We began our last meeting with a short reading from L. from a scholarly essay she had read in the interim. It comes from an essay by Brook Thomas called "Formal Re-creation: Re-reading and Re-joycing the Re-rightings of Ulysses" and can be found in a book called Critical Essays on James Joyce's Ulysses. I thought I'd put it in for the record, as it seemed to answer some of the questions brought up by our last meeting.
"What my example,which is by no means unusual, should make clear is that Joyce's process of writing, re-reading, and re-writing is potentially an endless one. Having once revised a passage Joyce would re-read his revisions, causing him to discover even more potential verbal connections, causing more re-writing, and so on. Thus, it is easy to see how Ulysses came to be more and more about its own creation. The book becomes reflexive because as Arnold Goldman claims, "By its fifteenth chapter, Ulysses has begun to provide its author enough in the way of material to become self-perpetuating." It also becomes reflexive because Joyce re-read every sentence he wrote in so many ways that each one required expansion and qualification. Or put another way, the material that the book has amassed is not only character, plot or details of a Dublin setting, but its own language. That language, as part of a language system without beginning or end, allows Joyce continually to create new meanings and and formal possibilities for his book. But in one sense, it is not really Joyce who is "creating" these meanings and potential forms. They are meanings and forms already available in a language which already exists prior to any one reader or writer of that language. It is Joyce's awareness of this potentiality of language that allows us to talk about the book writing itself and that makes Ulysses the perfect example of Valéry statement that "a work of art is never finished, only abandoned". My point is, however, that Ulysses has been abandoned only by Joyce, not by its readers, for each time a reader reads and re-reads Ulysses, he repeats with a difference the process by which Joyce created the book."
(In my case, the "difference" is that Joyce knew a hell of a lot more than I do.)
C. pointed out that this implied a lot of faith on Joyce's part, not just in language, but in life, and those of us who know his biography well (i.e., not me) spoke of his lack of anxiety, how he was always struggling for money and yet gave it away open-handedly when it came to him. And that of course, he always had a lot of people mad at him, but didn't care. We agreed it was a good model for those of us who might be a bit more prone to the anxious side.
And all this before we'd even looked at the text!
To be Continued...
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