Overweening Generalist

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A James Joyce Gallimaufry For Bloomsday

James Joyce is on his back, in a hospital. A bandage covers his face, and under that, two dressings, one on each eye. He's just had his fifth eye operation, and his second iridectomy, the surgical removal of part of the iris, to stem attacks of glaucoma. A painter friend of Joyce's named Myron Nutting enters the room to visit Joyce. The room is filled with hydrangeas from friends. Before Nutting came in, in the aftermath of the operation, Joyce had "seen" in his mind's eye a cinematic sequence of disagreeable events from his past. He allayed this with thoughts about his book in progress, Finnegans Wake

Nutting says cheerily, "Hello Joyce." Joyce remains silent and motionless, then reaches under his pillow and retrieves a composition book and pencil. He writes something, blindly, and hands it to his friend. It says, "Hello Nutting." Why won't Joyce speak?, Nutting must think. His operation was on his eyes, not his vocal chords. Joyce writes something else: "Carriage sponge." Nutting has no idea what this means. Then Joyce writes, "Today 16 of June 1924 twenty years after. Will anybody remember this date."
Robert Anton Wilson, a devoted Joycean from circa 1948 until Wilson's death in 2007, was interviewed by Cliff Walker on Portland radio station KBOO-FM sometime near 1990.

Walker: What do you love about James Joyce?

Wilson: [long pause] Jameson's Whiskey. [starts laughing] No. Other things, errr---

Everyone in the Studio: [laughter]

Wilson: Every time I go to Zurich I buy a bottle of Jameson's and go out to Joyce's grave with some friends, and we each have a drink then we pour the rest of it on - well, maybe we have two drinks - well, sometimes three - err, well, maybe four [laughs], on rare occasions, and then we pour a drop or two (or whatever is left) on the grave for Jim. He was a great fan of Jameson's...No. What I love about Joyce (besides introducing me to Jameson's and Guinness Extra Stout - the greatest products that ever came out of Dublin) is he wrote the first realistic novel, Ulysses. Ulysses seems to me the only realistic novel of the twentieth century, because it's the only novel that contains at least a hundred interpretations of itself, within itself. Therefore, it's contemporary with quantum mechanics and Godel's proof in mathematics and Cubist painting and movies like Citizen Kane, where you get five versions of the same story; Joyce anticipated all of modern science, modern philosophy, and modern art. And he was very funny, too, like most Irish writers.
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi [pronounce something like this: CHEEK-zent-mee-hi?], a psychologist born in Rijeka, Croatia, but raised in Hungary and now a professor in the US, has made some wonderful studies of happiness and creativity. He has argued against most of his colleagues in psychology, who say that the stream of consciousness must be considered too subjective, but MC says it is "the most objective datum we have access to." Which tends to support Wilson, above. (see The Next 50 Years, pp.100-103)
Philip K. Dick, in an interview collected in What If Our World Is Their Heaven, said he thought Joyce's accomplishment of Finnegans Wake as "Faustian."
Richard Ellmann, who wrote the standard biography of Joyce, said in his book The Consciousness of Joyce, of his esthetics, "He held for himself, as later for Shakespeare, that the personal life of the artist was all-important for his art."
Marvin Miller, a semi-legendary publisher of porn and First Amendment maverick, noticed that Ulysses had been censored at some point. So, in yet another scheme to squeeze out the porn-bucks, he issued a photo-offset reprint of the book, "apparently reasoning that the erotic aspects of Molly Bloom's soliloquy would more than offset the overwhelmingly non-erotic text. This is the paperback Doorstop Edition, collating to 933 pages of text plus 43 pages of ads."- from "The Man Who Screwed Things Up," by Stephen J. Gertz, found in Everything You Know About Sex Is Wrong.

