Welcome to Joyce’s Private Obsession
Cantos XXXVI-IXL (p.13).
My words….Those quiet cold fingers….an odourless flower….dark languor-flooded eyes
Joyce spreads fewer than fifty words across four tiny cantos. In the latter three, he looks back over his prose poem, recalling the facets of HER loveliness that created his obsession, but first, he sinks his wasted wooing in a bog of regret.
The poet writes: “Those quiet cold fingers have touched the pages, foul and fair, on which my shame shall glow for ever. Quiet and cold and pure fingers. Have they never erred?” He looks back to his sharing of A Portrait, her ostensible disapproval, and his secret hope that she was coy and privately excited by his novel. This canto recalls his earlier words when imagining that he would help her to dress: “Fingers, cold and calm and moving …. A touch, a touch (p.7, ll. 1-13).” Fingers that might be his might have also been her reply to his touch. If hers, they are now cold and unwelcoming.
Secondly, Joyce recalls the sadness of her eyes. “On the stairs. A cold frail hand: shyness, silence: dark languor-flooded eyes.” This line casts a backward glance to: “I see her full dark suffering eyes, beautiful as the eyes of an antelope (p.11, ll. 24-25).” Joyce hoped that Amalia’s vulnerability would make her turn toward him. Instead, his presence offers her no release from pain, and her hand remains unresponsive.
The blossom of adoration for Amalia has proven to be sterile “Her body has no smell: an odourless flower” The flower has been given to her by Lucia and recalls the child’s role in the attempted seduction (“A flower given by her to my daughter.” p.3, l.1). The seduction has failed, and Joyce’s unholy pursuit turns from Signorina Popper onto young Miss Joyce. Lucia was little more than an infant when Joyce saw Amalia Popper for the last time in 1909. But dates, characters, and places all float freely in Joyce’s construction. Ellmann suggests there may have been more than one Amalia, more than one obsessive love for Joyce.
From the events of the prose poem, the would-be seducer concludes that his game is lost. “My words in her mind: cold polished stones sinking through a quagmire.” He pursued her with carefully selected phrases forged, hammered, and polished to pierce her defenses. He coated a cutting edge with the second layer of alloy, his published words, heartfelt, confessional, but also titillating. He hoped that her heart would welcome his promises and devotion. Instead, they sunk into the morass. All to no avail, and lost forever.
Nearing the end of his composition, Joyce squeezes three recollections about his love and his statement of failure onto page 13 of 16 sheets. Sparse wording here following by a flood of text on the remaining pages.
Then watch for the turn of the plot with another turn of the page.
don ward October 1, 2020
Canto XXXV (p.12, ll.17-29).
A symphony of smells
From the opera house loge, Joyce looks down onto the seats of the mezzanine and the stage. Like a hunter in a blind stalking prey, he is ensconced here for the vantage point it offers to observe Amalia Popper. The loge is unparalleled for stalker seating. The distance gives an excuse for using an opera-glass. With glasses, he can scrutinize his obsession but without drawing undue attention to himself.
Joyce reacted to optical stimuli in his writing, although he didn’t greatly appreciate visual art, which attempted to communicate ideas without the benefit of either words or notes. Other commentary says he did not artistically label smells as pleasant or unpleasant as his readers would. In “Armpits and melons: An Olfactory Reading of James Joyce,” Frances Devlin-Glass observes that Joyce’s use of smell accelerates as his art develops, nearly absent from Dubliners, but essential to plot and images by the time he crafts Ulysses. Between these major works lies A Portrait. There Joyce made a few but critical uses of smell — incense and brimstone, as pointed out by Devlin-Glass but also the earthy odor of the bird girl. Personally, Joyce developed a strange pleasure from scents that would turn away most noses. In this canto, Joyce blends pleasant and unpleasant olfactory sensations deliberately, placing side-by-side the smells of armpits and pomander balls (“nozzled oranges”), myrrh and flatulence, and the somehow distinguishable smells of married and unmarried women. We could presume his preference would be for the available ones like Amalia Popper.
The presence of opoponax or bisabolol is a particularly interesting observation by the poet. Two different classes of opoponax exist, one which is scented myrrh. That class of the compound may have been brought to the Christ-child by the Magi from Ethiopia. Myrrh is used in the creation of perfume but also as a pain-killer and used in embalming fluid.
Joyce shares that Signoria Popper is scentless. She artificially announces herself with the musk of the furs she robes in. The combination of perfume with Amalia’s natural scent does not attract Joyce; she has no natural scent. The opoponax might instead serve to neutralize the distractions of the smells surrounding his perch in the sweat and garlic balcony. Its purpose might otherwise be to dull the pain of Pining Jim, who aches for his Lady Love.
There is something macabre about Joyce’s love for his child-student. The prose poem paraded past us “a pale white face,” “cobwebbed handwriting,” eyes failing in darkness (“Dark love, dark longing.”), “dark-blooded molluscs,” ghosts in the mirror, the Jewish cemetery, the demon Mephistopheles, the juggernaut that crushes onlookers, the strewn bodies in Hedda Gabbler and Hamlet, a gargoyled church, the execution of Beatrice Cenci, and the heroine’s near-death under the surgeon’s knife. This is an unusual love poem.
