Literature and I.T. Review

My thesis, currently titled “Jumpin’ Jim Joyce: The Minstrel Show in the Mind of Joyce”, will attempt to locate an Irish reading of the Minstrel show as a cultural text. I will focus on references to and representations of blackface minstrelsy in “The Dead”, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake, approaching these texts from a hybridized critical perspective drawing on Postcolonial and Translation theory, while also focusing on Joyce’s historical and social influences in the form of earlier authors’ influence on Joyce’s interpretation and presentation of minstrel show tropes. Ultimately, I hope to argue that, to Joyce, the minstrel show was a potentially subversive performance, a kind of cultural translation that, much like his linguistic breakdown in Finnegans Wake, reveals a hybridity and playfulness that is destructive to the hierarchies of empire.

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I intend to rely on Eric Lott’s seminal study of the minstrel show, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (Oxford U.P., 1993), to establish the beginnings of the minstrel show and its role in late-19th century culture. Alongside Lott, I plan to use David Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (Verso, 2007), and Ignatiev Noel’s How the Irish Became White (Routledge, 1995) in a consideration of Irish-American involvement in the minstrel show, and the resulting Irish influence on minstrel show tropes that helped lead to their popularity in Ireland. On that note, I will be drawing on Douglas Riach’s 1973 article “Blacks and Blackface on the Irish Stage, 1830-60” (Journal of American Studies 7.3) and Margaret Greaves 2012 piece “Slave Ships and Coffin Ships: Transatlantic Exchanges in Irish-American Blackface Minstrelsy” (Comparative American Studies 10.1) to reveal how the minstrel show was perceived in Ireland.

Obviously, existing studies on Joyce will make up some of the most significant research I will be drawing on in my thesis. To root my analysis in Joyce’s historical contexts, I will use Richard Ellman’s definitive biography James Joyce (Oxford U.P., 1959), as well as Joyce’s collected letters (Faber, 1966) and his brother, Stanislaus Joyce’s, memoirs, My Brother’s Keeper (Faber, 1958). I hope to use the biographical information from these sources to establish a line of historical and artistic influences that impacted Joyce’s understanding of theatrical performance, cultural exchange, colonial relationships, and translation, arguing that Joyce’s approach to these concepts would have had a notable impact on his opinion of the minstrel show.

41b8p7wtwkl-_sx322_bo1204203200_ Furthermore, I intend to build my argument on literary studies of Joyce that approach his work through the filter of Postcolonial and Irish studies, such as Vincent Cheng’s Joyce, Race and Empire (Cambridge U.P., 1995), Derek Attridge and Marjorie Howes edited collection Semicolonial Joyce (Cambridge U.P., 2000), and Emer Nolan’s Catholic Emancipation: Irish Fiction from Thomas Moore to James Joyce (Syracuse U.P., 2007). As foundational studies of Joyce’s relationship to colonialism and racism, both Joyce, Race, and Empire and Semicolonial Joyce will establish many of the founding assumptions of my interpretation of Joyce as an author intent on renegotiating the Manichean principles of the colonial and nation-building enterprises of his day. Nolan’s work, which recovers a Catholic Irish literary tradition from the largely Anglo-Irish shadow of the Irish Literary Revival will reinforce my more biographical research and help to establish Joyce’s significant Irish influences such as Thomas Moore and James Clarence Mangan.

The minstrel show’s unique location at the intersection of discussions of high and low art, dialect, transnational cultural exchange, and racial power structures makes it a useful point of entry for a consideration of Joyce that rectifies the interpretative dilemmas often brought about by the conflict between modernist theorist’s insistence on the apolitical, cosmopolitan Joyce and Irish studies scholars tendency to see Joyce as a colonial author. As such, I will also be drawing on Christine Van Boheemen’s Joyce, Derrida, Lacan, and the Trauma of History: Reading, Narrative and Postcolonialism (Cambridge U.P., 1999), and Luke Gibbon’s Joyce’s Ghosts: Ireland, Modernism and Memory (Chicago U.P., 2015), both works which have paved the way for viewing Joyce’s Irish context as foundational to, rather than opposed to, his Modernism.

