Laurence K. Emery [A. J. Leventhal], ’The Ulysses of Mr. James Joyce’, in Klaxon (Winter 1923-24), pp.14-20.

[Source: copied from an original copy of Klaxon’s sole issue in the possession of Bruce Stewart, Ricorso Ed..]

THE phenomenon of James Joyce seems to most people inexplicable. Why seek the scabrous for a subject when the sweet and pure can be so beautifully expressed? Why walk on dung-heaped roads when a rose-walk can be had for a twopenny tram drive? Irishmen, together with Englishmen and Americans, or rather the Irish, English, and American Public, asked these pointed ques­ tions and ostracised Mr. Joyce without staying for an answer. Fortunately, however, it is not necessary for an artist to develop on his native soil to produce his best work. M. Barrios may theorise about la terre et ses morts till he is as blue in the face as his own Alsatian sky; all the evidences of literary history demonstrate that an artist is just as likely to flourish under an alien sun as in the shade of the bosky tradition of his fathers.

A slow and careful worker, Mr. Joyce worked for ten years on the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is usually described as an autobiography, a series of confessions à la mode, dressed in the form of a novel. These may be confessions, but Mr. Joyce is too much of an artist faithfully to record his own life. There is in all his work a cold objectivity. He has an uncanny keenness of perception which he does not let his ego influence. This perception he must have applied to himself, and he can synthesise a character from details observed in his own person.

The result can never be self-revelatory, for, like a true artist, this synthesis is coupled with the unusual touch that Shakespeare gives to Hamlet or Balzac to Pons.

Ulysses continues where the Portrait left off. At the end of the latter novel Stephen Dedalus left for Paris, and Ulysses begins at the point of his return from that city. Chronologically we only advance one day from page 1 to page 732. But actually there is such a world of learning, scientific, metaphysic, aesthetic, of life real and imagined, of force comic and tragic, of description, of lyrism, patter and rhetoric, heroics and eloquence, as to make the day longer than any conceived on this planet.

The incidents round which this immensity hangs are ordinary enough, are quite within the compass of twenty-four hours and are credible without Einstein.

Stephen occupies the first three chapters. He has his breakfast in company with Mulligan and an Englishman, goes to his school where he teaches, gets his wages, and makes for the “Evening Telegraph” offices to get his chief’s letter on Foot and Mouth Disease printed. [14] Leopold Bloom then holds the stage, and we follow him very carefully and without being allowed to avoid any detail of action or thought. From the morning bed, where his wife still snoozes, to the water-closet, where his ambition is stirred by a prize story in “Tit-Bits,” to the butcher s, where he buys pork, and is excited by the sight of a fat wench of a servant. Then back to cook the breakfast, which he brings to his wife still in bed. He smells meat burning in the kitchen, returns there hurriedly. Then out again into the street. He has a Turkish bath, goes to a funeral, to the “Freeman” office, has luncheon at a restaurant. He drifts to the National Library, to a public-house, to the rocks at Sandymount, makes inquiries about a lady friend in a lying-in hospital, where he meets a group of medical students, thence to Dublin’s under-world. He dallies long in a brothel, where he is visited by the ghost of his father and sundry other apparitions, and, under the effects of alcohol, is visited, like Richard at Bosworth, by the ghosts of his crimes. Then to a coffee stall with Stephen; the latter accompanies him home and the last two hours of the day are spent in converse between them. The last chapter of the book is confined to a forty-page monologue of Bloom’s wife, the whole of which is as devoid of punctuation as the Hebrew Scroll of the Law of vowel points.

On this skeleton hangs the variegated fabric of Ulysses. I could not, tried I ever so hard, give an adequate notion of the vast number of characters, descriptions, parodies and visions that crowd so comfortably into the 800 pages without actually quoting the whole book, which is manifestly impossible.

This is an age of glib tongues and cheap ink. Thought hides in corners and newspapers fill the minds of the world. Phrases stamp their mechanical impress on plasticene intellects. Commercialism swings its iron hammer on all things, and art has not escaped. There has been no more doughty Thor than Max Nordau, and he tried to fell ever y thing big that came in his materialistic way. What is unhealthiness in literature? Keats somewhere declared that all the writings of youth were unhealthy. This is palpabl y false. Keats himself disproves it. Shelley, who remained young all his life, whose poetry never developed, but retained always its lyric fervour and ethereal revolutionary enthusiasm, cannot be labelled unhealthy. Goethe’s reprojection of himself at eighty into the youthfully rist of twenty-two I regard as a sign of genius.

