Well, JJ was a filthy old fucker but I love him, for some reason, and not necessarily because he battled and belittled priests (uniformed customer service representatives of Bizlam) and despite the fact that he relished dirty knickers. I suppose my long-running esteem of the man can be traced to his militancy as a talent, his unwavering fealty to the Art, his cussed embrace of the alligator of his rhetorical vision, even as this vision pulled him down under into the twilit bayou of Finnegans Wake, for 17 years, a text I will not pretend to love or hack my way any further into than the handful of pages I try just once every seventeen years. Oh, yes, I can picture old JJ, with his syphilitic, burst-blue irises at quivering rest under the glass lids of their clouded sarcophagi, weight shifted slightly on the ashplant, jaunty suit and boater, all three askew, on a corner of Bleibtreustrasse, a street he mentions in his second-best book (Bleibtreustrasse 34, Berlin, W. 15.), whistling as all the mask-wearing citizens toddle by… and him making a crack about how the priests have got them wearing crucifixes on their faces (“No martyr where the preature is there’s no plagues like rome”), now, as though it’s not the throat nor heart nor genitals we cower from Satan’s penetrating gaze but the three-prong-ready nostrils and fang-rimmed pie-hole… but that’s not the point. To take the wild scorching tentacled mess of sentient existence and, through the patient application of obsession-sharpened craft, make sense and meaning and symmetry of SENT EX for others, down the line, a century later, even, to find much balm or ecstasy… well… Writers are all Saints, aren’t they? And JJ the Patron, the noster pater lifting us…
But what a poor nog riffer:
The Gracehoper was always jigging ajog, hoppy on akkant of his joyicity, (he had a partner pair of findlestilts to supplant him), or, if not, he was always making ungraceful overtures to Floh and Luse and Bienie and Vespatilla to play pupa-pupa and pulicy-pulicy and langtennas and pushpygyddyum and to commence insects with him, there mouthparts to his orefice and his gambills to there airy processes, even if only in chaste, ameng the everlistings, behold a waspering pot….
Ach, sorry. Still too crunchy, Father Jim. We’ll try (from Stephen Hero), instead…
Stephen did not attach himself to art in any spirit of youthful dillettantism but strove to pierce to the significant heart of everything. He doubled backwards into the past of humanity and caught glimpses of emergent art as one might have a vision of the pleisiosauros emerging from his ocean of slime. He seemed almost to hear the simple cries of fear and joy and wonder which are antecedent to all song, the savage rhythms of men pulling at the oar, to see the rude scrawls and the portable gods of men whose legacy Leonardo and Michelangelo inherit. And over all this chaos of history and legend, of fact and supposition, he strove to draw out a line of order, to reduce the abysses of the past to order by a diagram. The treatises which were recommended to him he found valueless and trifling; the Laocoon of Lessing irritated him. He wondered how the world could accept as valuable contributions such [fantas] fanciful generalisations. What finer certitude could be attained by the artist if he believed that ancient art was plastic and that modern art was pictorial — ancient art in this context meaning art between the Balkans and the Morea and modern art meaning art anywhere between the Caucasus and the Atlantic except in the sacrosanct region. A great contempt devoured him for the critics who considered “Greek” and “classical” interchangeable terms and so full was he of intemperate anger that [all week Saturday] when Father Butt gave ‘Othello’ as the subject for the essay of the week Stephen lodged on the following Monday a profuse, downright protest against the ‘masterpiece.’ The young men in the class laughed and Stephen, as he looked contemptuously at the laughing faces, thought of a self-submersive reptile.
No-one would listen to his theories: no-one was interested in art. The young men in the college regarded art as a continental vice and they said in effect, “If we must have art are there not enough subjects in Holy Writ?” — for an artist with them was a man who painted pictures. It was a bad sign for a young man to show interest in anything but his examinations or his prospective ‘job.’ It was all very well to be able to talk about it but really art was all ‘rot’: besides it was probably immoral; they knew (or, at least, they had heard) about studios. They didn’t want that kind of thing in their country. Talk about beauty, talk about rhythms, talk about esthetic — they knew what all the fine talk covered. One day a big countrified student came over to Stephen and asked:
— Tell us, aren’t you an artist?
