JAMES JOYCE AND THE FOREST – Daily Pro & Contra

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the publication of a work that does not age and that its influence on the contemporary novel has been and is vital because it renewed it in form and content. We are referring to James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, after this, the novel was never the same. Many go to Cervantes in the re-reading and others meet with Joyce, we must return to them for his teachings in this trade. According to some apostillers, Joyce received the witness from Cervantes in the renewal of the novel. They refer to the way and ways of telling a story. On my nightstand I have the company of the two I always go to for their advice. In Peru, if I remember correctly, Carlos Eduardo Zavaleta, a writer from Caracas, was one of the first to introduce us to Joyce in Peruvian literature. In the Amazon, which is a different literary region from Peru, I have no information about who introduced it. It would be nice to know who brought us closer to this brilliant Irish writer.

I remember that a few years ago, on a trip to Dublin, we did a “tropical Bloomsday” with F. Bloomsday is June 16, an important date in the life of the strittore, devoted Joyce readers take a literary walk wearing period costumes and reading excerpts from “Ulysses” through iconic Dublin sites. Joyce took seventeen years to finish it, which is already a literary lesson before the difficulties of many, in these times, to publish even very light pages. As an Amazonian, I added to this walk through Joyce’s Dublin, visiting the grave of Roger Casement in the Glasnevin cemetery. As we know, thanks to this commissioner, light was shed on the world of bleeding and deaths of members of indigenous peoples in Putumayo. So we took a customized literary walk with the smell of the humid tropics and a copy of “Ulysses” in English that we bought at the The James Joyce Center.

In my green years at university, I bought “Ulysses” in an edition translated by José María Valverde, I advanced a large part of the novel, but I could not finish it, I have had several attempts or failed assaults on the text. It is not an easy novel, it costs sweat, Joyce was aware of that, it makes it difficult for readers, we must persevere. But I was disturbed by his literary techniques, his skill in the use of the interior monologue and the use of language. The writer Enrique Vila-Matas has a “Dublinesca” novel about Bloomsday, let’s remember that he and a group of writers are fervent followers of Joyce.

Years later I read it again with more determination until I finished it, in the edition by José Salas Subirat, from the Círculo de Lectores, which has a drawing by Joyce on the cover and is blue, as was the cover of the first edition in English – The paragraphs quoted in this chronicle are from the Salas Subirat edition, I bought it on Cuesta de Moyano in Madrid. He had read me through biography as «The most dangerous book. James Joyce and the Battle for Ulysses’, by Kevin Birmingham, essays and odd articles. There is a recently published text by Eduardo Lago, «We are all Leopold Bloom. Reasons for (not) reading Ulysses”, which is a suggestive cartography of this Joycean pilgrimage, Lago acknowledges that in “Ulysses”: “You have to face the challenge of reading as if it were a pilgrimage. What counts is getting to the end.”

I admit that on this trip I had more luggage to immerse myself in Joyce, I set myself a purpose, like the Japanese who do not paint the missing eye of the daruma until the goal is met. He started from the idea that Joyce is a writer who daubed the margins, so we can understand that he alludes to the transcontinental forest. While reading the novel I came across a paragraph that rang like a bell inside me, I couldn’t believe it, Joyce alludes to rubber. What? Yes to rubber, he points out:

Well- says JJ-, if they are worse at something than the Belgians in the Congo Free State, they should have their story. Did you read that report by one who… what’s his name?

-Casement- says the citizen-. He is an Irishman.

-Yes, that’s the man- says JJ- Raping women and girls and whipping the natives in the belly to get all the red rubber they can.

Let us remember that Casement made two relevant reports, one for the case of the Congo, and for that report he was commissioned to come to the Amazon where he drafted the famous “Blue Book” of the deaths of Putumayo indigenous people. Which leads us to ask, was Joyce aware of the Putumayo report when she was writing “Ulysses”? A footnote, in the novel “The Rings of Saturn” by WG Sebald, Casement is also mentioned, the German writer gives a reason for Casement’s sensitivity, to put himself in the other’s shoes, when preparing the reports of the Congo and Putumayo.

I was going from surprise to surprise on this trip on the “Ulysses.” Pages later, through the voice of a lame sailor, who boasted that he knew the world, he cites the cannibalistic Indians of the forest, he points out:

-Crean! So. And I have seen cannibals from Peru that eat the corpses and the liver of horses. Look. Are here. A friend sent it to me.

He fumbled with a postcard from his inner pocket, which looked like some kind of depository, and pushed it across the table. She had the following printed on it: Indian hut. Beni. Bolivia.

Everyone concentrated their attention on the reproduced scene: a group of wild women in striped loincloths, squatting, blinking, suckling, frowning, sleeping among a swarm of children (there must have been a good score of them) in front of some primitive willow huts

I felt a cramp inside me from these findings. My conclusion is that Joyce, being a writer from the margins, alludes to situations beyond the center such as what happened with rubber in the Congo or the cannibalistic Indians, who first says Peru and turns out to be Bolivia, which is part of the continental forest. Both quotes give rise to breaking down what Joyce wrote about rubber and cannibalistic Indians (Christian Bendayán’s canvas with the title “Cannibalistic Indians”, surely he would have given her another idea).

Finally, around the same time as the publication of “Ulysses”, Virginia Woolf’s novel “The Years” is published, which takes place in the midst of the Casement report riot, but she does not allude to him at all, despite the fact that in the novel deals with the tricky political situation of that time. Woolf explores the most intimate margins related to the situation of women. It seems to me that these two quotes are Joyce’s passports to enter the literary world of the marsh and, curiously, no writer from Peru and its surroundings has mentioned it.

PS To finish, on this “Tropical Bloomsday”, it is necessary to mention that on this same day in June, the death of the Amazonian actress Ofelia Montesco, in Mexico City in 1983, thirty-nine years ago.

We would like to thank the writer of this short article for this incredible material

JAMES JOYCE AND THE FOREST – Daily Pro & Contra


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