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Vol. 5, No. 2, 2006
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David SolwayDavid Solway has recently published a new collection of poems entitled The Pallikari of Nesmine Rifat (Goose Lane Editions, 2005), and is now working on his fourth book in education and culture, entitled Reading, Riting and Rhythmitic. A collection of literary/critical essays, Director's Cut, was released by The Porcupine's Quill in Fall 2003 and a new volume of literary/scholarly essays, Peregrines, is slated for McGill-Queen's University Press. He was appointed writer-in-residence at Concordia University for 1999-2000 and is currently a contributing editor with Canadian Notes & Queries and an associate editor with Books in Canada.


The encyclopedic technique in fiction when deployed with the consummate scope and art of James Joyce has as its inevitable corollary the vast, scholastic profession of source-and-allusion hunting. The impulse which drives this profession is theoretically boundless since, unbeknown to itself, the Creation and not the text has become the ultimate object of the quest. The headlong pursuit of meaning, however, in the absence of controlling principles leads inescapably to absurdity. Scholars tend to treat Joyce's text as a carte blanche so that the hermeneutic project comes to resemble the legendary excesses of rabbinical pilpul or to approach the futile erudition of Trivial Pursuit.1

James JoyceBut one cannot blame the Joyce-bedazzled scholar entirely. Every scintilla in a book like Ulysses must be remorselessly explicated. The novel, “this chaffering all including most farraginous chronicle,” as Joyce calls it in Finnegans Wake, not only invites us to range beyond its fictional limits and trespass on the domain of the world outside the text, it positively compels us to do so. As R. M. Adams makes abundantly clear in his fastidious study of Joycean detail, Surface and Symbol (seconded by the more pedestrian labours of compilers of dictionaries of allusions such as Don Gifford and Weldon Thornton), much of Ulysses (let alone Finnegans Wake) remains hidden in impenetrable obscurity if the factual, scholarly and biographical ephemerae with which it swarms are not tracked down and duly elucidated.

Two cases in point from a myriad which Adams discusses: the cabdriver reading the Irish Evening Telegraph of June 16 chances on an article actually printed in the London Times of June 17, whereas W. B. Murphy reads only what is demonstrably in the Telegraph. Joyce's point, apparently, is that the cabman “sees more than his eyes see, and is wiser than his mind knows”; Murphy, however, is confined to mere exiguous event. The reader who refuses to dig scrupulously into the mass of buried, mycelial fact on which the novel is erected remains as purblind as Murphy, deprived of the conic mirror which Joseph Campbell (in Creative Mythology), applying Schopenhauer's theory of anamorphosis, posits as necessary to resolve the fragmentary images with which the book is so generously sharded.2

Again: Saverio Mercadante the composer (1795-1870), to whom Bloom attributes musical compositions by Rossini and Mayerbeer, was not a Jew. He was the illegitimate son of Guissepe (ie, Joseph) Mercadante and a servant girl, Rosa Bia. Is Joyce, Adams wonders, trying to establish the correlation of bastard: Jew: redeemer? An ingenious reader might continue the guessing game. Is the author merely providing us with one more example of Bloom's characteristic fuzzy-mindedness, or perhaps testing the reader's dedication to the text by presenting him with another in an indefinite series of daedalian conundrums, or running “Mercury” and “Dante” into the same onomastic portmanteau? At any rate, when so much of the novel's intrinsic design is made to depend on such subliminal connections and recognitions, which even the educated reader cannot be expected to manage for himself or herself, one is surely justified in putting the entire project into question. So indiscriminate a levy upon the field of the “historical” produces not increased significance but obscurity and distraction, except in the case of the ideal reader suffering an ideal insomnia who, moreover, enjoys ideal access to an ideally complete documentation.

