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Posts Tagged ‘James Joyce’

Down Where the Asparagus Grows

June 16, 2015 | by

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“The Little Review: A Magazine of the Arts―Making No Compromise with the Public Taste,” Vol. 4, No. 11, March 1918.

A letter from Ezra Pound to James Joyce, March 1918. Pound, then an editor for the New York magazine The Little Review, had arranged to serialize Joyce’s Ulysses; he feared its more scatological parts would result in confiscation from the government. The Egoist, a British magazine also running the novel in installments, had failed to find a printer willing to accept it.

The Little Review had already been suppressed once, in November 1917, for a piece by Wyndham Lewis; Judge Augustus Hand had banned it, citing a subsection of the U. S. Penal Code that likened prurient literature to information about contraceptives. “I confess to having been a bad citizen,” Pound had rebutted in print, “to just the extent of having been ignorant that at any moment my works might be classed in the law’s eye with the inventions of the late Dr. Condom.”
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Your Very Own Celestial Clock, and Other News

June 15, 2015 | by

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The gilt cover of Matisse’s Ulysses, from 1935.

  • John Berger is eighty-eight, and still seeing—which isn’t to commend him for having retained his eyesight, but to say he’s still an acute observer. “I live enormously through my eyes. The visible is simply a very important part of my experience of being in this world … my own story doesn’t interest me. There’s a risk of egocentricity. And to storytellers, egocentricity is boring.”
  • “The world made this book true while I was writing it, which of course is the paranoid’s greatest fantasy.” The deeply surveilled world of Joshua Cohen’s new novel, Book of Numbers, seemed improbable, if not impossible, before the Snowden leaks. Now the book is positioned not as a techno-dystopian fable but as an aspirant to that lofty title, “The Great American Internet Novel.”
  • Our London editor, Adam Thirlwell, on Wayne McGregor’s new ballet, Woolf Works: “The mystery arises through a pragmatic attention to physical detail … a truth recognized subtly in the way a choreographer describes making a ballet on a dancer. The dancer is the ballet’s pivot. For there Ferri was. She wasn’t Mrs. Dalloway, or Virginia Woolf. Nor was she Juliet. Or rather, she could allude to all of these—she contained multitudes—but the allusions were only flourishes. Really, she was only herself, and that was everything.”
  • Meanwhile, Anne Washburn’s new play, 10 out of 12, is set entirely in the vicinity of a thespian’s nightmare: a tech rehearsal. It is, in essence, a play about figuring out how to stage a play: “Washburn stakes out the tech rehearsal as her territory, a hitherto unexplored subgenre of backstage drama as far as I know, and uses its technology to subtle effect. Washburn’s play, drawn from tech rehearsals of her own shows and listening in on others, provides a fairly faithful reproduction of this ugly task. All of the action and dialogue, which are meant to appear spontaneous and random, are carefully set forth in the 142-page script. Her clever idea is to have the audience listen in on headsets, tuned to the same channel that the tech crew is using to talk to one another while the work continues.”
  • What to do with those sixteen thousand bucks you have under the mattress: buy a rare 1935 edition of Ulysses with etchings by Henri Matisse. “Matisse’s mythical Nausicaa design is embossed in gold on the front cover of the edition, displaying four shapely nudes enclosed in a sphere with Roman numerals forming a celestial clock.” (As if Matisse would have included nudes who weren’t shapely.)

“I Will Not Be Trifled With!” and Other News

April 30, 2015 | by

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Adolf Emil Hering, Wilhelm II, Deutscher Kaiser, 1910.

  • Finnegans Wake, in all its difficulty, was onlycrying out for the invention of the web, which would enable the holding of multiple domains of knowledge in the mind at one time that a proper reading requires.” A wealth of new projects online aim to help readers parse, demystify, and/or grapple with the text; “maybe, just maybe, future generations will look back on early discussions of Finnegans Wake’s unreadability and wonder what the hell was the matter with us.”
  • Borges’s “The Library of Babel” has been re-created online, too, in the form of a site that, if it’s ever completed, “would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lowercase letters, space, comma, and period … The library creates a tantalizing promise of reason—somewhere in its pages are all the works lost in the burning of the Library of Alexandria, and every future masterpiece—but drowned out by infinite pages of nonsense.”
  • A lost 1972 interview with Ray Bradbury, animated for Blank on Blank: “People need you. Go on TV. It can be done. After you speak up a few times, people say, ‘Hey, we got a crazy man in the community,’ and they’ll begin talking to you.”
  • A new documentary, Even Though the Whole World Is Burning, follows W. S. Merwin’s attempts to plant a forest of palm trees in Hawaii. “For forty years, [he] planted a tree every day that he could, restoring nineteen acres of land in Haiku, Hawaii, even as it seemed the world might well be ending, first from military conflict and then from ecological crisis. The film is a chronicle of a man struggling to make meaning through tiny, trembling acts.”
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II liked to talk—a lot. “Virtually everything the Kaiser said, no matter how risible, was recorded and preserved for posterity … he cajoles, whines, demands, vociferates and babbles, bombarding his interlocutors with fantastical geopolitical speculations, crackpot plans, sarcastic asides and off-color jokes. Reading Wilhelm II on every conceivable subject … is like listening for days on end to a dog barking inside a locked car.”

