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Four Dubliners and a Scholar’s Mirror

When Richard Ellmann wrote his Library of Congress lectures in the early 1980s on four Irish writers (Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett), later issued in book form under the title Four Dubliners, Beckett was still living (barely; he died 18 months after the book’s publication). Most of Beckett’s work comes after WWII, work that often seems remote from time, if not out of time, and his coming to the tee last in the foursome is more than chronologically significant. Is he the oddest in an odd foursome?

Ellmann acknowledges in his brief preface the tenuous argument of linking the four together as peas in a pod: “These four, it may be granted, make a strange consortium.” Ellmann sews the group into a singularity with thematic threads from their works and their lives: “They posit and challenge their own assumptions, they circle from art to anti-art, from delight to horror, from acceptance to renunciation. That they should all come from the same city does not explain them, but they share with their island a tense struggle for autonomy, a disdain for occupation by outside authorities, and a good deal of inner division.”

One of the life-threads linking Joyce to Beckett was the trouble with occupation, how to earn a living while the world was busy ignoring what they considered to be their real work. They both tried but were disappointed with teaching. Joyce, who could have easily obtained a scholarly position at a university, instead occupied himself for a time with an alternative form of teaching – tutoring English language lessons. Beckett, who did secure a credible post, declined it almost immediately: “His teaching post at Trinity he quit abruptly because he discovered, and would later remark, that he could not teach others what he did not himself understand, a handicap that most of us endure without bridling” (92). That end break in scholarly text is not Ellmann’s only one in a short book full of gems and surprises.

One of the surprises that emerges might be both Joyce’s and Beckett’s humility and self-doubt as they stumble up to the world’s literary stage. One of the gems is found in a story Joyce once told to a friend, Louis Gillet:

“It was about an old Blasket Islander who had lived on his island from birth and knew nothing about the mainland or its ways. But on one occasion he did venture over and in a bazaar found a small mirror, something he had never seen in his life. He bought it, fondled it, gazed at it, and as he rowed back to the Blaskets he took it out of his pocket, stared at it some more, and murmured, ‘Oh Papa! Papa!’ He jealously guarded the precious object from his wife’s eye, but she observed that he was hiding something and became suspicious. One hot day, when both were at work in the fields, he hung his jacket on a hedge. She saw her chance, rushed to it, and extracted from a pocket the object her husband had kept so secret. But when she looked in the mirror, she cried, ‘Ach, it’s nothing but an old woman!’ and angrily threw it down so that it broke against a stone.”

“Authors, he [Beckett] has said, are never interesting” (93). And Wilde: “There is something vulgar about all success. The greatest men fail, or seem to have failed.” And Becket: “To be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail…” (109). Ellmann the scholar was able to thread remarks like these together to form an interesting view of four writers who “were chary of acknowledging their connections” (Preface). If authors are never interesting, what can scholars, their mirrors so quickly obscured, hope for? Let alone the common blogger, whose posts continually fall like awetomb sheaves down the electronic chute.

Ellmann, Richard. Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett. New York: George Braziller, July 1988. 122 pages.

Related Post: Breakfast at Beckett’s

James Joyce’s Guitar Chord in the 1915 Ottocaro Weiss Photo

What guitar chord is James Joyce playing in this photo?

The original photo, taken by Ottocaro Weiss, in 1915, is housed in Cornell’s James Joyce collection, in an exhibit in a glass closet titled “Poetry and Music.” I first saw the photo of Joyce playing the guitar years ago in the Ellmann biography, and I cut it out and pinned it over my desk somewhere, but I’ve since lost that copy.

Fingers to stray on Joyce’s guitar again after its restoration,” an article by Terence Killeen in the March 22, 2012 Irish Times, discusses the restoration of Joyce’s guitar and contains a fascinating video clip of the luthier at work on the guitar. Gary Southwell, the luthier, guesses, based on the finger wear on the fretboard, that Joyce probably was not a “fantastic” guitarist because the wear suggests mostly first position, standard chord forms: “He wasn’t all over the fingerboard.”