Typical of this endless catechising is Reading Joyce's Ulysses by Daniel R. Schwarz, which glosses, among a proliferation of such minutiae, the “sand-blind upupa” in Bloom's reverie of dissolution in the Oxen of the Sun chapter as suggesting papa, “the identity that Bloom seeks to redeem his wasteland,” and pupa, the insectal transformation stage, that “calls attention to the embryonic growth of both the Purefoy heir and language as well as the possible metamorphosis of Bloom into a suitable father . . .”3 Well, maybe. How useful this sort of exegesis is or the extent to which it illuminates the common reader's experience of Ulysses remains an open question. It may be more to the point to recall that the upupa, as Albertus Magnus tells us in The Book of Secrets, is really the Lapwing (or Black Plover), a bird associated in both the Portrait and Ulysses with Stephen Dedalus: a bird, moreover, whose eyes have the magical property of pacifying a man's enemies and whose head immunizes a man against deceit. It is also connected, says Albertus, with the Quiritia stone found in its nest, whose property of ferreting truth from a sleeping man may or may not apply to either Bloom or Stephen (or HCE, for that matter), depending on how we agree to define “truth” in this context. Schwarz also notes the homophonic resemblance to the notorious Breen postcard. One can continue the hunt, as the upupa comes increasingly to approximate the vanishing snark, by consulting T. H. White's The Bestiary in which the bird's uncleanliness is mentioned. A reference to Bloom's new, hydrophobic heir? Perhaps the “sandblind upupa” is the scholiast himself for whom each word in the text is a kind of Quiritia stone to tease the truth from the dream of the Sleeping Giant, since it is obviously Joyce and not Finn McCool who slumbers beneath the Howth of contemporary Joyce scholarship.4

Admittedly, the larger patterns of relationship between the chief characters remain more or less observable, as do the mythic and archetypal paradigms, but the teeming field of private association, “historical” incident and empirical and scholarly reference through which the reader must stumble constitutes a serious obstacle in the way of understanding and appreciation. Multiply such nano-details exponentially and we have in effect one of the sovereign techniques of Ulysses, the interplay, in Adams' words, “of reality and illusion so subtle as to be almost impenetrably private.” This technique derives from an attitude to the world and the reader which renders both subordinate to the text: knowledge of the contents of London and Dublin newspapers for June 16/17, 1904, or of the biography of a little known composer, are essential if these portions of the text are to be even potentially intelligible. Such aphidian moments have become part of the texture of the novel, as necessary to the total schema of Ulysses as they are historically indiscernible to all but a handful of privileged scholars who receive Guggenheims to discriminate them. Empirical fact has been incorporated into the substance of the novel and the reader transmogrified into a Joycean archivist: both have become servants of the text. As L.A.G. Strong, a favourable reader, asserts in The Sacred River, “To assess Joyce's work fully, the critics must know as much as Joyce did.” He might have added: and exactly what Joyce knew as well. Anthony Burgess in Joysprick makes a similar point, perhaps a shade more temperately, when he says, “there has to be curious learning . . . encyclopedic rather than mere lexicographical knowledge . . . ”

But the function of Joycean detail must always remain to some extent enigmatic. Marilyn French in The Book and The World regards the mass of such detail as an attempt to ground or hypostatize the novel in the reader's sense of felt reality, that is, to check the diffusions of subjective parallax. “That is why small factual details were so essential in the composition of Ulysses. [They] . . . provide the reader with a firm concrete base, a sense that there is a reality similar to one's sense of one's own world.” She does not see the book as simply a reflection or construal of human experience, but contends that Joyce “literally set out to create a replica of the world...not a metaphor for it, but a copy of it . . .” That the details which form the “concrete base” of the novel are often obscure, elusive, private or bafflingly recondite corresponds to its central intention of “reproducing all the coincidences, mysteries and incertitude that pervade actual life.” Possibly.

On the other hand, Wolfgang Iser in The Implied Reader views the issue from a different “parallactic” standpoint. He argues that the essential Ulysses can never be satisfactorily grasped. The patterns of event, allusion and archetype which committed readers continue to disinter are not determinate or representative, but are merely “transitory units” which enable us to experience the book in one way or another. No single reading is definitive, “and the mass of details presents itself to the reader to organize in accordance with his own acts of comprehension.” The details exist to serve as material which the “implied reader” orders and manipulates to satisfy his quest for coherence. They are the iron filings without which the magnetic field cannot appear to the observer. Only, the number as well as the potential forms of such fields are theoretically inexhaustible. The empirical data which Joyce so painstakingly accumulates thus function, according to Iser, not to anchor the novel (as French believes), but to cut it loose.

