13 November 2014

Christianity and the Library of Alexandria - Carl Sagan

from page 364 > 366 of his book ''Cosmos - The story of cosmic evolution, science and civilisation''  - Abacus, 2013

Alexandria was the greatest city the western world had ever seen. People of all nations came there to live, to trade, to learn. On any given day, his harbours were thronged with merchants, scholars and tourists. This was a city where Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, Hebrews, Persians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Italians, Gauls and Iberians exchanged merchandise and ideas. It is probably here that the word cosmopolitan realized its true meaning - citizen, not just of a nation, but of the Cosmos.* To be a citizen of the Cosmos...

Here clearly were the seeds of the modern world. What prevented them from taking root and flourishing? Why instead did the West slumber through a thousand years of darkness until Columbus and Copernicus and their contemporaries rediscovered the work done in Alexandria? I cannot give you a simple answer. But I do know this: there is no record, in the entire history of the Library, that any of its illustrious scientists and scholars ever seriously challenged the political, economic and religious assumptions of their society. The permanence of the stars was questioned: the justice of slavery was not. Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few. The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries taking place within the Library. New findings were not explaned or popularized. The research benefited them little. Discoveries in mechanics and steam technology were applied mainly to the perfection of weapons, the encouragement of superstition, the amusement of kings. The scientists never grasped the potential of machines to free people.** The great intellectual achievements of antiquity had few immediate practical applications. Science never captured the imagination of the multitude. There was no counterbalance to stagnation, to pessimism, to the most abject surrenders to mysticism. When, at long last, the mob came to burn the Library down, there was nobody to stop them.

The last scientist who worked in the Library was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist and the head of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy - an extraordinary range of accomplishments for any individual in any age. Her name was Hypatia. She was born in Alexandria in 370. At a time when women had few options and were treated as property, Hypatia moved freely and unselfconsciously through traditional male domains. By all accounts she was a great beauty. She had many suitors but rejected all offers of marriage. The Alexandria of Hypatia's time - by then long under Roman rule - was a city under grave strain. Slavery had sapped classical civilization of its vitality. The growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture. Hypatica stood at the epicenter of these mighty social forces.
Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, despised her because of her close friendship with the Roman governor, because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church with paganism. In great personal danger, she  continued to teach and publish, until, in the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril's parishioners. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and, armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint.

*The word cosmopolitan was first invented by Diogenes, the rationonalist philosopher and critic of Plato.
** With the single exception of Archimedes, who during his stay at the Alexandrian Library invented the water screw, which is used in Egypt to this day for the irrigation of cultivated fields. But even he considered such mechanical contrivances far beneath the dignity of science.

23 October 2014

Day of the Dead

Malcolm Lowry's mysterious demise

By D.T. Max 

The New Yorker - life and letters - December 17, 2007

Malcolm Lowry died in his cottage in the village of Ripe, in Sussex, late at night on June 26, 1957, or early the next morning. He was forty-seven years old. His wife, Margerie, found his body upstairs, on the floor of their bedroom. An autopsy revealed that Lowry, an alcoholic, had been drunk, and the doctor who examined the body found that he had swallowed a large number of barbiturates and had inhaled some half-digested food from his stomach. An inquest was held, at which a police officer, the Lowrys' landlady, and Margerie testified. The coroner ruled the fatality a ''misadventure'' - that is, an accident. Lowry had choked to death on his own vomit.

Lowry is known for his 1947 novel, ''Under the Volcano'', which chronicles the final hours of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic Englishman living in Mexico, in the shadow of the Ixacihuatl and Popocatepetl volcanoes. On November 1st, the Day of the Dead, Firmin, the former British consul, finds that his estranged wife, Yvonne, has come back to town, Paralyzed by his alcoholism, he drifts from cantina to cantina, considering ways to reclaim her; but he never acts. By nightfall, Firmin is dead in a ditch, shot by Mexican paramilitaries. ''Volcano'' fuses modernist and romantic sensibilities: the story is told from shifting points of view, and Firmin's daylong odyssey is borrowed from ''Ulysses''; at the same time, Lowry's prose is fervent, laid down in unstable, looping sentences. Shortly before his death, the consul sees on a house an inscription that reads “No se puede vivir sin amar”—“One cannot live without love.” Lowry, in a 1946 letter to Margerie’s family, wrote, “ ‘Volcano’ ’s theme: ‘only against death does man cry out in vain.’ ” Dawn Powell wrote soon after the book’s publication, “In ‘Under the Volcano’ you love the author for the pain of his overwhelming understanding.”

