An original writer: James Joyce, by Aurelio Miró Quesada Sosa

Antonio Marichalar in the West Magazineand Valery Larbaud in The Nouvelle Revue Française, have recently covered, with admiration and enthusiasm, the main works of this Irish novelist. They are both magazines, publications made with high artistic criteria and looking for —the watchful eye— vibrant and sincere works that represent a heartbeat of the 19th century. He directs the first, the vigorous and multiple intelligence of José Ortega y Gasset. He animates the other, still, the luminous spirit of Jacques Rivière.

The cited article by Valery Larbaud is a controversy with Ernest Boyd regarding Ulysseswork that with The portrait of an artist as a young man Y Dubliners, form the brightest example of the literary personality of James Joyce. But Larbaud’s work is much broader in this respect. Lectures and articles have served him to praise him: and he has succeeded in arousing an enthusiastic and marked interest in Joyce’s work, the existence of which he has revealed to an entire public.

And if his figure remained so little known in Europe, what wonder is there that it was completely hidden from us? We live disconnected from the noble modern palpitations. In our bookstores they still have their place, works that for lack of true value have been condemned to oblivion. Only some isolated spirits break the literary monotony of the environment and strive to find a new world. Thus, a small circle has been given to know the imponderable beauty of Milosz’s poetry, deep, mystical and emotional poetry. Of poets like André Salmon, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Jean Cocteau, Blaise Cendrars and Tristán Tzara —high-ranking representatives of modernism in France—, the generality does not have the vaguest reference. Only recently have a farce by Crommelynck, two plays by Pitigrilli and the wonderful lies of Ossendowsky been introduced among us.

But since Joyce has been introduced to the public, all the critics have been ready to greet him. Some, like Ernest Boyd and Herbert S. Gorman, making certain reservations. Others, like Arnold Bennett, TS Eliot and Miss Margaret Anderson, saying their admiring and complete approval. In 1924 he translated it into French: Daedalus, portrait of, and the success was enormous. Marichalar quotes a significant paragraph from Giraudoux:

“-Death! He has no interest. What intrigues Paris at the moment is certainly not Death; It is the interior monologue. Haven’t you heard of Joyce?

All, in short, agree in considering him an original and admirable novelist.

But above all, can you be original? In the sense generally given to this word, no. It is believed that an original work should have no contact of any kind with preceding works; and when some affinity is found, no matter how distant it may be, the work collapses resoundingly. Those who think this way do not realize that those who they themselves recognize as geniuses –Shakespeare, for example– should not, to be consistent, give them such a description. But it is that the term of relationship is confused. Original is the one that, before the stimuli of the external or internal reality, reacts in a new, unexpected, personal way. Instead, the reality is the same, or almost the same for everyone. To say that Joyce is an original writer, we must therefore take into account not the stimuli but the reactions. And it will be our affirmative answer.

And he is not original in the first sense, because his work is of a finished verismo. Everything that we touch daily, even in his in its most intimate details, which, for other eyes, less scrutinizing than his, would go unnoticed, takes on an unexpected life and beauty in Joyce’s pages. Thus, the life of Dedalus in a Jesuit college is a model of precise description. Sometimes his writings are somewhat free; but his verismo is always artistic, which is the only important thing. However, an exaggerated or hypocritical puritanism has condemned some editions of his books to the stake.

In the Giraudoux paragraph quoted above, reference is made to interior monologue. This is the contribution made by James Joyce to Literature, which has caused the deepest sensation. He has been imitated, he has been discussed, his origins have been sought. The same author says that antecedents of this new form can be found in a French work of the 19th century. And Valery Larbaud has published it. It is by Édouard Dujardin; it went almost unnoticed in his time; and is titled: Les lauriers sont coupes. The interior monologue, which would serve Freud enormously, is, to a good extent, a psychoanalytic self-investigation, but done for literary purposes. The subject puts himself in such a situation that the censor that represses feelings or ideas of his subconscious fails; and these emerge, then, sharp and bright. And the artist copies them without distorting them, sincerely, to make known his state of soul. Here is a sample that Marichalar also cites:

“…the fourth what time not in this world I guess they get up at this moment in China they comb their pigtails for the whole day well soon we will hear the sisters play the angelus there is no one to come disturb their sleep if it is not a priest for his night office the awakening of the people from here with his cackling that makes my head pop let’s see if I could go back to sleep 1 2 3 4 5 what that kind of flower they invented like the stars the wallpaper on lombard street was prettier the apron he gave me was a thing if only he gave it to me I’ve put it on twice just what I had to do is lower this lamp try again so I can get up early I’ll go to the Lambes’ there near Findlaters and have them send us some flowers to put in the house if you bring it tomorrow I mean today no not the friday is a bad day i want to tidy up the house it gets dusty while i sleep and we can play and smoke i can accompany him first i need to clean the keys with milk and what will I wear I will wear a white rose…” Etcetera.

