Eight decades have passed since James Joyce He stopped curling his legs when sitting down, being terrified of thunder, staining the clothes in a suitcase green from a poorly closed inkwell, lavishing exaggerated tips, compulsively jealous of his wife, walking like a puppet, walking with his grandson – as he did during his last days – through the snowy streets of Zurich. (Snow and death are beautiful and serene sisters in his best story, “The Dead”). For a century James Joyce has been a Name, he, who used to repeat them often and in full and allow his characters to rename each other. One of them, Stephen Dedalus, threw salt on the wound: “What is behind a name? That is what we asked ourselves in childhood when we wrote the name that they told us is ours”.
A born fetishist, avocational numerologist, and incorrigible cabalero, Joyce had a special weakness for anniversaries. He managed to publish Ulises on his 40th birthday, one hundred years ago, on February 2, 1922, despite the fact that he was still scratching the galley proofs until four days before printing. And in the novel everything takes place on June 16, 1904 because it was the date of his first walk with his future wife, Nora. One forgets – just as one forgets that Italian was spoken in the Joyce family and that Italian was pronounced Ulysses almost as it is done in Spanish– which, after not a few hiccups and setbacks, was published by a bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, not by a publisher itself. Other heroines of Joyce’s story are, indeed, the booksellers Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier and the financial godmother Harriet Weaver. In January 1941 she died at the ridiculous age of 58.
In his work, the deceased are never satisfied with that state – he himself ruled that he who changes his manners becomes a ghost – but with his disappearance what was buried were his hours and superstitions: if a visitor put a hat on the bed someone would die soon; if he saw a rat coming down the stairs it meant bad luck.
The pursuit of money, the hundred removals, the editorial odyssey of his works and serial publications, the snips of phlegmatic and customs censorship (if Joyce was short on English, the magistrates were long), the acute eye ailments (he admits that a letter is incomplete “but sometimes I find it hard to keep my eyes open, just like the readers of my masterpieces”), his colored pencils drawing crosses and underlinings no less key than his wide calligraphic palette, his supernatural sense for punctuation. The fine-tuned voice left and he snorted: “In Ireland, Catholicism is black magic.”
There seemed to be in Joyce, as in Beckett, a fanatical creed: either one sings or one is silent. Two music lovers addicted to silence. Some of it captured Beckett in his masterful play Ohio Impromptu, which he staged 40 years after Joyce’s death as a stealthy tribute. On stage, a reader and a listener. He confesses to the first that a third, revered, sent him to say: “My shadow will comfort you.” Beckett saw an example in Joyce and now they are both: prototypes of a fervent dedication to an inexplicable vocation. His works were played again towards the end: the late style of both courts the illegible and the cantabile. What guarantees them a longer life is that his works are just that, inexhaustible.
The ostensible aspiration of Joyce to literary greatness not only did not prevent but rather encouraged the irruption of the comic. It was part of a fidelity pact with the everyday and the banal. Dedicate more than half a life to counting a day (Ulises) and one night (Finnegan’s Wake), traveling from the most documented to the most stylized, courting the slope of simultaneity. (They are books with three or four bookmarks in sight).
In these optical lotteries, in these puzzles with a thousand pieces, at times he brings the magnifying glass so close to language that he no longer sees what he is (not) saying. as if I had not wanted stoop to excessive clarity. To contribute to the general confusion, it should not be forgotten that while turning the pages the reader also contributes his intermittent internal monologue. If difficult is a book full of diamonds behind leafy foliage, these are not easy books.
Joyce wanted to start from scratch, but not before going through a figurative period: the blameless Dubliners Y Portrait of the adolescent artist. The average gives a masterpiece per decade and one hundred percent effectiveness.
Some will find it disconcerting, and even heartbreaking, to see how many authors continue to write as if Joyce, Beckett, and Pound (another great benefactor) had never existed. It will be that contempt is often a survival strategy. Or that no one can learn from someone who talks to himself (that’s also Ulises, a novel about that confrontation with oneself in a loud or soft voice, and the Beckett trilogy). Or could it be that the most visible experiments in literature have all been carried out and those that remain to be carried out are the most subtle, experiments in the style that renew it – even if no one realizes it – and are the only path open to discovering or deepening of the singularity.