There is an undercurrent of darkness in Giacomo. Is death calling to Joyce or for Amalia? Miss Popper dressed in green that becomes moss, “the hair of graves.” This love turns away from light, becoming a dark and hidden obsession. Joyce’s prose poem becomes a Poe’s poem with good reason to mask the smell of death.
don ward September 29, 2020
Canto XXXIV (p.12, ll. 7-12).
…little runs suddenly broken, little timid cries: it is crying for its mamma, the portly hen.
In a scene that may be real or imagined, an agitated Amalia dressed in a robe but in Joyce’s presence, seeks protection during a telephone conversation with her mother.
It amused Joyce to encounter a mother and daughter with a warm and close relationship. MayJoyce seems to have been a good and interested mother but overwhelmed by her brood and may have had few tender moments like the bonding of picking head lice from her charges. Then there was Joyce’s parade of apartments in Trieste and elsewhere.
Mother-daughter relations strained the Barnacle-Joyce household from the moment the girls left the maternity hospital together. When infant Lucia came home, Joyce was in bed with rheumatic fever (I find the Spanish Flu’s scarlatina in so much I read these lockdown-days). Giorgio was a scooting three-year-old, and finances and household chaos beat Nora down. Now there was Lucia, a difficult infant.
Brenda Maddox tells us that Nora seemed to favor Georgio. In different apartments at the tender ages, twelve and fifteen, Lucia was forced to share bedrooms with her parents while Georgio was allowed his privacy. It may be no coincidence that in Ulysses, Molly thinks to give Milly’s bed to Stephen (Eggers, “Darling Milly Bloom”). Nora was careful about her daughter’s hygiene and grooming, but as the child’s mental health showed early signs of her disturbance, Lucia ignored these matters. This neglect may have been due to her obsession with dance, or it may have been a way of defying her mother.
Annabel Abbs, author of The Joyce Girl, took Nora to task for her treatment of Lucia, culminating in twelve years at the end of Nora’s life when she did not visit her institutionalized daughter. This assessment may be an overly harsh judgment against the mother. Children suffering from mental disorders may experience a symptom referred to as tactile defensiveness. Human contact is unpleasant, perhaps even painful to the child. If touched, the child recoils. The problem impedes, even prevents, mother-child bonding. As recently as the 1990s, blame for autism unfairly landed on “refrigerator mothers” judged to be unresponsive to the child. However, there was no maternal tactic but to distance from a child who would wail at a mother’s touch.
But a mother bonded may be an immense comfort to a daughter. That mother might even defend her daughter against a predatory Maestro. Amalia the chick peeps “Parlero colla mamma (I will speak to my mother)…. Come! chook, chook! come! The black(robed) pullet is frightened.” We expect “mother hen” to be fierce in her defense. This is the scenario introduced in the canto.
You may recall that Joyce adapted the French folktale “The Cat and the Devil” for Grandson Stephen. You probably will recognize the cat in the Bloom household as a knowing but mostly silent observer to the drama. Joyce, who hid the scar of a dog bite on his chin with facial hair, related to the feline. Signora Popper here plays the mother hen, Joyce, the cat. Again what originates in Giacomo Joyce finds a path to 7 Eccles Street:
—Afraid of the chickens she is, he said mockingly. Afraid of the chookchooks. I never saw such a stupid pussens as the pussens.
don ward September 24, 2020
Canto XXXIII (p.12, ll. 1-4).
…had The Portrait of the Artist been frank only for frankness’ sake, she would have asked why I had given it to her to read.
Signoria Popper pronounces that the shock value of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man would not appeal to her. She has begun to see there is an amorous intention in her professor’s educational program. Amalia allows that the novel has sufficient artistic weight to meet her juvenile approval while seeming to disapprove of the baser elements of this new style of literature. If Joyce intended titillation with naughty content, she would not react. The Maestro is bemused by his young charge’s literary assessment. He might also hope that he has turned the girl’s head despite her protest.
Amalia was not the lone commenter to temper praise of the novel because of indelicate content and vocabulary. In March 1917, H.G. Wells published a review of the book that blended his literary assessment with four parts of Social Darwinism, one part commentary on punctuation, and one part generalization about an Irish obsession with matters “cloacal.” Mixed in was a grudgingly favorable review of the masterpiece. Joyce exacted an act of customary revenge in Ulysses, intimating that the British empire’s most outstanding achievement was the water closet’s globalization.
Her youth was not the greatest obstacle to Amalia’s understanding of Portrait. She came as a child to the city with a cosmopolitan and blended society, and no one will claim that a Jewish immigrant’s lot was easy. However, life in a diverse city where nearly half the population did not even speak Italian might seem less oppressive than elsewhere. In Trieste, there was no dominant local culture. The most significant impediment to Amalia’s appreciation of the novel is that Portrait examines the plight of not an immigrant but a different class of outsider, the forced emigrant. There is another type of oppression in heterogeneous societies that might be overlooked by the immigrant who might believe all “natives” are privileged. Signorina Popper could not appreciate the torment of an insider compelled to break with the conventions of a stiff-necked, prudish Edwardian society, opening himself to public scorn. Joyce’s improprieties are not only sexual and hygienic but also heretical, political, familial, and economic.