Stephen gazed at the idea-proof young man, without answering.
— Because if you are why don’t you wear your hair long?
A few bystanders laughed at this and Stephen wondered for which of the learned professions the young man’s father designed him*.
Yes and obviously this happened; it’s not funny enough, the “burn,” to be any but reported speech. After all these years, reading that penultimate sentence still makes me want to punch someone! Which is great. We preserve that anger, generation after generation, as we are harrowed down thickly (Artists/ Writers) in number, the anger growing as we fade. “No-one would listen to his theories” indeed!
It’s a War, kids, and Colonel Joyce has called you to arms.
Run chin-up, into the fray, against the priest-obedient, idea-proof men and ladies!
*well, why not continue a little further into the passage…?
In spite of his surroundings Stephen continued his labours of research and all the more ardently since he imagined they had been put under ban. It was part of that ineradicable egoism which he was afterwards to call redeemer that he conceived converging to him the deeds and thoughts of his microcosm. Is the mind of youth medieval that it is so divining of intrigue? Field-sports (or their equivalent in the world of mentality) are perhaps the most effective cure and Anglo-Saxon educators favour rather a system of hardy brutality. But for this fantastic idealist, eluding the grunting booted apparition with a bound, the mimic warfare was no less ludicrous than unequal in a ground chosen to his disadvantage. Behind the rapidly indurating shield the sensitive answered: Met the pack of enmities come tumbling and sniffing to my highlands after their game. There was his ground and he flung them disdain from flashing antlers. Indeed he felt the morning in his blood: he was aware of some movement already proceeding a out in Europe. Of this last phrase he was fond for it seemed to him to unroll the measurable world before the feet of the islanders. Nothing could persuade him that the world was such as Father Butt’s students conceived it. He had no need for the cautions which were named indispensable, no reverence for the proprieties which were called the bases of life. He was an enigmatic figure in the midst of his shivering society where he enjoyed a reputation. His comrades hardly knew how far to venture with him and professors pretended to think his seriousness a sufficient warrant against any practical disobedience.-On his side chastity, having been found a great inconvenience, had been quietly abandoned and the youth amused himself in the company of certain of his fellow-students among whom (as the fame went) wild living was not unknown. The Rector of Belvedere had a brother who was at this time a student in the college and one night in the gallery of the Gaiety (for Stephen had become a constant ‘god’ ) another Belvedere boy, a who was also a student in the college, bore scandalous witness into Stephen’s ear.
— I say, Daedalus .
— I wonder what MacNally would say if he met his brother — you
know the fellow in the college?
— Yes .
— I saw him in Stephen’s Green the other day with a tart. I was just
thinking if MacNally saw him . . .
The informant paused: and then, afraid of over-implication and with an
air of a connoisseur, he added seriously:
— Of course she was . . . all right.
Every evening after tea Stephen left his house and set out for the city, Maurice at his side. The elder smoked cigarettes and the younger ate lemon drops and, aided by these animal comforts, they beguiled the long journey with philosophic discourse. Maurice was a very attentive person and one evening he told Stephen that he was keeping a diary of their conversations. Stephen asked to see the diary but Maurice said it would be time enough for that at the end of the first year. Neither of the youths had the least suspicion of themselves; they both looked upon life with frank curious eyes (Maurice naturally serving himself with Stephen’s vision when his own was deficient) and they both felt that it was possible to arrive at a sane understanding of so-called mysteries if one only had patience enough. On their way in every evening the heights of argument were traversed and the younger boy aided the elder bravely in the building of an entire science of esthetic. They spoke to each other very decisively and Stephen found Maurice very useful for raising objections. When they came to the gate of the Library they used to stand to finish some branch of their subject and often the discussion was so protracted that Stephen would decide that it was too late to go in to read and so they would set their faces for Clontarf and return in the same manner. Stephen, after certain hesitations, showed Maurice the first-fruits of his verse and Maurice asked who the woman was. Stephen looked a little vaguely before him before answering and in the end had to answer that he didn’t know who she was.