Sunday, June 24, 2012

The errors of genius

I'm still absorbed in the Declan Kiberd book Ulysses and Us, but I wanted to mention something he wrote that clarified something we'd all been talking about at one point. The way I remember our discussion (as opposed to what was actually said), we all were rather fascinated by a claim Joyce made that genius made no errors, because if a genius made an error, it was used in a way that was no longer an error. I'm pretty sure Joyce was a genius, but I got stuck on this idea, baffled by what it meant.

Kiberd talks about exactly this point. He says that in June 1904, Joyce had an encounter with a man like Bloom, the details of which are largely unrecorded."It is as if Joyce were seeking to recapture that passing moment and asking how it might have developed, before that other major event of June 1904 took over his life."

He goes on to say that Ulysses is a book obsessed with missed or insufficiently developed encounters. He says that it is "trying to restore to lost moments of history a sense of the multiple possibilities that might have flowed from them, before a single subsequent event took on the look of inevitability."

I think it's in this context of multiplicity that it's helpful to to notice Stephen Dedalus's observation that, as Kiberd paraphrases it, "a man of genius sees every error as a portal of a new discovery, an aid to the understanding of the world. We go wrong, but only in order to go right."

A wise maxim, I think for anyone involved in reading Finnegans Wake.  


  1. Nice post. I've been hoping to read Kiberd's book for a while now. Always heard great things about it.

  2. Thanks, PQ. It is an easy book to read and it gets you excited about Ulysses all over again. I think there may be some political angle to his writing that I'm not sophisticated enough to get.

    The Wakers have been emailing me their appreciation of the Chabon article. Ann tried to comment over your place but it somehow didn't go through.