I will also be supporting my argument with more strictly theoretical texts. Naturally, I intend to make recourse to many of the foundational Postcolonial studies such as Edward Said’s Orientalism (Penguin, 2003), and Frantz Fanon’s work in The Wretched of the Earth (Grove Weidenfeld, 1963) and Black Skin, White Masks (Pluto Press, 1967). However, I intend to rely most heavily on works that situate Postcolonial theory in an Irish context such as Clare Carroll and Patricia King’s Ireland and Postcolonial Theory (Cork University Press, 2003), as well as many of David Lloyd’s works, but particularly Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-colonial Moment and Nationalism (Duke University Press, 1993) and Minor Literature: James Clarence Mangan and the Emergence of Irish Cultural Nationalism (California U.P., 1987). These texts will help me establish the ways in which Joyce would perceive the relationship between African-Americans as presented on the minstrel stage and the Irish, as well as to help me explore the delicate power balances inherit in the minstrel show as an act which gives a dominant group the power to author (and alter) a subaltern perspective.

Additionally, Minor Literature, will serve as a significant text to establish Mangan’s faux-oriental translations as an influence on Joyce’s understanding of the minstrel show, and, as a result, opens the door to applying elements of translation theory to my thesis. Currently, I am hoping to use Walter Benjamin’s work in Illuminations (Fontana Press 1992), alongside the linguistic observations of George Steiner in After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (Oxford U.P., 1998) and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in “The Politics of Translation” from her collection Outside in the Teaching Machine (Routledge, 1993) to structure an interpretation of the minstrel show as a translation that reveals the ultimate instability of colonial and racial relations.

Finally, I intend to use databases provided by the Boole Library, such as Project Muse, but I am also interested in incorporating materials from public online archives such as the University of Virginia’s online collection Blackface Minstrelsy 1830-52 (utc.iath.virginia.edu/minstrel/mihp.html). I hope to experiment with some Digital Humanities distant reading tools such as Voyant (voyant-tools.org) in my approach to Finnegans Wake to help organize and chart common minstrel show terms and tropes as they appear in the text. voyantUltimately, most of my research materials are available at the Boole library, either physically or through its online offerings. In the event that the library does not have any necessary materials for my project, I intend to make use of the ALCID scheme to avail of other Irish libraries.

Textualities 2017: In Review

The Textualities 2017 Conference for UCC English MA’s is officially past. This feels quite overwhelming, as the conference has loomed as one of the most significant landmarks of the MA since I first learned about it in September.

All in all, it was a very fun day, and I was very proud of my work on the presentation, as well as the work of all my fellow-students.

Pre-conference, I was on the web design team; specifically, I was responsible for making a page of bio entries for my own MA, Irish Writing and Film. Luckily, I already had some useful WordPress experience thanks to this very blog, which made the job a breeze. It was an educational experience learning how best to liaise with the other project groups on the Conference (such as the social media group in particular). I was very happy with the work my fellow-students put into preparing for the conference. I felt like everyone was very invested in making sure the event went off without a hitch. If you would like to see my contribution, as well as learn about some of my wonderful classmates, please see here.

On the day of the conference, I was glad to be going on the first panel. I have never been one for sitting around stewing, so I was glad to be able to get up and make my contribution right out of the gate. I probably stumbled a stuttered a few times, but I was quite happy with how my presentation went. I committed to not using note cards, partially because stopping to read note cards sometimes throws off my train of thought when speaking in public, but also because I wanted to commit to staying as open and focused on my audience as possible. On that note, my audience was clearly very attentive, which certainly helped me feel confident about the presentation.

And, of course, having the support of my fellow-students was very helpful.

I think the most helpful part of the conference experience was getting to know more about the thesis research of my fellow students. I know that as I work forward on my research, I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything I come across that might be particularly relevant or helpful to anyone else. It is also helpful just to know more about the genuine interests of my classmates. While I got a sense of what a lot for other students liked in class, it was always limited by what any specific module was on; I might learn what their favorite texts from a course was, but less about what genuinely interests them. I feel like hearing about my fellow students thesis goals gave me a better understanding of what drew them to pursue graduate study in the first place, which, in a way, helps me understand why I am pursuing it as well.

Also, while it was a day for studies and work, it was also a nice day for some fun. I really enjoyed getting to spend the day with my classmates, and my wife, Madilyn, even got to watch as well (she helped me out by live-tweeting my thoughts on my own presentation for me in real time:

Ultimately, I’m moving forward from the conference feeling energized about my thesis and looking forward to the work to come over the next few months.

In case you are curious, you can check out my presentation here! (sorry that it isn’t featured directly. Apparently WordPress no longer supports Prezi embeds.)