Can we tell from the photograph what guitar chord Joyce is fingering? Assuming his index finger holds the root note, then he’s playing a 1-b5 on the bass strings. If the root is an F, then he’s playing an F-B. But his ring finger appears to be positioned directly over the second fret, so it’s hard to tell if he’s fingering a D or a Db. But anyway a closer look suggests that his index finger is not on the 6th low E string, but on the 5th string, playing a Bb note, the middle finger then (still a flat 5) playing an E note, and the ring finger playing a Db note. But I can’t tell what frets he’s fingering, and at first glance, I assumed he was fingering an Em7 chord (guitar spelling: E, B, E, G, D, E = 1, 5, 1, b3, b7, 1).

In any case, Killeen, in the video, seems to say that Joyce is not actually playing the guitar in the photo. I’m not sure why he thinks not. Joyce looks relaxed in the photo, leaning a bit back and away, probably the better to see his left hand fingering, given his poor eyesight. The thumb of his right hand is hidden behind his palm, but it could certainly be plucking the 6th, 5th, or 4th string. Maybe he was not playing the guitar during the photo because he had to hold still for the photographer. But he’s clearly fingering a chord. Or is he? Again, his index and ring fingers appear to be hovering directly over the frets, not slightly behind them.

I recently acquired a hardback copy of “Giacomo Joyce” (Viking Press, reset and reissued May, 1968), introduction and notes by Richard Ellmann, and was surprised and delighted to find the Weiss photo of Joyce and his guitar used as a frontispiece, spread across two pages.

Perhaps the chord Joyce is fingering in the Weiss photo is from Finnegans Wake, a pun-chord, a humorous play on notes.

Follow up 8 Sep 13: Check out guitarist Gerald Garcia’s Joyce guitar analysis (read through post and scroll through comments section).

James Joyce on Writing: “write dangerously”

“The important thing is not what we write,” Joyce tells Arthur Power in Conversations with James Joyce, “but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must write dangerously” (95).

Though I’ve several books written by people who knew Joyce, I’d never read Power’s book. Menand mentioned it in his “Silence, Exile, Punning: James Joyce’s chance encounters” (New Yorker, 2 July 2012), and I was able to find a cheap copy. [Menand’s title is itself a kind of pun on something Stephen tells his friend Cranly toward the end of Joyce’s first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “And I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning” (247)].

Menand questions whether what we read in Power’s book are the actual words of Joyce or the “gist” of a conversation that took place decades prior to the book’s publication. Would Menand have the same complaint if Richard Ellmann, Joyce’s highly regarded biographer, was the one recalling the conversations? It seems Menand thinks Power belongs, if he should be mentioned at all, in a footnote somewhere, his “renown” based on a single book, and while I agree with Menand that Power misread Joyce’s comment regarding the birth of a grandson, I don’t think Power should be dismissed based on Menand’s “gist” complaint. [An argument ensues, as Gordon Bowker, whose new biography Menand is reviewing, responds, timely, for the question of the journalistic practice of approximating quotes is in the air].

And Arthur Power was a journalist of sorts, an art critic, but he seems to have had skill and talent enough to closely observe and record [he said he wrote daily in his notebook, so the conversations were fresh in his mind when he recorded them], and we certainly have no reason to think that he had motive to misquote Joyce. In any case, Power’s book is full of pearls, and whether the gems contain the exact words of Joyce or simply the “gist,” I found them worth reflection.

But that business I quoted above, Joyce saying, “The important thing is not what we write…,” does he qualify that with this: “A writer’s purpose is to describe the life of his day, and I chose Dublin because it is the focal point of the Ireland of today, its heart-beat you may say, and to ignore that would be affectation” (97). In other words, Joyce seems to be saying that what we do write should come from what we know, what we have experienced.

