I have my different phases with Joyce. I am often content to
just sit back and admire his marvelous inventiveness, his sly humor, his
virtuosity and, yes, I said yes, his genius. Other times, I feel both
compassion for his suffering and admiration for his tremendous perseverance, feelings I definitely had in my recent reading
ofThe Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham. But running
along as another undercurrent to my Joycean musings I also frequently feel a
sense of alienation. Every once in a while it comes right up to the surface, as it did at our
latest Wake reading the other night. Afterwards, I was trying to remember what
set me off this time, and realized that it was his whole raven/dove dichotomy
as related to the feminine. Frankly, it just bugged the hell out of me.
First off, I don’t really have a huge taste for these kinds
of polarities. I don’t like ravens being the symbol for dark, the sinister, or
any of the underworld side of things. Ravens are smart and resourceful and are
a lot more like us than we probably realize, and it’s a bum rap to cast our own
shadow on to them. Doves, despite being appropriated by Christian iconography
are probably mean and vicious sometimes themselves. I get a little tired of
doves, rabbits, lambs all being the symbols of innocence when they’re
actually a bit on the dim side.
Anyway. Joyce and
women. I really don’t buy
his take at all. I have virtually no empathy for Molly Bloom, patron saint of the
affirmative way of life though she well may be, and find Leopold Bloom himself much more a kindred spirit than his lie-abed counterpart. I mean, don't we all? Isn't that why we read Ulysses in the first place? Leopold Bloom, c'est moi?
As far as the Wake goes, well,
Izzy is all right, in her dovelike, lamblike, cloudlike way, but ALP, the river, the past
present future, fecundity, etc., I don’t get her. I know she’s not exactly
meant to be a naturalistic figure of course, but it’s exactly in Joyce’s
mythologizing of the feminine where I tend to run afoul of him. It’s not just
an ideological disagreement. It's more visceral. The best I can say is that I start to feel in a trap
or a bind, like I’m caught inside his way of seeing, and I feel like flailing
against the bars. I find myself wanting what is outside his mind. Reality as it is not known, or dreamt of in the philosophies of
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce. I want the feminine equivalent of Joyce to represent reality from
her own point of view.
I bring this all up not just to rehash my rant yet again,
but because just now, today, I seem to have been presented with a partial
possible answer to that. I came across a glowing Slate book review on a novel
called A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, and if you think that
the book owes a little bit to Joyce himself, you’d be right, as she had a quote
from Joyce’s letters taped above her desk as she wrote it:
“One great part of
every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by
the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.”
woman novelist’s response to Joyce in his own sort of vernacular? This is
either a case of “Ask and it shall be given.” or “Be careful what you wish for.”
In any case, I’ve ordered the book. I’ll
let you know how it goes.
I was fortunate recently to have fellow Waker Leslie lend me her copy of The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham and have just posted my review at the website Escape Into Life. I haven't really come across that many books in my life that really help you connect so many dots, and even if it isn't strictly about Finnegans Wake, I do highly recommend it.