Lowry began writing “Volcano” in his late twenties. The writing took four drafts and almost a decade. In his early attempts, he was more interested in seeing how many images and symbols he could embed in the text than in creating lifelike characters. It was only in 1939, when Lowry met Margerie, who was herself an aspiring writer, that the novel began assuming a coherent shape. Margerie suggested characters and plot turns, added sentences, and cut back Lowry’s wordiness. She was a good editor, and the only person who could manage her husband’s reckless temperament.
''Volcano'' was published to broad acclaim. The critic Mark Schorer, reviewing the book in the New York Herald Tribune,wrote that few novels “convey so feelingly the agony of alienation, the infernal suffering of disintegration.” Lowry was hailed as a successor to Joyce, who had died six years earlier. “Volcano” was a popular success, too—for a time, Lowry bragged, the book outsold “Forever Amber”.
He soon fell apart. “Success”, he wrote to Margerie’s mother, “may be the worst possible thing that could happen to any serious author”. According to Lowry’s biographers—there have been six—his drinking, always prodigious, became incapacitating. He had persecution fantasies. At times, his delirium tremens was so severe that he could not hold a pencil. Lowry worked on many books in these years—he had in mind a multipart novel called “The Voyage That Never Ends”, which would parallel the Divine Comedy, with “Volcano” in the position of the Inferno—but the manuscript that he cared most about was “October Ferry to Gabriola”, a novel about the happiest phase of his marriage, in the nineteen-forties, when he and Margerie lived in a squatter’s shack on an inlet north of Vancouver. Lowry could not make the novel come together; Margerie edited and suggested, Malcolm rewrote and rewrote, and the book slid sideways. They began fighting, in part because of their failure to tell the story of their happiness. They countered their frustrations with heavy doses of alcohol, prescription sedatives, tranquillizers, and stimulants—sodium amytal, phenobarbital, Benzedrine, Allonal, Nembutal, Soneryl. (Lowry joked that he and his wife should be known as “Alcoholics Synonymous”.) But they could not inure themselves to the pain of their creative failure. Twice, during a trip to Europe, Lowry tried to strangle Margerie. Though she was a fraction of his size, she attacked him, too. Shortly before Lowry died, he told a psychiatrist whom he was seeing that either Margerie was going to kill him or he was going to kill her.

18 October 2014

Djuna Barnes - Portrait of the Man Who is, at Present, One of the More Significant Figures in Literature

Published in Vanity Fair - April 1922

Djuna Barnes
There are men in Dublin who will tell you that out of Ireland a great voice has gone; and there are a few women, lost to youth, who will add: ''One night he was singing and the next he wasn't, and there's been no silence the like of it! For the singing voice of James Joyce, author of The Portrait of the Artist as a young Man and of Ulysses is said to have been second to none.
The thought that Joyce was once a singer may not come as a revelation to the casual reader of his books; one must perhaps have spent one of those strangely aloof evenings with him, or have read passages of his Ulysses, as it appeared in The Little Review to have realized the singing quality of his words. For tradition has it that a singer must have a touch of bravado, a joyous putting forth of first the right leg and then the left, and a sigh or two this side of the cloister, and Joyce has none of these.
James Joyce
I had read Dubliners over my coffee during the war, I had been on one or two theatrical committees just long enough to suggest the production of Exiles, his only play. The Portrait had been consumed, turning from one elbow to the other, but it was not until I came upon his last work that I sensed the singer. Lines like: ''So stood they both awhile in wan hope sorrowing one with other'' or ''Thither the extremely large wains bring poison of the fields, spherical potatoes and iridescent kale and onions, pearls of the earth, and red, green,yellow, russet, sweet, big bitter ripe pomillated apples and strawberries fit for princes and raspberries from their canes'', or still better the singing humour in that delicious execution scene in which the ''learned prelate knelt in a most Christian spirit in a pool of rainwater''.

Yes, then I realized Joyce must indeed have begun life as a singer, and a very tender singer, and - because no voice can hold out over the brutalities of life without breaking - he turned to quill and paper, for so he could arrange, the necessary silence, the abundant inadequacies of life, as a laying out of jewels - jewels with a will to decay.

To read more, go to:  Vanity Fair

03 October 2014

George Orwell about James Joyce's Ulysses

In 1933, George Orwell had managed to borrow a copy of Joyce's Ulysses which was only published in Paris, and  was being watched out for eagerly by those custodians of public morality. His Majesty's Inspectors of Customs and Excise. And in December he wrote Brenda Salkeld a huge letter, almost two thousand words, answering her 'What do you think Joyce is after?'. It could have been printed almost as it stood, a highly perceptive and interesting piece of critical writing. The book moved him deeply.

[to answer your question] one has got to decide what a novel normally sets out to do. I should say that it sets out first... to display or create a character, secondly to make a kind of pattern or design which any good story contains, and, thirdly, if the novelist is up to it, to produce good writing which can exist almost as it were in vacuo and independent of subject... I think Ulysses follows this scheme fairly closely, but the queer and original thing about it is that instead of taking as his material the conventional and highly simplified version of life presented in most novels, Joyce attempts to present life more or less as it is lived. Of course he is not trying merely to represent life. When Ulysses first came out one heard it said on every side that it was an attempt to describe a day in somebody’s life, leaving nothing out, etc. etc. It is not that. If one thinks, a complete description of a day, or even of an hour, would be simply an enormous omnium gatherum, quite formless and probably not at all interesting, and in any case would not convey the impression of life at all. Art implies selection and there is as much selection in Ulysses as in Pride and Prejudice. Only Joyce is attempting to select and represent events and thoughts as they occur in life and not as they occur in fiction.