There’s no doubt Joyce had a sense of humor, and could be an acerbic wit. An illustration of humor: “Yes, said Joyce, I met him [Proust] once at a literary dinner and when we were introduced all he said to me was: ‘Do you like truffles?’ ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘I am very fond of truffles.’ And that was the only conversation which took place between the two most famous writers of their time, remarked Joyce – who seemed to be highly amused at the incident” (79). And an example of Joyce’s acerbic wit: upon hearing of the sad suicide of the socially bumbling and difficult and “irritating” portrait painter, Patrick Tuohy, Joyce had hired to paint his father and later his immediate family, Joyce said, “I am not surprised. He nearly made me commit suicide too” (105).

But reading Power’s book I found my focus going to Joyce’s comments on writing: “A book should not be planned out beforehand, but as one writes it will form itself, subject, as I say, to the constant emotional promptings of one’s personality” (95). Joyce seems to have preferred emotion over intellect. I suppose it takes an intellectual giant to argue this: “I know when I was writing Ulysses I tried to give the colour and tone of Dublin with my words; the drab, yet glistening atmosphere of Dublin, its hallucinatory vapours, its tattered confusion, the atmosphere of its bars, its social immobility – they could only be conveyed by the texture of my words. Thought and plot are not so important as some would make them out to be. The object of any work of art is the transference of emotion; talent is the gift of conveying that emotion” (98).

Joyce employed humor in his writing: “In Ulysses I tried to keep close to fact. There is humour of course, for though man’s position in this world is fundamentally tragic it can also be seen as humorous. The disparity of what he wants to be and what he is, is no doubt laughable, so much so that a comedian has only to come on to the stage and trip and everyone roars with laughter” (99). Joyce says, “Out of this marriage, this forced marriage of the spirit and matter, humour is created, for Ulysses is fundamentally a humorous work” (89). As for who is to say what any writing “fundamentally” is, Joyce clarifies, for critic, writer, and reader at once: “Though people may read more into Ulysses than I ever intended, who is to say that they are wrong: do any of us know what we are creating?…Which of us can control our scribblings? They are the script of one’s personality like your voice or your walk” (89).

An example of good writing Joyce found in Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well Lighted Place”: “He [Hemingway] has reduced the veil between literature and life, said Joyce, which is what every writer strives to do…It is masterly…I think it is one of the best short stories ever written; there is bite there.” Yet Joyce’s enthusiasm at the time for Hemingway is tempered and foreshadows so much of what was to come, both for Hemingway and for literature in general: “I admit to his merit, of course, that he is very much of our time. But in my opinion he is too much of our time, in fact his writing is now more the work of a journalist than that of a literary man” (107).

But by literary man Joyce wasn’t referring to the PhD, the academic, the professional scholar, whose polite conversations transpire in private behind the rood screen of the contemporary paywall, but to something more real and immediate and accessible to all: “What is really imaginative is the contrary to what is concise and clear…Most lives are made up like the modern painter’s themes, of jugs, and pots and plates, back-streets and blowsy living-rooms inhabited by blowsy women, and of a thousand daily sordid incidents which seep into our minds no matter how we strive to keep them out. These are the furniture of our life” (75).

Power, Arthur. Conversations with James Joyce. The University of Chicago Press. 1974. Phoenix edition 1982. Edited with Foreword by Clive Hart. Reprint. Originally published London: Millington, 1974.

Lilliput Press eBook (Feb. 2012) at Barnes and Noble.

Unmoving Literary Works; or, Needs Editing, “Ha Ha Ha”

“Ulysses could have done with a good editor,” Roddy Doyle said, fed up with all the attention Joyce gets to the neglect of other Irish writers. “I doubt that any of those people were really moved by it [Ulysses],” Doyle said. Roddy was just stirring up the stew, tossing in some new ingredients, and no need to cook it so long over an open fire. Let’s eat; I’m hungry. But what of Paul Coelho; what’s his beef with Joyce? “Ulysses is pure style. There is nothing there,” Coelho said. We introduced the topic in Monday’s post: must a work “move” the reader to have literary value?

