Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Portrait: What time it is?

Fans of The Sun Also Rises will remember that near the opening Jake and a woman he has picked up go by the newspaper office where Jake works and she asks why the office has a whole bunch of clocks on the wall. Jake explains that the clocks are set to the time zones of different cities all over the world. She is incredulous and amazed at this. As she might well be as this was a very modern thing. For centuries people had lived without any awareness of other time zones for the simple reason that it took so long to send a message from one time zone to another that it didn't matter.

This internationalism is also a theme of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Young Stephen wonders how God's name can be "God" in English and "Dieu" in French. That is the kind of concern that arises when different cultures, like different time zones, are brought closer by better technology. He does not worry that his name is "Stephen" in English and "Etienne" in French. Why not? Because only God has a place outside the world to be contemplated equally by all.

Why would you set up a bunch of different clocks to tell yourself what time it was in different places? Only because you believed there was a frame of reference from which all these different time zones could be compared. Getting into and out of different frames of reference is a big modern thing. But what is the frame of reference that encompasses all other reference points? Is there such a frame of reference? The frame of reference point so comprehensive that all others can measured according to it but it cannot be measured according to any other? Why God is.

There is an in-joke in The Sun Also Rises, by the way, and it is that if we try and date the novel by using internal references. that is if we try and find the equivalent of clocks in the text telling us what time we are in, we find only a cloud of confusion. Some internal evidence tells us one year and other internal evidence tells us of another. It seems that Hemingway did this on purpose but who knows.

Which brings me to young Stephen in the infirmary. He has a fever and we follow his thoughts as he looks at the empty school grounds and then wonders why Brother Michael has not given him any medicine. Then he starts imagining he sees waves and then he sees Brother Michael on the deck of a ship who announces to the people that Parnell is dead.

Okay, it's a dream where Stephens various thoughts get crossed in his confused fever. Okay, but which parts of the dream are real and which are the products of the fever?  Did young Stephen look out through a feverish haze and really see Brother Michael mourning at the news of the death of Parnell and that real event was incorporated into his dream? I don't have the foggiest idea but lets go with a while and see where it gets us.

Parnell died on Tuesday October 6 1891. (Young James Joyce was a student at Conglowes from 1888 to 1892.) Let's suppose the news gets to the school on Wednesday October 7. That would put the opening day where Young Stephen is on the football pitch on the 6th and the day he is in the infirmary on the 7th. And there would be a nice parallel here in that Stephen's illness, like Parnell's death, is preceded by an injury visited upon him.

Okay, what other internal evidence to we have to go by? Well, we have the countdown to Christmas holidays that young Stephen is keeping:
Sitting in the studyhall he opened the lid of his desk and changed the number pasted up inside from seventy-seven to seventy-six. But the Christmas vacation was very far away; but one time it would come because the earth moves round always.
 Okay, let's do the arithmetic. From October 6 to 31 is 25 days. November uses up 30 more. That leaves us 21. Is December 21 a reasonable time for Christmas vacation to begin? Yes it is. I don't know what days they historically got but this is close enough to be credible.

Young Stephen is just starting school which makes him a few years younger than Joyce himself. This is true even if I am wrong in calculating the year as 1891 for we can say with certainty that it is at least 1891 for Stephen is aware of Parnell's death.

A mystery
Final thought for today. First a caveat: Conglowes would have used the 1570 Breviary and don't have a full copy of that so I can't say what follows with certainty. That said, there is something odd about the "night prayers" Stephen says.

Stephen goes to chapel for what are described as night prayers. And Joyce tells us that "his memory knew the responses:
O Lord, open our lips
And our mouths shall announce Thy praise.
Incline unto our aid, O God!
O Lord, make haste to help us!
Well, sorta. The actual opening with responses would be like this:
Dómine, lábia mea apéries.
Et os meum annuntiábit laudem tuam.
Deus, in adiutórium meum inténde.
Dómine, ad adiuvándum me festína.
But perhaps you think, "So what?" because all Joyce has done is to provide us with the translation. Okay, but those opening responses go with Matins a prayer said between midnight and dawn. Now that prayer could be said at night, although technically it belongs with the start of the next day as the name "Matins" suggests.

And later Joyce gives us the final prayer as follows:
Visit, we beseech Thee, O Lord, this habitation and drive
away from it all the snares of the enemy. May Thy holy
angels dwell herein to preserve us in peace and may Thy
blessings be always upon us through Christ our Lord.
And that prayer definitely goes with Compline, which is the last prayer said before bed.

So one of two things are happening here. Either,
  1. There was something very different about the Divine Office according to the 1570 Breviary, or
  2. Joyce got it wrong (the mistake cannot be Stephen's).
I don't know.

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