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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Joyce's magic lantern

Summary

Pope Leo XIII published his poem Ars Photographica in 1867, recognising a new era when the light of the sun would allow marvels of realistic representation far beyond anything the pencil had hitherto achieved. Ironically, the future Holy Father chose to celebrate this augury of a new age in one of the languages of the ancients. But in English his poem might run:

Drawn by the sun's bright pencil,

How well, O glistening stencil,

You express the brow's fine grace,

Eye's sparkle, and beauty of face.

O marvelous might of mind,

New prodigy! A design

Beyond the contrival

Of Apelles, Nature's rival.

It was Apelles, the fourth-century Greek painter, whose artful grapes were so realistic that the birds are reputed to have pecked them. Photography, it is implied, will perform even greater mimetic miracles in the future. And the light of the sun is the source of this new art.

This poem is the only item of ecclesiastical history which the mock-synod conducted around a Mr Kernan's bed in Joyce's ‘Grace’ in Dubliners in fact manages to get right. All other matter in this catechetic class conducted for the benefit of the unfortunate Mr Kernan is a litany of what Hugh Kenner has been pleased to identify as Irish fact, in which prejudice and half-remembered detail achieve the condition of myth­ology. Why Joyce should have allowed Martin Cunningham in the story to remember the detail of the Papal poem aright is something scholarship has ignored.

Adams, R. M. in his Surface and Symbol (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. 179
Boyle, R., , S. J., ‘Swiftian Allegory and Dantean Parody in Joyce's “Grace”’, James Joyce Quaterly, 7 (Fall 1969), 16–17
Kenner, H., A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), p, 3
Joyce, J., Dubliners (London: Penguin Books, 1992)
Berman, D., ‘The Knock Apparition: Some New Evidence’, New Humanist, 102 (December 1987), 8
MacPhilpin, J., The Apparitions and Miracles at Knock: Also The Official Depositions of the Eye-Witnesses (Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1880)