Table of Contents
JOYCE'S DUBLINERS AS EPIPHANIES
Stephen Hero"By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments."
"Epiphany"refers to a showing-forth, a manifestation. In the Christian tradition the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Christ's divinity to the Magi. For Joyce, however, it means a sudden revelation of the whatness of a thing, the moment in which "the soul of the commonest object...seems to us radiant" (Joyce, Stephen Hero 213). The artist is supposed to search for an epiphany not among the gods but among men in "casual, unostentatious, even unpleasant moments" (Ellmann, James Joyce 87).
Since for Joyce "all art is a shadow of the Incarnation" (McLuhan, Joyce's Portrait 251), his choice of the religious term "epiphany" is very appropriate because it underlines the conception he had of the artist as a priest of the eternal imagination, a revealer, i.e. a mere impersonal agent, "humble before the laws of things" and ready "to strip himself of all but his mere agency" (McLuhan, Joyce's Portrait 252).
Throughout his works, from Dubliners to Finnegans Wake, Joyce carried out his creative task by means of a series of epiphanies, a sequence of related moments of insight and understanding. The central meaning of Joyce's works is provided not so much by plot but by the revelation they suggest of a certain universe in a certain order. These moments in which "the soul is born" (Joyce, Portrait 203) are seen as revelatory either to the fictional character who experiences them, or to the reader, or both; the figure inside the story is shown the truth about himself and the situation he is in, whereas the reader is shown the whole process which, in its turn, becomes an epiphany for him.
Dubliners, in fact, in spite of the presence of subjective revelatory moments in the single stories, can be seen as a sequence of multiple objective epiphanies because what actually emerges from the book as a whole is the revelation of the city itself, perceived in its spiritual, intellectual and moral paralysis. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, on the other hand, can be considered more of a subjective epiphany because the central matter is the artist's process of perception and cognition. In Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as well as in his later works, there is a constant operative conjunction between object and subject so that the ground is brought to such an intense relationship to the figure that it becomes visible in a flash of awareness. Figure and ground become one in an all-inclusive static moment of ecstasy and gestalt revelation. Joyce understood that his epiphanies, in order to become what they were supposed to be (gestalt revelations), had to give up their disembodied existence to become parts of an organic narrative, where all the elements have a precise function.
Both Joyce and Pater maintained that in this dissolving time the purpose of life must be to retain for an instant as intense an impression as possible, and that the purpose of art must be to seize that instant and to represent it as it is. The instant that Pater intended to fix forever is both unique and universal, a resume of the history of the human soul; as such, it illuminates Stephen's aesthetic theory. What Joyce, however, takes and fixes forever as art is not the beauty of a smile or the perfection of a colour but any characteristic that sums up the world as it is. The world Joyce reveals is neither beautiful nor exalting; in Dubliners, which is the main focal point of this essay, it is weak and invalid, stricken by aphasia. Joyce's epiphany, even though it retains the quality of a spiritual revelation, expresses a realistic intention that the young artist had learnt from Flaubert and Ibsen. It is the culmination of the process of cognition and a moment of all-inclusive truth that the writer has to record objectively.
As McLuhan maintains, Joyce was the first to understand how the drama of cognition itself was the key archetype of all human myth and persistently represented it with labyrinth figures. Moreover, anything which interferes with cognition, whether "concupiscence, pride, imprecision or vagueness, is a minotaur ready to devour beauty" (McLuhan, Joyce's Portrait 252), i.e., the essence of things. Joyce was at home in all labyrinths "because of his original conquest of the stages of apprehension, of the mind in act" (McLuhan, Joyce's Portrait 259).
Dubliners, in fact, articulates itself on the metaphor of the labyrinth of the eye swarming with minotaurs preventing the inhabitants of the city from seeing what they are except for rare epiphanic instances when there is a confrontation of the eye with another sense (usually the ear). At that moment the minotaur is slain and as a consequence there is a modification of the eye view, i.e., a metamorphosis takes place leading from unawareness to the awareness of one's own predicament. The labyrinth imagery is stressed by a sense of darkness, which pervades the whole collection of short stories, suggesting a state of total confusion; it is also stressed by aimless wandering in the evening or at night through the meanders of Dublin streets which lead nowhere or come to a blind end (as for instance in Araby). There is hardly any action in the tales except for walking, usually in vicious circles (as for instance in Two Gallants), inevitably bringing about frustration and disillusionment.
