A Writer’s Guide to the Dialectical Landscapes of Dublin

By Therese Cox.

Objects are of course of central importance in Joyce’s Dubliners short stories: think of the coin Corley presses into the palm of Lenehan at the end of ‘Two Gallants’ or the feather in the hat of the plump lady in ‘Counterparts’ who gives rise to violent emotion in the beaten-down Farringdon. In the Dubliners stories, such objects often give way to that favourite old chestnut of creative writing classes everywhere—the epiphany, a dialectical image worn smooth from overuse. But it is not in the Dubliners stories, instead in Ulysses where Joyce truly unlocks the enormous transformative power of the object, and he does it by naming so many specific, verifiable objects and places found throughout the city so as to inspire an urban scavenger hunt—hence Bloomsday on June 16th, when readers take to the streets to create their own re-enactment of an imagined past. What is so limitless and exciting as a bar of lemon soap? Nevertheless, it’s that same imaginary bar of soap— an emblem of the one Bloom buys for Molly—that compels enthusiasts every year to drop by Sweny’s pharmacy for a whiff of that lemon scent, a mass-manufactured Proustian madeleine for the smart set. (Full disclosure: I, too, have bought the bar of lemon soap on more than one of these occasions. it’s very good soap—but no epiphany.)

There is most certainly a preservational impulse to all this obsessive documentation. Although writing fiction, I found myself wanting desperately to capture the true spirit of Dublin at a certain moment in time, and to capture the spirit, I knew I had to capture the buildings, streets, and street furniture as they existed at that moment—as it might never exist again. Compare this with Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant, his own cataloguing of the Paris arcades, where he describes the ‘writing mania’ behind the endeavour. Page after page he reprints in his novel, with painstaking accuracy, text from placards, from advertisements, and menus, mysterious messages in old telephone directories, signs in dirty windows, box office hoardings and other ephemera from the Paris streets, unearthing the secret repositories for modern myths. He implicates himself and the pages that he ‘inexplicably blacken[s]’ with ‘frantic attempts to describe… these winding byways now crouched under the threat of the raised pickaxe.’ The pickaxe of Haussmann is raised, the pen slips in quick underneath it to fill the space.


[This is a short extract, the full article is available to read in Issue Three]


Therese Cox is a writer, performer, teacher, and artist living in Brooklyn, New York. A Chicago native, her fiction has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail and she was a finalist in the 2012 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair. She has written online for New York Irish Arts and The Anti-Room in addition to her blog about typography and cities, Ampersand Seven. Therese is currently a PhD student in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York City.