Mr. Wells recognizes the importance of the artist’s perspective within a closed society but abruptly redirects the reader’s attention. In his limited discussion of the novel’s plot, he briefly discusses Stephen’s terror at sermons promising fiery damnation, contrasting this unfavorably with Lord Jim’s personal and private guilt. Wells doesn’t acknowledge that Conrad was an immigrant, relieved of his Polish-Ukrainian Catholic culture’s burdens through immigration. The reviewer can no better appreciate Joyce’s catharsis than Amalia Popper can.
Joyce’s novel is most meaningful to the “insider” alienated from a strongly centralized society with a hierarchical church like Catholicism forbidding independent interpretation of dogma, perhaps, or to the colonial subject of an empire. Here is a different type of suppression than the kind experienced by immigrant newcomers. This suppression is equally painful for the native unable to accept the dominant and oppressive culture. This societal pressure is the cynosure of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Preparing for the centennial of Joyce’s first masterwork, Fintan O’Toole wrung out the intention of Joyce’s theme for The Irish Times (“The impact of ‘A Portrait’ has waned for modern young men,” July 20, 2013). He then hung out, for all to see, the life-changing effect that book had on him and two generations who preceded him. The book delivered a body blow. For me, it was one of those books that proved the C.S. Lewis aphorism: “We read to know we are not alone.” O’Toole’s more cutting observation was that no contemporary teen could feel the same after reading the book. The “religious empire… its power and its seductions” no longer exists.
don ward September 22, 2020
Canto XXXII (p. 11, ll. 29-34).
…happy words on her tongue, happy laughter. A bird twittering after storm, happy that its little foolish life has fluttered out of reach of the clutching fingers of an epileptic lord….
Joy results from the absence of fear or pain, according to Epicurus. Applying his theory would explain Amalia’s post-op giddiness. Joyce compares her survival to a songbird’s soaring and singing in a celebration of life. His use of this image invites comparison to the more complex use of avian flight and song in Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.”
The memory of pain retreats effortlessly and immediately. The vacuum created fills with euphoria. Keats says: “One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk.” The Lethe is the underworld’s river of forgetfulness. Having bathed in the Lethe, memories of the past wash away before reincarnation. Short-lived pain memory explains how, despite childbirth’s agony, families with more than one child DO exist.
Keats’ poem also calls up images of death in a world where the nightingale and all nature is immortal. There are always “beeches green,” the color of summer, and imbued with “greenness,” meaning still immature and still perfecting until experience betrays perfection.
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Amalia, marked by the surgeon’s blade, is now imperfect. She has known pain and since her condition was “grave,” we presume faced mortality. Will vulnerability and imperfection make her less desirable for Joyce or more? Keats might find her appeal greater. He might even have a sense of urgency about herb appreciation since she is now in decline. For the poet, there is little doubt. He says: “…for many a time/ I have been half in love with easeful Death,/” Signorina Popper is no longer an object of art, but is now like the human artist deafened by the clicking sweep hand on the clock of mortality. Joyce, by contrast, showed no interest in making Amalia Popper immortal through this art. The prose poem, Giacomo Joyce, was never groomed for publication.
Finally, there is Keat’s reference to the Old Testament story of Ruth. Ruth became the model of biblical fidelity because she remained with his family on her husband’s death rather than return to her father’s tent. Ultimately she remarries into the same extended family. Throughout Giacomo Joyce, the Maestro has plied his cunning in secret attempts to woo Amalia while under the watchful eye of Leopoldo Popper and Trieste’s Jewish community. He would have been pleased to have his nightingale fly her father’s tent and alight among foreigners.
don ward September 17, 2020
Cantos XXX-XXXI (p.11, ll. 13-19, 22-26).
The housemaid tells me that they had to take her away at once to the hospital, poveretta, that she suffered so much, so much, poveretta, that it is very grave…… I walk away from her empty house.
In Canto IXXX, we shared a quote from the Book of Numbers that shows Yahweh as a God jealous of his gifts and his people’s affections. Here that theme continues with Joyce’s accusation of a “Libidinous God!” Giacomo Joyce leaves us an inversion of the struggle of good and evil. A selfish God threatens to take Amalia away from her pursuer. Joyce’s reply, “Surely hell’s luck will not fail me!”
When Faust asks Mephistopheles about his nature, the demon replies: “I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.” Joyce might excuse himself for his pursuit of a young virgin with the rationalization that ultimately good will result. Neither Heaven nor Hell emerges triumphant. The evil that results is merely the continued darkening of Joyce’s soul. The slight countervailing good is Giacomo’s awakening conscience. His blackest thoughts remain unpublished during his life in an uncharacteristic concession to shame. He never dared to complete Giacomo Joyce. He never had it typed.