From James to Giacomo. During the years of invisibility that Trieste gave him – especially at two specific and indefinable moments of the day, dawn and twilight, which Joyce knew how to portray with the rigorous ambiguity of a boarding house mirror – the Irishman who began to blur the Ulysses gave meanwhile private English classes. The task seemed to allow Joyce slight theatrical acts, an intonation too finite for a ditty, a clear Sweelinck melody on the piano (the twelve-tone tone was reserved for literature), a harmless exercise in erotic fantasy that blew a path for him: infidelity as narrative machinery. Like the distracted lessons he taught at the Berlitz school, this timed social dance served as an ideal counterpoint to concentrated writing.
One of her students was called Amalia Popper and the little book Giacomo Joyce it is his chaste, abbreviated, Adriatic Lolita. This private notebook, the indolent counterpart of Ulises Y Finnegan’s Wake, has the charm of what is brief, what is left in suspense, of the corner in which a writer lowers his guard (although not technically), a different way of hiding than he would in those labyrinthine reams. A kind of minimal diary, which consents to the handwriting of a student: “Spider-web calligraphy, drawn delicately and elongatedly with stealthy disdain and self-denial: a young person of value.”
Joyce’s careful handwriting for this diminutive opus – the complete opposite of what he used to use in almost any other circumstance – was not far behind in coquetry, as if he sought to be the smallest in the world – of an ominous creature – precisely in a place like Trieste, which always favored concealment and flight. Ocular operations: the crusade of the myopic and visionary Joyce occurred between the eye and the letter, crystalline and calligraphy. The crystalline lens is the variable that focuses at different distances, and it is known the capital that the distance provided to the author of exiled.
Everything in Joyce literally went through ink and paper; hard to forget that before selling advertising space in a newspaper, the resourceful hidalgo of Ulises, Leopold Bloom, sold blotters. And the condensation of his lyrics went hand in hand with the condensation of his semblance, which he began to rehearse with success. Among Portrait of the adolescent artist Y Ulises, Joyce became the heir to Aubrey’s brief life and a pioneer of Barthes’s biographeme. He outlined his preternatural facility for creating memorable phrases (from the shipwreck of Finnegan’s Wake is the only thing that manages to be rescued).
In a book made of fragments, the writer is even more unaware of the effect he will cause on the reader. The fragment alludes, in the blanks between one and the other, to the uselessness –the ineptitude– of a mechanical plot. The discontinuity seeks to cut the path and at the same time creates wastelands of time. (Such flourishes did not detract from Joyce’s ability to be a perfect naturalist when he chose.) The pious transcription of the facsimile version denotes a calculated assembly. When asked on one occasion what was the main teaching of Jesuit formation, Joyce replied: “How to collect, how to order and how to present a given material.”
Despite the echoes, if it existed alone it could not be known by Giacomo Joyce what kind of writer he was, let alone guess the splendors and oversights he wastes Ulises and the drifts and walking of the finnegans. Here, Joyce tests the benefits of the ellipsis that would jubilantly wreak havoc on Ulises while he composes around a void (the unnamable), as if trying not to step on an absent figure with the traced letters, whose drawing is barely distinguishable on the back of a page.
There are many characters who read in Joyce’s pages: letters, diaries, borrowed books. This intangible February 2022, a reader of his will return to his house at night after the journeys of the day, to books that are equivalent, imagine, to the dog Argos that in The odyssey awaits the return of Ulysses. Both parties have all the illusions placed on being recognized.
Ulises, James Joyce. trad. Marcelo Zabaloy. The silver bowl, 832 pp.
Dubliners, James Joyce. trad. Edgar Scott. Godot Editions, 240 pages.
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A hundred years ago James Joyce is telling us the same day
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