More Than Just a Haircut, and Other News

April 16, 2015 | by

Audrey Hepburn, the ur-gamine, in the trailer for Roman Holiday.

  • 92Y has released recordings of Tomas Tranströmer reading his poem “Reply to a Letter” in 1989 and Seamus Heaney reading in 1971. “Heaney is in his early thirties on this 1971 recording,” Pura López-Colomé writes in a breathless commentary, “already in full command of his capacities—a Beethoven, more than a Bach … he poet-visionary’s vibrant voice, about to be swallowed by dichotomy, banishes all evil through a salutary tension coil.”
  • Adam Thirlwell on Ulysses and the scandal that continues to surround it: “Joyce happened on a whole new way of writing novels. And the first, most intoxicating invention was the discovery of how comprehensive it was really possible to be. Even sexual fantasies, to choose an extreme example, could suddenly find their form … If transgender fisting occurs earlier in the history of the novel, I would be surprised.”
  • A visual history of the gamine, with her boyish charm, reminds us that she is “more than just a haircut.”
  • On the increasingly gendered use of the exclamation point: “For many women, they are the most common, or neutral, way of ending sentences. Leaving them out indicates negative intentions, while including them simply shows an expected level of enthusiasm.”
  • “My father once split an infinitive, and I did not attend his funeral.” “I got a tattoo of a comma splice and then had it removed.” “I disregard ransom notes if their punctuation is incorrect.” The bona fides of true grammar nerds.

Strandelion, and Other News

April 2, 2015 | by

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From a 1960 German postage stamp.

  • The politics of genre fiction: “the current preoccupations of the crime novel, the roman noir, the krimi lean to the left. It’s critical of the status quo, sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly. It often gives a voice to characters who are not comfortably established in the world … The thriller, on the other hand, tends towards the conservative, probably because the threat implicit in the thriller is the world turned upside down.”
  • Mark Strand’s final interview takes a fittingly existentialist turn: “I don’t know why I was born ... here I am: a sentient being, talking about life. I had the luck to be born a human being who can speak. I might have been a dandelion or a goldfinch. I might have been a buffalo in the zoo. A fly! I don’t know why I’m here.”
  • Philip Pullman has a transcendently simple (and hyperrealist) way of working through writer’s block: “If you’re stuck, if you’re really desperate—dialogue: ‘Hello.’ ‘Oh hello.’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Not too bad, thanks. How are you?’ ‘Not too bad.’ Half a page already.”
  • Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “was one of the only books that James Joyce, his eyesight fading, allowed himself to read while taking breaks from Finnegans Wake.” (Other admirers: Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, E. B. White, Sherwood Anderson, William Empson, and Rose Macaulay.)
  • Before he decamped for England and a lifetime of Anglophilia, T. S. Eliot “spent his formative childhood summers in a wood-shingled, seven-bedroom seaside house on Gloucester’s Eastern Point, built for his family in 1896.” The T. S. Eliot Foundation plans to turn the house into a writers’ retreat.

Everyday Blasphemies

November 12, 2014 | by

Dubliners at one hundred.

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An illustration by Stephen Crowe for de Selby Press’s new edition of Dubliners.

It was a priest who first convinced me to read Dubliners. On the face of it, this might seem strange. Joyce had a lifelong hatred of clergymen, and claimed the sight of one made him physically ill; in “The Sisters,” the opening story of Dubliners, he chose a senescent priest as the first, and arguably most disturbing, of the many images of decay and paralysis that pervade the book. But in the Dublin of my teens, the priests were running the show; it was even possible for priests to be celebrities, and it was the most famous of these who took my class on retreat at the end of Transition Year, in June 1991.

Joyce writes about a religious retreat in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which an unnamed preacher terrifies the boys with a lengthy description of the torments of hell. Ours wasn’t like that. There were beanbags and unlimited biscuits; the celebrity cleric, who had become famous in the sixties as the Singing Priest and latterly hosted a hugely popular radio show, spoke to us like we were his friends. Even though the retreat consisted for the most part of the usual list of prohibitions—don’t do drugs, don’t have sex—his gravelly voice and inner-city accent gave him a convincing authenticity. Then, for reasons I still can’t quite understand—modernist literature was not at that point high on our list of temptations—he started talking about James Joyce. According to the Singing Priest, Joyce was one of the greatest hoaxes ever to be perpetrated on the Irish people. Far from being a genius, he was a charlatan, a phony, a false prophet. Furthermore, the priest continued, nobody in the world had actually read his famous novel Ulysses, and anyone who claimed otherwise was a liar.

Well, this came as a surprise. My father was a professor of Irish literature at Joyce’s alma mater, University College Dublin; in his study at home he had multiple copies of Joyce’s books, including Ulysses, as well as innumerable books about Joyce’s books. Had he been pulling the wool over our eyes for all these years? Read More »

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