The opening sentence of The Sisters, "There was no hope for him this time," charges the whole book with a feeling of loss and hopelessness, and reveals our descent through various stages into a blind, labyrinthine fallen world where all human values have degenerated and will has broken down, a world where people-to use an Ovidian metaphor-have turned to stone and therefore are completely paralyzed.
Paralysis, a living death or total anesthesia of the senses, seems to be the existential condition of Dubliners and its crux. Joyce himself confirmed this in a letter of July 1904 to Curran, where he said that he intended Dubliners "to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city" (Joyce, Letters 55). Joyce therefore conceived this work as a sequence of "fifteen epiphanies"-as he stated in a letter dated February 8, 1903 to Stanislaus (Ellmann, James Joyce 125)-which were written to let Irish people take "one good look at themselves in his nicely polished looking-glass" (Joyce, Letters 63-64). What emerges from these words is that both the fictional characters of the tales and the readers are meant to undergo an epiphanic confrontation.
Joyce's tales, faithful to his intentions, portray impotence, frustration and death. His city is the heart of moral, intellectual and spiritual paralysis and all the citizens are victims. The minotaur of paralysis is present from the first to the last story and becomes gradually more powerful and all-encompassing. It starts as individual paralysis through the three stages, childhood, adolescence and mature life; it widens to collective paralysis in the three stories of public life so as to invade the political, religious and artistic spheres of Dublin (respectively in Ivy Day in the Committee Room, A Mother and Grace). Finally, The Dead marks the spreading-out of paralysis at every level to universal dimensions, underlined also by the imagery of the snow enveloping the whole of Ireland. Individually, the characters of this story-the partygoers-are living dead; they are physically alive but fail to live. On a public level, art, politics and religion, which had been separately treated in the three preceding stories, are here assembled and presented as equally paralyzed. Politics is dead and lowered to the narrow-minded and fanatic nationalism of Miss Ivors. Religion is also atrophied, as is pointed out by the eloquent image of the monks lying in their coffins; and art has equally come to a still point, degraded as it is, to the ineffective singing of Bartell D'Arcy, the hoarse tenor.
Most of the Dubliners are perishing in their conflict with the minotaur of paralysis because they have never been enlightened by any epiphanic revelation. Among the most striking victims are Father Flynn and Eveline. Father Flynn is a paralytic Catholic priest, who has become spiritually invalid after failing in his vocation. He is trapped in his priesthood and unable to cope with hisresponsibilities. Eveline's case is even more acute because she is the only character who is offered a concrete positive opportunity to leave; she has all the potential to carry out her decision and yet at the moment of breaking the ties with her city and family she becomes "like a helpless animal." The whole collection of Dubliners evokes in fact a fallen world characterized by sterile fragmentation and by the abnormal isolation of the senses. The citizens of Dublin depend solely on the eye for comprehension and, what is more frustrating, they do not see clearly but rather in a blurred way. For example, in The Dead:Gabriel's eyes, irritated by the floorwhich glittered with beeswax under the heavy chandelier, wandered to the wall above the piano.(184)
In The Boarding House, Bob Doran wears glasses which he polishes all the time: "A moisture gathered on his glasses so that he had to take them off and polish them" (63). Moreover, some of the characters' sight is blocked by tears. "My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why)" (29), the boy-narrator says in Araby. And in Clay, Joe's "eyes filled so much with tears that he could not find what he was looking for" (105).
All these people perceive their environments only in visual terms so that they constitute a cheated eye-oriented society arrested by the hypnosis of the Irish status quo. This society is dominated by the Catholic church and, because the church has promoted the reading of printed books (principally the Bible), it is visually-biased. Dependence on the eye for information has disturbed the equilibrium of the other senses. It has emphasized, therefore, and brought to an extreme, the split, typical of the phonetic alphabet, between eye and ear and between semantic meaning and visual code. The church is co-responsible for the division of the senses and therefore it can be viewed as a "broken chalice," an agent of segmentation for promoting the reduction of the senses to one.
It is interesting to notice how Joyce became gradually able, as Yeats did, to eliminate every "vestige of the visual" in order to become more and more a man of the primal auditory imagination. In fact, throughout his work there is a progression from the visual to the acoustic, from the pictorial to the iconic, from fragmentation to wholeness, from left to right hemisphere.