Amalia, appendix ruptured, went under the surgeon’s knife. Tears welled up in Joyce’s eyes, thinking he might lose her, tears out of place adjacent to his lust. The Maestro may have believed that a jealous God punished Amalia to punish him, her seducer. He might have also believed her scarring was a response to his belief in her perfection. His tears were tears of sorrow, or were they tears of helpless rage?
Leopoldo Popper’s procreated a worthy sacrifice to his God. Then, whether for good or evil, the surgeon’s blade penetrated and marred Amalia Popper, a platonic ideal. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Birthmark” leaves the lesson that God’s hand will not abide by human perfection. Goethe incants that same warning through his Chorus of Spirits.
By the blow of a demigod shattered!
Fragments into the Void we carry,
The beauty perished beyond restoring.
While the forces of good and evil play, Amalia’s eyes betray her to be Joyce’s prey (“suffering eyes, beautiful as the eyes of an antelope”). She is the prize in a game played between that “Libidinous God” and James Mephistopheles Joyce, who, as observed by Buck Mulligan, had “the cursed jesuit strain…injected the wrong way.”
don ward September 15, 2020
Canto IXXX (p. 11, ll. 1-9).
Tie My girdle for me and bind up this hair in any simple knot.
If you have been reading this blog, you may remember another mention of Beatrice Cenci by Dante in The Divine Comedy. In this canto, Joyce uses a quote from Shelley’s tragedy The Cenci. Shelley’s play focuses on the abuse of a daughter and men’s treachery in all life’s stations. Beatrice also suffers when male-controlled institutions function in an autonomically callous way.
Count Francesco Cenci was the cruelest of men. Having raped his daughter, Beatrice, he dispatched two sons to face starvation in the Pyrennes. Cenci then held a banquet celebrating their deaths. Ultimately, a plot unfolded among Beatrice, her brother, her lover (the celibate but lustful and dishonest priest Orsino), and her stepmother. After an unsuccessful plea for help to family and friends, the conspirators hired assassins to kill Count Cenci. The killers failed twice, once from ill-timing and a second time due to cowardice. The Pope condemns all the conspirators to death, not to punish Cenci’s murder but to dissuade patricides. In a final disappointment, even Beatrice’s brother and stepmother denied involvement in her plot. Her father, her community, her family, her Church, her lover (who alone escapes in disguise), and even the ineffectual murderers all betrayed Beatrice.
“How is any of this relevant to Joyce’s obsession for Amalia Popper?” you ask. As Amalia precedes Joyce down a corridor, a tendril of her braid comes undone. Joyce may have found this accidental dishevelment alluring. The unbinding of the hair suggests that a woman is open to an exclusive attachment. This accident might appeal to Joyce’s baser desires. The Bible includes the following passage:
And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord and unbind the hair of the woman’s head and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy….
The braid is also emblematic of a woman’s class, status, and competence. The mistress of a household intervenes to place finishing touches on household furnishings, decorations, and foods. Her hairstyle and attire are selected for her to be a partner in the management of the household. There was a taint of subservience in Joyce’s nature, and a masterful woman (like Bella Cohen) might also appeal to him.
Finally, the Cenci women have bonded over mutual grooming. Nothing like shared braiding of another’s hair was known to the world of men. This ritual might hold a fascination for Joyce, who will ultimately create the essential feminine character in Molly Bloom.
don ward September 10, 2020
Canto XXVIII(p.10, ll. 22-27).
Perhaps, an embittered idealist (Hamlet), he can see in the parents of his beloved only grotesque attempts on the part of nature to produce her image.
Young men ironically have the role of father-protector thrust upon them when ardent wooing results in a daughters’ birth. It might be a noble role. That role might also be tainted with subconscious desires. In his youth, every father-protector was a young suitor inclined to hate his love’s protector. I am secretly delighted that my son-in-law’s roles will shift from suitor to protector.
The tension between father and suitor lurks everywhere in Shakespeare’s plays, ending in Capulet’s pain, Lear’s madness, and Shylock’s rage. Not in Hamlet. Here the suitor, Hamlet, hates father Polonius, though the father has no wish to defend his daughter’s honor. Hamlet hated Polonius, but Hamlet had already won Ophelia, perhaps impregnated her, and ended the courtship either due to disinterest or to spare her implication in the slaughter which was to follow.
The father-daughter-suitor relationship in Hamlet played on Joyce’s mind as he lectured about the play. Between November 1912 and February 1913, Joyce delivered a series of twelve lectures on Shakespeare and Hamlet to Trieste’s citizens. The talks have since floated into the ether. Only two sets of notes remain. There is a notebook labeled: “Quaderno di calligrifia di Shakespeare” supplemented by sixty unbound sheets (Quillian “Shakespeare in Trieste: Joyce’s 1912 Hamlet Lecture Series”).
