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Joyce's Dubliners

Claudine Raynaud

The Dubbing Theatre of Dubliners: Dubbing, Voiceovers and Post-synchronisation

Marie-Dominique Garnier

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1As an early blueprint to Finnegans Wake, 'the book of Doublends Jined" (Joyce, 1971, 20:16), Dubliners reads as an exercise in overlapping surfaces and interpretive schizophrenia. Most readers tend to agree on the book's manipulation of dead clichés and paralytic cases, though to some, such as Carle Bonafous-Murat, the book operates as a comic success, "une oeuvre profondément comique voire farcesque" (Bonafous-Murat, 1999, 131), a comic reading for which the best emblem in the book would be the priest's fit of wide-awake laughter in his "box" at the end of "The Sisters" (Joyce, 1969, 18). One of the key words in the book, the word paralysis, has been promoted as a perfect candidate for an ambivalent, undecidable reading. Jean-Michel Rabaté has revived its originally mobile meaning in the etymology of the word: "paralysis originally conveys an idea of dissolution, of an un-binding ("para-lyein, to release, to unbind") which is coupled with an anguishing immobility" (Rabaté, 1991, 29). In "Paralysis", a chapter included in The Postcard mostly about Freud and the scene of writing, Jacques Derrida addresses the undecidability of paralysis and repetition, and distinguishes, at least provisionally, between two forms of repetitions, the classical one, which repeats the past, and another form, which, in the wake of another logic, induces 'a general deconstruction of the entire classical ontology of repetition" (Derrida, 1987, 351-2). This repetition Derrida calls 'original', in the sense that it serves as an origin. What I have called "dubbing" looks into this other side of repetition, into the productive, hyperactive side of paralysis.

2The "dubbing theatre", a metaphor imported from cinema, here attempts to deal with these two opposite meanings as one single block of meaning. A dubbing theatre is a place where sound is recorded, where a sound track is inserted, where an alternative soundtrack to a film is provided, very often a translation from a foreign language In Dubliners, photography and soundtrack very often seem to diverge, as if sound was slightly at odds with the information provided on the motion picture: This divergence or gap in the dubbing process does not generate a sense of loss, however. In the dubbing process, in the added soundtrack, Dubliners generates a space of linguistic production and reproduction which operates as an early exercise in the waking of Finnegans, in the productive splitting of linguistic atoms, in the oblique, etymology-free declension of words. That other logic is that of repetition, dubbing, or paralysis as an unbinding, free wheeling process.

1. The darkened blind

3From beginning to end Dubliners articulates a series of short films, one-reelers. From "the lighted square of window" and "the darkened blind" at the beginning of The Sisters, to the flickering light of the end of The Dead, the text reads as one single-sided surface of filmable material, a textual film The "house with a lighted square of window" is not at first the house of the dead, it is a cinema house, a picture palace complete with silver screen – the darkened blind. The blind is a screen, a word which taken in its cinematographic sense deconstructs the dual oppositions between seeing and not seeing, a screen being an obstacle as well as a prop. It covers, darkens, prevents or kills vision but it is also the actual support for film projection It disguises and displays in the same gesture, it blinds as well as it brandishes and exposes to view. One reason to stop and ponder for a while when coming across such a phrase is its formal redundancy: a darkened blind. Readings are merged, released, unbound, and loosened, to take up the etymological sense of paralysis in the many folds of the pleonasm. "A darkened blind" is a phrase which doubles up upon itself, in which the two negative meanings somehow annihilate each other. Rather than suggest opacity and obscurity, it produces a sense of surfeit, darkness in excess, which amounts to an algebraic change of sign, from negative to positive, or at least productive A productive phrase, it grafts onto the text of Dubliners the homophonic double of Joyce's blindness, itself synonymous with a heightened capacity for vision of another sort. Darkened blinds see. At the other end of the book, on the reverse side of the same window or film, one reads about "the flakes, silver and dark", the flakes of snow which in Joyce's text take on another photosensitive meaning, since silver suggests the silver salt used to sensitize film. The previous paragraph mentions the "partial darkness" and the "flickering existence" of the dead. In film projection, a flicker is a fluctuation in the density of light thrown on the screen, caused by the passage of the shutter across the light beam. The "flicks" is another word for cinema, and the "snow" also has a photographic, though fairly modern correlative, in the sense of interference, low signal-to-noise ratio