Orwell shared Joyce’s scorn for those who write novels through reading other novels. He appreciated the formal structure of Ulysses more than most (many could not see it at all) and yet ‘quite apart from the different styles used to represent different manners of thought, the observation is in places marvellous.’ Some of the passages ‘have haunted me ever since reading them. If you read them aloud you will see that most of them are essentially verse.’
This Ulysses letter, while mainly it shows an enthusiast trying to define and convey his growing absorption in the mechanics and craft of fiction, yet also shows a potentiality for real critical ability — as came later in the great essays on Swift, Dickens and Henry Miller. But Ulysses proved nearly fatal to his own development as a novelist. Self-consciously and mechanically he wrote A Clergyman’s Daughter with ‘different styles used to represent different manners of thought’; and there are still elements of this, though less gross, in Keep the Aspidistra Flying. A year later he confided to Brenda:

I managed to get my copy of Ulysses through safely this time. I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production ... but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.

The novel he was working on at that time which ‘instead of going forward goes backward with the most alarming speed’ was A Clergyman’s Daughter. Joyce stimulated Orwell as a critic but could have been disastrous to him as a writer, if his documentary plain style had not already emerged in Down and Out and was there to fall back upon, even to extend and still further purify.

(Source: Bernard Crick - George Orwell - A Life - Little, Brown and Company, Boston - 1980)

02 October 2014

James Joyce - Epiphanies

These forty brief prose works are among some of Joyce’s earliest writings, which he titled ‘epiphanies’, being ‘sudden spiritual manifestations’. They form a series that originally contained at least seventy-one pieces, but sadly some have been lost. The Epiphanies are a link between Joyce’s early poetry and his early fiction, aiding us in understanding the formative stages of the writer’s art. They were written from 1901 to 1904 and they include fragmentary recordings of overheard dialogue, as well as Joyce’s own personal thoughts. He kept hold of these fragments and later drew upon them in his famous novels, often repeating specific spiritual images. Joyce regarded these enigmatical works as being “little errors and gestures - mere straws in the wind - by which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal”. Therefore, the Epiphanies are, broadly speaking, sketches, objective in form and deliberately incomplete.

See also the website of  The James Joyce Centre, Dublin: http://jamesjoyce.ie/epiphanies/

1 Martello Terrace, Bray
(Bray: in the parlour of the house in Martello Terrace) 

Mr Vance - (comes in with a stick)... O, you know,
     he’ll have to apologise, Mrs Joyce. 
Mrs Joyce - O yes... Do you hear that, Jim? 
Mr Vance - Or else - if he doesn’t - the eagles’11
     come and pull out his eyes. 
Mrs Joyce - O, but I’m sure he will apologise. 
Joyce - (under the table, to himself)
   — Pull out his eyes,
     Pull out his eyes.
     Pull out his eyes,
     Pull out his eyes,

No school tomorrow: it is Saturday night in winter: I sit by the fire. Soon they will be returning with provisions, meat and vegetables, tea and bread and butter, and white pudding that makes a noise on the pan... I sit reading a story of Alsace, turning over the yellow pages, watching the men and women in their strange dresses. It pleases me to read of their ways; through them I seem to touch the life of a land beyond them to enter into communion with the German people. Dearest illusion, friend of my youth! In him I have imaged myself. Our lives are still sacred in their intimate sympathies. I am with him at night when he reads the books of the philosophers or some tale of ancient times. I am with him when he wanders alone or with one whom he has never seen, that young girl who puts around him arms that have no malice in them, offering her simple, abundant love, hearing and answering his soul he knows not how.

Horse trams in Sackville Street, Dublin
The children who have stayed latest are getting on their things to go home for the party is over. This is the last tram. The lank brown horses know it and shake their bells to the clear night, in admonition. The conductor talks with the driver; both nod often in the green light of the lamp. There is nobody near. We seem to listen, I on the upper step and she on the lower. She comes up to my step many times and goes down again, between our phrases, and once or twice remains beside me, forgetting to go down, and then goes down… Let be; let be... And now she does not urge her vanities - her fine dress and sash and long black stockings — for now (wisdom of children) we seem to know that this end will please us better than any end we have laboured for.

Mountjoy Square
(Dublin: on Mountjoy Square)

Joyce - (concludes)... That’ll be forty thousand pounds.
Aunt Lillie - (titters) - O, laus!... I was like that too
     ...When I was a girl I was sure I’d marry a
     lord... or something...
Joyce - (thinks) - Is it possible she’s comparing
     herself with me?

