Gareth Joseph Downes, ‘The Heretical Auctoritas of Giordano Bruno: The Significance of the Brunonian Presence in James Joyce’s The Day of the Rabblement and Stephen Hero’, in Joyce Studies Annual, 14 (Summer 2003), pp.37-73.

[Source: Printed copy; in McClay Library of Queens’ University, Belfast - examined 06.12.2012.]

‘[...] This article discusses Joyce’s acerbic pamphlet as the first of the belligerent sorties that he wrote in his “open war” against the Roman Catholic Church, and the pervasive and paralysing influence of the bourgeois Catholic morality that it helped to maintain in the contemporary cultural and intellectual life of Dublin. It discusses Joyce’s reading of Bruno’s Italian dialogues and how this encounter steeled him in his own struggle with Catholic orthodoxy, and explores his covert employment of Bruno as an heretical auctoritas in The Day of the Rabblement and Stephen Hero. It argues that an historicist examination of Joyce’s dialogue with Bruno provides an extremely effective means of realizing some of the urgency and offensiveness of his critical engagement with contemporary Catholicism during the 1900s.

In an interview with James Knowlson in September 1989, Samuel Beckett revealed that the only remark Joyce ever made about “Dante . . . Bruno. Vico.. Joyce,” was that, although he liked the essay (which was written at his own behest and instruction), he thought there “wasn’t enough about Bruno; he found Bruno rather neglected.” [Damned to Fame, Simon & Schuster 1996, p.107], His comments are, to a large extent, justified; and even though the essay was first published in 1929, Joyce’s estimation of “Dante . . . Bruno. Vico.. Joyce” remains as a salutary and instructive comment on the treatment of Joyce’s complex relationship with the writings and legacy of the “heresiarch martyr of Nola” in Joycean criticism to date. Beckett’s discussion of Joyce’s encounter with Bruno and his appraisal of the significance of the doctrine of the coincidence of contraries in the Wake is relatively telegraphic, when [38] compared to his more expansive accounts of the importance of Dante’s “system of poetics” and the Viconian theory of the “inevitability of cyclical evolution”, and, in fact, is cribbed largely from J. Lewis McIntyre’s 1903 study of the Nolan, Giordano Bruno.

See Downes’ footnote: ‘Beckett’s summary of the coincidence of contraries appears to be in fact a concise préces [sic] of McIntyre’s text. Compare Beckett’s appraisal of the Brunonian doctrine in “Dante ... Bruno. Vico.. Joyce” [in Our Exagmination ... (&c.)], with McIntyres’s summation of the geometrical illustrations and verifications that Bruno employs to explicate the doctrine of the coincidence of contraries in his 1903 study.’

(Citing McIntyre, op. cit., pp.176-78 - as attached; Downes, op. cit., pp.38-39.) [See also Samuel Beckett's remarks on Bruno in Our Exagmination ... (&c.) - under Joyce > Notes, as attached.)

In My Brother’s Keeper Stanislaus confirms that Joyce was reading Bruno’s “philosophical essays” at this time and observes that his growing admiration for Bruno influenced his decision to choose Gordon Brown as a stage name. (MBK, 1957, p.132.) In The Transformation Process in James Joyce’s Ulysses [Texas UP 1980], Gose makes no reference to the allusion to The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast in Stephen Hero, but he does argue that Joyce was indeed familiar with this text and with the other Italian dialogues written and published secretly in London in 1584 and 1585: La cena de la ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper), De gli eroici furori (The Heroic Frenzies), Cabala del Cavallo Pegaseo (The Cabala of the Horse Pegasus), De la causa, principio e uno (Cause, Principle, and Unity), and De l’infinito universo e mondo (On the Infinite Universe and Worlds). [Gose, op. cit., p.3.] The catalogue of the National Library confirms that there was a considerable collection of works by, and relating to, Bruno which would have been [49] available to Joyce at this time. The majority of these holdings are listed as being catalogued from the 1890s onwards, and thus the collection reflects the contemporary growth of Brunonian studies in Europe.

[Here cites Latin and Italian editions of the works, Williams’s 1887 translation of De gli eroici furori, Berti’s La Vita di Giordano da Nola and Frith’s Life, which Joyce refers to in his review of McIntyre (Daily Express, 30 Oct. 1903). Also references Swinburne, Pater, Yeats and Wilde’s readings of Bruno. (p.50ff.)]

Bruno exhibits a modern concept of authorship that is self-legitimating [...] Bruno constructs a mode of authorship that is not dependent on the intellectual and religious discourses of orthodoxy for its signification [quotes Rivka Feldhay & Adi Ophir, “Heresy and Hierarchy: The Authorization of Giordano Bruno”, in Stanford Humanities Review, 1, 1 (Spring 1989), p.126:] “The bizarre composition of the Cena, its discursive layers, and textual practices, may serve as clues to a specific discourse, irreducible either to science or Hermeticism. What Bruno has to offer is a modern concept of authorship, which [constrains] the way he observes and interprets nature, reads and uses texts, the autonomy of his discourse and its potential institutionalisation within a political environment’ (here p.62).

[Quotes further:] “Bruno seldom tried to gain the status of an authorised writer in a known discourse, presenting himself rather as the rising sun of a new intellectual era, with Copernicus as its dawn. Not only does he ridicule the authority of tradition, but he declares his own authority ex nihilo, simultaneously undermining the tradition of authorship and striving to articulate a new concept of authority and authorship.” (Feldhay & Ophir, op. cit., pp.119-20; here p.63.)

[Towards conclusion:]
In reading the letters that Joyce wrote to Stanislaus from Rome in 1907 it is evident that he had become tired of the anticlericist lionisation of Bruno. It was during this period that he was engaged in the re-writing of Stephen Hero as Portrait. Although the structural relationship that exists between Stephen Dedalus, the alienated apostate and intellectual, and the orthodox middle-class Catholic society of Ireland is retained, he is not presented as a Nolan-like heretic, and the allusions and overt references to Bruno and the “rabblement” were removed. [...] While the rhythmic and thematic drive of the narrative of Portrait, in its movement from “contraries, into contraries, to contraries” (Expulsion ... &c., 91) is consistent with Bruno’s belief in the fate of mutations, and Stephen’s epiphany on Clontarf strand is redolent of an intimation of an immanentist ontology, the Brunonian presence in the text has been largely expunged or, at the very least, sublimated. Nevertheless, Joyce’s decision to excise the allusions and references to Bruno and his Italian dialogues neither detracts from nor negates the significance of his enthusiastic dialogue with the “heresiarch martyr of Nola” during the 1900s, specifically in relation to the manner in which he conceptualised and enunciated his discursive struggle with contemporary Catholicism. [...] not merely a superficial act of youthful defiance, but a complex strategic alignment that enabled him to generate sufficient force to affect a rupture with the hegemony of the Church of his upbringing and education. [...]’ (p.70.)

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