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?............