The phenomenon of James Joyce

James Joyce was fond of remarking that if Dublin were somehow destroyed it could be rebuilt completely from the account of it given in his' novel, Ulysses. The hundreds of scholars and students that come here for the summer of his centenary year will be walking through a city they already know in their imagination. As they pass under Merchant's Arch they will be aware of the book barrow from which Leopold Bloom purchased The Sweets of Sin, as they pass by Tom Moore's 'roguish finger' they will recall a typical Joycean joke about 'the meeting of the waters'. The sea off Sandycove will be 'snot green' and it will also recall Homer's 'wine dark sea' over which that wily balddheaded seaman Odysseus sailed in his tali ship. To read Ulysses and then walk round Dublin is a weird experience. The inner reveries of Bloom and Stephen tend to infiltrate the mind, the novel's pedestrian rhythms take possession of the feet. If art is the imitation of life - and Joyce, steeled in the school of old Aquinas believed it is - then Ulysses is the supreme work of modern fiction. But its greatness is much more complex than that.

T.S. Eliot described Joyce as the writer who had 'killed the nineteenth century' and Edmund Wilson saw him as the 'great poet of a new phase of the human consciousness.' When Eliot reviewed Ulysses in 1922 - the year in which his own Waste Land appeared - he praised Joyce for his discovery of 'the mythical method' of fictional presenntation, the 'manipulating of a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity ... a way of controlling, or ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is conntemporary history.' When we know that the action of Ulysses, one day in the life of Dublin, is underpinned by Homer's Odyssey the humblest of its events take on universal significance.

Then there is the 'stream of consciousness' by means of which Joyce can monitor record and express the inner, private thoughts, reveries and fantasies of his fictional creations. Related to the enterprise is the dazzling and often bewildering variety of styles by means of which the huge human panorama unfolds. This endless experiment with language eventually led Joyce into the phantasmagoria of Finnegans Wake which stands as a challenge to scholars

and critics as long as literature is studied. One might add the daring use of those taboo four letter words that Joyce, at great initial cost to his reputation, introduced to resspectable literature; his exploration of sexual reverie, his depiction of all the humbler functions of human organism, his transfiguration of the ordinary, the quotidian, into a radically new form of creative literature.

All of these elements and factors are part of one great unity purpose which grew and evolved in Joyce's mind over the years. The twin kernals of this purpose might be named the self and the city, or. the artist and the citizen. Ulysses opens with three young men who wake up in a tower in Sandycove. One of them is Stephen Dedalus, the artist, Joyce's fictional persona for himself. He is the same Stephen as we met in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, though sadder and wiser. We learn from his conversation and his troubled reveries that his mother has died, that he is remorseful for his treatment of her while alive, and that his own literary ambitions have as yet come to nothing. But these ambitions are still his obsession. As he marches on the city in the third episode Joyce presents us with an astttonishing tour deforce where the artist's mind contemplates the world of Sandymount Strand and rehearses the language and imagery with which it may be fixed and rendered: 'Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs.'

In the next episode we are with Leopold Bloom, arche .. typal citizen, at 7 Eccles Street as he prepares the break· fast, feeds the cat and prepares for the day's adventures. We are immediately in a world of mild and benign sensuality: 'Mr Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver fired with crustcrumbs, fried hen's cod roes.' Bloom's profession - canvasser for small advertiseements - takes him through the arteries and organs of the city, to the burial of Paddy Dignum, the birth of Mrs. Purefoy's baby, to the newspaper offices, the museum, the National Library, through a succession of pubs and eatingghouses.

In the course ot the succeeding chapters artist and citizen frequently cross paths until they meet at Holles

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mind in process, its unique obsession with words and the reality behind them, those 'signatures of all things'. It is still his most popular book, partly because every literary adolescent sees something of his own autobiography in the history of Stephen Dedalus as he encounters the problems of family, school, sex, religion and nationality in the drama of growth.

In writing these two books Joyce managed to identify and separate these two great themes of the self and the city. In Ulysses, published in 1922, he discovered the means of uniting them in the figures of Stephen and Mr Bloom. The means' are very elaborate, involving all those elements of language, style, narrative method, symbolic presentation, myth, topography, psychology, stream of consciousness _ the whole range of creative weaponry that springs to mind when Joyce's achievement is even casually mentioned. The result is a huge proliferating comedy - the comic spectacle of a city's humanity going about their public and secret business, the comedy of language going about its protean task of interpreting the thrust and nuance of that business.

The novel has no plot. It does not therefore depend for its interest on suspense. The reader must therefore attend to what is happening on the page now rather than to what may happen next. As the hero is not on his way to a murder or an assignation there is infinite opportunity for JjS to see his mind at work, or at play, or idling in neutral.

