sentence. So let us cut quickly to the chase on these newly-restored Widows and before the pc crashes again.
It quickly became apparent that the Wake didn’t merely mash words together randomly into sonorous portmanteau (as those like Lennon who would emulate it tend to do); it scrunched up all histories, ‘all identities that have existed or may exist’ (Here Comes Everybody, Mr Whitman) and most important for this young ignoramus, all literature. This will or perhaps won’t be discussed further in a blog which is or indeed isn’t yet to come. For now and for then the first point to consider was the idea that reading this book would be a richer or at least slightly less confusing experience if some of the many ‘call-backs’ made more sense — ie if the reader first had an experience of the rest of Joyce’s oeuvre, which, if nowt else, would prepare one gently for the complexity of punnery in this final tome.
So your humble correspondent’s student self went out and splashed some more of the old grant money on a nice hardback copy of Ulysses and Tindall’s more general Reader’s Guide to James Joyce.
Which made it plain that he’d need to read Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to get the full back story of some of the characters, most important of which was perhaps Dublin’s fair city (or as Jim might have put it, ‘far shitty’) itself.
For good measure, copies of Pomes Penyeach, Chamber Music, his only play, Exiles, and even the posthumously published Giacomo Joyce were added to the pile, along with Stuart Gilbert’s guide to Ulysses and the excessively titled Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress of 1929, a collection of essays and musings by such as Sam Beckett, on the as yet unnamed Wake.
I really should get round to reading some of these one day.
Only kidding! I’ve read them all, some more than once.
No! I’m not a ‘glutton for punishment’, whoever said that. And if you’re still reading this blog, you’re a fine one to talk. I do actually do it for fun. Crazy I may be, but masochistic, no. Books is for entertainment, and some of us just gets us kicks that way. Only rock and roll, but I like it. Great craic (even if you have to be cracked to think so).
So, getting back to the Joycean texts themselves, from the start I’ve discovered a great wordsmith, an amazing economist (Tindall rightly points to the opening sentence of Grace: Two gentlemen who were in the lavatory at the time tried to lift him up:), a deeply moving writer (the final passages of The Dead, itself possibly the greatest ever short story, are often held up as a paradigm of great prose, and their elegiac power is echoed at the end of Ulysses and, yes, the Wake) — but also an enigmatic fella. His key technique is that of the ‘epiphany’ — that moment of revelation, borrowed from his Catholic upbringing where it refers to the showing of Christ, the divine made human, to the Magi. But Joyce’s epiphanies are often mysterious and elliptical; a character has a life-changing experience of realisation, but the reader can’t always be certain what it or its significance is, exactly. Now at first this baffled the younger version of your current bloggist, at the same time as being intriguing. With the passage of years, some make more sense (others maybe less), but the air of mystery actually increases their numinous (I love that word, me) effect, a sort of mystical and moving effect, no doubt akin to that felt by religious folk, when they think on the mysteries of their Gods or whatever.
Intrigues and ambiguities become more delicious in themselves.
And all that was well before, half way though Ulysses (and so not on page one), yer man starts friggin’ about with the English language itself.
So, since the only real difficulty the early stuff can really present is the simple case of being Not my kind o’ thing, bejaysus (as I still sadly say about George Eliot), we can get into the nitty-gritty of why Ulysses is great craic in the next episode of this jocoserious Joyce-series. Whenever that happens.
Pasta la Vesta, muchachos.