High up in the old, dark-windowed house: firelight in the narrow room: dusk outside. An old woman bustles about, making tea; she tells of the changes, her odd ways, and what the priest and the doctor said I hear her words in the distance. I wander among the coals, among the ways of adventure Christ! What is in the doorway? A skull - a monkey; a creature drawn hither to the fire, to the voices: a silly creature.
 - Is that Mary Ellen? -
 - No, Eliza, it’s Jim -
 - O    O, goodnight, Jim -
 - D’ye want anything, Eliza? -
 - I thought it was Mary Ellen    I thought you were Mary Ellen, Jim -

A small field of stiff weeds and thistles alive with confused forms, half-men, half-goats. Dragging their great tails they move hither and thither, aggressively. Their faces are lightly bearded, pointed and grey as india-rubber. A secret personal sin directs them, holding them now, as in reaction, to constant malevolence. One is clasping about his body a torn flannel jacket; another complains monotonously as his beard catches in the stiff weeds. They move about me, enclosing me, that old sin sharpening their eyes to cruelty, swishing through the fields in slow circles, thrusting upwards their terrific faces. Help !

It is time to go away now - breakfast is ready. I’ll say another prayer... I am hungry; yet I would like to stay here in this quiet chapel where the mass has come and gone so quietly Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! Tomorrow and every day after I hope I shall bring you some virtue as an offering for I know you will be pleased with me if I do. Now, goodbye for the present O, the beautiful sunlight in the avenue and O, the sunlight in my heart!

Dull clouds have covered the sky. Where three roads meet and before a swampy beach a big dog is recumbent. From time to time he lifts his muzzle in the air and utters a prolonged sorrowful howl. People stop to look at him and pass on; some remain, arrested, it may be, by that lamentation in which they seem to hear the utterance of their own sorrow that had once its voice but is now voiceless, a servant of laborious days. Rain begins to fall.

Mullingar in winter
(Mullingar: a Sunday in July: Noon)

Tobin - (walking noisily with thick boots and
   tapping the road with his stick)... O
   there’s nothing like marriage for
   making a fellow steady. Before I came
   here to the Examiner I used knock about
   with fellows and boose... Now I’ve a
   good house and    I go home in the
   evening and if I want a drink
   well, I can have it... My advice to
   every young fellow that can afford it
   is: marry young.

Stag's Head, Dame Lane
(Dublin: in the Stag’s Head, Dame Lane) 

O’Mahony - Haven’t you that little priest that
   writes poetry over there - Fr Russell? 
Joyce - O, yes...I hear he has written verses. 
O’Mahony - (smiling adroitly)...Verses, yes...that’s
   the proper name for them...

Belvedere Place
(Dublin: at Sheehy’s, Belvedere Place) 

Joyce - I knew you meant him. But you’re
      wrong about his age. 
Maggie Sheehy - (leans forward to speak
      seriously).Why, how old is he? 
Joyce - Seventy-two. 
Maggie Sheehy - Is he?

Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1786) by Tischbein
(Dublin: at Sheehy’s, Belvedere Place) 

O’Reilly - (with developing 
    seriousness)...Now it’s my turn, 
    I suppose
                 (quite seriously)
 ...Who is your favourite poet?
                     (a pause) 
Hanna Sheehy -    German? 
O’Reilly -    Yes.
                     (a hush) 
Hanna Sheehy -..I think    Goethe   

(Dublin: at Sheehy’s, Belvedere Place) 

Fallon - (as he passes) - I was told to congratulate you especially on your performance. 
Joyce - Thank you. 
Blake - (after a pause)..I’d never advise anyone    to...O, it’s a terrible life!... 
Joyce - Ha. 
Blake - (between puffs of smoke) - of course...it
     looks all right from the outside...to
     those who don’t know...But if
     you knew...it’s really terrible. A
     bit of candle, no...dinner, squalid ...poverty. 
     You’ve no idea simply...

Abandoned  Denbigh Insane Asylum
(Dublin: at Sheehy’s, Belvedere Place) 

Dick Sheehy - What’s a lie? Mr Speaker,
     I must ask... 
Mr Sheehy — Order, order! 
Fallon — You know it’s a lie! 
Mr Sheehy — You must withdraw, sir. 
Dick Sheehy - As I was saying... 
Fallon - No, I won’t. 
Mr Sheehy - I call on the honourable member
     for Denbigh... Order, order!...

(In Mullingar: an evening in autumn) 

The Lame Beggar - {gripping his stick)...It was
     you called out after me yesterday. 
The Two Children - (gazing at him)...No, sir. 
The Lame Beggar - O, yes it was, though...(moving
     his stick up and down)...But
     mind what I’m telling you... D’ye see that stick? 
The Two Children - Yes, sir. 
The Lame Beggar - Well, if ye call out after me
     any more I’ll cut ye open with
     that stick. I’ll cut the livers
     out o’ye...(explains himself) ... D’ye hear me? 
     I’ll cut ye open. 
     I’ll cut the livers and the lights out o’ye.

A white mist is falling in slow flakes. The path leads me down to an obscure pool. Something is moving in the pool; it is an arctic beast with a rough yellow coat. I thrust in my stick and as he rises out of the water I see that his back slopes towards the croup and that he is very sluggish. I am not afraid but, thrusting at him often with my stick drive him before me. He moves his paws heavily and mutters words of some language which I do not understand.

