. . . Samuel Johnson

. . .

Having worked even harder than Levi Strauss, Leggott permits even more niggling. No (or little) OED for her; she keeps Zukofsky's own 10 volume 1895 Century Dictionary close at hand -- in fact, most of Zukofsky's library close at hand, along with his manuscripts, letters, and published works. That makes for a pretty crowded (even cramped) hand. The hand becomes overstimulated. The hand bounces off the walls.

She assures us that the line "zebra-fragrant sharpened wave currents tide" (#80 Zinnia) ain't so tough: thyme has a fragrance, even if zinnias don't, and thyme is important, thyme thymitie thyme time! And the Century's "zebra" entry is really keen since its text includes Zukofkian attractors like "light and symmetrical," "wild asses," "bottom," "secluded," "watchfulness," and "destined to extermination."

Which is all very nice for those of us who like this sort of thing, but still doesn't begin to answer the most obvious questions: What the heck is zebra-fragrant supposed to mean, and what's eau-de-zebra doing at sea?

And so on, but not entirely so forth.

I can't think of any way to convey the odd surface inutility and subterranean utility of Leggott's approach except by example. Here's one of Leggott's shorter and simpler exegeses, of "#63 Oxalis":

Was it the combination of "sorrel" and finding out that the Greek oxys had more senses of sharpness than acidity, sourness, pungency (the leaves and stems of most oxalises are sour-juiced), that decided Zukofsky to bring in the horse again? Plus the resemblance of oxalis leaves (three leaflets, notched) to those of clover, the lucky leaf ("One's a lucky horse," "A"-12, p. 176) -- more lucky to Zukofsky when its heart shapes number three rather than four? Each leaflet-heart comes to a sharp point at the mutual conjunction, or is "brought to a point" (kyrbasia es oxy apēgmenas); Zukofsky was looking at Liddell and Scott's entry for oxys. "Tow ox / a"? The vertex of a triangle is expressed in the phrase to oxy. The Greek point was also extended to the senses, and could signify sharp keen feeling, whether the blazing heat of the sun or stabs of pain or grief. Virgil's "rapidus sol" is cited by Liddell and Scott as an analog; Zukofsky checked Lewis and Short and found the reference under the literal sense (very rare, used only poetically) of rapidus as "tearing away, seizing." In the Georgics, the effects of burning-over are supposed to harden and therefore protect the soil from, among other things, "seizure" by the sun's heat:

  ne tenues pluviae rapidive potentia solis
acrior au Boreae penetrabile frigus adurat.
(Georgics I.92)

"So that the searching showers may not harm, or the blazing sun's fierce tyranny wither it, or the North-wind's piercing cold." Remembering "so much sun, clouds, stars usw*(ice storms too) [sic] thru our windows, we should have left the city ten years ago" -- Zukofsky is developing a landsman's sense of the elements, probably hearing with the poet's ear: "Fear no more the heat o' th' sun, / Nor the furious winter's rages" (Cym. IV.ii.258), or even: "The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night" (Ps. 121:1). In #63 Oxalis, the sense of Virgil's "rapidus sol" and Liddell and Scott's citation of the trope is to be heard in: "rapids whose soul / air-spring disperses through water."

For rapidus in its more customary sense means "tearing or hurrying along, swift, quick, rapid"; and suddenly we see that the oxys-rapidus carryover has generated a multitude of meanings in #63 Oxalis, from the sharp points of (keen) hearts that may feel (or, unwittingly, inflict?) pain, grief, or other emotional blazes ("scald scold"), to the quick (and as sharply felt) elations sweeping those same rapid souls: "a breeze sweet rampant pulse." If this last, by means of the drive word "pulse," stirs powerful memories of the horse of the Epigraph, perhaps it is intended to, because the source of the line deals expressly with the issue of poetic inspiration. Johnson wrote of Milton's compositional technique: "Richardson, who... discovers always a wish to find Milton discriminated from other men, relates, that 'he would sometimes lie awake whole nights, but not a verse could he make; and on a sudden his poetical faculty would rush upon him with an impetus or oestrum, and his daughter was immediately called to secure what came.'"

Oestrum, says the Century, is more properly oestrus and it means "vehement desire or emotion, passion, frenzy." Oestrus, from the Greek oistros, is "gadfly" or "breeze" and by extension "vehement urging, stimulus, desire"; in fact, "sting." Oistros is listed as a synonym for myōps, the goad/gadfly/squint of #59 Spirea. And so it is that a sweet breeze is another sharp point, this time rather like the Aristotelian goad, for the "rampant pulse" of the horse -- whose imagination still seems to run with the wind whatever stable the old singer is compelled to inhabit, reaffirming: "If someone stole off with its body / Be sure that its spirits / Canter forever" ("A"-12, p. 181).

