Malcolm Lowry Eighty Years On by Sue Vice

By Sue Vice

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By Sue Vice

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Firmin is closer to Bloom than to Nostromo, especially as the impotent middle-aged cuckold. If adultery is no longer the 'issue' that it is in Flaubert or James, neither is it purely incidental or matter-of-fact. What Bloom has to overcome in the present moment, Firmin has been unable to forget in time past. Moreover, Geoffrey's encounter with Maria has an oblique parallel with Bloom's voyeurism on the Strand and his sado-masochistic hallucination in Bella Cohen's brothel. But Firmin's contact is more carnal - 'erectis whoribus' - and if Bloom saves Stephen from a worse beating by the English soldiers, Firmin, separated from Hugh and Yvonne, is unable to save himself from renegade Mexican police- 28 Doubling and Modernism men.

Like the barranca that snakes along the edge of the town, the distance between either side is narrow but the chasm is deep. Metaphorically it is a chasm he has already crossed and recrossed before; he literally tries to cross the barranca with Yvonne to meet Geoffrey in Parian. The image of the switchover is sustained in the link between Hugh and his Fascist double, Weber, with whom he has flown across the border into Mexico that morning. Weber is a German gun-runner, ex-Foreign Legion, but his voice - he is more often heard than seen- has an aggressively American idiom.

Reinforced by the teenage sighting of Geoffrey in the Hell Bunker, the sense of stumbling embarrassment is strongly homoerotic. Lowry's special talent is to disperse subsequent acts of watching amidst several pairs of eyes as the Consul 'displays' his growing degradation. The normal process of watching by which, according to Freud, conscience measures the ego's activity against the narcissistic satisfaction derived from the ego-ideal, is corrupted by the destruction of that ideal standard of measurement.

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