Read Re Joyce by Anthony Burgess Free Online
Book Title: Re Joyce|
The author of the book: Anthony Burgess
Date of issue: June 17th 2000
ISBN 13: 9780393004458
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 492 KB
Edition: W. W. Norton Company
Read full description of the books Re Joyce:“abnihilisation of the etym”,
roughly meaning, the recreation of meaning out of nothing...
Burgess’s study of Joyce was not a hard sell for me. Joyce is not only my favorite writer, Ulysses not only my favorite book, but Joyce himself is a personal hero, not only for the works he produced but for the manner in which he lived his life, persisting in the face of every obstacle to pursue his art to its very ends, to the limits of what English literature might achieve, on his own terms. He accomplished this while facing down personal poverty, ill health, vilification, obscurity, a life of wandering and exile, while the calamities of the 20th century raged about him. (Ulysses was written during the first World War and the years immediately after, Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s “17 year palimpsest” was published on the eve of World War II, Joyce nearly gone blind.) All the while, though, Joyce, the finest artist of haute literature, who set the highest standards for his own work since men like Shakespeare and Milton, was the writer of the “common man” par excellence, (the heros of all of his books to the last are working men, men of the pubs and streets, their parents, wives and children, everyday Dubliners all), devoted husband and father, a remarkable tenor, great joker and lover of puns- the drinking, laughing, singing martyr to art. As a young man reading through his body of work and then Ellmann’s biography, this was nothing less than pure inspiration to me. My experiences with Joyce and the literature surrounding him changed the way I thought about words, what books are and can be, what art is meant to do, what it is capable of, why one might devote their life to such a personal vision and ambition despite the antagonism of the world at large. Joyce taught me a valuable lesson in perseverance that I never quite got from parents and friends.
Burgess’s Re Joyce, then, is the perfect celebration, reflection and survey of the body of work, and a looking forward (through Finnegans Wake) for someone like me, who is familiar with the texts through Ulysses but wishes to make inroads into Joyce’s masterpiece. It would also be ideal for a reader curious but apprehensive about the legendarily “difficult” author, because Burgess is far from overly academic here, it is a very personal study*, and throughout the book he continues to remind the reader that Joyce was, above all, the most human, even humane, of writers. Not only in his personal life, but in the works themselves- when the symbolism and high diction, the torrents of style and neologisms and layers of reference are stripped away, Joyce’s works are at their hearts loving, gentle, touching. They exalt familial love, devotion to partner and parents and children, kindness, intelligence, elevating human beings and their creations into eternal forms, they deride violence, bigotry, hostility, and stupidity, and search out truth amid the chaos of the universe, they attempt to reform the connections that bind together all of our human experiences from the “shattered glass and toppled masonry” of history. But above all, and most importantly, all of Joyce’s works, and most especially his two big books, are comic masterpieces, howlingly funny, satiric, playful. Joyce created the most erudite works of the twentieth century, but he made them out of the stuff of old stories, legends, folk tales, as well bawdy jokes, bar humor, popular songs, children’s rhymes. (”...the eternal vision is made out of muddy water, old saws, half-remembered music-hall songs, gossip, and the stain on a pair of underpants. The heart bows down.”) The low into the high, the high out of the low. The mythic in the everyday, the universe as it sings through the familiar. How else to construe the cosmos that can only be construed at all through the character of human language?
So Burgess guides us through Dubliners, Stephen Hero, A Portrait Of The Artist…, the poems and plays, and then spends about 100 pages each on Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, emphasizing their structure, their repetitions, the workings of their internal symbolism, their musicality (Joyce was the most musical of writers (a consequence of his failing eyesight?)), their progression from and relation to each other. The book closes with a defense of the Wake against its critics and the hostile reception it has historically met with. All the while he builds the case that what Joyce was approaching throughout his entire body of work, that which culminated and was perfected in Finnegans Wake, is a static art, art that does not lead from event to event (the traditional “narrative structure” of the novel) but an art that moves in circles and cycles, if it moves at all, on which layers of meaning are allowed to accrue, an art that is structured and acted upon from the outside, by the universe, by history, by myth, by a reader's personal experiences with the text, by the same forces that structure and influence our lives in the natural world, which are the same forces at work in the most distant regions of the space**. In this mode of art, first expounded upon as early as Stephen’s aesthetic musings in A Portrait Of The Artist…, “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing”, therefore it cannot be degraded and anchored between those two poles of popular literature, the pornographic and the didactic. To make eternal works of comic art (that is, art related to the workings of the cosmos), those artworks must be composed in imitation of the eternal- thus the importance of Vico’s Scienza Nuova and its theory of cyclical history to Joyce’s two big books; thus the returning motifs of transubstantiation and metempsychosis throughout the final works. Burgess argues most effectively that Joyce’s goal, most especially achieved in the Wake, was to empty language of the encumbrances and limits of time and space, and let the radiance of words burn by their own internal energies. To let the words have their voice.
”Examine that stain on the table-cloth, the crescent of dirt in your thumb-nail, the delicacy of that frail cone of ash on your cheap cigar, the pattern on the stringy carpet, and see what words will most exactly and lovingly render them. The words that glorify the commonplace will tame the bluster of history. The moon is in a cup of cocoa and the Viconian cycle turns with the sleeper on the bed with the jangling of springs. At the same time, take words as well as give them, so that eternal myths are expressed in exactly caught baby-talk, the slobbering of the crone in the jug-and-bottle, or a poor silly song on the radio. This is Joyce’s art.”
*There is a touching anecdote about Burgess, a soldier in Northumberland in winter 1941, polishing the windows of the Sergeants’ Mess with a week-old copy of the Daily Mail- he turned it over and beneath articles about the latest destruction of the latest Great War was Joyce’s death announcement- “Good god, James Joyce is dead!”- His sergeants’ reply- “Back to it!”, so he returned to scrubbing the window, Joyce’s obituary facing outward toward the snow “faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
**His analysis of the mathematical structure underlying Finnegans Wake is especially fascinating and enlightening- in this morphing, hallucinatory, deep dream-tongue-world the governance of mathematics yet reigns eternal- as it does in the outermost undiscovered reaches of the universe. Another instance of the macro within the micro, and vice versa...
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Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, critic and composer. He was also a librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist. Born in Manchester, he lived for long periods in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in England. His fiction includes the Malayan trilogy (The Long Day Wanes) on the dying days of Britain's empire in the East; the Enderby quartet of novels about a poet and his muse; Nothing Like the Sun, a recreation of Shakespeare's love-life; A Clockwork Orange, an exploration of the nature of evil; and Earthly Powers, a panoramic saga of the 20th century. He published studies of Joyce, Hemingway, Shakespeare and Lawrence, produced the treatises on linguistics Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air, and was a prolific journalist, writing in several languages. He translated and adapted Cyrano de Bergerac, Oedipus the King, and Carmen for the stage; scripted Jesus of Nazareth and Moses the Lawgiver for the screen; invented the prehistoric language spoken in Quest for Fire; and composed the Sinfoni Melayu, the Symphony (No. 3) in C, and the opera Blooms of Dublin.
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