Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Uncle Charles Principle

Another poetry class tonight, an interesting looking at Ciaron Carson's poetry. I liked this. It was some of his early material, which is almost prose-like, with extremely long lines. One poem in particular really struck me, Dresden (scroll about half way down the page) which includes, much later in the poem, the character's experience of bombing Dresden in the war. But the whole poem is a picaresque, rambling piece which is both very funny and quite moving.

The main character is a man called Horse - not THE man called Horse, mind you, this one is called Horse because his twin brother is called Mule, though no-one knows why Mule is so-called. This is the start of the poem, and gives a taster - you're going to get a shaggy-dog kind of story. Except it builds into something much more than that.

Anyway, to get back to the subject of this, I noticed in the poem that there was at least one major point of view shift, when the narrator's description of another character, Flynn, who is imprisoned after getting caught - hilariously - transporting a gelignite bomb on a bus. The detail becomes so great that we actually shift out of the narrator's POV and into Flynn's:

He knew the extinct names of insects, flowers, why this place was called
Whatever: Carrick, for example, was a rock. He was damn right there –
As the man said, When you buy meat you buy bones, when you buy land you buy stones.
You'd be hard put to find a square foot in the whole bloody parish
That wasn't thick with flints and pebbles. To this day he could hear the grate
And scrape as the spade struck home, for it reminded him of broken bones:
Digging a graveyard, maybe – or better still, trying to dig a reclaimed tip
Of broken delph and crockery ware – you know that sound that sets your teeth on edge
When the chalk squeaks on the blackboard, or you shovel ashes from the stove?


My lecturer raised at this point the Uncles Charles Principle, so-named by Hugh Kenner after Uncle Charles in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. In the opening of part two of the book, Joyce writes:

"Every morning, therefore, uncle Charles repaired to his outhouse...."

This was picked up by a critic, who objected to the use of the word "repair", which he thought was archaic and pompous. Joyce replied that this was exactly the sort of word that Uncle Charles would use, and was therefore entirely appropriate. In other words, it is as though the narration is now coming through Uncle Charles. Further discussion on this can be found here.

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