.” At this point Joyce directs the reader away from Gabriel and toward Mr. Bartell D'Arcy, a tenor vocalist that debates the nature of singing with the two aunts, Mary Jane, Freddy Malins, and the lone Protestant of the group Mr. Browne. The conversation moves to Mr. Browne’s inquiring on the nature of Trappist Order;
He was astonished to hear that the monks never spoke, got up at two in the morning and slept in their coffins. He asked what they did it for.

--That's the rule of the order, said Aunt Kate firmly.

--Yes, but why? asked Mr. Browne.
Aunt Kate repeated that it was the rule, that was all.
Mr. Browne still seemed not to understand. Freddy Malins explained to him, as best he could, that the monks were trying to make up for the sins committed by all the sinners in the outside world. The explanation was not very clear, for Mr. Browne grinned and said:
--I like that idea very much, but wouldn't a comfortable spring bed do them as well as a coffin?

--The coffin, said Mary Jane, is to remind them of their last end.

Joyce shifts the focus of Gabriel to the lack of information in Mr. Browne. The absence/presence effect is the same, albeit lighter and more comical. The void of Catholic know-how indubitably lies with the Protestant. Amazed at the behavior of the monks, Mr. Browne provides some comic relief that seems natural to the dinner party. The elderly Aunt Kate’s immediate answers are fittingly appropriate and funny. As is the extended confusion that’s answered by Mary Jane’s conversation ending response. The final answer Joyce gives to the discussion brings the reader back to a dinner table in Dublin in the early 20th century. The humor offsets the serious themes found in the rest of “The Dead” although it is no less artistic. The personalities in the back and forth exchange illustrate a certain, accepted Irish character; merriment, warmth, and dead seriousness.

In Gabriel’s speech, Joyce gives these Irish qualities a different treatment. The speech that unnerved him at the beginning now provides a platform for Gabriel’s command of eloquence and flair. He advocates for the preservation of certain traditional ways of the past while noting the benefits of enjoying the present. His oration acknowledges the musicianship and generous cheer of the three hosts; Kate, Julia, and Mary Jane. “As long as this one roof shelters the good ladies aforesaid - and I wish from my heart it may do so for many and many a long year to come - the tradition of genuine warm-hearted courteous Irish hospitality, which our forefathers have handed down to us and which we must hand down to our descendants, is still alive among us.”
 Through Gabriel’s character, Joyce communicates the importance of recognizing the naïveté of youth and how it is irreplaceable. The changes that constantly work the human spirit are to be appreciated in even in the saddest of times. He moves to his fear of over-education and the skepticism it sometimes produces in a false enthusiasm stemming from “a thought- tormented age.” Gabriel tells that the memories of the dead should be cherished, but then he warns of an inability to perform a human duty to life in the present when mourning the dead of the past. And of the silence and emptiness of absence, Joyce writes; “of absent faces that we miss here tonight. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories.” The scene ends with a toast to the hospitality of the three ladies of the house. All the guests sing; “For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
Which nobody can deny... Unless he tells a lie,
Unless he tells a lie.
The last section of “The Dead” involves Gretta and Gabriel as the dialectical unit. Before this, her role has only been on the surface of Gabriel’s story. She is ample and supportive, as well as sweet and understanding toward her husband and everyone in general. However, she is mostly absent throughout the story. Gretta remains silent and on the outskirts of the reader’s comprehension. Joyce makes her known through reminders filtered through Gabriel.

