Invisibility

In Brief

The lines "I am the boy / That can enjoy / Invisibility" come from a song in Turko the Terriblethe most successful song in the show, according to an 1899 review in The Irish Playgoer quoted by Thornton. Singing "Invisibility is just the thing for me," King Turko imagines how he will use that gift, given to him by a magic rose.

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The music survives, and in 2010 it was given a spirited rendition in a café theater presentation of Joyce’s songs in Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street (see video clip at right). The artists, Sinead Murphy and Darina Gallagher, bill themselves as the Shannon Colleens.

The lyrics are light fare, but it is possible that Stephen is thinking rather more seriously as he contemplates these three lines. Just after reciting them in memory, he thinks of his mother "Folded away in the memory of nature," a reference to the Theosophical idea of a universal memory of all events in the history of the cosmos, encoded on the spiritual plane that a person enters after death. Since Mrs. Joyce has entered that hidden dimension of existence, and is now perfectly recalling all the events of her life, not to mention those of all other lives, she might very well say, "I am the girl that can enjoy invisibility."

Stephen may also be thinking about invisibility and perfect mental possession in relation to himself. In the final section of A Portrait of the Artist, he has described three hierarchically ranked kinds of literary art: the lyric, the epic, and the dramatic. The “dramatic” artist exceeds the powers of the others because he transcends his own subjective position, submerging authorial consciousness in the presentation of how life is experienced by other people. This transcendence of ego makes the dramatist comparable to God: “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails” (italics mine).

Stephen has found no such sublime self-effacement, so far.  But by characterizing it as divinely creative he has given himself a goal at which to aim, and the goal remains the same in Ulysses. In Scylla and Charybdis, he maps the figure of the self-effacing artistic god onto the dramatic artist par excellence, William Shakespeare, who in writing his plays (particularly Hamlet) became “a ghost, a shadow now, the wind in Elsinore’s rocks or what you will, the seas’ voice.” In Circe, as Stephen and Bloom gaze into a mirror, “The face of William Shakespeare, beardless, appears there, rigid in facial paralysis, crowned by the reflection of the reindeer antlered hatrack in the hall.” To Bloom, whose cuckoldry the antlers reflect, the bard speaks: “Thou thoughtest as how thou wastest invisible.” 

Like the divine artist, the Man in the Macintosh seems to have the power to "Become invisible." He mysteriously appears in Hades, and just as suddenly disappears.

JH 2011