[The Ulysses Centenary has passed. It is now the work of new readers to sustain and enrich the Joyce Industry looking toward the Ulysses Bicentenary. Luigi Saverio Tozzi is such a reader. His Bloomsday memory is, in fact, only of a Bloomsday in a non-linear sense. This essay is about Luigi’s felonious introduction to James Joyce by way of Dubliners and its profound effect on him. As a demonstration of his commitment, he submitted this essay in English (although Italian will always be welcomed here). You might be convinced, as I was, that his promise of “a new odyssey” is already charted. ~don ward]
I first discovered James Joyce at school, but not during a Classics class. Perhaps this is already something that might intrigue the reader because my first James Joyce book was a 1971 edition of Dubliners… that I stole from the school library. You stole! The expression resounded, a dark, austere voice, and conscience imposed excruciating guilt. How would I atone for this sin? I would be condemned forever by the Inquisition tribunal of my brain.
I confessed everything to my grandfather. He asked me where I had stolen it and if it was a library frequented by many users. Well, I told him that I didn’t even think there was a custodian there., just lots of books registered, marked, and abandoned, a finger of dust on the book placed higher than the myriad stacks left to yellow in the closed darkness of forgetfulness. Each book was a tombstone. Slyly, my grandfather said to me, “You didn’t steal it; you simply borrowed it indefinitely.” With this, he wanted to tell me that the book now belonged to me by right and that I was giving it a new life.
I began to read it. The first story, “The Sisters,” opens with the image of a window seen from outside by a child, dimly lit by candles. Someone is dying. The word “paralysis” struck me and sent a chill down my spine; it was a word that sounded strange to me just as it did to the child protagonist (narrator of the story), who at one point learns that a Father, his “friend”, has died at age 65 on July 1, 1895. Every word in this tale, where everything is stuck and nothing really happens, has a reverberation. Every word makes the air I breathe shake, I thought, and yet it’s all still, everything so still. I think now, an engorged hemiplegic delirium, and I’ll be forgiven for the climax, but these are the real sensations I fished out of the memory tank.
I went on reading, and another window appeared in the inception of the fourth story, observing, this time, is from inside a house crammed with memories. There is “Eveline,” the present tense is no coincidence because the characters remain there on the page, her head resting on the curtains, tired, looking out, “few people on the street”. Dear Eveline, I thought, searches for an absurd hope in the folds of the past but returns to her present and finds the stale, dusty smell of resignation. She has to escape, but the sound of an organ comes to her ears that isn’t just a sequence of notes: she remembers the promise she made to her mother on her deathbed: to keep the family together.
“The Sisters” and “Eveline”: two windows like a dimensional I with a Dantean flavor: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate. There are two deaths. In “The Sisters,” a priest named James dies. This character is perhaps an allusion to the author, but the plot also expresses metaphorical and real escapes that his characters did not dare to make? In “Eveline,” a mother dies like Joyce’s mother, who died on August 13, 1903. Joyce would have published “The Sisters” in George Russell’s magazine, AE, The Irish Homestead, signing himself Stephen Dedalus…pseudonym or Pessoan heteronym.; There is a shadow named “paralysis”, which looms over the characters, poor prisoners, already in the grip of a double bogeyman, in check of life and death. These are two stories that Joyce wrote in Ireland and that he reworked and rewrote only later in Italy, far from Dublin, the center and periphery of his universe.
A third window remains engraved on my soul, that of the last story, the fifteenth of the Dubliners, written between July and August 1907, “The Dead,” a hotel window. The third among the dead is the most important one, Gabriel’s love rival, Michael Furey. Gretta’s boyfriend, already ill with tuberculosis, irreversibly aggravated after venturing out in the rain to convince Gretta not to move away from him. She will say: “I think he died for me.” Gabriel has an unbeatable rival in Michael because he has been dead for many years, unbeatable because he is outside the laws of time. The eternal Michael Furey comes back to Gretta’s mind through the mysterious tune played on the piano. The far-away music is titled “The Maiden of Aughrim.” The snow then arrives, gently beating on the glass of that window. Those dancing flakes call Gabriel’s attention, but they also carry all the space-time planes of the universe. Each snowflake “reveals” to us, one by one, the secrets of our poetic walk of shadows. It “veils” everything tenderly buried under the silent blanket that separates the living and the dead… “And I don’t know who goes and who stays”.
From here, we will set off on a longer journey, a new odyssey…