Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Roe v. Wade and James Joyce: My Sick Lit-Drunk Meandering Mind

So I'm driving around the East San Francisco Bay on a dry, windy, cool and piercingly sunny afternoon, flipping the pre-programmed 24 radio channels and I hear a snippet about the drama of a clinic that could allow a women to exercise her right to choose under the law - an abortion - re-opening in Wichita, Kansas. Crazy, fucked-up Kansas. Poor women there. Flip the channels to find music. (Later I read up on this. Foreshadowing of synchro-mesh: the author just happens to be named Joyce.)

Hell, poor women nearly everywhere. There's a really maddening story about abortions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by a Dr. named Kermit Gosnell. The Fetus People have made the horrors that went on in his clinic into a football in their never-ending fight against Roe.v.Wade, and as soon as I heard this I knew that, if it's this nasty and horrific it's precisely because it's become more and more difficult for women to exercise their rights...and especially difficult for impoverished women. So the Fetus People club the Pro-Choice people over the head with this quack-hack doc-monster Gosnell, but to my reading Gosnell is only a story because of the Fetus People's relentless fight to save precious life (if they have to murder doctors 'tis a small sacrifice on their part for precious Life!), for they care so much for helpless babies...(But not much at all for them after they're born. Not really. Just look at how they vote!)

I wrote about North Dakota last month, but I could've picked any number of Red States. The Fetus People are making gains in the Taker States. In case it's not clear, I'm pretty close to what Jill Filipovic writes here, on the 40th anniversary of the ruling that gave women the right to do what they wanted with their own bodies, within sane prescribed limits.

Writing about North Dakota, then hearing about Kansas, then thinking about Pennsylvania (and Arizona...), I remembered the story from last year just before Halloween, about the pretty Indian lady Savita (longlastindianname) who died of blood poisoning/infection in Ireland because she couldn't get the abortion she needed to save her life, because "Ireland is a Catholic country." I guess there has been some re-thinking on this, but the Men will probably not give in...

Joyce would've followed this story. Just look at the virtuosic performance in the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter of Ulysses. It's set in a maternity ward. (An "Oxen of the Sun" overview that makes it sound more daunting than it is.)

Then I thought of how Joyce also used, earlier in the book, the Childs fratricide case, for his own eccentric reasons. The "Childs murder case." Sounds horrific. And indeed, it evokes much of the imagery brought up by all our Roe v. Wade combatants, but especially the Fetus People's stuff.

But the Child's fratricide case was a real thing. In 1899, Samuel Childs was accused of killing his brother. In October the trial was held. Joyce, at 17, knew someone on the jury and attended the trial, no doubt taking notes. He was fascinated by the intense, mythic dimension of brother versus brother. Cain and Abel. He and his brother Stanislaus. "Shem and Shaun" in Finnegans Wake. And another few hundred examples. Joyce was endlessly interested in familial strife, infanticide, abortion, contraception, women giving birth, women's biological power...

...To add to this synchro-mesh, Childs's attorney was named Seymour Bushe. (Childs was found not guilty, by the way.)

I bet more than half of the people who read Ulysses and see the name "Seymour Bushe" assume it's this nasty, Rabelaisian Oirishman Joyce having fun making with a bad pun.

Joyce mentions Seymour Bushe nine times that I've counted. In the "Aeolus" chapter, largely in the newspaper office of the Freeman's Journal / Evening Telegraph, around noon, the newsmen and other literate types are smoking and talking of men of "forensic eloquence" from bygone days. Someone mentions Bushe:

-Bushe? the editor said. Well, yes, Bushe, yes. He has a strain of it in his blood. Kendal Bushe or I mean Seymour Bushe. 

- He would have been on the bench long ago, the professor said, only for...But no matter.

J.J. O'Molloy turned to Stephen and said quietly and slowly:
- One of the most polished periods I think I ever listened to in my life fell from the lips of Seymour Bushe. It was in that case of fratricide, the Childs murder case. Bushe defended him.

I know, I know. I'm one sick mofo. Joyce, a well-known onomast! Why, with all this real-life strife, does my mind go there?

Joyce once wrote in a letter (I forget where in my notes) that his own writing was "mosaics." And Joycean A. Walton Litz wrote that "No piece of information was too irrelevant to find its place in the comprehensive pattern."

Works Consulted:
Ulysses, James Joyce, the 1934 text as corrected and reset in 1961, Modern Library
James Joyce: A New Biography, Gordon Bowker, 2011, Farrar Straus Giroux
Art of James Joyce, A. Walton Litz, 1964, Oxford U. Press.
Names and Naming in Joyce, Claire A. Culleton, 1994, U. of Wisconsin Press


Eric Wagner said...

Terrific piece, once again. "Polished periods" also makes me think of the awareness of rhetoric by Joyce and by his characters and/or peers. (Did he have peers?)

michael said...

I don't get the impression Joyce believed he had peers, although he seemed supportive enough to guys like Italo Svevo.

Having read Joyce at the level I have, my strong feeling is that he knew full well how to play both sides of that line about the "polished periods" and "lips" and Seymour Bushe: elegant forensic eloquence...and something more Rabelaisian.

Anonymous said...

Terrific piece. Thank you