No work of literary art that stimulates an artist to action can be regarded as injurious. The unhealthy book is the stiffer of effort. Bitter satire showing man in all his pigminess and sneering at human effort (Swift or sometimes Voltaire), Schopenhauer and Weininger heaping jeremiads, the one on the whole world, the other on half of it, and offering us the [15] departure from this life as a solution; Buddhist mystics that would have us sit on the ground anddream sad stories—all these in their various ways dry up the wells of effort and ambition, and are more dangerous to young minds than, say, Baudelaire, who, though he delights in the drab coarseness of a “charogne,” is yet, on that account, fully in touch with humanity. The most degenerate book ever written was M. Nordau’s Degeneration, for one can conceive of nothing more blasting and dumb­founding to an eager mind. The pornographic, too, is unhealthy, for it numbs the senses (of weak minds) and lulls into vile indolence.

Ulysses cannot be termed pornographic. One might as well label the Venus de Milo indecent, and just as that piece of sculpture has been the urge to centuries of artists, so Ulysses, with its strange modernity, will carry away young writers on its irrespressible tide. But I do wrong to talk about a classic nude in relation to Ulysses. It has no more in common with the idealised naked beauties of a Cabanel or a Solomon J Solomon, or the holy etherealisations of the Pre-Raphaelites, than Ibsen with St. Francis of Assisi. Mr. Joyce is essentially the product of his age, or perhaps, as with all genius, a little ahead of it. In him we find collected all the strivings of the modern world. That which stands out most is the kinship between him and modern painters. This year’s pictures at the Salon d’Automne have precisely the same effect as Ulysses on the conven­ tional mind. It calls the true ugly, because truth comes in the shape of a squatting lady with an abundance of fat. If convention permits the regarding of nudes, then let them be as remote from reality as possible. But the revolution had to come. Artists could not be content to live in a world of inhibitions. Freud had begun to look at psychology in his own particular way. Psycho-analysts began to pursue their studies. The world learned new words and phrases—complexes, inhibitions, and all the jargon of the new psychology. Naturally the mob of followers abused the new learning just as they abused Christianity, using Freud to explain their own over-sexedness and booming psycho-analysis as a parlour game. Mr. Joyce, however, does not rush with the crowd, and has made skilful use of what the ps y chologists have taught him. He can open up a thought as a surgeon does a body.

There are so many aspects of Joyce’s work that one does not know where to begin. It is comparable to the Bible, with which it has much in common, in the respect that one part differs so much from the other. One might argue, some hundreds of years later, that Ulysses was the work of many hands, were it not for the fact that in the seeming medley of chapters and styles there is a form as rigid as that of a sonnet. Here we come to an aspect of Ulysses which is not generally noticed. The name of the work is taken from the title of the Homeric hero, and the chapters [16] follow the scenes of the earlier epic. I shall not here attempt to trace the parallelism between the modern and the classic work, save only to mention that Bloom is undoubtedly a humanised conception of Ulysses conceived in a modern vein, and tempered with a modern humour—and Stephen, an artistic Telemachus, aloof and serene, curious commentator on passing life. Nor shall I dwell long on the symbolism that lies hidden in each chapter, and which would have been as unsuspected by me as the mysteries underlying the marble verses of Mallarmé for his first readers, were it not that they were communicated to me by Mr. Joyce himself, It matters not one fiddlestick, however, whether Mr. Joyce’s epic sonata sings its new word-music in the borrowed tones of Homer, or whether every chapter hangs on the symbol of some organ of the human body, as in the 17th century Purple Island of Phineas Fletcher, or whether the brothel in Dublin’s under-world is the parallel of Ulysses’ descent into hell: the whole has sufficient significance in itself to make it a work of immortality and in the best traditions of classic form.

Mr. Joyce might have been the comrade of Boccacio and supped at the table of Petronius. As a humorist he is a direct descendant of these men. He is akin to Rabelais and the Balzac of the Contes Drolatiques. But his uncanny aloofness distinguishes him from these.