Is this databank pervasiveness another instance of Joyce's parallactic joke on the reader, like the various schemata which he released for the edification of a Gilbert or a Linati, leaving the way open for scholars like Ellmann (see Ulysses on The Liffey) to devise yet others even more comprehensive? There are times when I think of Joyce as the ultimate gingerbread man, fleet and mischievous, running away from those who wish to possess his meaning (and who may be refracted in the character of Sebastian Dangerfield in J.P. Donleavy’s hilarious novel The Gingerbread Man) --- or like Hamlet, perhaps, rebuking a world of Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns who would pluck out the heart of his mystery. But perhaps there is no mystery. Joyce is simply the gingerbread man who turns and devours the fox, only to be devoured in turn by the story he writes to record the event. Or a Hamlet who, counterfeiting his death, brings his adversaries to ruin and retires into the depths of the great textual pyramid, his subterranean motives a source of perpetual controversy.

There may be many readers who resist or resent Joyce's text because they suspect that it is omnivorous and feral: that in order to read it with the maximum of understanding and sympathy, one has to become as much like Joyce as possible. This is because Joyce has only one ideal reader: Joyce himself. Finnegans Wake may, theoretically, represent a more extreme proposition: as Umberto Eco proposes in Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, the Wake is the sort of text “which foresees, demands, and requires a model reader endowed with an infinite encyclopedic competence, superior to that of the empirical author James Joyce” (italics mine). In Ulysses, however, Joyce himself remains the asymptotic target no reader is empirically capable of reaching. Even chosen exegetes like Budgen or Gilbert, duly primed, cultivated and anointed by the master, leave much to be desired, the former too naively apostolic to bring much in the way of analytic perspicacity to the text, the latter too stiffly learned and tidy to appreciate the real poetic beauty of the rhythm and language of Ulysses. But Ulysses or Joyce can be approached in this manner only at the peril of vortical subsumption. In reading Mann or Conrad, for example, one can bring one's personality to bear without fear of incorporation. But Joyce's text reaches out for the reader who tends insensibly to become a kind of meta-Dubliner moving sluggishly along the coils of the author's Lestrygonian accomplishment. Pertinent here is the excerpt from the letter of an Irish friend with which Hugh Kenner begins the first chapter of Dublin's Joyce: “Willy-nilly we are all living inside Joyce's head . . . There is a sort of nightmare quality about not being able to get out of literature however hard we try.”

Strong informs us that the “priest-like austerity with which Joyce cut short his intake of material at the crucial day in June 1904 was rewarded by the preservation, intact and pristine, of those early impressions of Dublin.” The second part of this statement hardly offsets the sacrificial enormity implied in the first part. In a similar vein, A. Walton Litz in The Art of James Joyce deposes that Joyce “ceased during his later years to assimilate significant new experiences into his artistic techniques rather than new experience being the source of vitality.” Systematic technique has always been one of the chief artistic means of confronting and managing the chaotic welter of raw experience (formal exclusion is another), but from the perspective adopted here technique is also understood as an artistic reflex to near-limitless engorgement. It is the bureaucracy of the imagination that continues to function when the economy of life has grown static and bearish, the mind devouring its own substance in the absence of further nourishment and stimulus. One is reminded of Swift's spider in the Battle of The Books, “drawing and spinning out all from [it]self” --- an involuted dialectic in which technique becomes its own ultimate datum or in which, as Kenner comments approvingly in Dublin's Joyce5 “the subject is 'style,' and what style implies.” But the strategy of containment leads, paradoxically and inevitably, to inanition.

Jacques Derrida in “Two Words for Joyce,” from the Cambridge compendium Post- Structuralist Joyce, confesses to the same sort of ambivalent feeling toward Joyce which informs this “lese-majestical” essay. “One can admire the power of a work and have...a bad relationship with its signatory...I'm not sure I like Joyce.” The sense of uneasiness which ruffles Derrida's suave critical composure is partially explained by an “act of writing by which whoever writes pretends to efface himself, leaving us caught in his archive as in a spider's web.” Derrida's reference is to the gigantic, arachnoid memory which Joyce commands -- Strong and Litz, we recall, consider it a substitute for fresh experience --- which he calls “hypermnesia” and which provokes resentment because it “inscribes you in the book you are reading.” And this ingestion, he claims, can only be pardoned “if one remembers too that Joyce himself must have endured this situation.” (I don't know if the ethical valence suggested by a term like “pardon” is entirely appropriate in the development of a critical argument, though a psychological inflection in Joyce's case seems hardly to be avoided).

