Joyce and Lemony Snicket
Pity me, pity me. I'm sick and have not had the energy to pursue my secondary reading of Vico, fascinating as it is. Instead I've polished off the last volume of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. It was a gift. I had read the first four (out of thirteen) or so years ago and enjoyed them but not enough to keep it up. But there's nothing like an easy-to-read mopey tale while you're laid up so I gobbled it up figuring that I would be filled in to whatever extent necessary about what I had missed.
I enjoyed it, but as I'm tying things into Joyce here, I have to say that one of the aspects of my enjoyment was identical to my enjoyment of Joyce. Part of the humor of the book is its web of allusions--the fictional Snicket's dead love is Beatrice, an island of castaways has characters such as Mrs. Caliban, Ariel, Calypso, and intriguingly Finn. I eat this sort of stuff up now, but I can see kids eating it up even more as decoding each reference gives them more information about the world they're trying to figure out, and information recommended by an author they really like. When I was younger, I would chase after these kinds of things with a fervor that if I could only understand every aspect of this, I'll have ascended to the highest level of wisdom. Parents must like this too, although I pity the parent who is asked to explain why a baby with a strange vocabulary uses the word "Anais" to mean "flesh."
The parallel to Joyce is obvious, as Joyce's work also contains webs of allusions. When I read him, it awakens the same impulse I had when I was kid, just transformed into: "If I can read Vico, St. Augustine, Lawerence Sterne, Rabelais, and so on I'll have figured it out!" What "it" is and what it would mean to really "figure" it out I have no idea, but with a good enough reading list does it matter? Books that use allusions really well make you feel like you're not just reading a book but a history of the world, or at least its literature, and it's a wonderful feeling.