[Call me an idiot, but I'd love to own that version of Ulysses. There are a number of versions of the book; this one looks like the coffeetable/conversation starter of them all. - the OG]
In The Myth of Monogamy, a biological work written by U. of Washington husband and wife academics David Barash and Judith Lipton, the authors find a rarity in the comical yet cerebral detachment of Leopold Bloom's ruminations about Molly's adultery.
"I am not dealing with Mr. Joyce in this volume. I have small doubt that no reader will have taken this book [Guide To Kulchur - editor], up to this moment, for anything save an universal receptacle, yet it has limits, and its edge is a demarcation. In 1912 or eleven I invoked whatever gods may exist, in the quatrain:
                                  Sweet Christ from hell spew up some Rabelais
                                  To belch and.............to define today
                                  In fitting fashion, and her monument
                                  Heap up to her in fadeless excrement.

"Ulysses I take as my answer. Yet ten years later when Brancusi inveighed against the 'monumental,' I did not at once grasp his meaning. 'Ulysses' is the end, the summary, of a period, that period is branded by Le Tour du Pin in his phrase 'age of usury.'

"The reader, who bothers to think, may now notice that in the new paideuma I am not including the monumental, the retrospect, but only the pro-spect.

"The katharsis of 'Ulysses,' the joyous satisfaction as the first chapters rolled into Holland Place, was to feel that here was the JOB DONE and finished, the diagnosis and cure was here. The sticky, molasses-covered filth of current print, all the fuggs, all the foetors, the whole boil of the European mind, had been lanced."
-Ezra Pound, Joyce's by-then-fairly-untethered benefactor and champion, in "Monumental," Guide To Kulchur, p.96
During the Cold War, the CIA backed a literary journal (the CIA was hugely into fighting the Russians with painting, literature...any sort of rhetoric that seemed to argue that the Unistat "free society" yielded more penetrating, profound and therefore superior work) called Censorship. In London in the years 1964-67 it was edited by Murray Mindlin. Mindlin also translated Ulysses into Hebrew. (see Frances Stonor Saunders' The Cultural Cold War, p.334)
I have always loved Joyce's response when asked what his politics were. He averred that he must be some sort of anarchist, because (and I paraphrase from memory), "The State is concentric but the individual is eccentric."

Have a great Bloomsday! 


ARW23 said...

"Tauftauf thuartpeatrick"!
(JJ early in FW)

"That why all parks up excited about his gunnfodder. That why ecrazyaztecs and crime ministers preaching him mornings."
(James Joyce, Finnegans Wake)

"Mass seems to be over. Could hear them all at it. Pray for us. And pray for us. And pray for us. Good idea the repetition. Same thing with ads. Buy from us. And buy from us."
(Leopold Bloom in Ulysses)

"Damn all this self-improvement. I want a pleasant dinner."
(Hannibal Lecter, M.D.)

Happy Bloomsday!!!

michael said...


What is home without
Plumtree's Potted Meat?
With it an abode of bliss.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Great blog. I celebrated Bloomsday at Cal Tech at the Einstein Papers Project. John Bishop had a stroke and couldn't physically attend, but he facilitated a Finnegans Wake study group via Skype. Vincent Cheng, Margot Norris and about 20 other Joyceans crowded into the room, many sitting on the floor.

That morning I heard Sheldon Brivic give a great paper on Badiou, Lacan and Joyce. I'd never even heard of Badiou before. So much to read.

As I fan of "The Big Bang Theory" I loved hanging out at Cal Tech yesterday.

michael said...

I have heard "The Big Bang Theory" was something I'd like, but I seem to have, in the age of DVRs, too much TV "homework" already. But these things are less ephemeral than ever, so I will be able to catch up at some point. What about "NUMB3RS" or something like that? Any good?

I have never been able to hack Lacan. Badiou I'm only vaguely acquainted with. RAW said he liked Cheng's book on Joyce and politics, and I agree.

My brother graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary a few blocks from CalTech, and he's been telling me about cross-pollination talks given by professors from each school, which sound salutary to me.