As for "honor the bard," the phrase with which #63 Oxalis closes, more than Shakespeare and a hint of the honorary doctorate [from Bard College, 1977] is encompassed when we discover, as Zukofsky did when he checked the Century and found a fine illustration, that a bard can be medieval horse's armor....

Shorter and simpler than most, but still one might hope to be prepared for the original at this point.

Let's try it:

#63    OXALIS

Wood sorrel lady's-sorrel 3-hearts tow ox
a leese rapids whose soul
air-spring disperses thru water elator
ox lips mistaken for clover
more ruse mulberry locust-flower shield
welcome wanderer óxalis time primrose-yellow
a breeze sweet rampant pulse
scald scold honor the bard

Part of the comedy here is the contrast between Leggott's prolixity and Zukofsky's enigma (that 400-to-80 page ratio).

And part is how little elucidation has occurred. Not just what remains unexplained ("leese"? "more ruse"? why the accent?), but also the irrelevance of Leggott's "explanations" to any possible reader (the Samuel Johnson quote may show up in Zukofsky's worksheets, but not a single word from it remains in the finished poem).

It's a one-way passage. Following Zukofsky's sources gets Leggott further along the "z-sited path are but us," but she's further along in the same direction: a path that remains z-sited and but them, while we remain but us.

That's what Leggott demonstrates, and that's why her work helps me enjoy Zukofsky's.

. . .

Our Motto

There is no snare more dangerous to busy and excursive minds than the cobwebs of petty inquisitiveness, which entangle them in trivial employments and minute studies, and detain them in a middle state between the tediousness of total inactivity and the fatigue of laborious efforts, enchant them at once with ease and novelty, and vitiate them with the luxury of learning.
- Samuel Johnson, Rambler 103

. . .

"Political Arithmetick"

Daniel Defoe, Giving Alms No Charity:
"All the Labour of a Person who was Idle before, is so much clear Gain to the General Stock."
Lawrence Braddon:
"Every poor Briton, which shall be born alive, will be... more worth, to Great Britain, than Twenty Pounds in broad Gold...."
John Bellers:
"Supposing that there are Seven Millions of People in the Nation, and that one in Fourteen, either will not work, or that wants it; that is, Five Hundred Thousand Men, Women, and Children. And reckoning that they might Earn, one with another, Six-pence a Day, a Head, it comes to Twelve Thousand Five Hundred Pounds a Day; which is Seventy Five Thousand Pounds a Week. That makes Three Millions, Nine Hundred Thousand Pounds a Year, which the Nation loseth.

"To which add but Twelve-pence a Head, a Week, the Nation may be at Parish Rates, and other Gifts to the Poor, and it comes to One Million, Three Hundred Thousand Pounds a Year: Which Account in the whole, makes the Loss and Charge to the Nation to be FIVE MILLIONS, TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS A YEAR."

"Substance of a Proposal for the Employment of the Poor":
"60,000 children are maintained by rates in idleness.... If the labour of these children can upon an average be made to produce 3d. per day, reckoning 300 working days to the year, the annual savings in the poors rates only will amount to 225,000l. besides that 60,000 hands will be always at work in such low manufactures as foreigners are now paid for carrying on...."
Sir Henry Pollexfen:
"... the working people of England to be but four millions and that the labor of each person be valued at but 6d. per day, their work for one day amounts to one hundred thousand pounds: which for twenty-four days that they keep in a year more than the twenty-nine days observed by the Church of England amounts to two millions and four hundred thousand pounds sterling per annum which of itself is sufficient to... enrich the nation.

"Whether the many holidays now kept may not be a great load upon the nation may be considered; for if but 2 million of working people at 6d. a day comes to 500,000l. which upon due inquiry whence our riches must arise, will apear to be so much lost to the nation by every holiday that is kept."

Bernard Mandeville:
"In a free Nation where Slaves are not allow'd of, the surest Wealth consists in a Multitude of laborious Poor."
Time enough to kill is time enough to be convicted of possession with intent to deliver

The Anxieties of Idleness: Idleness in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture by Sarah Jordan

Sarah Jordan takes an apparently straightforward concept, notes the contradictions that it encased and obscured, and traces that obscurity's use in justifying the hypocrisy of oppressive systems and the pain of personal confusions. With one well-struck chisel-blow to one deep-winding fault, she enlightens.