(Dublin: at Sheehy’s, Belvedere Place) 

Hanna Sheehy - O, there are sure to be great crowds. 
Skeffington - In fact it’ll be, as our friend Jocax would say, 
      the day of the rabblement. 
Maggie Sheehy - (declaims) - Even now the rabblement may

(Dublin, on the North Circular Road: Christmas)

Miss O’Callaghan - (lisps) - I told you the name,
     The Escaped Nun. 
Dick Sheehy — (loudly) - O, I wouldn’t read
     a book like that...I must
     ask Joyce. I say, Joyce, did
     you ever read The Escaped Nun? 
Joyce - I observe that a certain
    phenomenon happens about this hour. 
Dick Sheehy — What phenomenon? 
Joyce - O...the stars come out. 
Dick Sheehy - (to Miss O’Callaghan)..Did you
     ever observe how...the
     stars come out on the end
     of Joyce’s nose about this
     hour?...(she smiles)..Because
     I observe that phenomenon.

32 Glengariff Parade
(Dublin: in the house in Glengariff Parade: evening) 

Mrs Joyce - (crimson, trembling, appears at the
     parlour door)...Jim! 
Joyce - (at the piano)...Yes? 
Mrs Joyce - Do you know anything about the
     body?...What ought I do?...There’s
     some matter coming away from
     the hole in Georgie’s stomach...
     Did you ever hear of that happening? 
Joyce - (surprised)...I don’t know... 
Mrs Joyce - Ought I send for the doctor, 
     do you think? 
Joyce - I don’t know    What hole? 
Mrs Joyce - (impatient)...The hole we all have 
     here (points) 
Joyce - (stands up)

see: http://jamesjoyce.ie/on-this-day-3-may/

They are all asleep. I will go up now    He lies on my bed where I lay last night: they have covered him with a sheet and closed his eyes with pennies... Poor little fellow! We have often laughed together - he bore his body very lightly... I am very sorry he died. I cannot pray for him as the others do Poor little fellow! Everything else is so uncertain!

Two mourners push on through the crowd. The girl, one hand catching the woman’s skirt, runs in advance. The girl’s face is the face of a fish, discoloured and oblique-eyed; the woman’s face is small and square, the face of a bargainer. The girl, her mouth distorted, looks up at the woman to see if it is time to cry; the woman, settling a flat bonnet, hurries on towards the mortuary chapel.

The reading room of the National Library, Dublin
(Dublin: in the National Library)

Skeffington - I was sorry to hear of the death of
     your brother...sorry we didn’t know in time to        have been at the funeral
Joyce - O, he was very young...a boy...
Skeffington - Still    it hurts...

The parable of the wise and foolish virgins - William Blake
That is no dancing. Go down before the people, young boy, and dance for them... He runs out darkly-clad, lithe and serious to dance before the multitude. There is no music for him. He begins to dance far below in the amphitheatre with a slow and supple movement of the limbs, passing from movement to movement, in all the grace of youth and distance, until he seems to be a whirling body, a spider wheeling amid space, a star. I desire to shout to him words of praise, to shout arrogantly over the heads of the multitude ‘See! See!’ His dancing is not the dancing of harlots, the dance of the daughters of Herodias. It goes up from the midst of the people, sudden and young and male, and falls again to earth in tremulous sobbing to die upon its triumph.

Her arm is laid for a moment on my knees and then withdrawn, and her eyes have revealed her - secret, vigilant an enclosed garden - in a moment. I remember a harmony of red and white that was made for one like her, telling her names and glories, bidding her arise as for espousal, and come away, bidding her look forth, a spouse, from Amana and from the mountain of the leopards. And I remember that response whereunto the perfect tenderness of the body and the soul with all its mystery have gone: Inter ubera mea commorabitur.

Clongowes Wood College, 1888 The class of the Elements
The quick light shower is over but tarries, a cluster of diamonds, among the shrubs of the quadrangle where an exhalation arises from the black earth. In the colonnade are the girls, an April company. They are leaving shelter, with many a doubting glance, with the prattle of trim boots and the pretty rescue of petticoats, under umbrellas, a light armoury, upheld at cunning angles. They are returning to the convent - demure corridors and simple dormitories, a white rosary of hours - having heard the fair promises of Spring, that well-graced ambassador Amid a flat rain-swept country stands a high plain building, with windows that filter the obscure daylight. Three hundred boys, noisy and hungry, sit at long tables eating beef fringed with green fat and vegetables that are still rank of the earth.

She is engaged. She dances with them in the round - a white dress lightly lifted as she dances, a white spray in her hair; eyes a little averted, a faint glow on her cheek. Her hand is in mine for a moment, softest of merchandise.
     - You very seldom come here now. -
     - Yes I am becoming something of a recluse. -
     - I saw your brother the other day    He is very like you. -
     - Really? - 
She dances with them in the round - evenly, discreetly, giving herself to no one. The white spray is ruffled as she dances, and when she is in shadow the glow is deeper on her cheek.

