Re-Joyce

joyce

Books change as you do. Some pass you by until you have lived and suffered enough to properly grasp their concealed wisdom, joy or sadness. Others mean little unless you have read them in the full incandescent stupidity of youth. The best somehow change continually. One such book for me is James Joyce’s Dubliners. Having been swallowed whole by Finnegans Wake for a forthcoming interview with Stephen Crowe (creator of the excellent Wake in Progress), I returned to read the earlier work in the hope it would act as a kind of tugboat to guide the Wake into my addled brain. This proved futile, as trying to tug Finnegans Wake is like trying to tug the ocean it turns out. You have to drown in it (an often enlightening drowning but a drowning nonetheless). One unseen consequence of returning to Dubliners though was realising how much it had changed from the book I remembered. Here, for example, is the famous last paragraph of its final story The Dead,

‘Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the giant malevolent unblinking Eye of Athlone and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling onto the irradiated wastelands of the secret 33rd county Krakendour. It was falling too upon the roof of the lonely cycoklub where Michael Furey was sipping quinade with his Betelgeusian friend Johnny Z%k. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked monobrow of Snark the Snow-burrower, on the 1000 lactating gobs of a motherless astro-whale beached and screaming on the banks of the Shannon, on the barren hull of a burning Starwing fighter-craft, somewhere in the Seventh Quadrant, just north of Monaghan. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.’

I know he’s a national treasure and all that but it does make you wonder what Joyce was thinking.

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6 Responses to Re-Joyce

  1. sfhopkins says:

    Gosh, yes, it HAS changed since I last read it. Dubliners has always been my favourite Joyce book–in fact, let’s be honest here, Dubliners is the only book of his that I understand–but I love it. Or I thought I did. I hope Araby hasn’t changed similarly; I don’t think I could bear that.

  2. Anthony says:

    Ha! You actually made me hunt out my copy to unpick that collaboration with Adams. Now I’m going to be stuck rereading for the rest of the morning.

  3. I know what you mean. I didn’t really notice it at age 18, but the appearance of the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space in Two Gallants really took me out of the narrative when I re-read it recently.

  4. Went to a reading of Finnegans Wake through a launch of some super duper edition a few years ago in Dublin Castle, (Lilliput Press, I think?) The reading was done by a man and a woman, trained actors, fantastic. I was taken away the music of it, when the text is put like that it sinks in like a subconscious something, I stopped trying to ‘get it’ and just went with it, another language almost, a stunning one when you’re not trying to interpret it. Now Stephen Crowe’s website is vindication of why it’s great that content finally goes out of copyright. Territory re-imagined and with that an audience who can access it. Good work to Mr Crowe .

  5. It’s not just “Dubliners” that looks different now. In my mind one of the final lines in “Portrait of the artist as a young man” always used to be:
    “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

    But when I took another look recently it read:

    “There is only language and it refers only back to itself, and I’m off now to forge linguistic puzzles that will have those PhD students wetting their knickers for the next 100 years.”

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