The attempt to enclose the world culminates in a double form of self-inscription. The writer, as a part of the world being encircled, finds himself encysted within his own sufficient text from which he is no longer capable of detaching himself --- there is no way out of the encompassing labyrinth; at the same time and by the same token, he has no choice but to continue preying on himself as memory gradually replaces the field of experience. Theseus finds only himself at the centre of the labyrinth, waiting for himself in the shape of the minotaur he has inexorably become, both source and victim of the peculiar mnemophagy of his art.

Moreover, memory supplants experience in the same way as technique replaces substance, word supersedes narrative, schema banishes development. The result may be as wonderfully intricate and symmetrical as the wheels within wheels of Ezekiel's vision or Anaximander's philosophy (or Bloom's “wheels within wheels” in his reflections on change and coincidence in the Lestrygonians chapter), but it fails to convince adequately on the human plane. One can always hear the quiet pineal hum of the primal cyborg deriving its power from a cerebral generator, not from insight into the mysterious depths of the heart and the will. That is why Joyce's characters remain artificial constructs, their thoughts and motives -- they cannot properly be said to have feelings -- assembled and locked into place like bits of Lego according to the dictates of a complicated blueprint.6 Occasionally pieces are carefully interchanged, as when Bloom in the Sirens episode thinks Stephen's earlier thoughts about Shakespeare (“In Gerard's rosary of Fetter lane . . . ” etc.) -- one scarcely notices the substitution at first reading. The difficulty is to know how to engage a text which resists both the domestic and cultivated practice of reading: to say “I am reading Joyce,” as Derrida testifies, produces a merely comical effect. The Joycean desideratum of a lifelong reader is more than the amusing exaggeration many have taken it for. Joyce is not simply a writer, even a great writer; he is a fate. What the student discovers in time is that he does not read a Joycean text. He is written, or perhaps more accurately, re-membered into it.

For the book is specifically designed to incorporate the world of which it forms a small, if significant, part, thereby reversing the traditiona -- and I think proper -- relation between literature and reality. This amounts to nothing less than a form of expropriation, a literary takeover prompted by a revanchist impulse against the domination of the reality principle. Further, reality is assigned a new and ancillary status as a textual appendix, an informative glossary or at best as the invisible section of the novel which formal and aesthetic considerations have excluded. Reality is nothing other than the deleted portion of the draft, the phantom text which the “graduate reader” must consult if he wishes to master the novel's enormous and presumably rewarding complexities. The “revolution of the word” (to quote Leavis) has succeeded: fact has been turned into an integral aspect of fiction and the world absorbed and digested into the ever-expanding system of the book itself—the entire book, that is, both printed text and original manuscript. One might even consider the scholarly apparatus that has attached itself to the process of introjection as one of its chapters.7

Thus what we call reality is by implication no longer merely to be lived -- loved, celebrated, cursed, opposed, studied, approximately understood -- but annexed as the vast, provincial supplement whose function it is to be taxed and exploited for the maintenance of the governing fiction, the factual granary of the imaginative empire. For the Erysichthean mind, experience is the enemy, barbarous and threatening; as such it must be rigorously controlled, subdued, and finally assimilated, so to speak, into the latifundian expanse of the imperial fiction. What this project envisions, then, is a form of intellectual colonialism in which, once the war of pacification is over, the conquered territory is accorded a perfunctory, second-class status. It may constitute the greater portion of the new configuration; it may be necessary for the survival and prosperity of the putative victor; yet it is manifestly inferior and subservient now that the subject of the fiction has been rendered subject to it.

Joyce's congenial practice is perhaps most succinctly epitomized by the protagonist of Borges' enigmatic short story, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. Pierre Menard has set himself the impossible task of writing Don Quixote word for word—not rewriting it but composing it for the first time, as it were. It is true he carries a dim recollection of the book from having read it in his youth, but this serves merely as the indispensable catalyst of his enterprise, its genetic condition. Joyce has gone even further. He proposes, I suggest, not to write or rewrite the Odyssey but to write the entire Creation, beginning with the thoughts and movements of a determinate number of characters on a certain day in a given city. Inscription inevitably becomes transcription as ever larger chunks of reality are intromitted into the novel's sinuous and meandering ramifications. The project is theoretically endless and is cut short only by the accident of mortality. I suspect there is no inadvertence in the fact that Borges concludes his story with a reference to Joyce as the potential author of the Imitatio Christi.