Prezi Citation Information

“A Celebrated Ethiopian Ballad”. 1842. The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, Special Collections, The Johns Hopkins University. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, utc.iath.virginia.edu/minstrel/migallsof.html. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“Dan Emmet Portrait”. Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dan_Emmett_portrait.jpg. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“Dan Rice”. Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dan-Rice.JPG. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“Dion Boucicault Photo 1”. Wikimedia Commons, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DION_BOUCICAULT_PHOTO_1.jpg. Accessed on 2 March 2017

“Frederick Douglass c1860s”. Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frederick_Douglass_c1860s.jpg. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“James Clarence Mangan”. Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Clarence_Mangan.jpg. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

Joyce, Race and Empire Cover”. Cambridge University Press, admin.cambridge.org/academic/subjects/literature/english-literature-1900-1945/joyce-race-and-empire?format=PB. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“Mr. T. Rice as the Original Jim Crow”. n.d. the Harvard Theatre Collection, The Houghton Library. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, utc.iath.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=utc/xml/pretexts/gallery/miillsoa.xml&style=utc/xsl/utc_figs.xsl&ent=mihtcill1&n1=tpage&clear-stylesheet-cache=yes. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“My Dark Rosaleen: An Irish Patriotic Song”. 1897. Irish Traditional Music Archive, http://www.itma.ie/digitallibrary/book/36297-sm. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“Original Christy Minstrels”. Freemans Journal. 20 May 1871. pp. 1. Irish Newspaper Archive, archive.irishnewsarchive.com.library.ucc.ie/Olive/APA/INA.Edu/SharedView.Article.aspx?href=FMJ%2F1871%2F05%2F20&id=Ar00104&sk=644A8901. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“Stage Irishman”. ansionnachfionn.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/dear-old-oirland-where-the-oirish-doth-play.jpg?w=320, Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“Stephen Foster Portrait”. Wikimedia Commons, upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/StephenFoster.jpeg. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“The Coal Black Rose”. 1830. the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, Special Collections, The Johns Hopkins University. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, utc.iath.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=utc/xml/pretexts/gallery/miillsoa.xml&style=utc/xsl/utc_figs.xsl&ent=lsm017078&n1=tpage&clear-stylesheet-cache=yes. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

“Thomas Moore after Thomas Lawrence”. Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Moore,_after_Thomas_Lawrence.jpg. Accessed on 2 March 2017.

Man-Again: Breathing new life into James Clarence Mangan’s Wikipedia Entry for #EditWikiLit

For the recent Wikipedia Editathon I chose to freshen up the entry for Irish poet James Clarence Mangan. This assignment was particularly well-timed because I have been reading into Mangan’s faux-oriental translations for my thesis and editing the Wikipedia page helped me structure some of my general background readings on Mangan.

To begin with, Mangan’s page was not quite a stub, but it left a lot to be desired. I can’t say I blame the original author. Mangan is a bit of an enigma. Please click here to see the full page as I found it.

I came into the assignment a little overwhelmed. There was (and still is) a lot of the page I feel needs improvement. Primarily, however, I thought the pages sloppy citations and poor structure were its greatest shortcomings. How could an author’s biography really be broken down into only two section: Early Life and Literary Career?

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This really is most of the original page

So, I decided that for the in class session I would focus on reorganizing the page, while fleshing out the skeletal information provided. I think the most important thing I added during the Editathon session was a section devoted to Mangan’s reception and legacy. The original version of the page only addressed Mangan’s reception in a disorganized peppering of information throughout the existing “Literary Career” section. By collecting that information in one section (and adding some needed details and sources), I think I made the page much more useful.

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I also had a chance to contemplate Mangan’s critics

Admittedly, I was a little nervous during the session. My computer was struggling to connect to the internet and this created some technical difficulties. The page did not update correctly as I worked on it (mostly problems with inputting sources) and, most frighteningly, refused to save my changes. This certainly slowed my progress.

Luckily, I left my page open and saved my changes in another building after class.

I guess the surest sign that the assignment was a success is I kept editing the page after class. While I only added the Reception and Legacy section in class, I decided to add a few more details, as well as a Style section. The page still isn’t perfect, but I am very proud to have made the page more useful to students, and wiki-addicts everywhere.