Did Shakespeare’s life peek through the curtain into his art? In 1898 Sydney Lee published The Life of William Shakespeare, insisting analyses of the plays use only the events on the stage. Within ten years, Frank Harris released a work that analyzed the Bard’s canon focusing primarily on Shakespeare’s life as the center of his art. Quillian notes that Stephen lands decidedly on the side of the artist’s experience as the catalyst in the Scylla and Charybdis argument. Joyce also makes clear the importance of experience in the art he created.
Were it not for misshapen time in Giacomo Joyce, the lectures of the winter of 1912-13 would have occurred after Joyce’s time as a tutor to Amalia Popper. Any enmity he might have felt for her father and protector Leopoldo Popper could have passed. But in Joyce’s faster than light relativity, the game of love and the lectures occur concurrently. At whatever point the tutor-suitor wrote his prose poem, he sharpened a grudge against Leopoldo Popper. Now, Joyce has commingled Popper and Polonius as conspirators. The connection is unfair to Popper, who is a dutiful protector, while Polonius is negligent and callous. Polonius would bargain away Ophelia to advance his career, surrender her to the Prince, and be complicit in the onset of madness. A LeoPolonius Popper might have pleased Joyce, but Popper is not a political factotum. Joyce is not a prince, and Amalia is not a prize.
If there is deception in the Leopoldo-Amalia-James triangle, it is James who is the guilty party. He pretends to be a friend to Popper as Polonius might have done. In later years, when Joyce is Polonius to Lucia’s Amalia, he reflects nature’s “grotesque attempts … to produce her image.” Joyce was predicting his role in the destruction of the innocent and beautiful Lucia.
don ward September 8, 2020
Canto XXVII (p.10, ll. 1-18).
Haec dicit Dominus: in tribulatione sua mane consurgent ad me. Venite et revertamur ad Do- minum . . . .
The Lord says, “For they will rise early to me.” Come, let us return to the Lord.
Joyce, drunk or sober, weaves home through a cold, pale yellow pre-dawn, contemplating both the crucifix and the gargoyle. He is neither alone nor in Amalia’s company. Not in Trieste or Paris. He walks through both time past and time future.
The reading for the mass celebrated in Jim’s quantum cathedral is God’s command to Hosea to marry an unfaithful wife. Hosea’s wife, Gomer, will symbolize the unfaithful Israelites. Her children represent the loss of God’s favor but, ultimately, Yahweh’s forgiveness too. Joyce’s consideration of an adulterous spouse may lead him to think of his weakening fidelity toward Nora, or he might be assuaging his guilt by jealously revisiting the infidelity that Nora never committed.
In the “sindark nave” Joyce imagines standing elbow to elbow with Amalia, daughter of Jerusalem, dreaming that she would cry over his pain. Joyce borrows his words from Christ’s cold warning to the women who cry for Him on His way to Golgatha.
Turning to them, Jesus said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” (Luke 23:28)
Joyce makes himself the Christ and promises suffering to Amalia for her role in his pain.
The artist’s musing in Giacomo again will become art in Ulysses. A more perfect and selfless love emerges there. Molly’s infidelity curiously will reinforce her bond with Bloom. She won’t need readmittance into her lord’s tent. She will rule the tent. Bloom will never turn away from her, and despite her physicality, Molly will never betray Poldy in her heart. The Israelites covenant passes from a god of justice to a god of forgiveness. Evolving further, the love of Molly and Bloom transcends even forgiveness. It accepts human failing.
Finally, a few words about the first Latin quote of the canto. Quia frigus erato is normally translated, “It was cold.” There is a long-standing debate over Virgil’s use of Frigus in a similar sentence in The Aeneid. The question is whether Virgil intends frigus to indicate cold or fear. Expect Joyce to know every allusion. Is he afraid of his passion as well as shivering in the cold? It’s amusing to note that if you search for the phrase, you will find it in an exercise in Scanlon and Scanlon’s Latin Grammar: Grammar Vocabularies and Exercises in Preparation for the Reading of the Missal and Breviary studied during a priest’s education.
don ward September 3, 2020
Canto XXVI (p.9, ll. 21-31).
I play lightly, softly singing, John Dowland’s languid song.
In this canto, Joyce sings and plays love songs in the Popper home until dawn approaches. Delaying the walk home, he ends the evening singing John Dowland’s “Loath to Depart.” The tune is Elizabethian and written for the lute. Presumably, the Maestro would accompany himself on a guitar, substituting this instrument for the stringed lute. This song is reminiscent of those that decorate Shakespeare’s plays. Those were days when the gamesmanship of romantic wooing replaced medieval courtly love. Here you can listen to Dowland’s tune and lyrics if you like.
Dowland was also a practitioner of gamesmanship. Another Irish fellow, the composer frequently found himself on the continent, often a visitor to Italy. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, accused him of being a “damned Papist,” but believed he would remain loyal for a crown if not to the Crown. Similarly, Joyce would remain faithful to Nora unless a more desirable lover was under his spell. He remained circumspect. Songs of romantic love could weave a snare suggesting but not proclaiming his intentions to Amalia.
Joyce mixed his minstraling with wine and devotion. Once on his way home and alone, his courtly facade disappeared. His path is lit by puddles that reflect shame (“the scum that mantles the cesspool of the court of slobbering James.”).