Few readers can deny that Ulysses is a splendid book, technically the supreme literary achievement of our century. It is precisely for this reason that it remains so problematic and disquieting. It bears striking witness to an Icarian condition of mind or will, a conviction of nullius momenti before the senseless profusion of the cosmos, that responds by mounting a flanking operation of truly startling dimensions.8 Joyce, writes Iris Murdoch in her Sartre: Romantic Rationalist, “tries to change life into literature and give it the cohesion of a myth” -- but the myth is doubly Procrustean, stretching the text as it absorbs, and so paradoxically truncates, the scope of worldly experience. Ulysses attempts to defeat the world by surrounding it and transforming it into a subtext or a speculatively infinite referential network. In writing the world into his book, Joyce has provided us with the cardinal example -- perhaps the only example -- of an unfamiliar literary genre: the Revenge Comedy.9 But the world always has the last word in the politics of textual exploitation as the law of diminishing returns swings into action: when the field of experience which the text ensepulchres grows too intricate, detailed and private, too coiled in personal space and time, it becomes progressively inaccessible, with the inevitable result that the book in which it is embodied becomes generally unreadable to any but the specialists. As David Gervais suggests in a recent essay entitled “The Persistence of Myth,” with respect to Ulysses, “In theory, if he or she works hard enough, the reader should end up knowing everything about everything. This seems a rather arid outcome to look forward to.” If a book is to survive without relying on prosthetic artifice it must rest upon the principle of economy. The local and the particular give flavour, resonance and authority -- up to a certain critical point, beyond which the text begins to recede into the maze of the subjective and the minuscule. Thus there is a sense in which Joyce comes to resemble his own Mr. Deasy (‘desy” in Sanskrit means “of the locality”): pursuing his own private vision of theurgic immanence, paying off personal scores, and finally bogging down in the terminal eccentricity of a parti pris.

But the text need not degenerate into something like the verbal icon or concrete universal so beloved of the New Critics in order to establish its own independent mode of existence, related in commensal harmony to the world which it addresses but without either rejecting or admitting it. The work of art remains a heterocosm, a second creation founded on the triple rule of elegance, consistency and meaning, yet depends for its prosperity on a reciprocal agreement with experience which enriches, as it is enriched by, it. If the relation is not right, the consequence is always a greater or lesser degree of unintelligibility. Derrida was gravely mistaken when he proposed that “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte,” piquant as the formulation may be; it is, on the contrary, the relation to what is outside the text, that is, the world of the reader, that justifies and valorizes what is in the text. The writer who seeks to establish his autonomy by cleansing his work of all demotic impurities concludes in mannered sterility; the writer who tries to turn the tables upon the clamorous world by opening his borders and absorbing it will eventually subside under the inundation of sheer data: personal, historical, mythological, linguistic. The price in the first case is reader boredom and neglect, in the second, bewilderment only partially atoned by delight.

Thus it would seem the Joycean strategy of textual subversion is finally self-defeating. Joseph Prescott in James Joyce: The Man and His Works assumes that the incomplete term of the progression Ulysses-Finnegans Wake would be a book called Tabula Rasa,10 for the propagation of “inconsequent” (as Mulligan calls himself) details, philological hybrids and subjective communings leads not to the multiplication of meanings but to a featureless amalgam of constituent distinctions: what we might refer to as a condition of textual leucography. Joyce (whom Harry Levin calls “a one-man Sinn Fein movement”), for all his indisputable genius, would not find many readers among the diminishing population of the literate had he not become (O foenix culprit!) a thriving scholarly multinational.

Mario Vargas Llosa in Making Waves rightly praises Joyce for “the supreme ability of a writer, through use of detailed memories of the small world of his birth and through his extraordinary linguistic facility, to create a world of his own.” But he does not recognize that this “world of his own” can inflate almost illimitably and swallow its creator whole, along with the legions of devoted acolytes who retrace Leopold Bloom’s steps every 16 June in a largely fictional Dublin. The only hope for self-retrieval is furnished, perhaps, by the anonymous correspondent who sent me an email offering a “Dimensional Warp Generator #52 4350a wrist watch, an XK memo replica or similar technology” to help counteract the “nanoprobe tracers and mind-transducers” used by unspecified aliens to take over one’s life.