In short, the old sweet song of 1970s feminist theory and Er-Wot.

Well, I'm still fond as ever of those three-chords-with-a-good-beat, and Jordan writes back to the garage in the good old sweet way: No proof by appeal to Francophone scripture. No self-swallowing-and-regurgitating prose. Just clear efficient deployment of primary sources, analytic intelligence, and bemused empathy.

Her conceptual reagent is "idleness"; the systems are those of English 18th-century class, gender, race, and colonialism; the personal confusions are those of Samuel Johnson and William Cowper.

And although it's a manageably thin (if unmanageably expensive) book, nothing I'm tempted to add would fall within its stated bounds.

But that would be now.

. . .

Up & Down with Dr Johnson

No man but a blockhead couldn't find an easier way to make money than writing.

* * *

Dr Robertson and I said, it was a pity Lord Hailes did not write greater things. JOHNSON. 'I remember I was once on a visit at the house of a lady for whom I had a high respect. There was a good deal of company in the room. When they were gone, I said to this lady, "What foolish talking have we had!" "Yes, (said she,) but while they talked, you said nothing." I was struck with the reproof. How much better is the man who does anything that is innocent, than he who does nothing. Besides, I love anecdotes. I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically, except in narrative; grow weary of preparation, and connection, and illustration, and all those arts by which a big book is made. If a man is to wait till he weaves anecdotes into a system, we may be long in getting them, and get but few, in comparison of what we might get.'
- The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.


Correspondence with pf brought forth the reflection that Johnson to some extent fulfilled his own prophecy posthumously via Boswell's big book.

. . .

Household Seers

"Omniscience for Atheists: Or, Jane Austen's Infallible Narrator"
by William Nelles, Narrative 14.2 (2006) 118-131

Nelles first demonstrates the critical power of statistical methods, then demonstrates their critical shortcoming: we can only maintain "distant reading" by maintaining our assumptions about what's being read. He launches from a bit of received wisdom: Although all Jane Austen's novels feature godlike omniscient narrators, Austen matured from an openly intrusive and manipulative authorial voice to a disciplined use of third-person-limited and free indirect discourse. From Samuel Johnson to Henry James, as the trebly cited formula goes. Stats don't back it up:

Just as a play has a certain number of speaking parts, so an Austen novel has a certain number of what we might call "thinking parts," characters whose consciousness the narrator reveals to us. Given the critical narrative outlined above, one might expect to see that number start out very large and narrow down to a single central consciousness. If one measures omniscience quantitatively, as Booth suggests, counting how many minds the narrator has access to, then Persuasion, in which the narrator reveals the consciousnesses of ten characters, is no different from Emma, in which she also reads the minds of ten characters. But not only is there no progression from Emma to Persuasion in this regard, there is no pattern of progression at all in Austen's novels: Northanger Abbey has ten thinking parts, Sense and Sensibility twelve, and Mansfield Park thirteen. Only Pride and Prejudice, with nineteen thinking parts, stands out.

Rather than resting on this uphoistery, however, Nelles takes it as a guide to closer reading, and finds a circular map to accompany his flat graph:

Oddly enough, an Austen narrator can only read minds within a radius of three miles of her protagonist; this is specified as being precisely the distance from Longbourn to Netherfield and also from Kellynch Hall to Uppercross Cottage. And even this level of privilege occurs rarely. Normally the narrator can only read the minds of characters within sight or hearing of the protagonist. Austen's narrator is under house arrest, and the protagonist of the novel is her ankle bracelet.... In every other case of telepathy in Pride and Prejudice and these are numerous the character whose mind is being read is within Elizabeth's audiovisual field. This degree of spatial restriction hardly seems consonant with handbook definitions of omniscience.

Just how mortal is Austen's storytelling voice?

An Austen narrator is not just bound by a "now" at the end of the story that she can't see beyond; she is also bound by the "now" of the action she is narrating moment by moment, and is prohibited from looking ahead to future events even if they will occur before the narrator's final "now".... Furthermore, an Austen narrator also has limited access to past events, seldom extending beyond the protagonist's childhood....

[Wayne Booth protested] "One objection to this selective dipping into whatever mind best serves our immediate purposes is that it suggests mere trickery and inevitably spoils the illusion of reality. If Jane Austen can tell us what Mrs. Weston is thinking, why not what Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are thinking?"

