The Order of Things

James Joyce James Joyce

James Joyce

Yesterday, our Sunday paper ran a usual column.  Our paper reserves Sundays for the opinions of luminaries and liars–it depends on your point of view how you might class these scriveners of quotidian hierarchy.  This column, a usual one, a normal one, a repetitive one, from a local hero of a sort one supposes, Lee Hamilton, who was forever in Congress (34 years–and that must speak on its own somehow), chastised the citizenry, as usual, for not really knowing how Congress works and that it was up to this mythical citizenry to make Congress better.  But he also wanted citizens to know that all government is about compromise.

I redden when I read the words of the privileged insider offering bromides to the power of Joe and Jane Public; the power of the masses that government was put in place to manage and weaken.

But what angers me is the absolute vacuity of this “lesson”–the absolute uselessness of these words–the absolute condescension in them fairly drips from the venerable prefect’s pen.

What does the great compromising legislator have to say as to the actual machinations of the powerful in Congress?  Nothing.  Of course nothing.  “Nada y pues nada…”

I offer a small sample so as not to overwhelm you with the insights contained therein (“It’s not just Congress: Citizens also have room to improve performance“).

Do we grasp that in a politically and socially diverse country, most legislation simply cannot be crafted without compromise? Without the informed understanding and active involvement of the American people, Congress will continue to flounder.

As a member of Congress, you get used to being graded. Interest groups send you questionnaires, check your voting record and then issue their “report cards.” Editorial writers opine freely on your performance. Pollsters issue monthly updates on how Congress is faring with the public….

Communication between elected officials and the people they represent — ordinary people with ordinary concerns — is the lifeblood of a representative democracy. It can happen through letters, emails, phone calls and visits; through the interest groups many people join; and through voting…

The point is not to berate our fellow citizens for their ignorance, but to understand that if we want Congress to improve, it is not just up to its members to make it happen. Congress will change when we insist that it change…

All of us need to do this: Communicate more fully and openly with our representatives; learn Congress’s responsibilities and how it fulfills them — and, even more importantly, how it should fulfill them; and recognize that if we don’t like intense partisanship and political games-playing, then we need to give our representatives room to craft legislation with broad appeal.

Be interested, but likely you’ll need to be interested as a group, i.e., be an Interest; But don’t be too interested because that is partisan and the poorly graded congress needs “room” to do a better job.  They want to hear from you, but that’s it…leave them be so they can manage you.  Now, don’t be so ignorant to think Congress can do anything without compromising everything so that it fits into the dominant ideology.  But oh wise man, how do I insist it change AND give it “room” to be “broad” (serve the majority)?  The change we are getting comes from the majority.  The minority really doesn’t want what is being changed.  We are being dominated by the majority faction, Lee.

Who does Citizen Me talk to?  The guardians?  And, who guards the…oh you know the rest.

I think this bit from Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man seems true of our lives under dominance.

—At your work, all of you! shouted the prefect of studies. We want no lazy idle loafers here, lazy idle little schemers. At your work, I tell you. Father Dolan will be in to see you every day. Father Dolan will be in tomorrow.

He poked one of the boys in the side with his pandybat, saying:

—You, boy! When will Father Dolan be in again?

—Tomorrow, sir, said Tom Furlong’s voice.

—Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, said the prefect of studies. Make up your minds for that. Every day Father Dolan. Write away. You, boy, who are you?

Stephen’s heart jumped suddenly.

—Dedalus, sir.

—Why are you not writing like the others?

—I…my…

He could not speak with fright.

—Why is he not writing, Father Arnall?

—He broke his glasses, said Father Arnall, and I exempted him from work.

—Broke? What is this I hear? What is this your name is! said the prefect of studies.

—Dedalus, sir.

—Out here, Dedalus. Lazy little schemer. I see schemer in your face. Where did you break your glasses?

Stephen stumbled into the middle of the class, blinded by fear and haste.

—Where did you break your glasses? repeated the prefect of studies.

—The cinder-path, sir.

—Hoho! The cinder-path! cried the prefect of studies. I know that trick.

Stephen lifted his eyes in wonder and saw for a moment Father Dolan’s white-grey not young face, his baldy white-grey head with fluff at the sides of it, the steel rims of his spectacles and his no-coloured eyes looking through the glasses. Why did he say he knew that trick?

—Lazy idle little loafer! cried the prefect of studies. Broke my glasses! An old schoolboy trick! Out with your hand this moment!

