Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Growing up or blocking ourselves out

Intelligence without poise, what does that look like, attractive in the evident potential and possibility, or so awkward as to force us to avert our eyes? The duckling was never ugly on the inside; it was only us viewers who made it so. Why must it be with young people coming of age? We expect much from them. We want that much more.

Last night they had a banquet at the high school for the speech team, the students a bunch of emoters, the teacher, near retirement, carrying on through the entire ceremony, proud of what he had wrought, in mock competition with his students, the biggest emoter of them all. All the world's a place for the ego to be on display. If one has stage presence, why not? A variety of awards were doled out and brief performances given, a night for the students to showcase in front of the parents. My son received acknowledgment for his essential goodness and mentoring of the more junior students, though not for his oratorical skills; the fish who chose to leave the water on his own after some encouragement from the teacher, a choice I probably would not have made were I in his place. He is more open to possibility, at the expense of his own shyness.

How do these tensions resolve? Does the late bloomer let the joie de vivre eventually flower, demonstrating grace with empathy and a gregarious nature begat from the isolation of the teen years? Or does the intellectual part of the persona take over completely, encouraging a withdrawal from other people, the detached and analytic perspective inadvertently causing his humanity to wizen, solely to focus on his own self-protection, as if that suffices as a life purpose?

In our little MotleyRead group, we are nearing the home stretch on Dubliners. I must want it to be over. In my father's pigeon French: Manger est bon, mais avoir manger est meilleur. (To eat is good, but to have eaten is better.) Maybe my memory is tricking me to believe it is almost done. I had thought A Painful Case was the story right before Grace, though a look at the table of contents for the Bantam Classic version clearly reveals it is not. I did reread the introduction by Brenda Maddox, where she discusses Joyce's anger at his Irish brethren, for their incapacity to lead full lives, as I wrote about here. In A Painful Case that incapacity is on full display. Among all the stories, the main character Duffy is closest to my own character. I understand his isolation, looking at it from the outside in, and feeling it from the inside out.

Alan describes Duffy
very well and the image of the old man sitting on a bench that Alan uses to introduce his post creates a very effective vantage from which to contemplate Duffy. Yet there remains a puzzle. Was his instinctual reaction to sever from Emily inevitable after their touching, in which case it surely was a sad outcome but just as surely there was no crime committed, or did Duffy exercise discretion; he could have fought off his instincts and embraced his passion but did not rise to this higher plane? Having read Maddox, Joyce must have meant the latter or so it seems, though Joyce obfuscates matters, at least for me, by referring at the outset to Duffy's meticulous nature with a pedantic underpinning. Folks like that are born that way, not made, aren't they?

At the Speech Banquet one of the passages read was a version of the poem, First They Came, a forceful indictment about not getting involved, thereby implicitly accepting responsibility for the unintended but horrific outcome that emerged thereafter. Coupling First They Came with A Painful Case makes for a shot across the bow, one I need to pay heed of, and though I don't wish to preach I suspect many others need to pay attention as well.

As my father would say, attendez-vous vos affaires. Indeed.

6 comments:

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Alan said...

Duffy's actions were certainly in alignment with his character and ascetic life style. I don't see his severance from Emily as anything of valor or exercising discretion.

He never wanted a romantic relationship with her, and he did not even to really appreciate her as anything much more than some audience for his ego. Or was he so ingrown that he could not even reconcile even a smal spark of human attraction?

An enigma wrapped in an enigma. Hardly uplifting but, it a way, I am fascinated by his persona.

Lanny Arvan said...

Alan -

I believe Duffy felt regret after he learned of Emily's death. He understood his role in that and he reconsidered what he might have done in response to her advance. Plus, I think he genuinely missed her, or at least missed the thought of her.

I agree with everything you say about what happened during the relationship and how he broke it off, but even with that it wasn't over and done, at least not in his mind. He might have played it all differently.

The analogy is not perfect by a long shot, but consider what we are hearing from a different Alan (Greenspan) these days. He believed in something very strongly only to discover in the course of events that his belief couldn't be completely true.

Getting back to Duffy, there may be the additional thing that he liked being with Emily at a very instinctive level but didn't understand his own feelings intellectually, so let the latter block the former.

Perhaps you don't do that, which if true is good for you, but I do it fairly regularly, which is why I have some affinity for the character.

Lanny Arvan said...

Alan - I had a further thought. At your leisure looks at this, a rather probing profile of an INTP, and in particular scroll to near the bottom where it talks about the Inferior Function: Extraverted Feeling. This sure seems like Duffy to me.

Lanny

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