The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Holidays and Joyce

Sean O'Torain

Holidays are a time when we think about friends and things that happened in the past. The fact that I am a committed long time atheist does not mean that I am impervious to this or to some of the genuine emotions evoked by religious holidays. At this time of year as well as the corporate created shopping madness there is the genuinely progressive and human desire to give gifts and to be thoughtful and kind to others. I was thinking along these lines early this morning here in Chicago.

My memory of Christmas growing up in rural Ireland in the 1950's is dominated by the amount of work this meant for my mother. It also meant anguish for her as she could not afford to give her children what she would have wanted to give them. My first steps toward criticism of and then opposition to the system which I later learned to call capitalism came through seeing and trying to understand why women were treated so badly in the rural Ireland of the time. One of the reasons I left Ireland when I was twenty was because I wanted among other things to learn what this was all about, this bad treatment of women and what my attitude was and should be. I was not well equipped to do this as I was not free from the male chauvinist attitudes myself.

A few months after I left Ireland I found myself working in a lumber camp/paper pulp mill in Northern Canada. One day a young man, a Quebecois, and I were working together and talking. He said to me "What do you think about Joyce". I looked at him and replied "Who is Joyce". I had never heard of James Joyce. All the great forces of the Irish state and the churches had conspired to ban Joyce's writings from Ireland. I remember the humiliation I felt and the anger at those who had kept this knowledge from me.

Some time after that I was on a merchant ship which sailed into New Orleans. Still burning over my ignorance I went to the library and asked to look at some books by Joyce. They brought me Finnegans Wake. I opened it and tried to read it. I remember thinking that I must have concussion. This was the way the words and images and ideas seemed to come and go and swirl in and around my head. Ever since I got to know something about Joyce's work I am convinced that he would have been quite proud to hear of someone reading Finnegans Wake thinking they had concussion. There is a certain sense about it. I think that wee Joyce would have had a laugh to himself. Maybe written a limerick about my situation. There was a young man from old Ireland, who on reading my book etc., etc..

Anyway I have got to know Joyce a bit and got to know more about the system that shaped me and so brutally repressed the women of rural Ireland at that time. So this morning as on most days when there is a holiday and when I get to thinking about the past and about Ireland I read a bit of Joyce.

As my present to my friends and all on this list I would like to share a quote from Joyce that I read for the first time this year and also a comment on Joyce which I feel is very accurate and helpful. Both these have given me a lot of excitement and pleasure.

The critic Colum McCabe had this to say about Joyce. "If the young Joyce was antipathetic to the national ideology which his generation did so much to promote, it was not so much to the specific claims of Gaelic......but to their service of a notion of Irish purity which linked a wholly false notion of the Gael to the equally false notion of the sexually and racially pure Irish person - to be more specific, the pure woman....

Then Joyce had this to say himself in describing one of the ways which the male dominated class society used to make sure that the Irish woman was "pure". Joyce wrote: "The vaulting feminine libido...sternly controlled and easily repersuaded by the uniform matteroffactness of a meandering male fist". This is powerful, Comrades.

The book I enjoyed reading most this year was Nora by Brenda Maddox. It is published by Mariner Books. Without the strength and the independent, defiant sexual spirit of Nora we never would have had the works of Joyce. I would like to give thanks this morning to Nora, to my mother and all the woman who one way or another defied the spirit crushing regime of Irish capitalism and its closest ally the Catholic Church.

PS Next year I am going to start a campaign for Santa to be a woman. The woman do nearly all the work in the home for Christmas but the hero that brings all the goodies is a male. I am still trying to figure out a good name for her. And now I hear Bonnie vacuuming up stairs so I had better get off here and go and do my share or I will end up like those whose opposition to the oppression of women is entirely abstract. S. O'T.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

6 February 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them
Breandán Ó Muirthile


The Spire
Anthony McIntyre


Brian Mór


The Holidays and Joyce
Sean OTorain


Life Story of the Olives
Annie Higgins


The Letters page has been updated.


3 February 2003


A Carefully Crafted Message - Little Revealed, A Lot Concealed
John Meehan


What if They Give an Election and No One Comes?
Eamon Lynch


The Conscience of a King
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Lost Honour, Lost Cause
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Bogota Diary
Jimmy Sands


The Tongue
Anthony McIntyre


Glossary of Occupation

Paul de Rooij




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