If in the beginning was the Word, we would do well to remember with Stephen that in the end was the world without end, which like Joyce's own fulminating gigant, smelling de bloodz odz an Iridzman, will neither be devoured nor shaken from his Ygdrasil.

1 Or as Joyce would have put it, “quadrivial” pursuit.

2 The idea is also taken up by Stephen Greenblatt in Renaissance Self-Fashioning, with particular reference to Holbein’s The Ambassadors in which the distorted skull at center bottom can be properly seen only from an oblique viewing angle. “To enter this non-place is to alter everything in the painting and render impossible a simple return to normal vision.” Greenblatt then applies this technique of “anamorphic virtuosity” to More’s Utopia to determine the way an official perspective on the text’s grapple with reality may be unsettled, placing the traditional “methods of ordering and measuring the world” in a new and unexpected light. Similarly, Campbell, taking his cue from a formulation of Schopenhauer’s, argues that the reader must approach Ulysses from the side, as it were, bringing a “conic mirror” to bear and reading anamorphically from a Joycean vantage point to resolve the novel’s enigmas and complexities.

3 It is interesting to note that Schwarz, in his semi-deconstructionist study of Joycean metaphoricity (or “metaferocity”), blithely approves of the text's evident amoebic qualities. “Does not such a linear series where one event signifies the subsequent one become a structural endorsement of the contiguous metaphoricity by which characters, events, and words signify and are signified by one another until the book becomes coterminous with recorded history and spatially (sic) equivalent to the whole world?”

4 It is not so easy to determine how the symbol of the lapwing is to be understood and applied. As the bird whose cries lure attackers away from the nest, it may suggest Stephen's flight to the continent to protect his fledgling artist's soul from Irish indifference or animosity. It is, appropriately, also the symbol of callow impetuosity, as in Horatio's comment on Osric: “This lapwing runs away with the shell on his head,” a reading which ironically qualifies the former acceptation. In Goldsmith's The Deserted Village it represents social and economic desolation: “Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies.” Blake's notebook lyric gives us a somewhat different picture again, presenting the lapwing as potential victim:

O lapwing, thy fliest around the heath,
Nor seest the net that is spread beneath.
Why dost thou not fly away among the cornfields?
They cannot spread nets where a harvest yields.

Which links up nicely with Stephen's image of the three nets of language, religion and nationality that he must fly by. In Albertus it is the talismanic properties of the bird which are emphasized, and this may correspond as well to Bloom's apotropaic soap and potato. (Cf. William Schutte in Joyce and Shakespeare for the Hamlet and Blake references).

5 Kenner's main argument in Dublin's Joyce, surely one of the most brilliant and wrongheaded books on Joyce ever written, assumes that Joyce's intention in Ulysses is largely parodic: that Stephen represents an aesthetic cul-de-sac which Joyce anatomizes and repudiates and that Bloom is a “low-powered variant” of “the insane mechanical meticulousness of that mode of consciousness...proper to industrial man.” Joyce, he contends, does not stand behind Ulysses paring his mandarin fingernails, but somewhere above the industrial (and cybernetic, as we would say now) wasteland which the book is designed to reflect and condemn. This would mean that Joyce's relation to his characters in particular and to his book in general is chiefly antiphrastic, that it is written in what Yeats called “the spirit of accusation” and not in “the spirit of forgiveness.” Such an assumption does violence not only to Joyce's own recorded sentiment of Bloom as essentially “a good man” (cf. Budgen), but to the profound conviction on the part of many readers that Stephen (despite the irony of his presentation) is very much as Joyce was in his youth and that Molly has about as much Nora in her as she does das ewig Weibliche.

What Kenner has done is to mount an impressive salvage operation; having recognized Ulysses as a kind of “huge and intricate machine clanking and whirring for eighteen hours,” he proceeds to regard it as a deliberate parody-reflection of a nightmare society or, say, an ironic critique in the form of a Trismegistian inversion: as below, so above. This redemptive view turns the novel into pure satire which, though it may contain elements of satire and considerable irony, it assuredly is not. Clearly a work cannot be justified by reproducing the very quality it is presumably denouncing, as Walter Scott understood when he remarked that Jane Austen ran the risk of boring her readers by a faithful rendering of dull characters. (See S.L. Goldberg's The Classical Temper, Ch. IV, for an extensive commentary on Kenner's reclamation project).