In his On the Sublime, Longinus says, “The effect of elevated language upon an audience is not persuasion but transport. At every time and in every way imposing speech, with the spell it throws over us, prevails over that which aims at persuasion and gratification.”

Ha Ha Ha! Take that, Coelho!

Yet Longinus also says, “In life nothing can be considered great which it is held great to despise.” But does the reader despise Joyce’s Ulysses for its “pure style”? Longinus said “that is really great which bears a repeated examination, and which it is difficult or rather impossible to withstand, and the memory of which is strong and hard to efface.” Is this true of Ulysses? And, if not, would editing help?

Longinus lists “five principal sources of elevated language:…the power of forming great conceptions…vehement and inspired passion…the due formation of figures, first those of thought and secondly those of expression…noble diction…[and] the fifth cause of elevation…is dignified and elevated composition.”

Can we edit one or more of Longinus’s principal sources of elevated language out of Ulysses and still expect something sublime to emerge?

But what of the idea that for a work of literature to be considered “great” it must “move” the reader? I began thinking of literary works that we might consider great yet don’t move the reader. I selected those works whose design seems to match up to Longinus’s ideas of the sublime and elevated language but also at the same time might, using Doyle’s critical voice as expressed in the Guardian article, have “done with a good editor.” Here’s the list, annotated with wry comments using the “must move to be good” literary critical voice:

1. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville: Edit out all that business about whaling, surely included simply to fatten the thing up, so Melville could boast he had written a big book. But the real problem is, can anyone be moved by the killing of a mad sailor by a vengeful whale? What has this to do with the price of a loaf of bread and a bottle of beer at the local grocery?

2. The Trial, by Franz Kafka: Well, it’s a trial reading it. And who was ever moved by a trial, particularly one that had no ending?

3. Three Novels (Malloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable), by Samuel Beckett: Triple play of boredom, the reader thrown out at every base, a runner that never reaches home plate. The work defines constipation, the antithesis of being moved.

4. Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon: Where are those scissors?

Still, there’s something to the topic that invites comment. What is good? Should a work be considered good simply because it achieves its objectives, even if those objectives lack sentiment and fail to move? Or should we keep looking, for those books that are both “pure style” and contain enough sentiment to be considered moving? How about Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury?

Related Post: Coelho & Doyle on Joyce

From Longinus’s On the Sublime, Chapter 1: “As I am writing to you, good friend, who are well versed in literary studies, I feel almost absolved from the necessity of premising at any length that sublimity is a certain distinction and excellence in expression, and that it is from no other source than this that the greatest poets and writers have derived their eminence and gained an immortality of renown. 4. The effect of elevated language upon an audience is not persuasion but transport. At every time and in every way imposing speech, with the spell it throws over us, prevails over that which aims at persuasion and gratification. Our persuasions we can usually control, but the influences of the sublime bring power and irresistible might to bear, and reign supreme over every hearer. Similarly, we see skill in invention, and due order and arrangement of matter, emerging as the hard-won result not of one thing nor of two, but of the whole texture of the composition, whereas Sublimity flashing forth at the right moment scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt, and at once displays the power of the orator in all its plenitude.”

Coelho & Doyle on Joyce

Every person alive has a story, but some don’t have voices. But there are many ways to tell a story, and stories can be told without words. Still, for the story to emerge, the storyteller must develop some kind of voice, allowing others access to their text – again, even if the text is without words. But some persons with voices remain unaware of their story, even as their story is read or enjoyed or devoured and repeated by others. Still others may be aware of their stories and have voices but choose not to share. Can all these stories be told, and who will tell these stories, using what voice?

I am moved this morning to tell this story as a consequence of a Twitter “interaction”: “Well, about Coelho, what can we say?” For I had re-tweeted a tweet calling attention to a Guardian Books post quoting the Brazilian writer Paul Coelho: “One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit.” The same article refers to a previous Guardian article, an interview with the Irish writer Roddy Doyle, who said: “You know people are always putting Ulysses in the top 10 books ever written but I doubt that any of those people were really moved by it.”