In the world presented in Dubliners, there is no interplay of the senses but rather a stripping of the senses and a concern with the eye only, except for rare instances in which the eye and the ear come together in an epiphanic moment. When an auditory dimension comes into the labyrinth of the eye in a direct confrontation, the minotaur blurring the sight is overcome and as a result the eye-view is modified in an instant of simultaneous interplay of all the senses. An epiphany therefore is a functioning of all the senses in unison that produces a change or metamorphosis, because it leads from unawareness to the sudden awareness of one's own predicament. There is nothing linear or sequential in the epiphanic moment.
In Dubliners, the epiphany is provoked by the clash of the visual with the acoustic. As the following examination will show, all the stories can be read in this light. Such a confrontation marks the switch from the imperfect use of one sense in isolation, the eye, to the use of all senses in unison. In The Sisters the boy at the beginning of the story "sees" only through one sense and his perception is very limited because it is not sustained by the other senses. In fact at first he is thoroughly hypnotized by the mystery and ritual of Father Flynn's world and acquiesces to be trained by him to read and memorize dutifully church rituals. In the end, when he realizes that Father Flynn is dead and that he feels free rather than mournful, he has undergone a whole journey through the labyrinth of the five senses. The total epiphany or moment of insight happens when the boy's incomplete way of perceiving has been replaced by a way that involves all the senses at once. This transformation is triggered by the two sisters who appeal to the boy's senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight. He is allowed by aunt Nannie to see the dead priest. For the first time he is able to focus on him and see his real whatness. He is not smiling as in his dream of the night before, but he lies "solemn and copious, vested as for the altar... His face truculent, gray and massive, with black cavernous nostrils" (Joyce, Dubliners 12). The process of metamorphosis is set in motion: Father Flynn's hypnotic spell begins to break and the boy is no longer able to recite his memorized prayers because he is distracted by an old woman's muttering and by the "heavy odour" of the flowers, suggesting the smothering aspect of the church, which he is able to intuit for the first time. It is interesting to notice, however, that the boy as a figure becomes aware entirely of his own ground and the predicament of his situation only through the acoustic revelation of Eliza who, with her bad grammar and her malapropisms comes from an oral rather than a literate visual world. From Eliza the boy hears about the priest's madness as well as about his physical and spiritual paralysis: "Ah poor James! said Eliza. He was no great trouble to us. You wouldn't hear him in the house any more than now" (14).
The priest has been a living dead, a paralytic. He submitted to the restraint of the church which eventually killed him. The epiphany is complete when the story of the priest is told and the boy, having smelled the flowers and seen the coffin and touched the ground kneeling in front of the corpse and tasted the wine, listens deliberately for any sound from the priest. He becomes totally aware at last of Father Flynn's physical death and the paralysis of his life. No shade of doubt is left:I...listened; but there was no sound in the house: and I knew that the old priest was lying still in his coffin, solemn... an idle chalice on his breast. (15)
It is through the switch into acoustic dimension that the boy realizes that he has fallen into the visual world of abstraction and discovers that his world is the same as that of the dead priest, the literate world relying on the books of the church and therefore on one's eyes for information. The epiphany does not mark a change from the visual adult world of experience to the pre-lapsarian state of innocence. It is simply a moment of truth and understanding.
A very similar realization takes place in An Encounter where we move from the visual world of the church, which in Ireland had also the monopoly of education, to another visual world, that of Joe Dillon's Wild West. This world however, even though it seems different at first, is still a world of print and therefore gives false abstract guidelines. The narrator seems to say that there is nothing to be learned from the history books explained in school by Jesuits and, secondly, that the world of adventure lies outside the class-room. School in fact is seen as an authoritarian structure where education is not exploration and discovery but merely instruction according to fragmented subjects and schedules. So the boy looks for the adventure and romance which he has encountered in cowboy novels (displaced history books). He hopes to experience these in the real world and in real life. However, he will discover that this is only an illusion. The discovery is triggered by the words of the old man (who, by the way, resembles physically Father Flynn): "Ah, I can see you are a bookworm like myself" (23). The book-worm vision of reality is shattered by the confrontation of the words listened to. The boy realizes thus that he is enslaved by books and therefore becomes aware of his predicament. In Araby the boy-narrator is still attracted by books (the novels of Walter Scott) to the point that he behaves like the hero of a romantic tale safely carrying his love like a "chalice" through the sordid world of hucksters and drunks of Dublin. He carries his innocent vision of the world with him but he too is meant to realize that the world of his dreams and expectations is illusory. At the fair, the boy overhears the following conversation:"O, I never said such a thing!" "O, but you did!"
"O, but I didn't!"
"Didn't she say that?"
"Yes. I heard her."