My response would be that it's easy to tell what Mrs. Weston is thinking, and difficult to tell what Frank and Jane are thinking. Within about twenty pages we learn that Emma has long since figured out Mrs. Weston's thoughts.... Not only does Emma know what Mrs. Weston is thinking, everybody who knows them knows what she's thinking, and Emma knows what all of them are thinking. Indeed, Mrs. Weston only hopes to conceal her thoughts "as much as possible".... Not every person is so easily read, however. Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are good at blocking telepathy. When Emma tries to read Jane's mind during an evening at Hartfield, she is forced to concede, "There was no getting at her real opinion. Wrapt up in a cloak of politeness, she seemed determined to hazard nothing. She was disgustingly, was suspiciously reserved." Knightley is similarly stumped, because she does not have an "open temper." Recognizing that Jane's manners are designed to prevent her mind being read, Emma says to Mrs. Weston, "Oh! Do not imagine that I expect an account of Miss Fairfax's sensations from you, or from any body else. They are known to no human being, I guess, but herself," and our human narrator is of course included....

The template for the narrator in Austen is not at all a Godlike omniscience, but a very human skill: the ability of a perceptive and thoughtful person, given enough time and sufficient opportunity for observation, to make accurate judgments about people's character, thought processes, and feelings. Austen's protagonists are markedly less fallible by the end of the novel as they narrow the gap between their growing reliability of judgment and the infallibility of the narrator. Conversely, the narrator shares many of the characters' limitations of mobility. Like her protagonists, she can observe and analyze, but not foresee or control, social and personal outcomes; like them, she cannot really act upon her knowledge possessing it must suffice. At the risk of making my conclusion too simple and obvious, the model for Austen's infallible narrators is not God in heaven, but Jane Austen, more or less as she describes herself in a letter to Cassandra, written about the time she begins working on Emma: "... as I must leave off being young, I find many Douceurs in being a sort of Chaperon for I am put on the Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like."

Austen moved beyond open parody and Johnsonian discourse by returning to the novel's epistolary roots, writing as a friendly-but-detached on-the-scene reporter. In the fiction of Richardson and his direct successors, the most reliable narrators are either villains (who know the score because they're manipulating it) or tragically ineffective (guessing at events without being able to change them). Austen abstracted the pleasing activity of first-hand gossip from the distracting husk of the at-hand teller.

. . .

As a admirer of Latin, Samuel Johnson Englished its syntax. As an admirer of Johnson, Jane Austen Englished his English. The dialect became a language. It got a navy.

. . .

W. lived in a small ugly city whose night life was distinguished by the emptying of a nearby insane asylum. He prepared cuisine classique a few times a year but otherwise subsisted on fast food followed by scotch and a cigar. Once, when I'd been totting up the come-hithers and stay-thences of a mutual friend, W. told me, "Just fuck her." It remains the only time I've heard the word hissed.

My problem was lack of faith, W. told me in spring of 1991. I still thought I might find a way to be happier. I had not fully learned my place. We are miserable and meant to be, said W.

We stopped speaking after I moved to California. It was one of those close friendships which last only until someone does something.

Like that of Hester Lynch Thrale and Frances Burney: my fellow blitherer Thrale, raised as a child star and hoping to raise child stars, very much the little boy's dog sitting up and begging to divert a company, compulsively open and rawly needy, trapped in a world without Facebook

and Burney, a born writer: the "little dolt" of the family, slow to speak, slow to read, kept at home; flattened between the good-cop of her conniving father and bad-cop of her bristling stepmother; shy, prudish refusing to open anything titled Les liaisons dangereuses, dropping Werther when she discerned its "evident tendency," shuddering at the touch of her disgraced stepsister clueless and scarily observant:

He was frightened out of his Wits, at me, he said, lest he should do any thing improper! [...] This always much vexes me, but I know not how to conquer so unfair a prejudice, while I never can get sight of these folks, except through an opera-Glass!—In which way they most assiduously view me in return, whenever I am in Mrs. Fitzgerald's Box.

In 1781 Thrale predicted "we will be Friends these forty Years." In retrospect they look doomed from the start (but what doesn't?). Freed from a loveless marriage which had surrounded her with loveless children, facing the first mutual attraction of her life, Thrale very naturally threw herself in, even if poor Signor Piozzi might as well have been Mount Stromboli so far as friends, family, and press were concerned.

