pseudopodium
. . . James Thurber

. . .

If I Can't Masturbate in Public, You Can Keep Your Revolution
(part of our Sexual Degradation Special)
I'm all for porn, but I have to admit that this art students dressing slutty stuff seems about as genuinely liberating a revolutionary act as the Andrews Sisters cover of "Rum and Coca-Cola (Working for the Yankee Dollar)."

Which is one of my favorite records.

Schmalhausen trouble
from Is Sex Necessary? by James Thurber and E. B. White

. . .

Why I Am Not a Diary, as explained by James Thurber of Columbus, Ohio:

"The sharp edges of old reticences are softened in the autobiographer by the passing of time -- a man does not pull the pillow over his head when he wakes in the morning because he suddenly remembers some awful thing that happened to him fifteen or twenty years ago [or he doesn't do it oftener than twice a week, anyway - RD], but the confusions and the panics of last year and the year before are too close for contentment. Until a man can quit talking loudly to himself in order to shout down the memories of blunderings and gropings, he is in no shape for the painstaking examination of distress and the careful ordering of event so necessary to a calm and balanced exposition of what, exactly, was the matter."

. . .

Essays We Never Bothered Finishing Dept.

Does anybody read James Thurber anymore? A New Yorker humorist from the first half of the century, he mostly wrote "casuals," short, curious, cranky, occasionally funny nonfiction bits -- literate bathroom reading -- that found a home in the magazine's Talk of the Town section. Collections of these brief, memoir-y things were best-sellers in their day, but like spindrift, they've proved too lightweight to settle and survive. Thurber's reputation rests on the strength of one sturdy little 1947 story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"....
- Taylor Antrim in the Bay Guardian's "Lit" section

It's weird but I actually do seem to remember James Thurber -- it's Taylor Antrim that I'm having trouble placing....

. . .

New Adventures in the Integral Calculus

I've read McLuhan & Fuller & Sontag & Barthes, Bataille & Blanchot, Derrida & Spivak. I've read Benjamin & Adorno & Bakhtin. I've read Cixous & Irigaray & Kristeva & Jardine. I've even tried reading Baudrillard & Althusser & Bloom & Paglia, the Four Assholes of the Apocalypse.

And the most important insight captured by twentieth century thinking still seems to me to be the following definition:

The word "love" is used loosely by writers, and they know it. Furthermore, the word "love" is accepted loosely by readers and they know it. There are many kinds of love, but for the purposes of this article I shall confine my discussion to the usual hazy interpretation: the strange bewilderment which overtakes one person on account of another person. Thus when I say love in this article, you will take it to mean the pleasant confusion which we know exists.
James Thurber & E. B. White, Is Sex Necessary

Optional exercise: From this premise, derive the world.

. . .

Mystery Macintosh, My Darling

(Also at that other world)

"The M'Intosh Murder Mystery" by John Gordon,
Journal of Modern Literature 29.1 (2005) 1

All right-thinking people agree that The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism's most unconscionable omission was James Thurber's "The Macbeth Murder Mystery", and so I'm certain John Gordon is a right-thinking person.

Except in this case.

[For the non-Joyceans in our audience, here's the story so far.

Aside from its status as early science fiction, Ulysses represents advanced evolution of the detective story, with each incident a visible and meaningful clue. Having played so fairly, Joyce could dispense with the handwaving detective hero, and instead left handwaving in the laps of the readers. And a jolly time we've had of it, too!

As early Joyceans gained confidence in their ability to tie every detail to every other detail, the few remaining danglies gained weightiness. (Weightiness to a Joycean, mind you; the centrality such nits assume in the secondary sources can sadly mislead a first-time reader of Ulysses. "When do we get to the word known by all men?")

Some of these puzzles, I think, weren't originally meant as puzzles. The (scanty) evidence suggests that "U.P. Up." delivered a clear message to nineteenth-century English and Irish urbanites but happened to escape documentation, becoming a hapax legomenon of popular culture. Numeric errata seem best explained as Homer nodding. Or shrugging. Come on, you ask Homer "How many fingers am I holding up?" what's he gonna do?

The Man in the Macintosh, however, emphatically riddled from his first appearance:

"Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh? Now who is he I'd like to know? Now, I'd give a trifle to know who he is."

A lot of scholars have tried to earn that trifle over the years, and Gordon deserves an "A" for assurance:]

"I have lived with [the proposed solution] for a while and have come to think of it as a solid and upstanding reading which improves on acquaintance. I believe in it. It can come to dinner; it can date my daughter."

Gordon proposes that M'Intosh is the ghost of Bloom's father, who committed suicide after the death of his young wife. And (so confident is he) this proposed solution is used only as a tee-off from which to approach another, less often asked, riddle: What killed Bloom's mother? (So's not to steal Gordon's thunderclap, I'll just say Joyce may have anticipated the misogynous hard-boiled dick.)

But I do not think his proposal makes a solid and upstanding tee-off. I do not believe in it; I do not want it to date my daughter. (I am, however, prepared to buy it a drink some time.) Because the character who inspects M'Intosh most closely is Leopold Bloom.

Now I admit it's a wise son that knows his father. But even a flibbertigibbet like Hamlet was able to recognize Hamlet Senior's form straight off. And clear-sighted Bloom doesn't note a family resemblance? In a graveyard?

No, I'm afraid all the lovely circumstantial evidence Gordon's gathered just shows how irreconcilable the lyric and the narrative finally are, even in Ulysses. Poetically, his argument's airtight. Prosaically, it won't fly.

(And who do I think M'Intosh is? Well, since I ask, personally I think he's the fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush.)

1 I also recommend from this issue "Remembering Race", where Sergio Rizzo documents the dependents of that Red Wheelbarrow, and "Repulsive Modernism: Djuna Barnes' The Book of Repulsive Women" by Melissa Jane Hardie, who so neatly associates revision and repression that I think Freud should take over my dishwashing duties.

Responses

A bhikku writes:

Tell you what. Rudolph Virag? Lankylooking? Galoot? Doesn't sound like the Bloom physique, does it? No, Gordon's looking for a counterpart to Stephen's Hamlet thoughts, isn't he.

Apparently JJ used to ask cocky Ulysses readers who they thought the fellow was anyway, go on then.

 

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All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.