6 The philosopher Albert Cook is a markedly unfriendly witness. In The Dark Voyage and The Golden Mean he writes: “But one searches any of [Joyce's] books in vain for a deep probing of the individual, any character who is more than a type...Bloom, despite the elaborate documentation of his personal history, is merely a type, like HCE . . .A brief comparison of Joyce's entire repertoire of characters with those in Dostoevsky...will show to all but the most ardent enthusiast the comparative poverty of Joyce. He was a rationalist writer of satire and comedy, with an average imagination and an immense memory.” There is, I believe, a certain amount of truth in Cook's disclaimer, but it leaves too much out of consideration: the complex humour, the undeniably great writing, and the most impressive architectonic in all of modern literature. Moreover, it is surely misleading (and possibly a function of animus) to dismiss Joyce as the bearer of an “average imagination,” despite Joyce's own self-suspicion on this count. But to focus on the rationalist and memorial aspect of Joyce's writing is to strike at the Achilles heel of the entire Joycean project, namely, at the way in which it resembles a campaign, conscious, patient and systematic, against an adversary too inexhaustible to be decisively defeated. “Another victory like that and we are done for.”

7 Wyndham Lewis felt that Joyce's method set “the reader in a circumscribed psychological space, into which several encyclopedias have been emptied,” and went on to smear Ulysses as “a monument like a record diarrhoea.” Lewis' animus against Joyce and against the stream-of-consciousness technique is too well known to require renewed documentation, and in any case tends to come across more as a personal vendetta than a lucid and balanced critique. Joyce was aware of the ad hominem element in Lewis' attack and considered it at best as amounting to no more “than ten per cent of the truth.” But it seems to me that Lewis for all his unhelpful belligerence and unmannerly vehemence had his moments of shrewd insight, as for example in Time and Western Man when he characterized the experience of reading Ulysses as a kind of bathyspheric plunge: “It is you who descend into the flux of Ulysses, and it is the author who absorbs you momentarily into himself for that experience.” I would cavil, however, with the “momentarily.”

8 It is as if, psychologically, Icarus precedes Daedelus. Having plummeted from the sky, he reacts by constructing a labyrinth which encroaches upon the universe. What he possesses can no longer dispossess him. To change the metaphor, he has come to inhabit what Joyce calls in Finnegans Wake a “Tiberiast duplex” from whose central podium he can proceed, like his own Professor Jones, to lambast the understandings of all us “lattlebrattons” and “muddlecrass pupils.”

9 The revenge theory figures prominently in Armin Arnold's James Joyce. Arnold contends, for example, that Ulysses “can be interpreted as Joyce's revenge on Ireland, the Church, and everybody and everything that had contributed to making his life such as it was.” As for Finnegans Wake, it “could then be interpreted as the ultimate expression of Joyce's innermost resentments against the language he had to use, the civilization in which he had to live, and the universe in general.” Such evaluations are not only unkind, they are manifestly useless and smack of some form of personal (to use Baron Corvo's word from Henry VII) liblabbery. As for the Revenge Comedy, one thinks of J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World as another Irish candidate for this hypothetical classification of literary intent.

10 Joyce was apparently considering a follow-up to Finnegans Wake to be called The Sea. What that book would have been like is anybody's -- or rather, nobody's -- guess. But one can't help speculating. Would it have been a single, vast, tidal word flowing in for the first half of the book and ebbing in reverse, like Hebrew Temura, for the remaining half? Prescott's suggestion, while unlikely, is by no means preposterous, in that the book he envisions would probably have been no more indecipherable than the one I have imagined. Or might Joyce in his jocoserious way have taken the literary world by surprise and produced a straightforward, 19th century, readily-available tome complete with transparent, narrative meta-language, consistent characters, and dialogue set off in what he once called “perverted commas”? Joyce was certainly no less unpredictable or implausible than his fictional namesake in Flan O'Brien's The Dalky Archive, who professes ignorance of both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake and claims to have written Dubliners in collaboration with Oliver Gogarty.


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