4If one strains the cinematic comparison slightly further, the text appears to be quite willing and it cooperates in a benign fashion The end of Dubliners is a fade-out, a dissolve, as well as a feat of montage, since the last words double up on the title, repeated with a difference At the top of the bill, the names of the film stars Gretta Conroy and Michael Furey loom large. The mobile camera operator tracks back and ends with a travelling shot of the universe, or Universal studios. The film crew is part of the credits: the name of the director-to-be plays a ghostly part in the text, as it uncannily haunts one of the memorable moments in the screenplay, as Johnny the horse, the never-to-be-forgotten Johnny, a scene which I shall look at in some detail

2. Johnny the horse

5To link the figures of Johnny the horse and John Huston does indeed require a rather fantastic stretch of the imagination. What I am really interested in here, beneath the surface of the signifier, is the scene itself. It has been mostly explained away as a symptom of the viciously circular little life led by every single character caught in the dead ends of Dublin life. Gabriel's pacing in a circle around the hall and the horse's going round and round the statue of William III, rather than keeping to the straight path have been read as two versions of the same paralytic story, a disease for which King Billy is the monumental cause. Vincent Cheng sees Gabriel's pacing around the statue in imitation of the horse as a re-inscription of "the marks of an Irish cycle of paralysis, of satellitic subservience to (and co-option by) the Empire" (Cheng, 1995, 141).

  • 1 To my knowledge this has not been published, but has remained part of an interesting ongoing discu (...)

6This reading leaves aside at least two significant details in the story: the horse and the horseplay that goes along with it are said to have an uncertain genealogy. There is some hesitation as to whether Patrick Morkan, the owner, was a glue-boiler or starch-miller, a distinction no one would have any reason to be particularly interested in, but for the fact that glue and starch provide two different soundtracks to the tale. As whitish substances, both are premonitions of the final blanket of snow. Both, however, activate a possible other underground meaning for the whitish flakes that tap against the window, where André Topia has seen the projection of an X-rated home-cinema version of a masturbation scene, a rather appropriate ending to the private viewing of a boy-meets-girl story.1 The flakes are not snow-flakes but sperm, as Gabriel fondles himself to the point of "swooning". This is only the natural outcome of what he has being actively doing for the last twenty pages, in fact, since he was first described actively flicking lustre into his shoes, or even worse, actively flicking with his muffler at his patent-leather shoes