One of the great enJOYCEments of reading the words of James Aloysius is that any allusion you find is likely to have a second cutting edge, even a third. In this canto, he offers: “Here are wines all ambered, dying failings of sweet airs, the proud pavan, kind gentlewomen wooing from their balconies with sucking mouths,….” Pavan is a cordial made from fermented muscat, both sweet and acidic. The grape presents itself to the imbiber disguised as orange blossom (like an English tutor who might have baser intentions).
The Pavane is also a courtly dance introduced in Venice at the height of that city’s economic and artistic influence. The name of the processional is said to come from the word for a strutting peacock. Trade routes shifted with the discovery of sea routes to Asia. Venice lost its prestige, power, and wealth. By the 18th Century, debauchery became the prominent feature of Venetian society, personified by its most famous citizen since Marco Polo introduced Venitian prosperity. That other Venetian was also called Giacomo, Cassanova.
Finally, Joyce takes advantage of an ironic allusion. PAVANA is another name for a principal Hindu deity, Vayu. As “Pavana” he is the Purifier.
A corrupting agent made of grape masquerades as orange blossom. A noble defender becomes corrupt and wastrel. A stench in the street wafts on a purifying breeze. These are the discordant notes of Joyce’s romantic love and hidden intentions for Amalia Popper.
don ward September 1, 2020
Canto XXV (p.9, ll. 12-14).
…a leg- stretched web of stocking. Si pol?
From Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus matures from green to nearly ripe. His philosophy evolved in the earlier work; in the latter, he begins to live that philosophy. In Portrait, he collects weapons of “silence, cunning, exile” into his armory. By Ulysses, he is more skilled, now mentored, and arrayed. On June 16, 1904, he was not yet a consecrated artist. Still, he had labored through mere rebellion (in rejection of Church and State), passive-aggression (in navigating sour relationships with Mulligan and Deasy), and intellectual sleight-of-hand (in Scylla and Charybdis). Portrait is not strictly autobiographical, but the author did have a store of personal experience from which to draw. James Vulcan Joyce hammered out Ulysses residing in Trieste but using artistic ore mostly mined in Dublin. It was not until he lived in Trieste that he developed a closeness to and understanding of Jewish friends.
The origins of Leopold Bloom were not solely sourced by Joyce’s Dublin experience. There is little to suggest that Dublin’s Jewish resident Alfred Hunter contributed much to Mr. Bloom’s character or experiences. We know that Joyce and Hunter once attended a funeral together, and Hunter may have helped James Joyce after a drunken street scrap (both according to Ellmann). Bloom grew from the characters of Italo Svevo and Leopoldo Popper. Their personalities and experiences powerfully connect Giacomo Joyce to Ulysses‘ Poldy Bloom. The hero’s dark corners beginning in Giacomo Joyce and passing to Ulysses came from Joyce himself: jealousy, a foot fetish, masochism, and voyeurism.
This canto deals not with Papa Leopoldo Popper but with his daughter, Senorigna Amalia, and establishes her influence in creating Gerty MacDowell in Ulysses.
Here in the prose poem, Amalia (unintentionally since modest by nature) reveals a net of stocking that snares Joyce, bated with lace and blessed flesh. The three lines of this canto transform into Ulysses‘ Nausicaa episode climaxing in Gerty’s temptation of Bloom. An economy of words in Giacomo Joyce becomes an episode-long seductive fantasy in Ulysses.
She leaned back far to look up where the fireworks were and she caught her knee in her hands so as not to fall back looking up and there was no-one to see only him and her when she revealed all her graceful beautifully shaped legs like that, supply soft and delicately rounded….and her face was suffused with a divine, an entrancing blush from straining back and he could see her other things too, nainsook knickers, the fabric that caresses the skin,….
Did the maestro intend that the prose poem become something more? There are few possible translations of the final two words of the canto: “Si pol.” Si or “Yes” has a particular sexual significance for Joyce in Ulysses. The only translations found for pol are from Slovak and Polish. In both languages, the word translates to “half,” not meaningful in this context.
When writing Giacomo or later appending it, Joyce may, however, have been noting the canto as a source for the antics of POLdy Bloom.
don ward August 27, 2020
Cantos XXIII, XXIV (p.9, ll 1-6, 9).
She thinks the Italian gentlemen were right to haul Ettore Albini, the critic of the Secolo, from the stalls because he did not stand up when the band played the Royal March. She heard that at supper. Ay. They love their country when they are quite sure which country it is.
She listens: virgin most prudent.
America won independence under a brain-trust influenced powerfully by fighting immigrants. Every American knows Lafayette, who was not an immigrant, and Hamilton, who was. Combatant leadership also included von Steuben, Kosciusko, John Paul Jones, Pulaski, John Barry, and de Kalb, whose last words were: “I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.” Irish immigrants were largely responsible for the Union victory in the American Civil War, especially at the “high-water mark” of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. The tide turned in Lincoln’s favor when Irish conscripts filled the blue ranks. Similarly, Italian and Japanese second-generation immigrants were famously courageous during the Second World War.
