Let’s Discuss — The Dead by James Joyce

He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. Their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls’ tender fire. In one letter that he had written to her then he had said: “Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?

Honestly, I’m having a difficult time trying to piece together my thoughts on this short story…maybe it’s because I have very few thoughts on it.

I have never quite understood the hullabaloo about James Joyce. I read an excerpt of Dubliners in college and was bored to tears. And here I am, finished reading The Dead, the last story in Dubliners and once again–bored to tears. So instead of me focusing on how I was bored to tears (which would be boring) I’ll explore why I was bored (less boring maybe?)

Is it my inability to connect to the Irish experience? My ignorance of Dublin society circa 20th century? I can’t call it, but I highly doubt it. I’m more inclined to believe it has something to do with Joyce’s writing style. Not necessarily his modernist roots; emphasis on the subjective and the consciousness. But rather the fact that his writing lends itself to the experimental reader. And I am not an experimental reader.

What do I even mean–experimental reader? I guess I mean those readers that are open to interpreting and deconstructing every mundane “avant-garde” detail. When you read The Dead, you’re probably wondering what details I’m even referring to. On the surface it seems like an innocent story set around a winter holiday, where a social gathering of sorts evokes sad memories. And that’s primarily what I, the non experimental reader took from it. But it’s not what Joyce intended.

Rereading certain sections leads me to believe The Dead isn’t actually about lost romantic love or dead lovers. Allusions*, symbols, epiphanies, and Gabriel Conroy’s narrative shifts suggest it has something to do with year’s change, generation’s change, country’s change and how the crossing of all this change affects the heart, mind and soul.

But that’s the wannabe experimental reader part of me drawing these conclusions. Again, it’s hard to say what this story is about because I found it extremely difficult to care enough to dig deeper into the meaning**…It’s faux open-ended, haha. I don’t know. I just don’t know. You ever heard  the saying: music for musicians? This is writing for writers (and experimental readers)

*The following link only scratches the surface of how James Joyce uses Allusion in his writing. Ctrl +F “The Dead” to see Musical Allusion in The Dead

**At this point I’m not open to reading more James Joyce, but I’m always open to hearing other explanations. What is the meaning of The Dead?

Let’s Discuss — Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Down you go, but all the while you feel suspended and buoyed as you somersault in slow motion like a somnolent tumbler pigeon, and sprawl supine on the elderdown of the air, or lazily turn to embrace your pillow, enjoying every last instant of soft, deep, death-padded life, with the earth’s green seesaw now above, now below, and the voluptuous crucifixion, as you stretch yourself in the growing rush, in the nearing swish, and then your loved body’s obliteration in the Lap of the Lord (221)

There are two central narratives in this piece of metafiction.  One narrative belongs to John Shade, a poet who leads a relatively uninteresting life. The most striking element of his narrative (which is confined to four lengthy cantos of poetry) is his lifelong preoccupation with death.

The other is Charles Kinbote.  Kinbote is Shade’s neighbor and self-proclaimed editor of Shade’s work. His narrative starts with the foreword, continues with the commentary and ends with the index. The reader will quickly learn Kinbote is not exactly what he seems.

Shade’s work, while at times morbid, is actually very interesting. As the “editor” of Shade’s work, I expected Kinbote’s commentary to be an explication; a means to delve deeper into Shade’s intent. But instead of discourse, readers are given huge chunks of Kinbote’s life and philosophies. You will read about the escape of a self-exiled King Charles of an imaginary country named Zembla, and wonder how peculiar it is for the commentary to not be exclusively about Shade and his work. Especially, since I think Shade’s upbringing and encounters with death have more gravity than Kinbote’s stories.

This is one of those books that could be read more than once and with each reading, something different will stick out to the reader. I have to say, I didn’t read Pale Fire in order. I read the poem first, then the foreword, and then the commentary/index. I needed to read Shade’s work without Kinbote’s influence because it’s obvious Kinbote’s intentions aren’t to put Shade in the spotlight. He reaches beyond the space of the foreword—and so I think there’s criticism about literary criticism here.

There is something to be said when a poet has reduced his life to 999 lines of poetry and his “editor” takes it upon himself to insert his own self-serving memories into the mix.