Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The ordinariness of experiencing

I truly enjoyed reading The Dead, and felt very emotional by the end of the story.  I picked up on Gabriel's desire to be in control and felt how awkward the two encounters were when he was not in control.  This first encounter being with Lily, the servant at the party taking coats and the second being with his wife when he finds out there was another love in his life.  

The part in this story that registered most with the topics of ordinariness that we have been discussing in class would be the moment when Gretta was frozen in the middle of the room listening to The Lass of Aughrim: “Gabriel watched his wife who did not join in the conversation.  She was standing right under the dusty fanlight and the flame of the gas lit up the rich bronze of her hair which he had seen her drying at the fire a few days before.  She was in the same attitude and seemed unaware of the talk about her.  At last she turned towards them and Gabriel saw that there was colour on her checks and that her eyes were shining.  A sudden tide of joy went leaping out of his heart.” (213).  At this moment in time it is made clear to the reader that something about the atmosphere is striking Gretta, putting her in a daze, has her husband watches unaware of what it is.  She later reveals to him that the song reminded her of a boy who once loved her and took his own life and that listening to the song brings back images of his eyes.  This scene reminded me of our discussion about how ordinary objects, or sounds in this case, can bring back memories of specific events in our life.  In Experience, Emerson writes “Life is a train of moods like a string o beads, and, as we pass through them, the prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each knows only what lies in its focus.  From the mountain you see the mountain.  We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate.  Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.  It depends on the mood of the man , whether he shall see the sunset or the fine poem.” (pg. 4).  I believe that the same is true for Gretta and the song The Lass of Aughrim.  That song reminds her of the mood that she passed through after loss of a loved one.  Each time she hears that song, it brings her back to that same feeling.  If Gretta had been in a different mood when experiencing that song, then she would feel that way whenever she experienced that song again.  Life is a all sorts of different emotions strung together and the ordinary objects (nature, books, sounds etc.) bring us back to those moods we felt when experiencing the object again.  


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  2. Great, Devin -- but isn't it fascinating (and sad) that as Gretta is possessed by the mood you describe, her husband, looking at her, is oblivious to the reality of that mood and falls into a mood of his own, one in which she is the central object and yet one that has nothing to do with her inner experience in that moment? It seems to me there's a sort of infinite regress: Gretta listens to the song, conjuring an absence, thinking about some one who is not there; meanwhile Gabriel watches her listening and creates his own his own imagined reality (meanwhile we're watching Gabriel...). So I wonder, in your reading of the story, does Joyce hold out the possibility that the moods of others can ever be known or shared?

  3. I'm thinking, too, that Gabriel remembers a string of moment-beads about his life with Gretta: a heliotrope letter (I think I used to know what that meant, but I sure don't remember now); a man blowing glass; a ticket placed in the warm palm of her glove. That seems to be the same sort of thing you are thinking about, Devin: the moments get fraught with emotion and significance, come to stand for something larger. But I think Kristen is right that the specific example of Gretta on the stairs seems to be an example of that process going awry: making a symbol or a painting out of her is a way of not seeing her, not actually experiencing anything except his own fantasy. Is the point of the Emrson quote that we always do that: we inflect what we see though the colored lens of the bead? You all will have to teach me about that.