Bloomsday Bollocks

Whilst I’m glad I’m not poncing around Dublin wearing an eyepatch or something today, I am keeping Mr Joyce in my thoughts.

There’s little I feel I can contribute to the vast sphere of Joycean scholarship – just a look around Hypermedia will tell you that finer minds than mine are still excavating the endless meaning of the man’s titanic texts. And my personal experience was probably not atypical in that I was introduced to Joyce at university, and read all his works in order of composition. Perhaps I digress slightly from the pack in that I’ve always thought Finnegans Wake was by a reasonable margin the superior of the two fatter novels, but otherwise I fall right into line with the rest of the fawning foppish bunch probably striding up and down Eccles Street wearing faux-Edwardian garb as I type.

In any case, he became my favourite writer and sometimes I suspect he hangs behind everything I do like a mocking spirit. I’m in good company, there – William Faulkner clearly suffered greatly from what Harold Bloom calls ‘the anxiety of influence’, once coyly refusing to acknowledge that he’d read Ulysses in a 1932 interview with Henry Nash Smith, and another time simply unable to summon the courage to introduce himself to Joyce when he visited a Parisian cafe where he knew the author would be. Faulkner would later come to terms with the debt, announcing in 1947 that Joyce was “the father of modern literature” and describing him ten years on as someone “electrocuted by the divine fire.”

Obviously, other people have a more immediate practical concern with reading Joyce: that he seems at first impermeable. I was fortunate enough at the time to have been studying Irish history, language and literature, so I got many of the references that might fly over the head of smarter but lesser prepared readers. Seeking out guides, so many in number are they, can be just as overwhelming for the newcomer. My recommendations, then, for secondary literature would be:

– James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Study by Stewart Gilbert, who knew Joyce personally and who in this book provided lots of important information that has been largely ignored by scholarship since.

– James Joyce and Ulysses on the Liffey by Richard Ellman. Ellman is a fine critic and a finer biographer.

– Joysprick and ReJoyce by Anthony Burgess, another writer who was immeasurably molded by Joyce’s influence

– The Aesthetics of Chaosmos by Umberto Eco, which explains the anarchic world of Joyce as being the Medieval episteme sans a theistic deity by remembering the influence of Aquinas upon the artist as a young man

I would advise against the CliffNotes attempts, and Joseph Campbell’s famous A Skeleton Key. Campbell’s book might be useful for anyone who needs a plot structure for Finnegans Wake, but mainly consists of a flattening out of the text and an attempt at hammering it into Campbell’s autodidactic, vaguely neoplatonic mythpoetic theories. Oh, and two books that might not help in a specific exegesis of a Joycean work but will enhance the enjoyment are Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd, which does its level best to challenge the idea Ulysses is this immense ivory tower puzzle, rather than a celebration of the common man ; and Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson, where you will realise that reading Finnegans Wake should be a joyful and spiritually exalting experience rather than some tiresome analytic/academic chore.

Anyway, now I’m off to eat with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. And then get very drunk.

“I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
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