What they Are Saying, Episode 1
James Ramey of Universidad Auto’noma Metropolitana, Mexico City, offended me when I began reading “Joycean Lice and the Life of Art.” It wasn’t that I objected to his idea that art was vermin; I gagged at the proposal that Joyce was not the creator of the artistic spirit.
It’s all Aristotle’s fault. The best scientific minds of the fourth century BC proposed that lice generated through abiogenesis, spontaneously that is, requiring nothing more than human sweat. Ramey further tortured me by saying that the strength of Joyce’s work is not in the creation of art but in “allusion.” He excelled in collecting and integrating the great ideas of the great thinkers who preceded him. This Ramey calls “the absorption of stray material.” But perhaps that is what Humanism is– the accumulation of ideas that no longer have the traditional, cultural and tribal supports. Those old supports didn’t prove the ideas to be true. Instead they demand the ideas be accepted without question.
Jean Michele Rebate’ observed that for Joyce, “lice embody the stubborn resistance of nature or the body to ideas.” Another interpretation cites Joyce’s comparison of the Jesuit Order to black lice. This second appeals to me, depicting the Jesuits not as an organ of Christianity but as cancer feeding on the host.
Is the artistic idea the artist’s product or an independent force that the artist cannot suppress? Can the artist deliver it like a midwife but take no credit for its creation? Must art OUT?
Joycean synthesis transforms the idea into art. On her deathbed, May Joyce uses “shapely fingernails reddened by the blood of squashed lice from the children’s shirts” to eliminate radical, humanist thinking. These are ideas Mother Joyce would crush. They spring not from her children but without any biological reason for their germination (that was the unscientific thinking). Equally undesirable artistic instincts might spring from the artist too without ownership or even control by the author.