Stephen closed his eyes and held out in the air his trembling hand with the palm upwards. He felt the prefect of studies touch it for a moment at the fingers to straighten it and then the swish of the sleeve of the soutane as the pandybat was lifted to strike. A hot burning stinging tingling blow like the loud crack of a broken stick made his trembling hand crumple together like a leaf in the fire: and at the sound and the pain scalding tears were driven into his eyes. His whole body was shaking with fright, his arm was shaking and his crumpled burning livid hand shook like a loose leaf in the air. A cry sprang to his lips, a prayer to be let off. But though the tears scalded his eyes and his limbs quivered with pain and fright he held back the hot tears and the cry that scalded his throat.

—Other hand! shouted the prefect of studies.

Stephen drew back his maimed and quivering right arm and held out his left hand. The soutane sleeve swished again as the pandybat was lifted and a loud crashing sound and a fierce maddening tingling burning pain made his hand shrink together with the palms and fingers in a livid quivering mass. The scalding water burst forth from his eyes and, burning with shame and agony and fear, he drew back his shaking arm in terror and burst out into a whine of pain. His body shook with a palsy of fright and in shame and rage he felt the scalding cry come from his throat and the scalding tears falling out of his eyes and down his flaming cheeks.

—Kneel down, cried the prefect of studies.

Stephen knelt down quickly pressing his beaten hands to his sides. To think of them beaten and swollen with pain all in a moment made him feel so sorry for them as if they were not his own but someone else’s that he felt sorry for. And as he knelt, calming the last sobs in his throat and feeling the burning tingling pain pressed into his sides, he thought of the hands which he had held out in the air with the palms up and of the firm touch of the prefect of studies when he had steadied the shaking fingers and of the beaten swollen reddened mass of palm and fingers that shook helplessly in the air.

—Get at your work, all of you, cried the prefect of studies from the door. Father Dolan will be in every day to see if any boy, any lazy idle little loafer wants flogging. Every day. Every day.

The door closed behind him.

The hushed class continued to copy out the themes. Father Arnall rose from his seat and went among them, helping the boys with gentle words and telling them the mistakes they had made. His voice was very gentle and soft. Then he returned to his seat and said to Fleming and Stephen:

—You may return to your places, you two.

Fleming and Stephen rose and, walking to their seats, sat down. Stephen, scarlet with shame, opened a book quickly with one weak hand and bent down upon it, his face close to the page.

It was unfair and cruel because the doctor had told him not to read without glasses and he had written home to his father that morning to send him a new pair. And Father Arnall had said that he need not study till the new glasses came. Then to be called a schemer before the class and to be pandied when he always got the card for first or second and was the leader of the Yorkists! How could the prefect of studies know that it was a trick? He felt the touch of the prefect’s fingers as they had steadied his hand and at first he had thought he was going to shake hands with him because the fingers were soft and firm: but then in an instant he had heard the swish of the soutane sleeve and the crash. It was cruel and unfair to make him kneel in the middle of the class then: and Father Arnall had told them both that they might return to their places without making any difference between them. He listened to Father Arnall’s low and gentle voice as he corrected the themes. Perhaps he was sorry now and wanted to be decent. But it was unfair and cruel. The prefect of studies was a priest but that was cruel and unfair. And his white-grey face and the no-coloured eyes behind the steel-rimmed spectacles were cruel looking because he had steadied the hand first with his firm soft fingers and that was to hit it better and louder….

It was wrong; it was unfair and cruel; and, as he sat in the refectory, he suffered time after time in memory the same humiliation until he began to wonder whether it might not really be that there was something in his face which made him look like a schemer and he wished he had a little mirror to see. But there could not be; and it was unjust and cruel and unfair.

He could not eat the blackish fish fritters they got on Wednesdays in lent and one of his potatoes had the mark of the spade in it. Yes, he would do what the fellows had told him. He would go up and tell the rector that he had been wrongly punished. A thing like that had been done before by somebody in history, by some great person whose head was in the books of history. And the rector would declare that he had been wrongly punished because the senate and the Roman people always declared that the men who did that had been wrongly punished. Those were the great men whose names were in Richmal Magnall’s Questions. History was all about those men and what they did and that was what Peter Parley’s Tales about Greece and Rome were all about. Peter Parley himself was on the first page in a picture. There was a road over a heath with grass at the side and little bushes: and Peter Parley had a broad hat like a protestant minister and a big stick and he was walking fast along the road to Greece and Rome.

Lee Hamilton seems a lot like Father Arnall.  The truth is in the actions of the system.  Can you talk to Father Dolan about it?

Sure, if you want the pandybat.  What if you go over his head to the rector because you’re an honest boy with a real grievance?

What do you think, you little schemer?

Joyce answers that also in Chapter 2 if you want to read on at the link.

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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

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