Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

Crangle, Sara K. "Stephen’s Handles." James Joyce Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2009): 51–69.

Related topics:

Language and Linguistics
Thought and Action

Crangle begins with a discussion of the etymology of "handle" and the expressions "get a handle" and "going off the handle," noting links between naming, knowledge, and mortality. She suggests that names and nouns, like handles, are the means by which people and things "can be controlled, approached, or known" (51). Crangle frames her argument with a theoretical discussion of nouns and naming that pulls from Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Gertrude Stein, tracing the notion that names are tied to a sense of absolute truth and identity alongside more cynical ideas about the inability of a name to capture the essence of any object or person (53). Next, Crangle discusses the "deathliness of absolutes" and epiphanies (55). She shows how Bloom associates names and naming with lifelessness and the death of his son Rudy (U 4.222; 6.937-40; 11.1069). She then pays particular attention to "Proteus" (U 3), showing how Stephen's sensory experience begins to supplant the failure of his internal grappling for literary certainty (U 3.3, 10, 435, 366-67, 412-15). Crangle identifies some of Stephen's own "handles"—his nickname, Kinch, and his ashplant. An etymological discussion of "Kinch" supports the link between intellectual certainty and death. Instances in "Nestor" and "Scylla and Charybdis" reveal Stephen's developing awareness of this link and his growing doubt in certain knowledge (U 2.229-35; 9.1088, 9.1093-97, 9.1113, 9.1221).

Crangle identifies Stephen's other handle, his ashplant, as a "physical handle that delivers Stephen from incertitude, as well as a harbinger of death" (62). The ashplant is connected to the death of Stephen's mother, which destabilizes him and initiates his gradual departure from certainty. Crangle traces the shift from the ashplant's supremacy in "Proteus" (U 3.489, 3.490) to Stephen's wielding and abandoning it in "Circe" (U 15.4220-21, 15.4223, 15.4227-28, 15.4255-57). Crangle concludes that while Stephen never fully abandons his "linear pursuits" of certainty, he moves toward a Bloomian departure from "deathly" absolutes (66).

Citations and Related Sources

Ellmann, Maud. "Polytropic Man: Paternity, Identity and Naming in The Odyssey and Portrait." In James Joyce: New Perspectives, edited by MacCabe, Colin. Sussex: Harvester Press, 1982.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Nietzsche: The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Translated by Josefine Nauckoff and Adrian Del Caro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Stein, Gertrude. "Poetry and Grammar." In Lectures in America. London: Virago Press, 1998.

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