"O, there's a... fib!" (32-33)
This brief reported exchange sounds very much like some of Joyce's early epiphanies even though it is not included in the collection. It is worth noting, however, that this is much more than simply recorded conversation; therefore, it reveals Joyce's artistic development and maturity at the time he wrote Dubliners. What is relevant here is the relationship between the boy-narrator and the epiphanic conversation which brings forth the moment of discovery and awareness. The narrator listens to the inane conversation and grasps not only the quidditas of the environment in which he finds himself (ground) but also of himself (figure). He realizes the vacuity of the speakers as well as the aimlessness of his own expectations. Interestingly enough, this realization takes place when "the light was out" (33) suggesting that at the moment of the acoustic clash, sight has been replaced by insight or inner vision. The boy has metamorphosed into a cheated creature "driven and derided by vanity."
The epiphany in the first three stories of childhood, told in the first person, is felt as a moment of growth and of realization of the boy-narrator. The three of them, in fact, conclude with the awareness of the protagonist of being trapped in the visual world of print.
In Eveline the visual triumphs over the acoustic and therefore there is no epiphany for the fictional character. The awareness this time is only the reader's who realizes how Eveline is stifled by the dust of her paralyzing city and overcome by the minotaur of the eye in the same way as Father Flynn passed out while reading his daily prayers with "his mouth open" "gasping for air," literally suffocated by the abnormal point of view of the eye in isolation. The world surrounding Eveline is a visual enclosed space and as such a continuum of a uniform connected kind, giving her a dimension of false security in which she takes refuge. The acoustic world embodied by Frank-a singer-offers on the other hand no particular point of reference or "point of view" because it is a world of simultaneous relationship and therefore disconcerting. Whatever is acoustic in Eveline's visual fragmented world is either broken (see the eloquent image of the "broken harmonium" with the yellowing photograph of the priest hanging above it) or removed from the house in which she lives. Frank in fact comes from "a distant unknown country" (35) and the organ player is ordered to go away. The fragmenting visual world in which Eveline lives is connected, as in the first three stories, with the church (picture of the priest) and seems to encourage a limited visual interpretation of reality. What makes her plight all the more painful is that at the beginning of the story she has all the tools to be the winner rather than the victim. All her senses are active and she is able to see both worlds; she is able to distinguish the visual, fragmented, stifling world of her house and her family from the acoustic all-inclusive world of Frank. Yet at the end she patters like the boy in The Sisters and like her mother who dies muttering indecipherable phrases. She succumbs to the visual and her blank gaze shows no recognition because there is no communication.
In After the Race Jimmy, an intellectual nouveau-riche who has studied law at an English university, deceives himself trying to climb the ladder of success and reach emancipation on international standards. Because he has trained himself to rely solely on his eyes, he has acquired such a distorted perspective that when he is involved in a crucial game of cards, ironically, he misreads them ("he frequently mistook his cards" (46)) and therefore loses a fortune. The epiphanic punch line at the end of the story: "Daybreak, gentlemen!" is uttered by Villona, a pianist (who stands for the auditory frame of reference). With this acoustic message, Jimmy becomes aware of his folly, an unwanted truth that he had tried to avoid confronting to the very end.
Two Gallants offers a powerful insight into a world which becomes visually more and more blurred and confused. It culminates in the turning upside-down all human values and it emphasizes through the lack of communication-the two young men carry on monologues rather than a dialogue-the concept of disassociation and fragmentation. The epiphany is the reader's who realizes visually (the gold coin) and acoustically (monologues) the degradation and the paralysis of Dublin, skillfully underlined by the aimless circular movement of the story.
The Boarding House is another story in which the epiphany is only the reader's. The protagonist is again an imperfect seer whose glasses are most of the time dimmed with moisture so that he tends to misread his surroundings. Like most eye-oriented people, he has his perceptions blanked and his awareness suppressed. In fact, he only intuits that he has "been had" while he has no idea of what on earth he can do about it. Paralyzed in this dilemma, he falls into the trap of social conventions and of an hypocritical marriage.