Burney's disapproval did more harm to herself than to its target. Hester Lynch Thrale had been her closest female friend and her first female mentor. Samuel Crisp, her emotional support since childhood, died the year before Mrs. Thrale's re-marriage; Samuel Johnson died five months after. Aside from an increasingly preoccupied sister, Burney was left only the ultra-respectable role model of her post-Cecilia acquaintance Mary Delany. Through her, and to the gratification of her father's snobbery, Burney was locked into the anti-intellectual isolation ward of George III's court for six years. When Burney made her own completely unsuitable marriage to a penniless Catholic, Mrs. Thrale was a decade in the past.

What interests me most about the story, though, isn't in the story. It's in the way the story's source material stays not-a-story. The living friendship was face-to-face; we can't share its excitement or comfort. But Thraliana and Burney's letters convey its death more vividly than any novel or biography could: a slog through hints, asides, petty annoyances and vehement pledges, apologies and ambiguous backchat and tiresome melodrama and well-meant betrayals and unexplained gaps, and a trailing train of increasingly relaxed wish-her-wells...

In the presence of a narrator, that sort of pacing would seem undisciplined and pointlessly arbitrary. Endurance tests like La maman et la putain come close, but the experience is best communicated through remnants of the process itself.

. . .

James Joyce as generative procedural writer

SUPERSTITION. 1. ... religion without morality. ... 4. Over-nicety; exactness too scrupulous.
- A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
A view held in late antiquity is that the use of the words superstitiō ‘superstition’ and superstitiōsus ‘superstitious’ with reference to religion derives from the idea that such practices were superfluous or redundant.
- Oxford English Dictionary

January 31, 1930: At last J.J. has recommenced work on Work in Progress. The de luxe edition by ? soon to come out about the old lady A.L.P. I think. Another about the city (H.C.E. building Dublin). Five volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on his sofa. He has made a list of 30 towns, New York, Vienna, Budapest, and Mrs. Fleischman has read out the articles on some of these. I ‘finish’ Vienna and read Christiania and Bucharest. Whenever I come to a name (of a street, suburb, park, etc.) I pause. Joyce thinks. If he can Anglicize the word, i.e. make a pun on it, Mrs. F. records the name or its deformation in the notebook. Thus ‘Slotspark’ (I think) at Christiana becomes Sluts’ park. He collects all queer names in this way and will soon have a notebook full of them. The system seems bad for (1) there is little hope of the reader knowing all these names most seem new even to Joyce himself, and certainly are to me. And supposing the reader, knowing the fragment dealt with towns, took the trouble to look up the Encyclopedia, would he hit on the Joyce has selected? (2) The insertion of these puns is bound to lead the reader away from the basic text, to create divagations and the work is hard enough anyhow! The good method would be to write out a page of plain English and then rejuvenate dull words by injection of new (and appropriate) meanings. What he is doing is too easy to do and too hard to understand.

April 28, 1930: His method is more mechanical than ever. For the ‘town references,’ he scoured all the capital towns in the Encyclopedia and recorded in his black notebook all the ‘punnable’ names of streets, buildings, city-founders. Copenhagen, Budapest, Oslo, Rio I read to him. Unfortunately he made the entries in his black notebook himself and when he wanted to use them, the reader found them illegible.

- Reflections on James Joyce: Stuart Gilbert’s Paris Journal,
ed. Thomas F. Staley & Randolph Lewis

Joyce lost his faith but kept his superstition. And proselytized. By constructing reality effects which transform from red herring to vital clew on research and re-reading, Joyce fed the generic allures of puzzle-mystery and conspiracy theory into formalist realism, and thereby trained a generation of Joyceans into an everything-connects superstition of their own.

But while in the midst of serializing those carefully cross-wired diagrams of sub-sub-trivia across Ulysses, he began to immerse them in pointedly redundant anti-reality effects. "Cyclops" may be scrupulous about something, but whatever it is ain't "meanness." And after his increasingly bouncing babes were carted to the printshop and carted back again, he would improvise riffs across the proofsheets, snatching any chance to strengthen the scribbly cross-hatched fabric of the book or merely to, like the god of creation, wake up bleary-eyed and say Fuck me what was I doing last night?