I think part of Roddy’s point, in the context of the interview, was to bemoan all the attention Joyce has received over the years, possibly to the neglect of other Irish writers just as deserving of readers’ attention. But both Coelho’s and Doyle’s criticism of Ulysses is grounded in their literary values – they think that for a literary work to have value, the reader should be moved, changed, brought to tears or laughter, that we should leave the theatre wanting to change our lives or somebody else’s life. For a story to be good, the Coelho-Doyle argument goes, the voice must be immediately recognizable, accessible, and force feelings to surface in the audience. And since Ulysses, for most readers, probably doesn’t do that, it’s not a good book, and since it’s nevertheless received so much recognition and so many writers have tried to use Joyce’s voice, it’s been harmful because it’s diminished the development of other voices, voices that might have reached readers and transformed their lives.

I’m reminded of the barbershop on Center Street in El Segundo, where I once dropped in to get a haircut. It was a one chair shop, and someone else was in the chair, so I had to wait, and while I waited, I listened in on what amounted to a lesson in art criticism. The barber had hung on the wall a painting of a mountain lake. “And I have a photograph of that very spot,” the barber said. “And if I hang both of them side by side, I defy you to tell me which one is the photograph and which one is the painting.”

Related Posts: Where Winston Churchill meets Roddy Doyle; or, the Library is not a Zoo. The Elite and the Effete: From Access to Egress.

Happy Bloomsday!

Bloomsday, the June 16, unofficial, worldwide holiday, celebrates one of the world’s most extraordinary books, James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” June 16, 1904, is the day the book takes place. And one of the extraordinary things about the book is that its hero, Bloom, is not extraordinary at all. “The initial and determining act of judgment in his [Joyce’s] work is the justification of the commonplace,” wrote Richard Ellmann in the introduction to his biography titled simply “James Joyce” (1959).

Joyce had and continues to have detractors. Roddy Doyle, for example, would at least like the world to know that there are other Irish writers, some brand new who also write about the common man. Noted, Roddy. But Joyce’s example provided others, including Roddy Doyle, with extraordinary opportunities in one important way, without which it might be hard to imagine works like Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy, which includes “The Commitments,” “The Snapper,” and “The Van” (all hilarious).

Ellmann explains: “Joyce was the first to endow an urban man of no importance [Bloom] with heroic consequence.” In fact, some early readers, Ellmann explains, thought Joyce must have been kidding, that he “must be writing satire,” for “how else justify so passionate an interest in the lower middle class?” To his Marxist critics, Joyce commented, “I don’t know why they attack me. Nobody in any of my books is worth more than a thousand pounds.” Maybe the attack is explained because “Ulysses,” past the first three episodes, anyway, is written in such a way as to prevent access to the average, common interest reader. This is one of Roddy Doyle’s complaints.

Ellmann concludes, “Joyce’s discovery, so humanistic that he would have been embarrassed to disclose it out of context, was that the ordinary is the extraordinary.” “Dubliners,” Joyce’s book of short stories that preceded his first novel, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which was followed by “Ulysses,” is characterized by clear and concise writing that is accessible. And just so, Frank Delaney has devoted his Happy Bloomsday podcast, titled “Meeting Joyce,” to sharing Joyce’s “Dubliners.” It’s a great way to start reading James Joyce and to kick back and enjoy a bit of Bloomsday.

SMP: Sine Mascula Prole – Preparatory to Bloomsday

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” begins with a large S that takes up most of the first page and begins the first sentence: “Stately, plump….” The book is divided into 18 chapters, or episodes, as Stuart Gilbert called them, though Joyce did not number or title the chapters. A new chapter is signaled with the start of a new page, its first line all caps. Each chapter is characterized by its own, unique writing style (the changing styles are obvious, and one doesn’t need an annotated work to note or enjoy the differences). The 18 chapters are divided into three parts, marked by separate pages with a large Roman numeral at the top: I, II, and III. Part I contains the first three chapters and part III the last three chapters, part II, then, the middle 12 chapters. Each part is signaled with a full page devoted to a large letter that takes up the entire page:

S M P

Why S M P? One suggestion is that the letters stand for the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Bloom (P for Bloom, for his nickname: “Poldy”). But P might also point to Penelope, for Molly’s soliloquy, the last chapter (Penelope was the wife of Ulysses). Certainly the first three chapters concern Stephen (the M sentence introduces “Mr Leopold Bloom…,” and the P sentence begins, “Preparatory to anything else Mr. Bloom…”). Scholarly, annotated discussions have suggested sentence, middle, predicate, Aristotle’s syllogism. Whatever.