Faintly, under the heavy summer night, through the silence of the town which has turned from dreams to dreamless sleep as a weary lover whom no caresses move, the sound of hoofs upon the Dublin road. Not so faintly now as they come near the bridge; and in a moment as they pass the dark windows the silence is cloven by alarm as by an arrow. They are heard now far away - hoofs that shine amid the heavy night as diamonds, hurrying beyond the grey, still marshes to what journey’s end - what heart - bearing what tidings?

A moonless night under which the waves gleam feebly. The ship is entering a harbour where there are some lights. The sea is uneasy, charged with dull anger like the eyes of an animal which is about to spring, the prey of its own pitiless hunger. The land is flat and thinly wooded. Many people are gathered on the shore to see what ship it is that is entering their harbour.

A long curving gallery: from the floor arise pillars of dark vapours. It is peopled by the images of fabulous kings, set in stone. Their hands are folded upon their knees, in token of weariness, and their eyes are darkened for the errors of men go up before them for ever as dark vapours.

The spell of arms and voices - the white arms of roads, their promise of close embraces, and the black arms of tall ships that stand against the moon, their tale of distant nations. They are held out to say: We are alone, - come. And the voices say with them, We are your people. And the air is thick with their company as they call to me their kinsman, making ready to go, shaking the wings of their exultant and terrible youth.

Here are we come together, wayfarers; here are we housed, amid intricate streets, by night and silence closely covered. In amity we rest together, well content, no more remembering the deviousness of the ways that we have come. What moves upon me from the darkness subtle and murmurous as a flood, passionate and fierce with an indecent movement of the loins? What leaps, crying in answer, out of me, as eagle to eagle in mid air, crying to overcome, crying for an iniquitous abandonment?

The human crowd swarms in the enclosure, moving through the slush. A fat woman passes, her dress lifted boldly, her face nozzling in an orange. A pale young man with a Cockney accent does tricks in his shirtsleeves and drinks out of a bottle. A little old man has mice on an umbrella; a policeman in heavy boots charges down and seizes the umbrella: the little old man disappears. Bookies are bawling out names and prices; one of them screams with the voice of a child - ‘Bonny Boy!’ ‘Bonny Boy!’... Human creatures are swarming in the enclosure, moving backwards and forwards through the thick ooze. Some ask if the race is going on; they are answered ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ A band begins to play    A beautiful brown horse, with a yellow rider upon him, flashes far away in the sunlight.

They pass in twos and threes amid the life of the boulevard, walking like people who have leisure in a place lit up for them. They are in the pastry cook’s, chattering, crushing little fabrics of pastry, or seated silently at tables by the café door, or descending from carriages with a busy stir of garments soft as the voice of the adulterer. They pass in an air of perfumes: under the perfumes their bodies have a warm humid smell     No man has loved them and they have not loved themselves: they have given nothing for all that has been given them.

She comes at night when the city is still; invisible, inaudible, all unsummoned. She comes from her ancient seat to visit the least of her children, mother most venerable, as though he had never been alien to her. She knows the inmost heart; therefore she is gentle, nothing exacting; saying, I am susceptible of change, an imaginative influence in the hearts of my children. Who has pity for you when you are sad among the strangers? Years and years I loved you when you lay in my womb.

(London: in a house Kennington)

Eva Leslie - Yes, Maudie Leslie’s my sister an’
     Fred Leslie’s my brother — yev
     ‘eard of Fred Leslie?... (musing)...
     O, ‘e’s a whoite-arsed bugger...’E’s
     awoy at present
     I told you someun went with me
     ten toimes one noight...That’s
     Fred - my own brother Fred...
      (musing)...’E is ‘andsome...O I
     do love Fred...

Yes, they are the two sisters. She who is churning with stout arms (their butter is famous) looks dark and unhappy: the other is happy because she had her way. Her name is R... Rina. I know the verb ‘to be’ in their language. 
- Are you Rina? – 
I knew she was. But here he is himself in a coat with tails and an old-fashioned high hat. He ignores them: he walks along with tiny steps, jutting out the tails of his coat... My goodness! how small he is! He must be very old and vain    Maybe he isn’t what I...It’s funny that those two big women fell out over this little man...But then he’s the greatest man in the world...

I lie along the deck, against the engine-house, from which the smell of lukewarm grease exhales. Gigantic mists are marching under the French cliffs, enveloping the coast from headland to headland. The sea moves with the sound of many scales... Beyond the misty walls, in the dark cathedral church of Our Lady, I hear the bright, even voices of boys singing before the altar there.

(Dublin: at the corner of Connaught St, Phibsborough)

The Little Male Child - (at the garden gate)..Na..o.
The First Young Lady - (half kneeling, takes his
     hand) - Well, is Mabie
     your sweetheart?
The Little Male Child - Na...o.
The Second Young Lady - (bending over him, looks
     up) - Who is your sweetheart?