When the guests are preparing to leave the party in the early cold morning, snow is invoked again. Joyce uses the rare snowfall as a character in the same recurring way he stages Gretta. In the beginning, Gabriel wipes snow from his overcoat and galoshes, and answers Lily’s inquiry into the snowy weather as, “I think we’re in for a night of it.” Gabriel mentions to his hosts that though Gretta caught a cold at last year’s party, “she'd walk home in the snow if she were let.”
When her husband is fretting about his impending speech before dinner, Joyce writes of Gabriel in a pensive mood gazing out into the night:
Gabriel's warm, trembling fingers tapped the cold pane of the window. How cool it must be outside! How pleasant it would be to walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park! The snow would be lying on the branches of the trees and forming a bright cap on the top of the Wellington Monument. How much more pleasant it would be there than at the supper-table!
Later when Mary Jane is playing a waltz on her piano and people are dancing, the narrative mentions the possibility of people outside in the snow wondering of the warm-hearted party inside. The rare Dublin snow covers everything in a cold beauty that weighs down living tree branches and blankets the Wellington Monument, all while reflecting west. This is the first mention Joyce makes of the snow’s connection to death. In this story, the dead are remembered memories that have passed westward with a symbolic setting Sun. At the conclusion of the party, the snow and wind whistle outside. It is mentioned that all of Dublin has a layer of snow, or what could be interpreted as a metaphor for paralysis. The paralytic condition of Father Flynn and the name “paralysis”, as well as its reminder that it is “the name of some maleficent and sinful being” extends to “The Dead” and most of the stories in Dubliners.

Gabriel asks for Gretta and is told she is still upstairs. He is anxious to spend a night with her in the hotel directly after they exit his Aunt’s house. While waiting he tells a ridiculous story of his grandfather’s horse riding in circles around a monument to the English conqueror of Ireland, William III. After he says goodbye to Mr. Browne, Gabriel goes back into the darkened house. He is now unattended and amid the sound of further goodbyes, he hears a quiet music:
A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terra-cotta and salmon-pink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white. It was his wife. She was leaning on the banisters, listening to something. Gabriel was surprised at her stillness and strained his ear to listen also. But he could hear little save the noise of laughter and dispute on the front steps, a few chords struck on the piano and a few notes of a man's voice singing.

In Joyce’s eloquent prose, Gabriel sees a transformation in Gretta. She feels like a ghost to him. Gabriel is confused while the reader is intrigued. Here the absence and presence of the story meet. The reader feels Gretta evolve into a ghostly presence, though Joyce again leaves absences of information and lets the audience think. Gabriel is now removed from his previous place in the story. This leaves a void with no gravity while his new presence is unknowable:  
He stood still in the gloom of the hall, trying to catch the air that the voice was singing and gazing up at his wife. There was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones. Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter.

The artistic invocations suit the lyrical prose and give the reader an aura of what Gabriel is feeling. Joyce writes of symbols rather than compelling his audience to create them. To Gabriel, this dream-like experience is his life in perfection. He is confused but also transfixed with his wife’s ghostly beauty.

In the hotel room that Gabriel was previously looking forward to, Gretta explains to him what happened at the house when she heard Mr. Bartell D'Arcy
playing and singing The Lass of Aughrim. Joyce writes that Gretta is consumed with tears and resists any affection or comfort from her husband. Gabriel is baffled: “As he passed in the way of the cheval-glass he caught sight of himself in full length, his broad, well-filled shirt-front, the face whose expression always puzzled him when he saw it in a mirror, and his glimmering gilt-rimmed eye-glasses.” To the reader, this is the illusion Gabriel now faces – directly in the mirror. He knows what he is about to hear will undoubtedly change everything. Gretta now fills the absence with a confession. She tells Gabriel and the reader, that the song she heard tonight was once sung to her by a boy of 17, whom she loved when she was young. Gabriel politely implores and it is revealed he was of the Gaelic heritage of Gretta’s home in the west of Ireland – the area Miss Ivors told him to visit. Gabriel has the beginnings of anger that are quickly dashed when she tells him the boy’s name was Michael Furey and that he is deceased. She continues to explain that their relationship had ended and the boy refused to accept her absence. The prose assumes a free-verse quality and tells that he died of exposure to the rain and cold while in the presence of Gretta’s refusal.

Joyce ends “The Dead” with a soliloquy-like meditation. Gretta sleeps and Gabriel thinks of the past and his future. He thinks of his place in the absence and silence of Dublin; “A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward.” For the reader, Joyce’s ending is contemplative and complex. The story ends in this place, but the lives of the story continue without the presence of a reader.   

Works Cited:
Ferry, Luc. A Brief History of Thought. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011. Print.
Joyce, James. Dubliners – Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton and Company, 2006. Print.
Bowen, Zack and Carens, James F. A Companion To Joyce Studies. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1984. Print.
Norris, Margot. Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s Dubliners. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Print.