Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Encounter--visiting Hockaday on behalf of Greenhill

As a kind of practice for Oakridge's colloquium in February, Mr. Colley, Dr. Moreland and I have tried to get interschool dialogue started now about Joyce's Dubliners. This morning, I visited Dr. Moreland's philosophy and literature class and, although I thought I knew the stories well, I was energized and challenged by the philosophical readings that Hockaday's students brought to the conversation.

I brought with me from Greenhill's students a few questions related to "Araby" and "Eveline". Echoing the colloquium’s prompts, our concerns relate both to the text and to our lives. As for the text, how precisely does Dublin paralyze these two would-be lovers (“Araby”’s quester, and Eveline)? Also, what if anything about Eveline has changed? As for our lives, we asked two things. First, what does one need to be truly free? (For example, can Eveline care for her family in Dublin and, in some meaningful way, be free?) Also, what is the relationship between love and self-control?

Immediately, Dr. Moreland sought to ground our terms in the material of her course. Which Platonic image of eros was borne out by the stories--the unwieldy horse of Phaedrus' chariot allegory (246a - 254e, link) or the transcendent ladder of Diotima (related in Symposium 210a-211b, link)? Clearly Araby's narrator views love in sacramental terms--see the chalice he bears, his confused adoration, his prayerfully murmurred "O love! O love!" Still, Hockaday students were reluctant to call the narrator a lover, or even a would-be lover. So exaggerated is his quest, so inappropriate is the object of his love, they argued, that he clearly allowing his chariot to be drawn by the wrong horse. In vowing to bring Mangan's sister some token from Araby, he grounds their not-yet-relationship (infatuation? crush?) in the world of the particulars, a purchase Socrates would advocate only under the condition that it served as the first rung on a ladder of transcending, true love of wisdom.

Similarly precise and Platonic was Hockaday's critique of Eveline. I do not remember a Phadrus-focused critique of her choices--perhaps they might have argued that it is the horse of reason that leads Eveline to keep her promise to her mother despite the crushing boredom, the physical danger, the shabby surroundings, the apparent friendlessness, etc. They were persuasive in suggesting that Eveline might not be in love either; instead "She had consented to go away, to leave her home." Hers is a tale of frustrated escape, not tragic loss of love.

After this conversation (which I have captured poorly, I'm afraid), Dr. Moreland and her students suggested two questions for reflection: Is eros a way out? Can one be saved? (See the interior monologue "Frank would save her. [...] He would save her.")

Thanks again to Dr. Moreland and her students. We look forward to your adding your own interpretive angle to these stories. Perhaps you've seen the film version of "The Dead" (IMDB link). Perhaps you would like to describe the role of faith in the stories, or the role of women, or some other angle not mentioned here.

We'd love to have you join the conversation.


  1. Wow! What a dense discussion! Judging by our discussions at Oakridge today, I think most of us would agree that both so-called "lovers" are being drawn by the wrong horse in their unique quests. Thank you Hockaday students for helping us re-center this conversation around certain key Platonic ideas! One could definitely read both "lovers" as mistaking particulars for the universal form itself. (Although Joyce might remind us that the absence or lack of universal fulfillment is perhaps the only universal epiphany to be had in a city like Dublin….)

    I particularly like the idea of "frustrated escape." One could perhaps explain the frustration as being born out of the act of mistaking some particular example of escape as being the universal form of escape itself. Sailing to Buenos Aires - a contextually particular example of the universal - becomes the form itself for Eveline. In reality, however, it is an imperfect copy of the purer act itself, and as a result, the particular act of the planned journey perhaps poorly serves our character's immediate, emotional needs in that moment.

  2. Although it's somewhat cheesy to comment upon one's own post, I want to make explicit one question: Must eros be as Socrates describes--reined in by reason, directed toward the Good? Does not A Painful Case's Mr. Duffy moderate his eros as a gentleman must? Why then does he regret his actions?

  3. Ah, we certainly hope that Eros does not have to be subject to the limitations that Socrates or Diotima describes (in either The Republic or in Phaedrus), for neither takes into account the complexity of relationships, and both seem to imagine the sort of hierarchy that, my students are quick to say, does not imagine a more authentic understanding of love that we now, in the 21st C, hope to experience!