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Or, of course, you could get your information straight from the horse’s mouth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clarence_Mangan

First Monthly State of the Thesis Address

This post is something of a challenge to myself. As you can probably tell, the title has a notable keyword, monthly. I am hoping to make a post (however brief a sketch it might be) documenting my progress on working towards my MA thesis (or dissertation, I’m still not entirely sure what we call it here at UCC) every month until the last source is cited. Mostly, this is to keep me working on it in a disciplined fashion, because I’ll be really embarrassed if I have to admit that I spent a whole month doing nothing but stuffing my face with Jackie Lennox chips and scrolling through the “Heckin’ pictures of DANG doggos” Facebook page.

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Ehem, more to the point.

For this, my first month, I guess I’ll start by outlining where my thesis is, and I think I’ll do so by spending a little time recounting how I got here. I began with a general interest in tracing some point of connection between African-American and Irish authors. My idea was vague and, in its earliest iterations, certainly suffered from being a pretty basic comparison, checklisting the similarities in their experiences as racialized and essentialized others. However, while doing some general reading on my topic, I happened on Elizabeth Cullingford Ireland’s Others, which includes a chapter that, while it does explore some of the more legitimate points of contact between the Irish and African-American experience, cautions against taking the comparison too far.

Cullingford’s warning gave me a new focus, or structuring element for my research. I began not just to consider the overlaps between these two traditions, but, instead, to ponder the effects of the act of comparison, or barring outright comparison, the points of contact found in Irish and African-American literature.

However, at the same time, I began to be interested in loosening my focus on African-American literature in the first place. Rather, I started to contemplate focusing on African diasporic literature instead. This was about the time of Joyce and Walcott: Colonial Modernity and the Death of Difference, which, in many ways, is a brief step towards the kind of inquiry I hope my thesis will be.

Okay, so this is “the story” or at least how I got this far. What follows, is where I am.

I am interested in exploring how Irish and diasporic African authors create comparisons between one other, whether tacit or outright, and the nature of these comparisons. Thus far, I am treating these two comparisons under two broad categories: comparisons that destroy difference and those that embrace it. It is worth stressing that both these categories remain comparisons, not contrasts, they simply handle the inherent differences of the two social groups in very different ways.

Joyce and Walcott, at least currently, would fall under the category of authors whose writing destroy difference. Again, Please see my earlier post for more on that.

Currently, I am still working out who would be my go to examples for those that embrace difference. Roddy Doyle, in both The Commitments and his short story collection The Deportees is currently a strong contender, and I have some thoughts about Amiri Baraka’s plays and Spike Lee’s films that might earn them a place in this discussion.

Ultimately, I am interested in seeing what kinds of alternatives to the either/or discourse of colonialism, racism, and essentialism are opened up by these methods of comparison. Furthermore, I am left wondering what kind of influence these distinctly subaltern and peripheral literary happenings could have had on the development of the ideas of Modernism and Postmodernism as cultural/philosophic/historic/what-have-you periods.

Looking forward to next month, I am hoping to start a reading list (I’ve already made it, but need to actually start reading through it) and commit to making some organized notes and commentary on at least a weekly basis that will help me keep my work structured.

Wish me luck.

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Works Cited

Cullingford, Elizabeth. Ireland’s Others: Gender and Ethnicity in Irish Literature and Popular Culture. Cork University Press, 2001.

Joyce and Walcott: Colonial Modernity and the Death of Difference

I’ve always been fascinated with Literary Modernism’s seeming commitment to the idea that meaning and signification is external. This idea was pretty clearly articulated in T.S. Eliot’s “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” in which Eliot claims that Joyce’s grand achievement in Ulysses, equivalent in importance to “a scientific discovery” was his epic and classical structure. The significance of this is clearest when one looks at how Eliot describes the novel as a medium:  “instead of being a form, [the novel] was simply the expression of an age which had not sufficiently lost all form to feel the need of something stricter.” With classic anti-modern, modernist flair, Eliot sees Joyce’s time and setting in need of the “form” of past epics in order to signify in a formless age.

I believe this search for an external scaffolding on which to erect modern art is particularly problematic as it relates to artists from colonial backgrounds. Whatever Eliot means when he refers to modernity as “formless” (a rather unspecific criticism) it is very easy to imagine, especially with a writer like Eliot, that this “formlessness” stems, at least in part, from the voices of colonial subjects chipping away at older more homogeneous world views. We must remember, this is a man with ambitions to “purify the dialect of the tribe”(“Little Gidding). In fairness to Eliot I do think that there is much more at play in his critique than a fear of new perspectives, but, for the sake of this blog post, I’m focusing on this aspect.

