Although it’s a fabulous novel by James Joyce, this post doesn’t actually have anything to do with dear, searching Stephen Dedalus (although he may be referenced in the future).
In my Irish literature class a few days ago, we discussed O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of a Nation”. Basically, some Irish soldiers are holding British soldiers, but they’re friends with them. Eventually, the Irish recieve the order to execute their “chums” and regretfully do so. The interesting part is this: Frank O’Connor’s real name was Michael O’Donovan, and he gives the name “Donovan” to the most detestable character in the story. That Donovan is ruthless and actually looks forward to fulfilling his duty of killing the two British soldiers.
When O’Connor was in the Irish army, there came a point when he did not fulfill his duties to his superiors. Was this self-portrait a mark of regret, or disdain for himself? Or was he simply drawing from past experiences?
When we talked about this in class, it triggered several other memories of artists inserting themselves as less than flattering characters:
In his Persistance of Memory, Dali inserted himself as the centrally-located melting face.
In the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the disgustingly vulgar, self-centered, and lustful patriarch is named Fyodor.
Caravaggio painted himself into several of his works, including a broken and prayerful St. Francis (painted after Caravaggio himself killed a man) and as both David and Goliath.
Michelangelo painted himself into the Last Judgement as nothing but a flayed skin held by St. Bartholemew.
So what does this tell us about these artists’ souls? They were quite aware of their own mortality, that’s certain. Is this a sign of humility and an admission of their own brokenness and need for salvation? Does this show us that, despite their greatness, they are nothing more than men? Are they projecting to the world, “I am fallen, and sinful, and not like you think I am?”
I’m not entirely sure. But it’s very, very interesting. Thoughts?
Read this: “Guests of the Nation”, Frank O’Connor ; The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky ; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5