Emigree Amalia Popper listens to the voices of nationalism in a new Italy. Ettore Albini, music critic and socialist, was physically ejected from La Scala opera house when he refused to honor Italy’s royal anthem, Marcia Reale.
The Popper family fled persecution in Eastern Europe and hoped to embrace the new Italian nation. Factions in Trieste, battered between Europe’s powers, would be happy to become part of the young Italian nation, but that would remain unsettled for decades to come. In 1910 only half the population of Trieste spoke Italian.
The Irredentism Movement in the last decade of the nineteenth century and early twentieth aspired to Italian annexation of Trieste, politicizing issues including the language of school instruction. The Austro-Hungarian Empire encouraged immigration into Trieste from Slavic countries to counterbalance the growth of Irredentism. Wherever possible, Eastern Europeans were given jobs in the public sector to lessen Italian influence over the city’s machinery.
Among those most supportive of the West-facing Irredentism were Jewish immigrants to Trieste. They predicted better treatment under the Italian kingdom than the Austrian Empire, which had a history of mistreatment against Judaism. Amalia digested that conversation, sitting at her dinner table. Those who undermined Italy, like Albini, deserved scorn.
Where immigration brings a better life, the new arrivals embrace the new land and culture. Thirteen percent of all U.S. military veterans, for example, are first or second-generation immigrants (The Migration Policy Institute).
The preference for Italian nationality, exclusionary biases, and assimilation but with cultural separateness continued to be problematic for Trieste’s Jewish community. Joyce molded the character of Leopold Bloom and the events of the Cyclopes episode of Ulysses under the shadow of these threats to his circle of Jewish friends.
don ward August 25, 2020
Canto XXII (p.8, ll. 29-36).
The sellers offer on their altars the first fruits: green- flecked lemons, jewelled cherries, shameful peaches with torn leaves…. Owlish wisdom stares from their eyes brooding upon the lore of their Summa contra Gentiles.
Many Russian Jews landed in Trieste fleeing mistreatment in the Russias. The Jewish and Irish diasporas have met, and James Joyce is captivated by the look of Askhanizic women, their olive complexions, veined eyelids, their mysterious separateness. How does a fallen-away Irishman seduce an underaged observant Jewish girl under the watchful care of her family? Find a theological loophole and use Judaism against itself.
In this canto, Joyce has a chance encounter with the men of HER family. The Popper men cross Trieste’s market in a horse-drawn carriage. Produce triggers a stream of consciousness that might justify Amalia’s surrender to Joyce as a sacrifice to modern ways in a new Western Europe.
Bikkurim is the tradition of bringing the first fruits of the harvest as an offering to the temple. SHE might be that sacrifice. He might be that temple.
The second prong of the offensive, thinks Joyce, might be to argue that Judaism is not so different from Christianity. In this, he adopted the writings of Aquinas, who prepared a how-to tome to convert Jews and Moors during the Spanish Reconquista. The Summa contra Gentiles composed from 1229 through 1235, consists of four books. John Rickaby, S.J. translated the Latin to English in 1805. The argument of each book in the text focuses on a particular appeal to the potential convert. The convert was not presumed alienated from her current religion, so the treatment was gentle.
- Book I argues the similarities of Christianity with Judaism and Islam that monotheism offers.
- Book II supports the shared importance of the natural Creation for the three religions.
- Book III demonstrates a commonality in the religions’ treatment of good and evil, free will versus fate, and human reason.
- Book IV only here after 580 pages of translated text and footnotes does the text address theological differences.
The final book encourages a soft sell, comparing, for example, Moses and Jesus as servants of God the Father attending to the Father’s house but making the distinction that Jesus not only serves the Father but is linked to Him by lineage. Aquinas’ work was not directed to the prospective convert but to those who would deliver the argument to the candidate. The strategy seems circumspect. Joyce would appreciate the rhetoric even if the case seemed contrived (like Dedalus’ argument in Scylla and Charybdis).
As the 19th Century turned to the 20th, optimism surged in Europe and Asia. Internationalism sprung in traditional societies, including Turkey and Japan. Electricity was crackling everywhere. The skies came under Man’s mastery, and transatlantic communication had become commonplace. A nascent Psychology promised an understanding of the human mind, although more ambitious than the science would support. Spiritualism competed with organized religions for the souls of Europeans, and inter-cultural relationships were, if not accepted, at least possible. James Aloysius Joyce might marshall a stratagem, muddling Jewish tradition and Catholic expansionism and win a prize that would be left neither traditional nor apostolic if plundered.
don ward August 20, 2020
Cantos XX, XXI (p. 8, ll. 1-2, 10-17).
Great bows on her slim bronze shoes: spurs of a pampered fowl.
The lady goes apace, apace, apace ….. Pure and silence on the upland road: and hoofs. A girl on horseback. Hedda! Hedda Gabler!
Between these cantos lurks stalker Joyce’s dilemma. The first of these cantos is a leer at one of the maestro’s sexual peculiarities. The second is an existential threat to the professor.