The epiphany as a result of the direct confrontation between eye and ear is quite evident in the stories of mature life. Little Chandler in A Little Cloud is another visually-oriented Dubliner, a clerk this time, endowed with some artistic sensitivity. He is attracted by the world of poetry books and therefore relies on his eyes for information while he mistrusts the oral or acoustic dimension:
He had been tempted to take down from the bookshelves and read out something to his wife but shyness had always held him back; and so the books had remained on their shelves. (69)
Like the other citizens of Dublin he sees in a blurred way: "his sight was confused by the shining of many red and green win-glasses" (72). In the story, there are two epiphanic moments: the first takes place when Little Chandler realizes that he has mis-remembred his friend Gallaher. He had thought of him only in his most glamorous aspect as a brilliant figure of the London press; however, upon meeting and speaking to him, he realizes that his success is vulgar and superficial. The second moment of truth takes place when, wandering aimlessly in the labyrinth of the eye, Little Chandler succeeds for the first time in focusing on a photo of his wife and understands her quidditas. After killing the minotaur of vagueness he realizes what kind of a figure he is on what kind of a ground. The total awareness of the quidditas of his own condition and of his own self is reached however with the "wailing of the child piercing the drum of his ear" (81). Only then does he realize that he is "a prisoner for life" (81); like Eveline he is unable to break the chains of family and habit. As a result, he feels guilty for his desiring to escape. Like Farrington in Counterparts and Mr. Duffy in A Painful Case, Little Chandler becomes conscious that he is unable to move (paralysis) and that his life will be false and unauthentic (simony). Perhaps Little Chandler does not leave Dublin because he feels that also London and Paris might be disappointing: failure there would be more tragic than failing at home. Little Chandler's epiphany is like "a little cloud" because it causes only a few drops to fall on the wasteland of his existence.
The eye-ear confrontation triggers another epiphany in Clay. This revelation takes place on two different levels, personal and symbolic. The epiphany is Joe's, who hears Maria sing a love song leaving out the stanza concerning love and suitors, and understands the lovelessness of her life and perhaps also the bareness of his own. On a symbolic level, when he sees her choose clay (death) and then the prayer book, while playing the traditional game of saucers, he has an insight into her living death and, by extension, into the paralysis of pious old Ireland.
In A Painful Case the epiphanic renewal is also achieved by means of a direct confrontation of eye and ear followed by the consequent modification of the limited eye view. Mr. Duffy has difficulty in approaching the non-visual world because he has trained himself only to see. His relationship with Mrs. Sinico (who is ear oriented) in fact is precarious and fragile because they belong to two different hemispheres: "He lent her books, provided her with ideas... She listened to all" (108). There is no real exchange between the two. While she is ready to listen, he is able to listen only to himself in a narcissistic way: "Sometimes he caught himself listening to the sound of his own voice" (109). As soon as a merging of the two hemispheres is proposed, the intercourse is broken. The literate world overwhelms Duffy and confines him to a state of complete isolation. He progresses from the refusal of friendship ("he had neither companions nor friends" (106)) to a new cult of individualism manifested by his reading of Neitzsche (110). The rejection of the acoustic is complete as he even keeps away from concerts. Reading in the newspaper about the death of Mrs. Sinico would have been meaningless had it not been accompanied by the intervention of silence with its pounding rhythm and its inherent emptiness. In this silence he finds the coordinates of his self-imposed loneliness and the key to understanding his past choices and his present guilt:He waited for some minutes listening. He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone. (115)
It is a squalid epiphany, so that "a painful case" might refer to Duffy himself rather than Mrs. Sinico's death. The epiphany occurs in Phoenix Park. Awareness under these circumstances seems to promise a renewal after death, like that of the legendary phoenix. Duffy's wandering in the park marks a new positive circular movement contrasting with the aimless wandering of other characters, such as the young men in Two Gallants, and therefore it suggests a new awareness: the need for communion with humanity which will become the central theme in Ulysses.
In the trilogy concerning public life, Ivy Day in the Committee Room, A Mother, and Grace, the epiphany does not reveal the whatness of an individual character but rather sheds light on the political, artistic and religious paralysis affecting the whole of Ireland. Appropriately enough these three stories make a generic statement that is grasped in all its import by the reader only. In these stories, the characters simply provide the material of the epiphany without ever understanding their own paralysis.