Frank Budgen, in his book “James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses,” explains that Joyce liked the character Ulysses for his “complete, all round character.” Ulysses was a father, a son, a husband, a soldier (but, Joyce adds, speaking to Budgen: “Don’t forget that he was a war dodger who tried to evade military service by simulating madness.”). Joyce also says that Ulysses was “the first gentleman in Europe,” and “an inventor too.” Joyce says to Budgen of Ulysses, “But he is a complete man as well – a good man. At any rate, that is what I intend that he shall be.”

I remember at CSUDH working with my Joycean mentor Mike Mahon, and I had simply looked up SMP in some dictionary, and found that it was an acronym for the Latin phrase “sine mascula prole,” without male issue. While Bloom is a father, his son, Rudy, has died (Bloom also has a daughter, Milly), and there’s a suggestion that Rudy’s death is the cause for the distance created between Molly and Bloom, and thus Bloom, in addition to being a father, son, and husband, is made by Molly to be a cuckold. Thus indeed he is Joyce’s “complete man,” and “without male issue” may take on yet another connotation.

It’s unlikely Joyce had any of the following in mind with regard to SMP, but since what Joyce had in mind is often beside the point, we might also enjoy considering:

Strategic Management Plan
Sex, Money, Power
Simple Minded People
See Me Please
Smoke More Pot
Standard Maintenance Procedure
Sub Motor Pool

Related: An Invitation to Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

An Invitation to Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” begins with a large S that fills the whole page and ends with a small s, “yes.” The book opens, “Stately, Plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” And meanwhile, four chapters in, “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.” It’s morning in Dublin, June 16, 1904. The entire book takes place on that day. This coming Saturday, June 16, readers worldwide will celebrate “Bloomsday,” the 108th fictional birthday of “Ulysses,” that is, of the day the story takes place. The last page of “Ulysses” says “Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921,” suggesting Joyce worked on his novel for seven years. It would be December, 1933, when Judge Woolsey freed the book from censure, before US citizens would be able to access “Ulysses” unmolested by itching assessors scandalized by what they see in a looking glass. In his historic opinion, Woolsey said, “‘Ulysses is not an easy book to read or to understand. But there has been much written about it, and in order properly to approach the consideration of it it is advisable to read a number of other books which have now become its satellites. The study of ‘Ulysses’ is, therefore, a heavy task.” And readers with a purely, solely, soily, prurient interest will be sorely disappointed.

Guessing from the number of Joyce books on my shelves one might conclude that Joyce is my favorite writer. In some ways, yes, but a general interest reader needs and wants so much, and while Joyce is a good friend, the point of a library ought to be, to quote Joyce from another of his books, “Finnegans Wake,” “Here Comes Everybody.” But yes, I love Joyce essentially.

Readers wanting to start Joyce might want to begin with his book of short stories, “Dubliners,” for it is engaging, accessible, entertaining, and a good introduction to Joyce’s characters. Joyce’s characters include everyone: “…happinest childher everwere.”

