Sunday, October 21, 2012

The woman thing

I may be wrong, but I consider myself to be about the most skeptical of Joyce's take on women of the members of our group, but I swear I wasn't going around hunting for ammunition. Instead, I was trying to remember exactly why Joyce was so keen on Giordano Bruno, when I came across this article in the James Joyce Quarterly by Joseph C. Voelker, called "Nature It Is": The Influence of Giordano Bruno on James Joyce's Molly Bloom. As it's JSTOR, I have the usual problem of not being able to read the whole article, but nevertheless, the first paragraph is interesting.

"James Joyce was remarkably consistent in his portrayal of women, and this consistency is of a kind more frequently found in philosophical argument than in the novelistic observation of character. From Polly Mooney to Anna Livia Plurabella, Joyce's women live in close contact with their senses, reason only in the most inept and self-contradictory manner, and threaten repeatedly to throw off their individual identities--like the merest frillies--to reveal their true essence beneath. Really they are not so much fictional representations of actual women as they are flowing rivers and spinning earthballs, disguises for Natura, whom Joyce deployed in his life-long war with the propoents of Grace."

This is not totally surprising to me, but what is surprising is that Joyce derived his idea of Nature from Giordano Bruno. Voelker says, "Like Joyce's most lovingly delineated woman, Molly Bloom, Bruno's Nature is at once incontrovertibly fixed and in constant flux." Joyce was apparently heavily influenced by the book Giordano Bruno by J. Lewis McIntyre, which came out in 1903:

"In other words, Nature, under one aspect, is a spiritual unity, in which are comprised all possible differences, or all separate existences : under another it is these many existences themselves, in each of which, in succession, all differences are "realized," all modes come into being; and finally under another aspect, it is the force which brings forth the separate forms or existences out of the formless, indeterminate, indifferentiated unity of being, or God."

Personally, I'm happier with Bruno's naming this whole magilla Nature than Joyce's naming it Anna Livia Plurabella. But it does help me to understand better what he's driving at.