St hospital, after which Bloom follows Stephen into Monto, the brothel area, rescues him from drunken soldiers and takes him back to Eccles Street where they chat, drink cocoa and eventually part. The book ends with Bloom's wife, Molly, reviewing her day and her life in a langourous soliolquy which gives her revenge on a world of males who have made her the object of their salty innuendoes throughhout the day.

The day Joyce chooses for his epic of the commonplace is June 16, 1904, the day he first walked out with a Galway girl called Nora Barnacle who later became his wife. It was in that year that Joyce had written a short essay-story called 'A Portrait of the Artist' and planned a book called Dubliners , 'a series of epicleti ... to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city.'

Dubliners was written in poverty and tribulation in Rome and Trieste. Due to the perversity of the printer and others it was not published until 1914. Two years later Joyce had expanded and refined the essay-story till it was published as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The first book was hailed as one of the greatest collections of short stories in the history of the form, the second as the greatest bildungsroman, or novel of growth, since Goethe. Dubliners was praised for two things in particular; for the skill with which it revealed the mentality and life-style of ordinary, rather down-at-heel citizens, to emerge in stories without a traditional plot. Portrait was acclaimed for the manner in which Joyce managed to dramatise the artist's

When Bloom is on his way to lunch in Davy Byrne's - he first tried the Burton, but found hygiene and the tableemanners revolting - his mind keeps hovering on images of food, even when he is thinking affectionately of Molly:

She's not exactly witty. Can be rude too. Blurt out what I was thinking. Still I don't know. She used to say Ben Dollard had a base barreltone voice. He has legs like barrels and you'd think he was singing into a barrel. Now isn't that wit? They used to call him Big Ben. Not half as witty as calling him a bass barrelltone. Appetite like an albatross. Get outside of a baron of beef. Powerful man he was at storing away number one Bass. Barrel of Bass. See? It all works out.

At that stage he barely knows that he's hungry. By the time he enters Davy Byrne's the message has reached the brain, so his puns are more strenuous. Looking at the shelf of groceries he mentally intones: 'Ham and his descendants mustered and bred there.'

The stream of consciousness makes possible a quite different drama than that of linear narrative: the dialogue of the inner and outer self. The luncheon episode is based on an event in the Odyssey where Odysseus escapes from the cannibal Lestrygonians - the term peristalsis which means the involuntary movement of food through the human organism. The style is correspondingly fluid, easy, casually allusive. The inner man indulges the needs and pleasures of the flesh. But the outer man must remain not just formally correct, he must fend off the sudden ammbushes of the social.

Nosey Flynn - named not for curiosity but for a connstant drop at the end of his nose - inquires about Molly, then about a concert she is taking part in, then about the impressario, Blazes Boylan, Molly's lover, who is 'getting it - the concert - up.' Bloom keeps his outer equanimity through the crisis, judges that Flynn meant no harm - 'No fear. No brains.' - but privately a 'warm shock of air heat of mustard hauched on Mr Bloom's heart. He raised his eyes and met the stare of a bilious clock. Two ... hands moving. Two, Not yet.' He has known since morning that Boylan will calion Molly at four, and that they will make love. That certainty haunts him through the day and is the occasion for some of the book's most poignant, private musings.

Joyce frequently remarked to his friend Budgen in Zurich that even the greatest writers, Shakespeare included, failed to deal with the inner, personal thoughts and anxieties that exercised the majority of mankind, most of their waking time. In the line-to-line progress of Ulysses, in a dazzling and necessary variety of styles, Joyce brings us into that endless drama that goes on behind the mask of manners.

As Flynn and Davy Byrne at the counter ramble on about horse racing, Mr Bloom recalls when he first made love to Molly on Howth Head. One can imagine how the Joycean realism affronted the refmed taste of the age:

Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seed-cake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweet and sour with spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy ... Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me. Me. And me now.

In conceiving Bloom, Joyce was aiming for what he called an 'allround man' and he enjoyed ransacking myth and literature for his ideal. Eventually he came up with Odysseus, man of many parts - son to Laertes, father to Telemachus, wife to Penelope, lover of Circe and Calypso, first draft-dodger (he pretended to be mad to avoid the Trojan War) yet most tenacious soldier, inventor of the first tank (the wooden horse) and first gentleman in Europe beecause he covered his private parts when he approached the young princess Nausicaa having been washed up naked on the beach after a shipwreck.

Bloom is Joyce's modern allround man - son of Rudolph, husband of Molly, father of Rudy and Milly, ambiguous lover of many a smart girl, man of business, citizen of the world, graduate of 'the university of life.' In the course of the day he encounters and overcomes many vicissitudes, observes with clarity and passion a large human scene, performs many corporal works of mercy and triumphs through his mildness, dignity and resource. He is not an artist like Stephen, yet he has an artist's sensibility: not only does he feed the seagulls over the Liffey but he writes and revises a short poem about them:

The hungry famished gull Flaps o'er the water dull.

