Thursday, November 30, 2006

Twoknights only! Apollo E. Arroz fights Boxus O’Grapes! Live on Humphrey’s Belly’s Omphalos!

Those in high school who read Joyce in their Enlglish classes often read his short story collection Dubliners. I suppose it is more accessible, but I find the stories far less inviting than either Ulysses or the Wake. For me, it comes back to the old Apollonian-Dionysian divide which is very much a part of Joyce. The short stories of Dubliners are solidly Apollonian, careful and detailed constructs built with a cool objectivity. Nothing is spelled out, and we have to deduce the story’s import like detectives building a case. In addition most of the stories are rather somber and depressing affairs with Joyce acting like a doctor describing some hopeless case. We sometimes feel his scorn in the way that his characters in the story “Grace” fail to live up to their exalted models in Dante’s Divine Comedy. If “The Dead” is the most read of the lot, it probably has a lot to do with it being by far the most compassionate story.

Ulysses also started out as a short story in Dubliners, and one might imagine that Joyce initially regarded his cuckolded Odysseus, Leopold Bloom, with the collection’s distanced pity and scorn. I guess it just got away from him. The character of Bloom is impossible not to fall in love with, perversities and all. And as opposed to the reserved stories of Dubliners, Ulysses overflows with energy and imagination with its stream-of-consciousness musings, surreal halllucinations, and styles ranging from cheap romance to scientific catechisms. The Apollonian element is still there. The seeming chaos is secretly organized to ridiculous degree with each chapter having hidden Homeric correspondences, a dominant color, organ, etc. The writing is organized closer to how a medieval thinker would see the world: outwardly chaotic, but inwardly part of a divine plan down to the smallest atom. The synthesis infuses the Apollonian order with Dionysian delight.

TheWake is even more outwardly Dionysian as befits a book that is a dream, but it has basically the same synthesis in different proportions. I emphasize this point for fear you shall read posts with quotes from the book and exclaim “Surely this is nothing but a game for snobs which, getting 5% of the references, I can’t play. If only he had written more plainly!” But Joyce has written more plainly as in Dubliners, with accordingly measured results. The forbidding austerity of Dubliners may be clearer, but I think the wild bacchanalia of the Wake is more inviting. There’s a reason the title refers to a drinking song of all things, and one which boasts “lots of fun at Finnegan’s wake.”

If anyone would like to weigh in with "Yes! Dubliners is exactly like that!" or "Are you kidding? That's not how Dubliners is and Ulysses is so dry I can't get past the first chapter," or "You know what other author is like that?" by all means, weigh in.


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