The Dead, which is both the synthesis and the climax of Dubliners, is a single epiphany of multiple meaning (death in life, life in death, evocation of the dead, etc.). The Morkan party, according to some critics, takes place on January 6th (Walzl, Dubliners 449), the feast of Epiphany. It is a perfect Joycean choice for the final story of a volume which Joyce had labeled "epiphanies." The irreverence of Joyce's depiction of Epiphany Day is the crucial element of The Dead and a reminder that it is a spiritual death that is at the core of the paralytic condition of which the Catholic church is the main cause. There is a mock reduplication of the original Epiphany. Gabriel Conroy arrives on a cold night and from the east. The offer of gold is mirrored in the coin that he gives to Lily. Such parallels, if actually intended at all, are certainly sardonic and tangential. Christianity as a dynamic force has dwindled to a mockery of itself, though in the very mockery there is a glimpse of salvation. On the night of Epiphany Gabriel Conroy follows his star to the Morkan house. On this night he comes face to face with his own self, with the past and with the future. The sentence "the time had come for him to set out on his journey westward" seems to indicate an awareness of his new responsibility. The acoustic epiphanic moment, which reveals that Gretta has been living a dead life in contrast to the remembered romance of her youth, is a revelation that destroys the bubble of his unreal existence. Gabriel finds himself guilty not of withholding love but of lacking it entirely. He reviews from a new perspective his inner self until he is able to overcome his proud isolation and to become one with the living and the dead-in other words, the whole of humanity. Therefore, he is ready to accept, to give and participate. Gabriel reaches the awareness of his own predicament, putting to use all his senses, the same tools that the aunts introduced to the boy in The Sisters.
As all Dubliners, Gabriel is predominantly eye-oriented. In fact, he ignores the songs and the music and is attracted by the visual aspect of the party room. Moreover he succumbs to the charm of books:The books he received for review were almost more welcome than the paltry cheque. He loved to feel the covers and turn over the pages of newly printed books. (185)
Gretta, on the other hand, is sensitive to music and, interestingly enough, in one of the epiphanic moments she is totally absorbed by the tune she is listening to, almost as though she had become one with it. The couple Gabriel-Gretta is reminiscent of Mr. Duffy-Mrs. Sinico insofar as they belong to two opposite wave-lengths. However, for the latter the epiphany has come too late, while for the former there is still the possibility of a meeting of left and right hemispheres, of eye and ear. In the crucial scene at the hotel, in fact, Gabriel not only "looks" through the window but listens as well: "A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window" (220). Also, he caresses his wife's hand. The Dead presents a broad epiphany which absorbs all the smaller epiphanies of the stories that come before and which points out how in Gabriel's case awareness promises renewal. Whereas the boy narrator at the end of Araby simply becomes aware that he is left in the darkness, Gabriel, on the other hand, seems determined to find a way out of it: he penetrates the darkness and discovers his image in the mirror. Gabriel now realizes that he must begin his self-discovery by recovering his Irish soul, the most ancient and forgotten part of which is the integrity of feeling associated with the West of Ireland. The ancient Irish soul has been destroyed by a degenerated faith and by political and cultural subjection to England. Gabriel must rediscover himself by rediscovering his race and vice-versa.
In Stephen Hero, as we saw earlier, the epiphany existed in theory more than in artistic practice. At this stage of his development as a writer, Joyce had discovered the formula of epiphanizing what he observed in his environment: by uniting a figure with its ground, he was able to reveal an object's quidditas, or essence. However, it was not until Joyce wrote Dubliners that he managed to put this method of discovery into effect. In each story, he presented a sequence of epiphanies in a very underplayed way. If, as Stephen Hero says, the epiphany reveals the whatness of an object, then Dubliners is the revelation of an entire city's. Each story presents an unpalatable truth, and all these truths taken together reveal a general state of paralysis which, in Joyce's view, was the whatness of Dublin in his time. The main cause of this paralysis is the isolation of one sense, the eye, and each character in the book is brought to a moment of realization-through all his senses at once -of his own paralyzed condition. However, only Gabriel in The Dead, confronts this predicament and chooses to slay the "minotaur" of the Dublin labyrinth.
In Dubliners, the visual function is expanded to such an extent that the role of other senses, such as hearing, touch and taste, has been diminished almost to non-existence. Moreover, most of the citizens of Dublin are literally hypnotized by the abstract visual world so that they have become numb to the other senses especially if compared with the hyperesthesia of the oral or auditory culture. The Dublin labyrinth of the eye is a fallen world of lost wholeness, the world of the phonetic alphabet where man is given an eye for an ear. Joyce will gradually move from the visual sequential, linear and literate world of uninvolvement in Dubliners to recover the directionless and simultaneous acoustic space of the pre-alphabet world of emotion and primordial intuition in Ulysses and above all in Finnegans Wake. This is because he "could see no advantage in our remaining locked up in each cultural cycle as in a trance or dream. He discovered the means of living simultaneously in all cultural modes quite consciously" (McLuhan, The Medium 120).
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