Remembering Stephen Dedalus
June 22nd, 2020
As the world buckles under the strain of Covid, it seems to me that the dead have become a mere statistic at this point, with every new one sucked by the Covid counting machinery. Another life extinguishes somewhere and the counter goes up infinitesimally. It's insulting to a human life, to be so reduced and diminished. There are a few lines in Joyce's Ulysses where Stephen is remembering her dead mother:
Her secrets: old feather fans, tasselled dancecards, powdered with musk, a gaud of amber beads in her locked drawer. A birdcage hung in the sunny window of her house when she was a girl. She heard old Royce sing in the pantomime of Turko the terrible and laughed with others when he sang:
I am the boy
That can enjoy
Phantasmal mirth, folded away: muskperfumed.
And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love's bitter mystery, For Fergus rules the brazen cars.
The last line is not in the book at this precise place. It was left unsaid by Stephen and I have added it here. I think it's appropriate. The less said after Joyce the better. All I want to add is that what Stephen so poetically remembers in these few lines is emphatically that her dead mother was not a statistic. She was a girl with a birdcage in the Sun. What was lost was an entire person with an entire life full of hopes, disappointments, and material possessions - a fate which awaits us all, it must also be remembered.