Monday, January 30, 2006
Mystery Macintosh, My Darling
All right-thinking people agree that The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism's most unconscionable omission was James Thurber's "The Macbeth Murder Mystery", and so I'm certain John Gordon is a right-thinking person.
Except in this case.
[For the non-Joyceans in our audience, here's the story so far.
Aside from its status as early science fiction, Ulysses represents advanced evolution of the detective story, with each incident a visible and meaningful clue. Having played so fairly, Joyce could dispense with the handwaving detective hero, and instead left handwaving in the laps of the readers. And a jolly time we've had of it, too!
As early Joyceans gained confidence in their ability to tie every detail to every other detail, the few remaining danglies gained weightiness. (Weightiness to a Joycean, mind you; the centrality such nits assume in the secondary sources can sadly mislead a first-time reader of Ulysses. "When do we get to the word known by all men?")
Some of these puzzles, I think, weren't originally meant as puzzles. The (scanty) evidence suggests that "U.P. Up." delivered a clear message to nineteenth-century English and Irish urbanites but happened to escape documentation, becoming a hapax legomenon of popular culture. Numeric errata seem best explained as Homer nodding. Or shrugging. Come on, you ask Homer "How many fingers am I holding up?" what's he gonna do?
The Man in the Macintosh, however, emphatically riddled from his first appearance:
"Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh? Now who is he I'd like to know? Now, I'd give a trifle to know who he is."
A lot of scholars have tried to earn that trifle over the years, and Gordon deserves an "A" for assurance:]
"I have lived with [the proposed solution] for a while and have come to think of it as a solid and upstanding reading which improves on acquaintance. I believe in it. It can come to dinner; it can date my daughter."
Gordon proposes that M'Intosh is the ghost of Bloom's father, who committed suicide after the death of his young wife. And (so confident is he) this proposed solution is used only as a tee-off from which to approach another, less often asked, riddle: What killed Bloom's mother? (So's not to steal Gordon's thunderclap, I'll just say Joyce may have anticipated the misogynous hard-boiled dick.)
But I do not think his proposal makes a solid and upstanding tee-off. I do not believe in it; I do not want it to date my daughter. (I am, however, prepared to buy it a drink some time.) Because the character who inspects M'Intosh most closely is Leopold Bloom.
Now I admit it's a wise son that knows his father. But even a flibbertigibbet like Hamlet was able to recognize Hamlet Senior's form straight off. And clear-sighted Bloom doesn't note a family resemblance? In a graveyard?
No, I'm afraid all the lovely circumstantial evidence Gordon's gathered just shows how irreconcilable the lyric and the narrative finally are, even in Ulysses. Poetically, his argument's airtight. Prosaically, it won't fly.
(And who do I think M'Intosh is? Well, since I ask, personally I think he's the fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush.)
He’s not Xinbad the Phthailer? Well, there goes my dissertation.
The only named person in the novel who wears a macintosh isn’t Bloom’s father but his grandfather (from “Circe"):
LIPOTI VIRAG, BASILICOGRAMMATE, CHUTES RAPIDLY DOWN THROUGH THE CHIMNEYFLUE AND STRUTS TWO STEPS TO THE LEFT ON GAWKY PINK STILTS. HE IS SAUSAGED INTO SEVERAL OVERCOATS AND WEARS A BROWN MACINTOSH UNDER WHICH HE HOLDS A ROLL OF PARCHMENT.
This really only speaks to the problem with and/or infinitely generative quality of Joyce criticism. Ah, the good old days, back when I seriously thought I could succeed on the strength of a single author study…
I am ignorant of the subject but would like to register my amusement at the post nevertheless.