But on to Bloomsday, 2012. I received in yesterday’s electronic mail an invitation to celebrate Bloomsday with the celebrated writer, Frank Delaney. I can think of no one I’d rather spend Bloomsday with, and I’m extending the invitation below to you, too, to have some fun with Delaney and Joyce on Bloomsday. If you are new to “Ulysses,” I suggest you try some of Delaney’s podcasts, for hearing the book read, following Delaney’s clear introductions, is sometimes easier than going it alone with the text. In any case, here’s the invitation I received, quoted verbatim, with a few editorial comments and added information I’ve inserted in brackets:

Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

June 16th, 2012 marks the first Bloomsday in which James Joyce’s mighty novel Ulysses is free from copyright and from the restrictions of the famously difficult Joyce estate [see “The Injustice Collector” and “Has James Joyce Been Set Free?“]. Celebrate in a series of projects and events conducted across land and Internet by Frank Delaney:

Re:Joyce Podcast, two years old

Dip into Ulysses by reading along with Frank Delaney in his spirited weekly podcast, Re:Joyce, launched on Bloomsday 2010.

Each segment [Joyce’s “Ulysses” is famously divided into chapters or segments, though the book itself isn’t obviously marked so. The easiest chapters are the first three, but for sound and language, the chapters following are my favorites, as well as the last chapter, the so-called soliloquy of Molly Bloom] features Delaney taking a short passage from Ulysses and exploring its multitude of references with insight, eloquence, passion, vast expertise—and a good dose of fun. As of Bloomsday 2012, Delaney will be in the midst of Chapter Three, and have reached podcast episode #105. Followed by academics, library groups, Joycean societies, scholars across the world, as well as ordinary folk, Delaney’s goal in deciphering and decoding the dense and rich text of the book is to allow greater enjoyment, by far more readers, of the book he holds most dear [and there really isn’t any other book about which this much fanfare is possible, which helps explain Bloomsday]. The podcasts have been downloaded nearly 500,000 times and have been covered in The EconomistNPR, The New York Times to name but a few. They are available for download on iTunes and www.FrankDelaney.com.

Rosenbach Bloomsday Festival

Frank Delaney is speaker and Guest of Honor at the annual Bloomsday celebrations of Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library, whose collection includes the papers of James Joyce, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis Carroll, Marianne Moore, Maurice Sendak, Dylan Thomas and Cervantes. Event information for the Rosenbach Bloomsday Festival (one of the largest in the world) is available here. Tickets for The Rosenbacchanal are available here

“Ulysses” Live: Additional Joycean projects of Mr. Delaney’s include: 

Joyce Ways: Frank Delaney is the voice of “Joyce Ways”, an app with audio-visual guidance designed to lead and delight literary pilgrims through the streets of Dublin, on the trail and itinerary of Ulysses. “Joyce Ways” was created by the students of Boston College, under the direction of Joseph Nugent, and will launch 6.9.12. 

Occupy Ulysses: an event at Madison Park, New York, staged on the day Ulysses was released from copyright (February 2, 2012). 

The James Joyce Rap, Delaney’s witty, engaging, tongue-in-cheek portrait of the artist. As off-center and provocative as Joyce himself, this giddy homage serves up Joyce as Delaney’s hero, within a Pythonesque environment.  Funny, irreverent and surprisingly touching, we’re given more than a hint as to why Delaney has chosen Joyce as a major part of his life’s work.

It is told in sounds in Thoreau’s Walden

“It is told in sounds,” Joyce says, “in polygluttural, in each auxiliary neutral idiom…and anythongue athall” (Finnegans Wake, 117).

“– Is it so exaltated, eximious, extraoldanddairy and excelssiorising?
– Amengst menlike trees walking or trees like angels weeping nobirdy aviar soar anywing to eagle it!” (Finnegans Wake, 505).

Here Joyce takes a common, neutral cliché, defrocked by virtue of its clichéd repetition (nobody ever saw anything to equal it), and gives it wings so it can take off again, renewed, refreshed. “Poetry is the foundation of writing,” Beckett says. “When language consisted of gesture, the spoken and the written were identical” (Exagmination, 11).

Just so, Thoreau, a monk amongst trees, delights in the poetry found in sounds and tries to locate the sounds in human language, and we see him building the foundation for his own writing. An example of this is found in the “Sounds” chapter of Walden.