On reading a letter from his daughter Milly, who had just turned 15 on 15 June, Bloom says ‘Fifteen yesterday. Curious, fifteenth of the month too.’ More to the point, Joyce’s revision in proof gives the letter 15 sentences. But every editorial attempt to ‘correct’ Milly’s adolescent syntax and punctuation, by reverting to earlier versions, has of course changed the count and obscured the point. So too, the passage in which Bloom reflects on the rate at which an object falls to earth (‘thirty-two feet per second’) is heavily revised in print to make it the 32nd sentence in the paragraph, where reversion to earlier readings, as in the 1984 edition, obscures that convergence of sign and sense. On page 88, Joyce added in proof a sentence of eight words to expand a newspaper death notice. It reads: ‘Aged 88, after a long and tedious illness.’ To page 77 he added in proof the phrase ‘seventh heaven’; and on page 360, Bloom meditates on cycles.
- Bibliography & the Sociology of Texts by D. F. McKenzie

What this showed McKenzie and John Kidd was that James Joyce thought his books too brittle to survive a page break. What it shows me is an unquenchable thirst for suspicious coincidence. Such details might have struck some unknown peculiar reader of the first edition, as they happened to strike the first edition's known peculiar writer; peculiar readers of later editions will presumably be struck by plenty of details of their own. Throw enough and someone will be struck. And who knows but that many of the belated recognitions of 1950s and 1960s Joyceans were just as casually opportunistic? If Joyce considered each precious intersection vital, wouldn't he have included them in his first drafts and poured them into the ears of his authorized explicators?

The contingent and ephemeral hold all we can reach of the necessary and eternal; we mold meaning from the pleasantly stinking loam of chance such Good News can't be carried in rice-paperish porcelain; its vehicle should be built to survive chipping; should, ideally, become self-healing....

Or so I gather from the cheerfully incorporated bloopers and wide-world-of-kitchen-sinks ("Frightful stench, isn't it? Just too awful for words") method of Finnegans Wake, and from Joyce's remarks when questioned by a friendlier sort than Gilbert: his hope that a random reader in some far-off location would trip across a regional reference (my own muddy MO! my own K.C. jowls, they sure are wise!) and feel peculiarly addressed. In this work, at least, the readerly goal writerly assumed doesn't seem to have been full mastery mulching libraries and and acquaintances so rapidly, odds are slim that Joyce himself would recall much source material after a month but frequent recognition.

(Why a lad or lassie from Baton Rouge or Bucharest should bother to position themselves so as to encounter these happy accidents would be an unfriendly question to ask any author, I think, and at any rate went unanswered.)

Absolute control remaining unreachable, the artist might endeavor to maximize happy accidents. During my first reading of Finnegans Wake in 1980, I found a history of the Beatles, and, if we choose to take auctorial intention into account, this would be as the author intended. Most attempts to adapt Joyce's works to other media have been miserable things. The relative success of John Cage's slick and cheesy Roaratorio depends on chance, but isn't happenstance.

James Joyce as cartoonist

Flaubert's invention of detached formalist realism had the (possibly unanticipated) effect of rallying readerly sentiments against the all-powerful know-it-all artificer and toward his deluded, destructive protagonists. Eventually, in Trois Contes, he worked out of this particular bind by letting his protagonist retain her delusions (with Joyce following suit in "Clay"). But his less detached-realistic works avoided the question altogether. We can easily picture the endearingly idiotic tenacity of Bouvard and Pécuchet as a one-joke comic strip like "Little Sammy Sneeze" or "The Family Upstairs" or "That's My Pop!" Lines on paper don't sense pain as we know it.

Joyce found a way to join forces with himself. Even on my first, unaided reading, I felt rightness in the increasingly grotesque gigantism of Ulysses, and when I return to the book, that (possibly unanticipated) affective response is what I want to relive: an alliance with breathing ugly-as-life almost-humans repeatedly smacked down under floods of mocking inflation and bouncing up again ignorant as corks and damaged as new. Yes, the two male leads are having one of the worst days of their lives, presumably at the behest of some author. But because The Author in Our Face has directed our attention to his louder, noisier, and impotent assaults, the result is less like a vivisection than like a mixed-animation heroic epic of "Duck Amuck" starring Laurel and Hardy.

I've never managed a similarly direct response to Finnegans Wake, although I keep hoping. It looks like giants all the way down. Faced with a foundational secular religious document, I want Krazy Kat and I get Jack Kirby's New Gods.

James Joyce as boring old guy

James Joyce and Louis Zukofsky share an odd career pattern: a hermetic retreat into and outrageous expansion of the nuclear family, attempting to fit all space-time into an already crowded apartment.

The "cocooning" idiom bugged me from the start. A cocoon isn't a cozy retreat or celebration of stasis. By definition, cocooning occurs with intent to split. Maybe it's appropriate for them, though?


Previous vocational guidance: Joyce as science fiction writer; Joyce as life coach.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.