Friday, April 8, 2011

Ulysses--pro and contra (but mostly pro)

I'll get to a brief summary of our last meeting soon, but meanwhile, I thought any readers here should treat themselves to the great rant PQ has put up over on A Building Roam.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I thought I'd begin by writing up a few things from the meeting before this one that I'd forgotten. First was a comment which my notes attribute to A., talking about Joyce's resentment of the English language as an imposed one, and that this may have been one motivation for his deconstruction of our patterning around language. Personally, I haven't really gotten a feel for Joyce's relation to the language or the culture. I would imagine it was marked with a great degree of ambivalence.

I see that I have also not mentioned enough the relationship between Joyce and Wyndham Lewis. Broadly speaking, Lewis appears to be a Shaun type to Joyce's Shem type, and apparently advised him to do things that might have worked for a Shem but not so well for a Shaun. He seems to have thought it would be a good idea for Joyce to go and live in South America, an idea that Joyce was not seduced by. A book that has been cropping up here in the subtext is Lewis's Time and Western Man, which Joyce is quite clearly defending himself against. Over at Gingko Press, I've found a brief description of the book, which quite concisely describes Lewis's critique, and gives some sense of what the stakes were for all the modernists. Lewis believed that Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound and others had mistakenly handed over human creative power to 'time'. I remain a bit unclear on what 'time' is in this context, not only to Lewis but to Joyce. But it's worth having this in mind as we go forward, even to the extent that I wonder if I might be more a Lewis adherent than a Joycean. It was also interested to note that the banner over the book was about celebrating Marshall McLuhan's centenary, as if all these figures are bound up in each other. As, of course, a Shem and a Shaun type must necessarily be.

Okay, so in trying to discuss the next part we summarized, which I  was reminded had a lot of tree imagery, and that trees are a symbol for HCE (not to mention the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, though as a matter of fact, I think A. did mention that) I came across something completely different--big surprise--that has to do with the more overarching 'meaning' of the book in an article by Bernard Benstock called  Beyond Explication: The Twice-told Tales in Finnegans Wake, which uses as its examples the various tales within this very part of the riddle section that we've been reading. It's interesting to read if you have time, partly because it makes you realize that you have grasped a lot of this as the examples cited sound familiar. But what's of particular interest to me is that Benstock's idea is that Wake readers have labored under the misapprehension that understanding the meaning of every word is the way to understand the text, while it might be better to focus on the dynamics of the text:

"No narrative line lasts for very long on its own in the WAKE: it is swiftly overtaken, bypassed, short-circuited, bifurcated, trivialized, even quadrivalized. The local train that starts out so well is quickly drowned out by the roar of the express train that leaves it temporarily at a standstill; the terrestrial advance is undercut by underground and elevated lines of narrative flow. The quantum energy of such narrative depends on multiple directions of near-simultaneity, far beyond what ULYSSES had dared prepare us for..." 

It was interesting reading about the part of the book we have just read to hear these different interplaying voices in it, and to remember how highly musical Joyce is.

For fun, I thought I'd add a link to this essay from Salon on a group not unlike our own, and how similar their beginnings were to ours. It might not point to the most optimistic future, but I expect our fate might be somewhat different.

I'm also adding a link to a new post from PQ, which talks about Joyce's early days in Rome.