in which I succumb to the ineluctable attraction of irish literature

It is the month of all things Irish over at Rebecca’s blog. Till now I have not participated, mainly because I was overcome with excitement. Irish is one of my favourite things. Irish literature in particular.

So, I have been wading through my piles and piles of novels, plays, poems and essays on Irish literature and have been trying to decide what I should acquaint you with. I love Wilde, I get wonderfully lost in Heaney’s poetry, I love Elizabeth Bowen novels… there’s just too much to share.

I have chosen to begin by sharing one of my favourite Joyce quotes with you. I love the language in this excerpt but I’m not going to write about it. I’ll just let you read and hope you like it too.

Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di colour che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it’s a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o’er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: they do. My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs, nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick crick. Wild sea money. Dominic Deasy kens them ’a.

Won’t you come to Sandymount,

Madeline the mare?

Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs march ing. No, agallop: deline the mare.

Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see.

See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.

They came down the steps from Leahey’s terrace prudently, Frauenzimmer: and down the shelving shore flabbily their splayed feet sinking in the silted sand. Like me, like Algy, coming down to our mighty mother. Number one swung lourdily her midwife’s bag, the others gamp poked in the beach. From liberties, out for the day. Mrs Florence MacCabe, relict of the late Patk MacCabe, deeply lamented, of Bride Street. One of her sisterhood lugged me squealing into life. Creation from nothing. What has she in the bag? A misbirth with a trailing navelcord, hushed in ruddy wool. The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze into your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Spouse and helpmate of Adam Kadmon: Heva, naked Eve. She had no navel. Gaze. Belly without blemish, bulging big, a buckler of taut vellum, no, whiteheaped corn, orient and immortal, standing from everlasting to everlasting. Womb of sin.

Wombed in sin darkness I was too, made not begotten.

James Joyce, Ulysses, Oxford: OUP, 1922, pp 37-38

Joyce did my head in for a whole session at uni but I loved it. He is a true master of language and the more I look at his work the more I am convinced that he was a vanguard. I like to read this passage, especially the beginning, just letting the words wash over me. Then I love pulling it apart for meaning. The text is so dense I’m sure I could tease it out for years and still keep on but I won’t. There are many scholars who already do that. I’ll enjoy it.


4 Responses to “in which I succumb to the ineluctable attraction of irish literature”

  1. Kim in Says:

    Well, I have spent more time reading Irish history rather than Irish literature, so maybe you can teach me something. I have never read Ulysses. I was not a Joyce fan after reading Dubliners. Maybe I need to re-visit him.

  2. missmellifluous Says:

    You need to understand Irish history to appreciate Irish literature, so you’re off to a good start, Kim. Joyce is not for everyone. His writing can plunge into the abject which can be quite unsettling. As his purpose was to communicate every detail of daily life the abject is not without context. There are examples of this in Dubliners. His short stories paint a bleak portrait of Dublin at the time in which he wrote. But it is amazing that he captures life in all its gore and glory.

    The work of Joyce is also very dense. There are so many allusions and examples of intertextuality in his writing that it can be very hard to follow what is going on. I like the challenge though and I like that Joyce reacts so strongly to the political climate of his time. He had some very revolutionary ideas about nationalism and Irish identity.

    If you decide to read Ulysses I suggest you get an edition that contains a good study guide, such as the Oxford edition with introduction and notes by Jeri Johnson. Also, read it alongside The Odyssey by Homer because Joyce has based the structure of Ulysses on Homer’s epic and in doing so rewrites notions of what it is to be heroic. Bloom is our everyday hero who blunders through life struggling to relate to his wife, struggling to fit into notions of what it means to be Irish, and yet he is gracious and kind to those he meets. Comparing Bloom to Odysseus is quite interesting. I think you would enjoy studying it, Kim, if you can get past the abject.

  3. My Shopping Planet Says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. Really is pack with new knowledge. Keep them coming.

  4. Brendan Says:

    Thanks for posting this… it really is awe-inspiring. I’m attampting to read Ulysses aloud and make MP3s available of it –

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