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.

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