She stands, her book held lightly at her breast, reading the lesson. Against the dark stuff of her dress her face, mild-featured with downcast eyes, rises softly outlined in light; and from a folded cap, set carelessly forward, a tassel falls along her brown ringletted hair...     What is the lesson that she reads - of apes, of strange inventions, or the legends of martyrs? Who knows how deeply meditative, how reminiscent is this comeliness of Raffaello?

in O’Connell St:
                 (Dublin: /\ in Hamilton, Long’s
                 the chemist’s,) Gogarty - Is that for Gogarty?
The Assistant - (looks) - Yes, sir...Will you take
     it with you? for it now?
Gogarty - No, send it put it in the
     account; send it on. You know the address.
     (takes a pen)
The Assistant - Yes    Ye-es.
Gogarty — 5 Rutland Square.
The Assistant - (half to himself as he writes)
                 .. 5...Rutland…Square.

06 September 2014

Silence, Exile, Punning

James Joyce's chance encounters

>Published in The New Yorker on 2nd. July, 2012<

by Louis Menand

''I will tell you what i will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use--silence, exile, and cunning.''

-James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The detritus of reality is the material
of Joyce’s fiction. “If ‘Ulysses’
 isn’t fit to read,” he once said,
“life isn’t fit to live.”
Artist: Delphine Lebourgeois
On a day in May, 1922, in Paris, a medical student named Pierre Mérigot de Treigny was asked by his teacher, Dr. Victor Morax, a well-known ophthalmologist, to attend to a patient who had telephoned complaining about pain from iritis, an inflammation of the eye. The student went to the patient’s apartment, in a residential hotel on the Rue de l’Université. Inside, he found a scene of disarray. Clothes were hanging everywhere; toilet articles were scattered around on chairs and the mantelpiece. A man wearing dark glasses and wrapped in a blanket was squatting in front of a pan that contained the remains of a chicken. A woman was sitting across from him. There was a half-empty bottle of wine next to them on the floor. The man was James Joyce. A few months before, on February 2nd, he had published what some people regarded then, and many people regard now, as the greatest work of prose fiction ever written in the English language.
The woman was Nora Barnacle. She and Joyce were unmarried, and had two teen-age children, Giorgio and Lucia, who were living with them in the two-room apartment. The conditions in which the student discovered them were not typical - Joyce lived in luxury whenever he could afford it, and often when he couldn't - but the scene was emblematic. Joyce was a nomad. He was born in 1882, in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin, and grew up the oldest of ten surviving children. After he started school, his family changed houses nine times in eleven years, an itinerancy not always undertaken by choice. They sometimes moved, with their shrinking stock of possessions, at night, in order to escape the attention of creditors. They did not leave a forwarding address.

James was the favorite of his charming, cantankerous, and dissolute father, John Stanislaus Joyce, and was adored by his brothers and sisters. They called him Sunny Jim, because he laughed at everything. He was a brilliant student when he chose to excel, a prodigy; and, despite the family’s relentless downward spiral—John Joyce wasted a considerable inheritance—he received a serious education at Jesuit schools. By the time he got his degree, from University College, Dublin, in 1902, the family was living in the northern suburb of Cabra. A friend later described the house: “The banisters were broken, the grass in the back-yard was all blackened out. There was laundry there and a few chickens, and it was a very very miserable home.” Joyce’s mother, Mary, died there, of liver cancer, in 1903.

Joyce left Ireland a year later, when he was twenty-two, but he never really left the manner of life he had known. Like his father, he was a raconteur and a barfly. He had a good tenor voice (as did John Joyce), and he loved to sing and to dance. When he had no money, he borrowed it; when he had it, he picked up the tab for whatever company he was in, booked himself and his family into fancy hotels, and bought fur coats for Nora and Lucia. He was generous in the free-spirited way that only the inveterately insolvent can be.
For many years after he moved to the Continent, he scraped a living as a language teacher in Berlitz schools, a job he disliked. He started out in Pula, moved to Trieste, to Rome, then back to Trieste, and, finally, to Zurich. He changed residences regularly wherever he was, sometimes under a landlord’s gun. In 1920, he moved to Paris, where he was supported by patrons and—though only toward the end of his life, since “Ulysses” was banned for twelve years in the United States and for fourteen in Britain—by royalties. During the twenty years he lived in Paris, he had eighteen different addresses.
A man of small virtue, inclined to extravagance and alcoholism” is how Joyce described himself to Carl Jung. He was frail—he avoided contact sports like rugby as a child and barroom pugilism as a grownup—and he was frequently laid low by nervous attacks and illnesses. His eye troubles forced him to submit to a series of tricky and painful operations. At times, he was virtually blind. When he wrote, which he did usually stretched out across a bed, he wore a white jacket, so that light was reflected onto the paper; as he got older, he used a magnifying glass, in addition to his eyeglasses, to read.
After the Second World War broke out and the Germans occupied Paris, Joyce managed to get to Switzerland. He died there, in Zurich, of a perforated ulcer, on January 13, 1941. He was fifty-eight, and a very old man. He had burned the candle all the way down. He had spent eight years on “Ulysses,” and fifteen years on “Finnegans Wake,” which was published in 1939. “My eyes are tired,” he wrote in a letter to Giorgio, in 1935. “For over half a century, they have gazed into nullity where they have found a lovely nothing.”