As that accomplished punster Lenihan remarks:

'He's a cultured allroundman, Bloom is ... He's not one of your common or garden . . . you know ... There's a touch of the artist about old Bloom.'

The world in which Bloom moves is the world of Joyce's father, John Stanislaus, and his friends. It is a world of clerks, lower civil servants, sporadic journalists, fallen gentlemen, 'party organisers', the casually or chronically 'unemployed, what Anthony Cronin has called Dublin's drinking classes. This enormous caste of characters grew out of the stories of Dubliners, recorded more than a decade before. In the stories however they had appeared mostly as witnesses of a fallen world - of the cultural and political wasteland left behind after the death of Parnell.

Dubliners had been an act of rejection,' rather like Yeats's satires on 'this unmannerly town' in Responsibilities. Joyce's idiom of rejection was crucially different from Yeats's bardic diatribe on the death of 'Romantic Ireland', and perhaps as effective:

'What do you think of a Lord Mayor of Dublin sending out for a pound of chops for his dinner! How's that for high living?' says I. 'A pound of chops,' says he, 'coming into the Mansion House.' 'Wisha' says I, 'what kind of people is going at all now!'

But Joyce has hardly got his hostile version of Dublin out of his system when passionate nostalgia for its streets overrwhelms him. In 1906 he writes home for 'a map of Dublin on my wall' and a 'Xmas present of tram-tickets, advts., handbills, posters, papers, programmes etc.' 'I suppose I am becoming something of a maniac' he ends.

The result is that the cadgers, chancers, boozers and cornerboys of the early stories are somehow transformed into something rich and strange in Ulysses. Perhaps it is because of the glory of his first love, but the damp streets become sun-drenched and radiant in the world of Bloomssday. In a scene like that in the Ormond Bar the characters of Simon, Lenihan, Boylan, Ben Dollard, Father Cowley and the siren ladies Lydia and Mina, are transformed by light and music into romantic and mythic personages. Even the darkened streets through which Stephen and Bloom trudge home are suffused with a weird glamour. And when they relieve themselves on Bloom's back garden it is beeneath a 'heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.'

Through this world stalks Stephen with his ashplant, his diminishing reserves of emolument, his weight of inntellectual and imaginative responsibility, his agenbite of inwit - that remorse of conscience that impels him to strike out in drunken frenzy at the chandelier of Bella Cohen in whose Circe an brothel the Hibernian mariners are temporarily turned to swine. His mind, so alive and preedatory in the nipping and eager air of morning is less agile than Bloom's as the night wears on.

Their day has been mobile with civic action, a vast urban labyrinth pulsing with average humanity - the scattered orphans of Dignam and Dedalus, two ambling midwives, a blind piano-tuner, a one-legged sailor, two eccentrics, one circling lamp-posts and the other carting law-books from office to office, a me of sandwich-men, an unidentified mourner in a mackintosh whose name is not M'Intosh, a humble Jesuit Provincial moving north, a Viceroy named Humble moving south, some ambient and some domicile whores. Thus the sense of a city's life is kept perpetually alive in language and the city itself becomes the archetypal city of the western world.

In the morning Stephen's mind has been alert and poised to pounce on every nuance oflanguage and reality. Bloom's has been lazier, casually not formally allusive, as befits the man who worries more about the fact of his wife's seeduction than the language in which it might be expressed. As their day goes on a new style must perpetually be innvented to mime the rise and fall of their obsessions and energies. As they part in the doorway of No. 7 Eccles Street their separate characters have been flattened by fatigue into a geometrical parody of the human that would please Samuel Beckett, intimidate Wyndham Lewis and impress the author of the Maynooth Catechism:

How did they take leave, one of the other, in separation? Standing perpendicular at the same door and on different sides of its base, the lines of their valedictory arms, meeting at any point and forming any angle less than the sum of two right angles.

The males depart severally. The great sensuous poetry of Molly's soliloquy takes over. Joyce's 'daybook' makes a swanlike end, fading in affirmative silence. Already he is gathering his forces for his last great raid on the inarticulate, Finnegans Wake his 'nightbook', which begins its fluent course where Bloom fed the gulls and bought The Sweets of Sin - riverrun, past Eve's and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay' - and ends with the same Anna Livia reeturning to the sea through the city that Joyce had left but taken with him in the haunted inkbottle of his memory: 'Whish. A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftline, mememormee! Till thousandsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a loved a long the ....last sentence missing).