7This may be mere horseplay, but it is there in any case, and it brings me back to the horse. Hélène Cixous has described the horse as: "l'étrange totem de la famille, production en monstrueux de son mode de vie" [the family's uncanny totem, a monstrous production of its way of life] (Cixous, 1974, 291). She resorts to the words "étrange" and "production", as if the horse joke, probably one of John Joyce's many jokes, could not be kept within the familiar boundaries of the joke. The animal summons up two forms of paralysis, caught as it is between repetition as immobility on the one hand, and productive repetition on the other. The glue-or-starch miller's horse functions as one of many machines in Dubliners, and inserts into the mimetic text a principle of deviousness and division: "whether he fell in love with the horse King Billy sits on or whether he thought he was back again in the mill […]" (Joyce, 1969, 208). The horse becomes strangely synonymous with a foreign language – "What do you mean, sir? […] Can't understand the horse!". Its gyrating motion echoes many other cinematic or mobiles machines in Dubliners, where the word machine is to be understood along Deleuzian lines (Deleuze et Guattari, 1972), as a desiring machine ("machine désirante"); a machine which reinvents desire, leaves the territory of the mill, glue or starch, and becomes disconnected. The story of Johnny the horse is where a number of bifurcations and disconnections appear in the text, minute fragmentations and accumulations of syntactic breaks (whether, glue or starch), a grammar which imports a fair amount of nonsense into the story. The horse does not mean as much as it clicks in and out of meaning, becoming connected with a different or differing or erring form of locomotion. Its cyclic circulation connects with at least two Joycean features: it ties in with Vico and the concept of repetition with a difference; it also links up with cinema and The Volta The Volta, Vico, and what the first line of The Wake calls the "commodius vicus of recirculation", (Joyce, 1971, 3:2) and much later the "millwheeling vicociclometer" (Joyce, 1971, 614:27) are part of the same Joycean obsession with recycling and decentering. The Volta is the name of the cinema Joyce opened in Dublin in December 1909, also the exact date on which he found a Dublin publisher that was willing to publish Dubliners. The Volta closed down in July 1910, about the time when the publication of Dubliners was suspended. Beyond mere coincidence, it seems the two projects have shared, from the very beginning, the same "wayward and flickering" existence. Johnny's circular motion translates, literally, as a volt, the exact name in English for a circular movement executed by a horse in manège. Volt, appropriately enough, is the name of a dance, but it also bears the hallmark of Count Alessandro Volta who gave his name to the electric battery and to Joyce's cinema. What I am trying to suggest here is that beyond the negative, neurotic reading of this scene looms the possibility of another reading that leaves neurosis aside to the advantage of a schizoid interpretation, a schizo-analysis, or what I call more simply dubbing or double-writing.

8This isolated moment of pure motion, unbinding, or cinematography or dubbing is repeated elsewhere in the volume, since in a great number of prominent instances the reader is confronted to cyclic patterns, moments of obsessive revolutions and rephrasings and circumlocutions. Such is the case in one form or another in almost every story: in the twice repeated portraits of the priest at the end of "The Sisters"; in the magnetising figure of the pervert in "An Encounter" whose "mind was slowly circling round and round in the same orbit"; in the repetitions of Eveline's divided schizophrenic mother-tongue; in the revolving doors on which "The Dead" opens, as well as in the most minute repetitive mechanisms, whether syntactic or lexical, of the book. Yet another example can be found in "Grace", in the incident of the match casting its flickering light inside Mr Kernan's mouth:

The swaying movement of the car brought the match to and from the mouth. The lower teeth and gums were covered with clotted blood and a minute piece of tongue seemed to have been bitten off. The match was blown out.
–That's ugly said Mr Power.
–Sha. 's nothing, said Mr Kerman, closing his mouth […] (Joyce, 1969, 153).

9What is being sketched here is a variation on the theme of loss and castration, of the missing part, initiated in the figure of the gnomon, no man, no phallic tongue, at the beginning of "The Sisters". A new tongue, however, is being spoken, as Mr Kernan articulates one of Joyce's pregnant syllables, sha, a Shem, a Shaun, a productive little twig of sense or nonsense, that strikes at the very root of being ('s) and branches out onto a vast, pregnant, Shakespearean nothing, nothung, no-tongue.

3. Dubbing

10Dubliners is the early laboratory where the dead are waked, and where we dead awaken. The dead clichés of repetition are reactivated, kicked into a new form of linguistic awareness or awakening. Gretta's name in "The Dead" is rewritten, echoed, post-synchronised, translated, or dubbed as great: the adjective is used more than once, as a distant, probably ironic comment on how small her life is Speaking of Michael Furey, she says "I was great with him once", which is an Irishism for "I was his girl" but also implies "I was pregnant with him". In more than one sense Dubliners is great with Finnegans Wake, pregnant with waking signals. Greatness sits halfway between an end and a beginning, just like structurally the book ends where it begins again, just like the wake travels the distance that separates death from writing, the crypt from the script (in French "la veillée"/"le sillage", "la tombe", "la trace"), a repetition of the same, with a difference, as in glue or starch, two words for Joyce: the immobility of Dublin stuck in the glue of clichés, the erectedness of starched products, starch being also an ambivalent term associated to stiffness or vigor.