Louis Menand has contributed to The New Yorker since 1991, and has been a staff writer since 2001. His book “The Metaphysical Club” was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for history and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. He was an associate editor of The New Republic from 1986 to 1987, an editor at The New Yorker from 1992 to 1993, and a contributing editor of The New York Review of Books from 1994 to 2001. He is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard University. He has also taught at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Queens College, Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Virginia School of Law.

04 September 2014

Help My Unbelief

A great book by the Atheist Geert Lernout about James Joyce's unbelief.

This was my reaction to Lernout's book ''Help My Unbelief - James Joyce & Religion'', which I published, together with a link for the book to Amazon, on 4th September, 2014 on the 'James Joyce Quarterly' Facebook page.

A reaction by Joseph S. O'Leary followed shortly afterwards:

-sounds like an awfully flatfooted approach to Joyce's great creative performance yet the biblical title ''help my unbelief'' sits ill with this-

Well, well, O'Leary dares to criticise books without even reading them. Obviously, like a lot of the Irish, he is only interested in Joyce as a product, to advertise, with a short-sighted, nationalistic view, the greatness of his country. Joyce may have been born in Ireland, but he left the country because he hated it. He loathed the stupidity of religious people, the clergy and the politics. No longer just an Irish writer, he became a truly European writer, one of the most important in the 20th century and one with a British passport.
Infuriated by O'Leary's reaction, I looked up his Facebook page and found there a video of Evelyn Waugh, which he had shared. In this video, Waugh said about Joyce: ''He is a poor dotty Irishman who... wrote 'Finnegans Wake', which is gibberish''. A lady called Amie Ilva Tatem posted a comment on this video, which reads:

Without having read his work, I love James Joyce for the words used in THE FAMILY OF MAN, P. 7 . I'm guessing these words might be from ULYSSES. Stream of consciousness? Yes. Gorgeous & breathtaking? Absolutely. "...And yes I said yes I will Yes."

Oh dear, I wonder if this lady has any idea of what those words are about? I fear not and O'Leary does not enlighten her. He reacts with the following:

There is some truth in Waugh's judgment -- Joyce rises to greatness throughout Dubliners and Portrait, is at his peak in the first twelve chapters of Ulysses, and declines from then on. Finnegans Wake is fundamentally a dead-end. Compare it with Wagner's Ring Cycle, and one is forced to confess that Wagner is the greater artist, largely because he was able to remain in touch with humanity, building great dramas for live audiences with all the sense of measure and effect that this entails, whereas Finnegans Wake is the resolute working out of a formula that bypasses the need of such engagement.

And yes, in the eyes of O'Leary, Joyce's greatness stops at chapter 12 of Ulysses. Why?! Because, in chapter 13, our friend Bloom's fantasies, while looking at Gerty MacDowell on the beach, in the eyes of religious people are, of course, disgusting. And no, I say No! Let's talk about the last chapter (one of the most beautiful pieces ever written), which must be even more disgusting to them, it must be the work of the devil.
I think O'Leary, like most of the Irish, has a problem with Joyce's ideas on sexuality, religion and politics.

And...Wagner the greater artist, come on, the comparison is absurd and unfounded.

What Geert Lernout has done with his book is show unequivocally that James Joyce was an atheist, and that his brother Stanislaus, his sister May and their father were too. There is nothing ''flat-footed'' about it. What name would you give to these four 'Old' Atheists? The name O'Leary gives to New Atheists (see his Facebook page) is the word 'Moron'.

James' letter to Nora, which follows here below, tells us a lot about his views on Ireland and Roman Catholics.

Hans van den Bos

To Nora Barnacle Joyce

27 October 1909                                                                                            44 Fontenoy Street, Dublin

My darling Tonight the old fever of love has begun to wake again in me. I am a shell of a man: my soul is in Trieste. You alone know me and love me. I have been at the theatre with my father and sister--a wretched play, a disgusting audience. I felt (as I always feel) a stranger in my own country. Yet if you had been beside you [sic] I could have spoken into your ears the hatred and scorn I felt burning my heart. Perhaps you would have rebuked me but you would also have understood me. I felt proud to think that my son--mine and yours, that handsome dear little boy you gave me, Nora--will always be a foreigner in Ireland, a man speaking another language and bred in a different tradition.
  I loathe Ireland and the Irish. They themselves stare at me in the street though I was born among them. Perhaps they read my hatred of them. Perhaps they read my hatred of them in my eyes. I see nothing on every side of me but the image of the adulterous priest and his servants and of sly deceitful women. It is not good for me to come here or to be here. Perhaps if you were with me I would not suffer so much. Yet sometimes when that horrible story of your childhood crosses my mind the doubt assails me that even you are secretly against me. A few days before I left Trieste I was walking with you in the Via Stadion (it was the day we bought the glassjar for the conserva). A priest passed us and I said to you 'Do you not find a kind of repulsion or disgust at the sight of one of those men?' You answered a little shortly and drily 'No, I don't'. You see, I remember all these small things. Your reply hurt me and silenced me. It and other similar things you have said to me linger a long time in my mind. Are you with me, Nora, or are you secretly against me?............