His digressions, despite their apparent remoteness, belong to the action. They are either commentaries, a prose comic chorus, or the full-winged flight of a character’s thought. Often scientific theories are discussed or literature. There is a scene in the National Library where Joyce, now clad in the garb of George Moore (I do not know whether it is intentional or not) makes the well-known librarians, whom he mentions by name, and .2E discuss a curious theor y of the influence on Shakespeare of his wife, Anne Hathaway. And this Stephen expounds with rare critical acumen and style, fortified with Elizabethan anecdotes and a healthy disregard of the usual authorities.

The chapter, written in the manner of a lower middle-class Dubliner, which begins with a parody )arody of a legal summons and ends in a public-house with the escape of Bloom on a hackney car, secure from the tin box which the angered and alcoholed citizen hurls at him, is a miracle of natural prose conversation illumined by humorous parody digressions. The seismic shock occasioned by the hurling of this missile, which destroys the whole of Dublin and scatters bits of Sir George Fottrell’s umbrella to the Giant’s Causeway, brings a message of condolence from the Sovereign Pontiff, and eventually carries Bloom along to Adonai, a new Elijah—in a jaunting-car-chariot-of-fire—is a supreme piece of buffoonery.

The form of burlesque which runs through the whole of Ulysses is [17] a point of contact with the writings of some young Frenchmen known as Dadaists. Max Jacob in a curious prose poem has a titanic battle in the stalls of a theatre, where thousands are numbered amongst the slain, and the current Dada weeklies swarm with this type of gigantic hyperbole. Mr. Joyce has a little more in common with the Dadaists: his inventions of onamatopaeic words and the mixing of science with literature. Joyce and the Dadaist arrived independently, of course, at the similarities. They merely prove how true a son of his age is the author of Ulysses. Laurence Sterne I have always considered the first Dadaist. He might almost be considered the christener before its birth of the movement. Every man has his hobby-horse and de gustibus non est disputandum. Tristram himself happens at certain intervals and changes of the moon to be both fiddler and painter according as the fly stings. Sterne is an eighteenth century Joyce. They both go to antiquity for quips and quibbles, and have the same taste for salaciousness and the use of names for comic effect. Sterne, however, is the more homely, and eniovs himself what Joyce would have us enjoy. The relationship of Joyce to modernism is a vast subject which I have only barely touched here, but which holds great scope for the critic. He has in him points of similarity with the painter Picasso: the early follower of tradition breaking into new modes and expressing life from a new angle with a changed vision.

Perhaps the most curious chapter in Ulysses is the night in the brothel, which most newspapers, for some superficial reason, have agreed to call the Walpurgisnacht. The onl y resemblance between it and Faust’s adventures on the Brocken is the disregard of ordinary sequence of time. There are no witches with brooms in Joyce’s night-town, but there are some very bawdy hags. Perhaps, too, the symbolism in Goethe in the introduction of contemporaries in strange guise may justify the comparison. But the whole tenor, the zig-zag movement, the supreme obscenity, the exposure of sexual repressions, is characteristically Joyceian. It may be, however, from a desire to give some impression of this cinematographical, orthographical, physiological, erotic, psychological, scatological fantasy in play form that the Walpurgisnacht was invoked. It must, however, be read, and, of course, in conjunction with what has gone before, to be appreciated. The drunken revellers march first to the solemn tune of the introit which Stephen intones, which is impinged upon by the hoarse whisperings of secretive bawds and drowned in the vulgar doggerel of skirted Loreleys. British Tommies shout their loyalty to the King in language characteristically devoid of euphemism. Police drift into the foreground, and Bloom visions himself in the court, meekly hearing the charges of his own perverse conscience that takes the strangest forms. Prostitutes entertain the band, and they are as remote from Robert [18] Hitchens’s idealisations as these latter are from life. There is hardly any­one, alive or dead, of any repute, that doesn’t creep into the brothel that night, Shakespeare—with a paralytic face, and Elijah officiating at the end of the world; trees, nannygoats, halcyon days, buttons, racing crowds, orange lodges, and I don’t know how many more apparitions rush frantically across the stage. There seems to be no beginning, and the end is a long time coming. To seek a logical explanation of everything that takes place in this too long chapter would be an idle occupation. I can imagine future bald-pated commentators glossing each line as Rashi glossed the Talmud. The sheer insanity of it all, the wild senseless frenzy, the Guinness-inspired nonsense, is certainly intentional, and the badness, madness, and if you like, sadness, are necessary for the required effect.