11Here is another example: the following series of paronyms overheard in the Joyce corpus, around the name of Miss Ivors, ivory, tower of ivory, the ivories, is dubbed or rewritten as another series, centering on Ivy, the ivy leaf, Ivy day, echoed in Evvy, Eveline's nickname. This echoing chamber combines the twin faces of a ghost signifier that would roam halfway between ivory and ivy, between the substance taken from dead animals and the evergreen, rhizoming, climbing vine, which brings us back to the twin faces of paralysis. The same game could be played with other pairs of paronyms or related words, such as Gretta/great, flickering/flicking, Johnny the horse/ cheval-glass, generous/ general, hospital/hospitality, or ghost/guest, the last two examples of double-writing having been explored by Jean-Michel Rabaté (Rabaté, 2000).

4. Double-writing, dubbing, parody

12Double-writing is a term used by Hugh Kenner, who explained that Joyce's Dublin "was in fact an eighteenth-century parody. The technique he developed, the technique which underlies everything from the first pages of Dubliners to the end of Finnegans Wake, came out of the subject: parody; double-writing" (Kenner, 1956, 11).

13By double-writing Kenner implies that Joyce's characters are parodies of ancient Celtic heroes, and that the dialogue is "an assemblage of locutions reçues into unexpected patterns". Kenner concludes that language is the real character: "We always see the language, we never quite see the object" (Kenner, 1956, 13); but the critic's argument somehow remains trapped in the pitfall of parody. What parody literally means, from para-odein, is to sing a side song, a parallel soundtrack, a "contre-chant", which is what I have been trying to explore here in the guise of the dubbing, dub-lining, the descent into the silver and dark, cinematographic lining tothe text.

14The silver and dark semantic effects of the last paragraph of The Dead, the explicit, provide one last example of a soundtrack which does not quite match the picture: "A few light taps upon the pane…". Each signifier brings in its own amount of double-talk, in the homophony of light and light, pane and pain. A sense of pain, suffering and imminent death is conveyed by the lightness and the pain, immediately counterbalanced by the other meaning of pane, the glassy surface, and light as opposed to darkness. The result is a twisted sentence, a dubbing effect, a productive repetition in the sense that it generates the silver and dark effects to be found later in Ulysses, where the word tap no longer signals the snowflake but the blind pianotuner, the author's other.


Works cited

Bonafous-Murat, Carle, 1999 James Joyce, Dubliners : Logique de l'impossible. Paris: Ellipses.

Cheng, Vincent, J. 1995. Joyce, Race, and Empire. Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge University Press.

Cixous, Hélène, 1974. Prénoms de personne. Paris: Le Seuil.

Derrida, Jacques. 1987. The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Deleuze, Gilles et Félix Guattari, 1972. L'Anti-Œdipe. Paris: Minuit.

Garnier, Marie-Dominique, 1995. "Dubliners : une lecture deleuzienne". Tropismes n°7, Université de Paris-X, 129-145.

Joyce, James, 1969. Dubliners, Text, Criticism, and Notes. Viking Critical Library. Ed. Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz,. New York:Viking Press.

——, 1971 [1939], Finnegans Wake London: Faber and Faber

Kenner, Hugh, 1956. Joyce's Dublin. London: Chatto & Windus. Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press.

Rabaté, Jean-Michel, 1991. James Joyce: Authorized Reader. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

——, 2000 '"Les Morts' et les lois de l'hospitalité joycienne", in Bataillard, Pascal et Dominique Sipière. Dubliners, "The Dead", J. Joyce, J. Huston. Paris : Ellipses.


1 To my knowledge this has not been published, but has remained part of an interesting ongoing discussion.


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