Afternoon: A Critique

Helen Kim, English 111, Autumn 1997

What I found interesting about Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a story was the insight which he offers into the workings of human relationships. This is an aspect which Barthes appears to critique in S/Z. However, the reader would like to use Derrida's criticism in order to critique Michael Joyce's " afternoon, a story.

Questioning gender roles in Michael Joyce's Afternoon

Joyce's Afternoon, a story on first viewing gave me a warped impression of the point of his storyspace web. The only way the reader could follow the story was to pay attention to what the speakers were saying and to how the scenes in each lexia were depicted in the piece. What came to the reader's mind was Derrida's statement, "But, in truth, writing is essentially bad, external to memory, productive not of science but of belief, not of truth but of appearances" (Derrida 103). On this first viewing, I did not reach the end of the tale and was always wondering who was speaking to whom, for example, whether the people speaking were male or female. My readings of Afternoon provided me with different impressions as to the appearances this web seemed to show.

Feminist reading of Michael Joyce's Afternoon

In my second reading of Afternoon it took me at least 152 lexias before I reached the end, which was not exciting for me. This storyspace web seems to cater to the male reader. Afternoon provides two possible interpretations: one reading shows that this piece encourages the sexuality of the male reader and another reading shows that this piece encourages the homosexuality of the female reader. Both of these readings can be damaging to the reader if the reader is unable to "define the text as an expressive object (presented for our own expression), sublimated under a morality of truth, in one instance laxist; in the other, ascetic" (Barthes 10).

The image which ends the web borders on the pornographic since it features a private part of a woman's body, and this image supports the two possible interpretations of the piece. As a female reader, I find these two possible readings offensive and disgusting to find in a piece written by a man who is married. I do not mean that I disagree with a married man being sexual with his own wife, but the implications of a married man committing adultery or an unmarried woman entering into a homosexual relationship are what offend me in this piece. It is unfair that Joyce ends the web this way with an image which I thought was in poor taste. The mentioning of a character in this piece with a Lutheran background, contrasts with the mature themes this piece favors as it depicts a morally corrupt society. It makes sense that the lexia "in my mind" states that the center of this web leads back to "Thoreau or Brer Rabbit." According to Pastor Billy of Providence Presbyterian Campus Church, Thoreau was a humanistic Christian and a liberal. So, the center of this web supports the worldly nature of the story. At the center of the story, the term "Brer" which connotes "brother," shows the flaws within the relationships between male speakers. The male speakers in Afternoon appear to be as close as "brothers," however their immoral notions appear hurtful and seem to contradict with the way "brothers" should act toward each other -- something that appears when one of the speakers remarks, "I am boring him. He would rather consider the probabilities of one of us sleeping with the other's wife."

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web