The unconscious factor that constitutes the inspiration in all artistic production, contributes to giving prominence to literary works. The images that spring from it are original and bright, the deeper thoughts; and ideas, broader. But these failures of the censor take place more easily in sleep. Hence, following the same path, the new literary trend has been reached, “surrealism”, headed by France: André Breton, Philippe Soupault and Saint-Pol-Roux, “le Magnifique”. The following words of Breton are a true definition of this school: “I believe in the future resolution of these two apparently contradictory states, like dreams and reality, in a kind of absolute reality, of suprareality”.

Joyce’s originality sometimes reaches eccentricity, although without ever abandoning Art. He often delights in daring constructions, or in playing—a consummate juggler—with all words. But even though this lacks value in itself, it serves to suggest a spiritual state, to underline a thought and to help readers in the intellectual understanding of the model.

And here an interesting point arises: humor. This is the time of his triumph. Its extension in the Literature thus attests it; and those who have the power to use it are, perhaps, those who are closest to the routes followed by current thought. It would be suggestive to analyze the reason for this unexpected victory. Does modern humor have an ironic grimace when contemplating the past idols that we have taken it upon ourselves to break? Is it tragically skeptical humor? Or is it the optimistic and jovial revelation of a healthy joie de vivre? Do they laugh because they understand that life should not be taken so seriously? Or is it precisely because they have not understood otherwise? The response is ignored; but humor is a fact. The Pirandello case in the best demonstration of it.

But Joyce is not content to humorously present the words in a strange dance. She also makes ideas dance; and playing with them, she traces marvelous superficial arabesques only in appearance. Her hero Stephen Dedalus, giving up cricket, repeating his “pic-pac-poc-pac, like drops of water from a fountain gently falling into the overflowing cup” writes in one of her schoolbooks, following an ascending order:

Stephen Daedalus

elementary class

Conglows Wood College


County Kildare





But there it stops. She searches for something further still; and he only finds God. She thinks of him, and to his childish brain it seems even more wonderful, because she understands the English who call him “God” and the French who call him “Dieu.”

Later, when Dedalus is already at the University, his spirit expands; and Joyce’s psychological study of it continues to be admirable. It has been believed to find a perfect self-portrait. The soul of Dedalus goes through that beautiful chromatic symphony –pink, white, gray blue–. He has one afternoon the revelation that he is an artist; he sings in his veins a new life; and he channels, since then, his personality in that sense. He plays with the deepest aesthetic doctrines; and he gives his friends sentences like these:

“–The past is devoured by the present, and the present lives only because it gives birth to the future.

– Pity is the feeling that stops the spirit before what is serious and constant in human suffering and that unites it with the suffering subject. Terror is the feeling that stops the spirit before what is serious and constant in human suffering and that unites it with the secret cause.

–The beauty expressed by an artist cannot communicate an emotion of a kinetic order, nor a purely physical sensation. He awakens in us, or should awaken, introduces into us, or should introduce, an aesthetic state, an ideal piety or terror, a state provoked, prolonged and in the end dissolved, by the rhythm of beauty”.

But the environment is hostile to him. At least his indifference exasperates him. His spirit, animated by Art, is no longer Irish but human. He wants to fly; but his wings collide with the bars of a cage. And carrying in his heart a bit of disappointment and a lot of hope, he departs “to seek the reality of experience and mold in the forge of his soul the uncreated consciousness of his race.”

And so, smilingly, softly, without noticing his intent, he touches on the most difficult problems, and does not respect even the highest concepts. But he never presents them in a clear way and with a tendency to dogmatize. He discreetly places them in the background. James Joyce understands that a literary work is not a matter of spectacle but of the spectator. And he does nothing but offer the luminous ends of a series of balls, so that readers can untangle them to his liking.

Lima, August 1925


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An original writer: James Joyce, by Aurelio Miró Quesada Sosa

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