Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"The House of Mourning" by Desmond Hogan A look at page one and two after reading "Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes

 " in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author." - Roland Barthes.

Shauna Gilligan Lead Article for The Reading Life Desmond Hogon Project


I have been reading Desmond Hogan for two years now.  I take his work very seriously.  I was first introduced to his work by Shauna Gilligan, PhD, author of Happiness Comes From Nowhere.  Through her kindness I met Hogan in May of last year, at the office of Lilliput Press.  We spoke of two authors for whom we share great admiration, Nathaneal West and Zora Hurston, among other things.  

Recently I read two very historically important articles partially devoted to the primacy of the reader 
over the writer. Roland Barthes in "The Death of the Author" set off a war still being fought in the academy.   Susan Sontag, I have previously ponderd where Hogan would fall in her tripartite analyses of serious art, was some what a disciple of French deconstructivists and her classic essay "Against Iterpretation" can be seen as an expansion of the ideas of Barthes.  I have said over and over I am treating Hogan's work as found objects, as a reader I am not interested in him as a person.  This is not a slight but my highest mark of respect.  I also will at times treat his corpus as a single object.  In the school of literary analyses of Barthes and Sontag, the most philistine of blunders are to search for a meaning, to try to discern the author's intent or to reverse engineer his stories as autobiography,  to see a real difference in form and content.  Of course literary overriding theories cannot be, nor need they be, evaluated as true or false but as useful or not.  If we follow Sontag, and repudiate the interpretation of the stories of Hogan, as I think we should, what can someone who writes about them or teaches them have to offer us? I will arrogantly try begin to partially answer that question.

In this post, I will, mostly for me, look at the use if nouns in page one of Hogan's "The House of Mourning".  I think we can see how this, and others of his stories, work to invoke lives and lived worlds.

Here are nouns, proper and common on the first page of this thirteen page story.  I will attempt to comment on how I think they function in the mechanics and structure  of "The House of Mourning". I think images in Hogan's work invoke picture in our act of reading and force us to make often deep and far reaching cultural connections.  

Hadrian's Wall- this is the first proper noun in the story.  As I pondered why, I thought of a colonial invasion that destroyed an ancient culture but spared Ireland.  I quickly learned from other proper nouns on page one this was a set in Ireland story.  You must reflect at this point that the Roman militaristic culture that destroyed a tribal society helped create a mentality in England that would colonize and rob for centuries another tribal society, Ireland.  The wall was designed to keep out barbarians an

Irish Place Names-  I think these serve to geo-locate the stories and may carry a cultural weight I am not fully deified upon - Shannon Estuary, the Shannon near a holy river.  Limerick City- a place now one of the biggest strongholds of the Irish language.  Traveller Boys- I have talked a good bit about how I see the references to Travellers function in Hogan's stories.  

Animals- The Mink - I did a bit of research on the mink in Ireland.  I saw there are serious controversies about mink farming, minks eating salmon eggs, and the rights of an ancient animal to run free.  

geese- clearly meant to invoke freedom, the ancient flight of the Geese.

Arabian Horses- I think this is meant to give us a sense of wild beauty, perhaps that can be controlled by the Irish and it brings to mind Galway Horse Markets

Out of Ireland Geographic references
Barbados -  in Irish history this brings up the transportation of the Irish to work as slaves on British plantations.  
Canada-  an image of a better life?  An emigrants home that is not America?  
European- an older deeper culture than the English? 

Common nouns

Little girls- is this meant to invoke innocence with them on Pogo Sticks?  This is, to me, a very ambiguous reference.  For now I will let it stand for itself.

There are a lot of what might call catalogues of debris in Hogan's stories and there is an important set of common nouns devoted to this.  

Ladies Sling Shoes, statues of herons and a life  size plastic statue of a horse are among the trash.

So we begin page one with a reference to Hadrian's Wall, heavily frought with associations and end it with references to kitsch statues and shoes designed to mishape the natural carriage of a woman.

I will do similar posts on more pages.  In the next post on this story I will ponder what we can use from Sontag's "Against Iterpretation".  I might also ponder if her claims make sense if pressed or should we just,which is not a criticism, see how they can help us in our reading of Hogan.

Of course in treating stories as do those in the Barthes tradition do, as found objects we do assume they are in English, the words have common associations, a human wrote them etc so we are already interpreting when we start.  

Upon completion of my posts on this story, I will combine my posts into one and perhaps draw some conclusions on the ideas of Barthes and Sontag.  After all they are dead.  Sontag knows she is sort of rhetorically protected from challenges as to question her is to do the forbidden by the saints of modern literary studies, act of finding a meaning in what she says.  

Page two

Continuing on with this project here are some of the nouns from page two.  Latter on in this post I will talk a bit about how i am trying to apply the methods of Eric Auerbach to this story, how I am attempting to delve into the mechanics of this story.  I accept much of the import of the notion of the death of the author.  This does not mean we cannot attempt to see creative methods and values in the story, only that that is our source.   I have talked before about the many seemingly off cultural references in the corpus of Hogan.  Learning from Edward Said and Auerbach I think we can see how Hogan's method deviates but derives from deeply cultured methods of European masters from Homer to Proust.  

North Limerick - closer geo locating

Sulky - Irish horse tradition

Tittuping Scarlett - a description of a horse, 

Mushrooms- earth food

Cinereous mare's tale- description of a woman hair as if it were from a horse

Place references-  Kerry, North Shannon

Druids- ancient Ireland - half myth half real

St Patrick

Richard Edwards- music star who disappeared 

Welsh Ladies' house.  Closed in reference

Marlene Dietrich - androngeounes dominating German actress.    



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