After declaring, “Let’s go below the surface!” professor of English Lee Harrod began his lecture on Irish author James Joyce by going below his surface, removing his tie and button-down shirt to reveal a T-shirt with Joyce’s portrait on the front. This set the tone for the Nov. 8 event – the second Close Reading lecture sponsored by the English department.
Harrod walked the audience through a passage from “Araby,” a short story from Joyce’s famous collection of stories titled “Dubliners.” The story’s narrator reflects on a time when he was a young boy growing up in Dublin. He had promised to buy a gift from the Araby bazaar for the girl with whom he was in love, but the speaker ultimately fails his mission.
Harrod compared the story’s plot to a modern-day situation-comedy with elements of tragedy, but in order to demonstrate techniques of how to read literature closely, Harrod delved deeper, examining devices in the text which he deemed, “peculiarly Joycean.”
At one point in the passage, the speaker climbs the stairs into the upper portion of his house. “The high cold empty gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing,” says the speaker. Here, Harrod emphasized the importance of language.
“Joyce attempted to duplicate psychological feeling,” Harrod, referring to the sentence’s word order, said. “He wrote the words how a person would experience them occurring in life.”
In his lecture, Harrod also incorporated an anecdote where Joyce discussed his process for writing “Ulysses,” arguably his literary masterpiece. Joyce’s friend asked if he was looking for the right words.
“No,” Joyce said, “I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence. There is an order in every way appropriate. I think I have it.”
Beyond highly specialized word order, another “Joycean” feature is the presence of a character who needs life to teach him or her a lesson in order for them to grow. “Araby’s” narrator fulfills this capacity.
“Joyce’s characters recognize their vulnerability then fall into humanity,” Harrod said. “Consider the line from Joyce’s work ‘Finnegan’s Wake;’ ‘First we feel, then we fall.'”
According to Harrod, Joyce usually incorporated the theme of unrequited love and placed men and women in very distinct categories.
“For Joyce, being male was an eternal cycle of longing and humiliation,” Harrod said. “Female characters were either the sacred or the profane, the ideal or the seductive.”
In a Q-and-A session following the lecture, Harrod responded to several questions including one regarding Joyce’s connection between imagination and artistry.
“Joyce had the romantic notion of artists as more intelligent, someone who perceives more deeply than others,” Harrod said.
Using Joyce’s definition, Harrod certainly qualifies as an artist. Due to retire this spring after teaching for 40 years at the College, Harrod’s insights into literature will be missed.
“This was a great point on which to end his 40 years here,” said senior English major Nicole Pfeiffer. “(It was) a culmination of his experience and his passion.”
Jo Carney, chair of the English department, asked Harrod how future students should tackle “Ulysses” without him there for guidance.
“The worst mistake is to try and chase the footnotes,” Harrod said. “It has to work at the level of a novel so don’t push it. Relax with it and have a couple of beers before you start.”