This leaves the colonial modernist in a bit of a bind. To signify, by Eliot’s standards, they must adopt a classically informed structure, but the structures of their own culture would hardly constitute as “classical” to a global audience. This leaves these authors at risk of analogizing themselves out of existence as they work to equate the finer points of their creative works, and, as a result, their culture, to outside models.

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While I tremble at the very thought of presuming I understand even the first thing about Finnegans Wake (Except you know, that the first and last sentence is, like, the same) It seems to me that it is a prime example of the problem I am writing about. Throughout the text, the myths of the world are all drawn into and equated to a traditional Irish song.  The book’s (maybe kinda sorta) protagonist HCE appears, in one of his many coded guises, as “Here Comes Everybody.” I can’t help reading this as the end result of Modernism’s Classical structures. As x must be equated to y in order to signify, the lines between x and y blur. Art risks loosing meaningful connections to culture, as all stories, myths, and traditions simply become redrawn versions of other stories, myths, and traditions. This impulse towards analogy is clearly seen in some of the 20th century’s leading thinkers like Jung or the early Joycean James Campbell, and I wonder if some of the ideas that Jung and company forwarded were inspired by this element of colonial literature (admittedly, this is an element of modern literature as a whole, but I think its repercussions are most notable in this context).

However, I suppose referring to Finnegans Wake as colonial literature could come across as a bit of a stretch. A work like Derek Walcott’s Omeros presents this drive for cultural analogy a little more clearly I think. Walcott uses Homer’s work, along with a plethora of other cultural analogies, to articulate a West Indian experience. Walcott, I would argue, is probably more successful than Joyce at maintaining a sense of regional character, though I am not certain Joyce had any intention to do so. The problem with these analogical literary structures is that they recreate the power structures of colonialism, with a dominant perspective or myth that signifies, and a subaltern one that must be translated through a more “universal” filter. The question I am left with considering these works is how do these analogies change the perception of the subaltern culture and how do they effect the lines of difference between cultures.

This issue, the struggles of signifying through cultural analogy, is something I hope to explore in my MA dissertation (most likely with these two authors featuring to some capacity). As I carry on with my research, I am hoping to come to stronger conclusions as to the effects of these analogies and the dialogues they produce.

Works Cited

Eliot, T. S. “Little Gidding.”  Columbia.edu,  http://www.columbia.edu/itc/history/winter/w3206/edit/tseliotlittlegidding.html. Accessed 11 November 2016.

–. “Ulysses, Order, and Myth.” Virginia.edu, http://people.virginia.edu/~jdk3t/eliotulysses.htm. Accessed 11 November 2016.

Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. Finwake.com, http://www.finwake.com/1024chapter2/1024finn2.htm. Accessed 11 November 2016.

Walcott, Derek. Omeros. Faber and Faber, 1990.

Chapter One

Welcome to my first blog post! I suppose I should begin with a brief introduction. My name is Cody Jarman. I graduated from The University of Tennessee at Martin with a BA in English and a BFA in Theatre in December 2015 and, after a brief repose from academia, began the Irish Writing and Film MA program (or, I suppose I should write programme) at University College Cork in September 2016.

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I’m Wilde about Irish literature.

My primary goal with this blog is to have a testing ground to work through my research ideas as I move towards the ever-ominous dissertation at the end of my MA. Currently, I am interested in considering the formal similarities between Irish literature and African-American literature. As I have begun researching this project in earnest, I have taken an interest specifically in the ways the African American experience has been used as a kind of rhetorical reference point to describe the damage brought about by British colonialism in Ireland. While I have pinpointed manifestations of this trend in the works of James Joyce and Roddy Doyle, I am currently focusing my research on establishing this trope in the works of other authors (ideally playwrights). Ultimately, I hope to also consider responses to this trend in African-American literature and to use this jumping off point to work towards teasing out a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between these two literary traditions.

However, I do not intend to use this blog simply as an instrument to broadcast my progress on my dissertation. Beyond posts related specifically to my dissertation, I plan on challenging myself to apply some of the ideas and theories I will be exploring in my research in less overtly academic (or at least traditionally literary) capacities. I plan to consider trends in pop culture and current events as they relate to my research in Postcolonial theory and Nationalism, with the hope of always keeping theory in a more immediately tangible context.

I might throw some memes in too, you know, for the lulz.