Paralyses (Seven Dubliners Extraction Mixes)
Words by James Joyce
Remixed by Darby McDevitt
from The Dead
A wheezy door. Bell clang. A scamper along the bare hall. Covert affairs. Everybody—family, old friends—fallen off. Death had taken them in the dark a good thirty years ago. The organ gave a concert to none—old, grey, feeble music in the room; a mist of dreadful influence and wonder. Snow kissed the dark; a light fringe lay like an overcoat. Squeaking noises escaped from crevices and folds. The pale night was shaking with piano tones of great bitterness—scattered formless patches, delicate, swept the gloom. The melodies differed from poetry in that they had a tone. Speech was a mistake, a failure. Humans too.
Dark shadows gave the appearance of an old-fashioned night, windows rattling and the wind blowing. A dreadful cold, severe and snowy, forced a hearty solitude. The last wet night nearly doubled the faded mirth and goodness on the Continent because of Christ’s book, to be sure. Anxious comfort broke off suddenly, wandering over the banisters almost testily halfway down one flight. At the same moment a clapping door opened from within and whispered a low rasp. A beautiful waltz made lovely time; a swarthy song but out of earshot, in a room occupied by bundles of knives and pianos and sweets. Three young musical echoes jerked boldly and a little too confidentially on instinct in excited anxious disorder. On the stairs at the same time, rubbing the knuckles of evening, a shaky undertone answered in warning, nearing climax. Impatient disarray filled a full glass. The glass mechanically exploded in a kink of high-pitched bronchitic pain while the hushed drawing-room had no listeners. After a few minutes only the pauses, like those of a priestess in momentary imprecation, glittered under the heavy chandelier.
Above the piano hung a picture of two murdered girls—a birthday present for a strange mother. The photograph was very sensible of the dignity of family life. A shadow passed over sullenly and the opening melody, with runs of scales after every bar, ended with a trill of octaves in the treble and a final deep octave in the bass. Rolling music nervously escaped the room. The piano had stopped.
Great energy had expressed a remote corner of memory… full of conceits, moods, and scenery… sad memories repeated as music (now on the wane among the new generation). Advancing from the door, escorting an irregular musketry of pitches, an old song attacked the air rapidly. The excitement of swift, secure flight was borne in from the invisible sound. Genuine colour struggled to replace the music that had ceased and gravely acquiesced to a vague night. And all for what? For the honour of God?
Passion had come back, intervening scandal into this religious hunger; a quarrelsome thirst that had already overstayed her time. A comical mood leaned over the banisters to listen for despair. With sudden animation the closed square piano took a bold plunge into confusion and noise, not compromised by the unheeded vulgar reserve of royals and chieftains. It was very fine, but its enthusiasm could plug a man's throat. All quarters had bent this bracing air… monks committed sin in the outside world, spring had grown lugubrious, and pious lasses were being conned by wine….
Inked on the tablecloth, gentle encouraging drawings were weighted with words… pleasing but all too inadequate, for to express in words what feelings are is not hospitable. The victims of certain crimson pleasures guard jealously that hospitality—it is a tradition among the modern poets, a princely failing, and one that will long be cultivated among us if hearts do not hand down their hearty murmurs. Amidst new ideas and new principles, serious and tormented generations lack those qualities of kindly humour which belong to great singers.
Without exaggeration let the memory of those dead and gone not willingly be softened. Thoughts that recur—thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes, of absent faces—always work among the living, a gloomy intrusion from the bustle and rush of everyday routine. The grace of music bursts with perennial surprise and revelation to all—gallantly toasting life, happiness, and prosperity in unison which nobody can deny… even if it tells a lie. The acclamation which follows is a piercing shrill whistling borne in from the struggling, shivering grandfathers, gentlemen, aunts, and the very best stock of ancestors.
Out from the mansion of forefathers came a hum amid the extraordinary peals of puffing and steaming, helped down the front steps by contradictions and bewildered laughter. Bang! A gate shut and rattled amid a chorus of a few chords struck on the piano and a few notes of a voice singing in the gloom of the air. The voice was a mystery, a symbol of something distant, a symbol of darkness and light. The hall-door closed and now the voice and the piano could be heard more clearly. The song seemed to be certain and plain. The rain, heavy and cold, brushed the rapturous fib as it panted on in a repentant tone. History did join in the conversation; the flame of the fire of joy went leaping out into the evening.
Morning. A dull, yellow light brooded over the house. The sky was slushy. Streaks and patches of burning murky air stood out menacingly against the heavy sky. Grace, still bright with blood, went bounding along, rioting through the noiseless road, affectionate and alone. Moments of life burst like stars upon a heliotrope, caressing birds twittering in the ivy. A sunny web of shimmering happiness crowded the cold day… fragrant in the air. The noise of the furnace might have answered rudely yet more tender joy went coursing in warm floods, illumined by ecstasy. No quenched soul, the house had a fire that seemed old… distant music written years before, borne from the past… alone when the others had gone away, when the rooms were rattling from conversation.
Wearily dragging after the moon, the wave of grace—musical and strange and perfumed—sent a keen pang of lust over city; escape! Escape with wild and radiant adventures to come! The air bowed in the ascent, trembling with desire to seize any wild impulse... body check!… molten-wax thumping hearts led along an unstable path, electric and utterly handsome. But slowly it mumbled and went; from the street into the wind, the emotion calmed… back to serious and weary words that waited, fearing that pity was not bad, really. Abstraction was brutal ardour, no? Master of strange moods. To break into brutal language to overmaster rage and desire was generous?…
Trembling with quaintness, happiness yielded… slipping towards a dull glow. Soon all was silent. In this delicate moment, an expression of death would humiliate the evocation of this figure of life. Tenderness and joy and desire had been a ludicrous idealization. The light that burned had withered. A vague terror seized the hour. Some impalpable and vindictive being was coming, gathering forces to sing only for death. The rain did not end. A tree died. The day was overcome by guilt. For a moment grief was deep-drawn. A romance had died for a part in the drama. A curious, strange pity dangled limp. The riot of emotions of an hour before had ceded to a shade—haggard, dressed in black, blind.
Words: yes, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age, locked in the partial darkness…in that region where dwell the vast hosts of the fading, palpable word. The solid word itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived, was dissolving and dwindling sleepily… obliquely… against the light, on the treeless hills, and farther westward into the mutinous waves… falling, too, upon the lonely church on the hill where fury and hate swooned faintly through the universe… the scent of the living dead.
Darby McDevitt was born in Spokane, educated in Dublin, and sharpened in Seattle. He is an occasional filmmaker, decent musician, former game-designer, and present author of the rather fine book, Volume Void: A Perpetual Novelty.
[Note: The Extraction Mixes were torn from Joyce's original Dubliners stories under the following conditions: 1) Text subtraction was the only viable tool; no text (apart from punctuation) was added to any piece; 2) Text could not be moved from its original location in any piece; i.e. "it lies where it falls." 3) The general "theme" or "essence" of Joyce's original stories had to remain intact; characters, plot, and setting could not.]