Thoreau has heard a hooting owl, to him a “melancholy sound,” and tries to imitate the owl’s sound: “I find myself beginning with the letters gl when I try to imitate it.” And in the passage, he repeats the gl letters so that the reader, if reading for sounds, must hear his meaning: “gurgling melodiousness…,” “gelatinous mildewy stage….” “It reminded me of ghouls…howlings” (118), this last, the gl inverted. And we thus find Thoreau a polyglot at work, in at least two languages, the language of nature and the language of the human, and the combination of the two might be what Joyce meant, repeating Thoreau’s gl, by “polygluttural,” the mouth flooded with the sounds of nature.

Related:

Trick Photography and Trees

There are, some argue, two forms of life on our planet: animal and plant. It’s generally conceived that only animals have consciousness, but not all of them. When Descartes said, “I think; therefore I am,” he may have ruined possibilities for a lot of potential ams.

“The unconscious passes into the object and returns,” Robert Bly says (213), discussing Francis Ponge’s prose poem, “Trees Lose Parts of Themselves Inside a Circle of Fog” (217).

Yet Joyce (XXXIII) says:

A rogue in red and yellow dress
Is knocking, knocking at the tree;
And all around our loneliness
The wind is whistling merrily.
The leaves – they do not sigh at all
When the year takes them in the fall.

The “rogue” is nature, nature falling, falling kicking, yet the wind “merrily” whistles, anticipating the irony of winter’s undressing summer, when the leaves can no longer feel. Bly would argue that the leaves do sigh, and that we can hear them sigh, if we learn to listen. But earlier, Joyce had already (XV) said:

From dewy dreams, my soul, arise,
From love’s deep slumber and from death,
For lo! the treees are full of sighs
Whose leaves the morn admonisheth.

The tree of the avenue, particularly at night, dressed in dappling neon or enamored moonlight, suggests another kind of consciousness for Joyce’s (II) trees:

The twilight turns from amethyst
To deep and deeper blue,
The lamp fills with a pale green glow
The trees of the avenue.

For in the catechism of Episode 17, “Ithaca,” in Joyce’s Ulysses, Bloom and Stephen are apparently discussing the ability of trees, or leaves, to turn toward or away from light (paraheliotropism, or tropism):

“Was there one point on which their views were equal and negative?
The influence of gaslight or electric light on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees.”

The ideal photograph captures not necessarily the object, though the object must at least be attracted, or the light, which the photo must also catch, but the perfect photo snaps Bly’s passing and returning “into the object,” the epiphanic journey. This is the trick of photography, the lure.

Bly says Ponge doesn’t “exploit things [objects], either as symbols or as beings of a lower class.” Yet the desert creeps closer and closer. “The union of the object with the psyche moves slowly, and the poem may take four of five years to write,” Bly says.

Pieter Hoff, talking to Burkhard Bilger in “The Great Oasis” (New Yorker, Dec. 19 & 26, 2011), says, “A seed can afford to wait. Encased in dung from a passing bird or other animal, it can survive for months without rain. If the soil is dry, it can put all its energy into sending a single taproot in search of groundwater…It can worm itself into the tiniest crack, then expand a few cells at a time, generating pressures of up to seven hundred and twenty-five pounds per square inch – enough to split paving stones or punch holes through brick walls” (114).

The desert of the human imagination also creeps, reasoning against its very nature that it is the only perspective that matters, that is aware of itself. Bly says: “Descartes’ ideas act so as to withdraw consciousness from the non-human area, isolating the human being in his house, until, seen from the window, rocks, sky, trees, crows seem empty of energy, but especially empty of divine energy” (4).

Bly, Robert. News of the Universe: poems of twofold consciousness. [Chosen and introduced by Robert Bly] San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1980.

Joyce, James. Collected Poems [Chamber Music]. New York: Viking Press, Compass Book Edition, 1957 [eighth printing, July 1967].

Photos in this post were taken this week in Mt. Tabor Park, in SE Portland, with a Canon PowerShot A560, set on Auto – no tricks, but the top photo was “enhanced” using iPhoto.