When we come finally to the Penelope monologue, or the exhibition of what clergymen call the “true inwardness” of Mrs. Bloom, we are amazed at the concentration of the author on female psychology. I do not know whether the psychology is true. The author of The Pretty Lady picks this out as the finest part of the book. I have no great admiration for Mr. Bennett, and believe that he yields too often to temptation, and keeps his literary pot too long on the boil, but he should be qualified to judge on so delicate a subject. For myself, who can only speak instinctively, and hence tentatively, on such matters, and am of necessity swayed by the conflicting views of male psychologists, I am in a state of uncertainty. Molly Bloom, however, sounds real. What Croce affirms of Ibsen’s characters is truer still of Mrs. Bloom. She says aloud, or rather thinks aloud, what we hardly ever dare whisper to our­selves and never bend an ear to listen.

Ulysses is essentially a book for the male. It is impossible for a woman to stomach the egregious grossness. Through the book one hears the coarse oaths and rude jests of the corner-boy and the subtle salaciousness of the cultured. There is a tradition in these things. And as the Oriental shuts off his women from contact with the world with a yashmak and a harem, so we have cut off our womenfolk from our smoking-room hinter­lands. It is not woman but man who has a secret, and Mr. Joyce is guilty of a breach of the male freemasonry in publishing the signs by which one man recognises a healthy living brother. There is a difference between Joyce and, say, Brant6me. The subjects of the latter, belles et honnetes femmes, have a sufficient air of fiction about them to assure us that he is only fooling, and we smile indulgently, murmuring history-of-literature­language about a corrupt age and a corrupt court, but Mr. Joyce doesn’t trouble to invent one yarn. He uses those actually current in the Medical Schools of his day, and quotes from privately-printed manuscripts of a brilliant surgeon, whom he disguises (for the nonce) with a fictitious [19] name, stories and indecencies pickled in Gallic salt. We know the stories, and are tickled, by memories of male sprees where we first heard them, horror-stricken the while lest our female friends see in callous print our eternal wild oats tendencies. I am conscious, however, that there are some women sufficiently masculine in temperament who can read Ulysses without any risk of disturbing their normal metabolism.

It is impossible for any discerning mind to deny genius to Mr. Joyce, and that of a very high order. His work will persist in spite of the efforts to suppress it of such literary critics as the Society for the Suppres­ sion of Vice in America and the reviewer of the “Pink ’Un.” The style alone is sufficient to attract readers. The quaint Greek compounds, the melodious words, the rare vocabulary, apart altogether from the pro­ fundities and indecencies, will keep Ulysses alive for posterity. M. Valery Larbaud believes Mr. Joyce to be as great as Rabelais. Naturally his reception in Paris was more cordial, for all the greatest French writers look upon life with their eyes open. In these parts we are in the position of the pupil of Carrière who asked his teacher how he could attain excel­ lence in painting. Choose your subject, said Carrière, close your eyes, and paint what you see.

On the Continent, however, there are artists who find that writing in the dark is not nearly so exciting as writing with ones eyes and ears open. In Austria, Schnitzler writes Reigen, the great Guillaume Appolinaire finds no subject that he dare not touch upon, the Dadaists make their humour out of the most intimate things. Even George Moore was too much for these isles, but you can find traces of fearlessness in Wyndham Lewis and D. H. Lawrence. So there is hope yet. I say this, however, that only an artist could handle his material as Mr. Joyce has done. In other hands there would really be a grave risk of a descent into the morbid and the pornographic. He will have influence, but I doubt if there will be imitators. In the Dorothy Richardsons and May Sinclairs I see already the influence of the Joyce literary style.

In truth, there is no real parallel to Mr. Joyce in literature. He has that touch of individuality that puts genius on a peak. Rabelaisian, he hasn’t the joie de vivre of the French priest; Sternesque, he is devoid of the personal touch of the Irish clergyman. Trained by the Jesuits, he can’t guffaw like Balzac when he tells a good story. He is a scientist in his detachedness, but Ulysses is nevertheless, a human book, filled with pity as with the sexual instinct, and the latter in no greater proportion and of no greater importance in the book than any of the other fundamental human attributes. [20; end.]


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