Saturday, January 24, 2015

An Obituary Notice by Joseph Campbell

James Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941)
An Obituary Notice by Joseph Campbell
James Joyce is dead. He died in Zurich. That is the city in which, during the last world war he devoted himself to the writing of Ulysses. When the book appeared people in Scandinavia, Germany, Italy and France attempted to read it. Many succeeded. In the United States and the British Isles the book was burned and banned. That was because it was obscene. Eleven years later an American Judge actually studied the book and discovered it to be no more obscene than many another. Whereupon it was legally introduced to the citizens of the United States. It became officially a work of art. It is now available in the Modern Library, 768 pages for $1.25.
James Joyce died of an unsuccessful abdominal operation eight months after the German occupation of Paris. James Joyce between world wars had been a resident of that city. There he had labored on the sequel to Ulysses, Finnegans Wake. He had labored seventeen years on this volume, and when it was completed it was permitted publication in the United States and the British Isles. The morning after publication the newspapers declared that it was impossible to discover what the volume was about. The language was obscure. People who purchased copies, intending to read the book between Gone with the Wind and The Grapes of Wrath, discovered that the language was obscure. Professors in universities indicated that the language was obscure. The book was set aside. Wise Time would decide whether it was enduring art or mere maze and artifice. Then another world war came along and there were published many interesting books about Hitlerism and the meaning of Democracy.
James Joyce died January 13, 1941, at the age of 58, in Zurich, where he had gone to spend the second world war and to compose the book that would culminate his trilogy. It was found difficult to evaluate his death, because Wise Time had not yet brought in a decision about his books. A learned editor of the New York Times tentatively declared that the work was ambiguous, enigmatic, pedantic, unintelligible, tiresome, eccentric, spoofing. “Wise Time”, said he, “will decide whether it is enduring art or mere maze and artifice”. James Joyce had been psychologically queer: naturalist, symbolist, and fantasist, all at once. Furthermore his language was obscure.
So the Western World, the other day, lost one of its few magnificent men. And he was buried under a heap of newspaper rubbish.
James Joyce, who, as a young man, went heroically forth from his native Dublin to forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race, and toiled then thirty-seven years to effect a divinely comical transmutation of the entire spectacle of modern life; of the God with Two Arms, not alone in the rock of Peter’s church but in every stone in the street, not alone in the Sacrifice of the Altar but in every utterance of man, beast, fowl, or fish – in every sound whatsoever, from the music of the supernal spheres to the splash of a sewer or the crack of a stick; James Joyce, who in one continuous present tense integument slowly unfolded all cycle-wheeling history, is dead.
Lord, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Three Quarks for Muster Mark!--page 383

Yes, we have reached that famous line as of yesterday evening. Ed obliged by rendering the verse in his best imitation of a gull, as apparently that's who's speaking. He said he was lucky not to have to go too much further with it as it was a bit painful.

We find ourselves pretty deep in the tale of Tristan and Isolde and spent some time getting a grip on what the story is or was, as there seems to be more than one version. In any case, the archetypal nature of the relationship was seized upon, as apparently it descends from or at least echoes an an old Persian tale, and also bears a resemblance to the doomed love triangle of King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. We talked a bit about the identities and differences. As Wikipedia tells it, unlike Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde unknowingly are dosed with a love potion, so that their falling for each other is not of  their own volition but due to circumstances beyond their control. One version of the story has it that the potion wears off fairly soon and they must choose again of their own free will.

The parallel with the Arthur/ Guinevere/ Lancelot love triangle is that they really are triangles--there is, at least initially, love and respect on all sides. Everyone feels for the others and understands his or her motives. But goodwill isn't apparently enough to prevent tragedy.

In John P. Anderson's book Joyce's Finnegans Wake: The Curse of the Kaballah he says that King Mark, bridegroom-to-be, is older than Isolde's own father, and that their marriage is a mere business transaction--her father has promised her to anyone who could slay a particularly evil serpent for him. In this light, Tristan and Isolde's love is presented as spontaneous and real, while her marriage to Mark is seen as debased. 

Anyway, it's high time I read the Tristan and Isolde legend. I even  have a copy of the Joseph Bédier retelling on hand. 

I personally was taken by the appearance of Dion Boucicault (the elder) on page 185 as the one time I was in Dublin,  I happened to stay in a large B&B on Lower Gardiner Street, which had been put together out of the two houses where Boucicault and Lafcadio Hearn had lived at different times.Although I had some passing acquaintance with Hearn,  I wasn't familiar with Boucicault at the time I was there , but now learn that he was a hugely famous Victorian playwright. The Townhouse Dublin, which is what the place is called, tells us that Boucicault grew fabulously wealthy from his plays, married three times and died broke. I like the bit where playwright Sean O'Casey is quoted as saying, "Shakespeare's good in bits, but for colour and stir give me Boucicault".

I think it's got to be the women troubles that makes Joyce throw Boucicault in, at least in part. Boucicault married his third wife while not yet divorced from the second, and at least the folks at the Townhouse Dublin speculate that it was the scandal that made him pass into obscurity. The Townhouse bio speculates that he isn't more well-known today because he was ostracized later in life and that had an impact on his future reputation as well. However, it may be that his success was more just a thing of the moment. By chance I found a reviewer talk about his play, The Colleen Bawn, also mentioned in this section of our text, twenty-five years after its London debut:

I fear me this present notice is erring a little on the score of reminiscences of the past, but, after all, is there much save reminiscence to be written upon such a subject as The Colleen Bawn?  I am tempted even to continue in the same tone, and to recall the deep sensation created a quarter of a century ago on the first production of the piece.  How all London flocked to witness the "sensation header" in the water cave scene, and how ladies during the ensuing winter took their walks abroad in scarlet cloaks modelled on those worn by the heroine.  Irish domestic drama could hardly be said to be quite unknown to us, but this development of it came upon us as a revelation.  Experience has shown that Mr. Boucicault has a certain number of stock Irish characters, including the loving peasant girl, the humoursome yet heroic "boy," the old woman, and the pettifogging lawyer, and these he has since served up to us in several other plays.  But then they were all new, and who can forget the charm and grace of Mrs. Dion Boucicault, the life and soul of the piece, as Eily, and the artistic merit with which the author invested the part of Myles. 

At any rate, references to Boucicault's plays liberally sprinkle our current text, The Colleen Bawn being one of his most famous. And surprisingly, Joyce mentions "Arrah-na-poghue" three times in two pages, and doesn't alter the spelling once. The Irish words translate as "Anna of the Kiss", and is referring to the title character Arrah Meelish who turns out to be in love with none other than Shaun the Postman. Yep--you read that right. Kisses especially of the secret variety figure heavily in this section too. Two-tongue Common was a group favorite.

They play, though, is actually called Arrah-na-pogue, so of course some industrious soul may well want to find out why Joyce put in that extra "h".