You recall Joyce’s retelling of his episode in early Paris days when he was delighted to squeeze his foot into a girl’s shoe. He shared this fetish with his artistic creation, Leopold Bloom. In Trieste, post-Paris, pre- Bloom, he encountered a booted maiden. Amalia Popper is astride her mount riding beside her powerful father, Leopoldo. The scene recalls Ibsen’s father-daughter tandem, General and Hedda Gabler, and the influence that gratuitously destroyed another creative spirit.
No two equestrian ladies could be more different than these two. Amalia Popper rides a gentle trot; Hedda Gabler demands a breakneck pace. If Principessa Popper was flattered, even aware of her pursuit by the ardent Joyce, that remains her secret. At most, SHE was passive to his attention rather than a provocateur. Hedda Gabler-Tesman, on the other hand, seized the initiative in every relationship, whether to cure boredom, to tear down the preeminence of men, or to destroy the artistic impulse. The late General Gabler encouraged his daughter’s actions, his only bequest to her was a set of dueling pistols (Webb, “The Radical Irony of Hedda Gabler“). She uses them to destructive and self-destructive purposes.
Before the opening curtain, Hedda threatened Lovborg, desperately in love with her, with her father’s pistol. He fell into drunkenness and neglected his art until he was resurrected and reassembled by Thea Elvsted. Now rededicated to his craft, Lovberg has written the masterwork that will establish his reputation as an intellectual. Fearing him as a rival to her husband, Hedda lures him back into debauchery, tempts him to suicide, and, even after learning he will not foil Tesman’s career, she burns the only copy of Lovborg’s manuscript. Lovborg fouls Hedda’s plan for his dramatic suicide, killing himself through the weapon’s accidental discharge. Her complicity unravels before lecherous Judge Brack, and Hedda takes her own life rather than suffer Brack’s control.
Critics are desperate to assign symbolism to Hedda Gabler despite what Ibsen himself had to say on the subject: “What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions, human destinies, upon a groundwork of certain of the social conditions and principles of the present day.” Ruth S. Berry insists: “The heroine is an individual and not a type.” In this, Ibsen predicts the coming of the Modernists. Other critics are equally insistent that Hedda Gabler is a symbol of radical feminism or Dionysian destruction. James Dionysius Joyce might have been most concerned by positions like Kristin Gjesdal’s in “Ibsen on History and Life: Hedda Gabler in a Nietzschean Light.”
Giacomo Joyce may have thought of himself as a charismatic figure like Dionysius, enjoying his followers’ frenzied enthusiasm. In “Ibsen’s New Drama,” he wrote, “Had (Rubek, a character of another play) been a genius like Eljert (Lovborg) he would have understood in a truer way the value of his life.” Joyce believed in his genius and understood that the “value of his life” was also artistic. In Hedda Gabler, he saw the potential for his self-destruction in Lovborg’s obsession, benign though Amalia Popper might have been. As a mature writer, Joyce was the most disciplined and controlled of artists, but succumbing fully to drink, he might neglect his art in pursuit of her and lose his way.
don ward August 18, 2020
Canto XIX (p.7, ll. 24-28).
A sparrow under the wheels of Juggernaut, shaking shaker of the earth. …. Aber das ist eine Schweinerei!
The wheels of this canto turn on two axles. The second of these is an untranslated German word not borrowed by the Yiddish. Schweinerei translates most commonly as “mess.” Colloquially, Joyce, referring to his pursuit of Amalia Popper, might say, “But that’s a mess.” A mess is not the only way to translate Joyce’s condition. Another translation is “filth,” a more judgemental way of assessing a teenaged student’s pursuit by a teacher. The third possible translation is even closer to perfection. It declares a “scandal.”
“Juggernaut” has been reshaped by time and by distance and by language. The earliest application was from the Sanscrit. That form combined the suffix for “master” and “jagati,” meaning “he goes,” suggesting a potentate who strides the Earth. From the Hindi language, “Jagannath” evolved, meaning “lord of the world.” Both nouns indicate a title for a person, the Sanscrit noun being one sobriquet for Krishna.
The writings of the Franciscan missionary Odoric Pordenone first introduced Europeans to the term. The priest’s account of travels on the Asian subcontinent and the excerpts of his reports reused in The Travels of John of Mandeville included the chariot procession at the Jagannatha Temple at Puri. There, massive carts conveyed statues of the gods through the streets. Frequently spectators died under the wheels. Some worshippers may have thrown themselves into the wagon’s path in a religious frenzy and were crushed under the wheels. The press of onlookers may have been pushed others under the cart. These reports caused the word’s evolution from a quality of a god to an un-personified and irresistible force (graphic literature notwithstanding).
Is this distinction in definition, merely a measuring of mites? Like the different possible translations of Schweinerei, the definition of a juggernaut as the irresistible force rather than a divinely powerful person makes a difference. It’s explicit in the poem that Amalia Popper is a sparrow who prays to God to spare her from disgrace. However, suppose the juggernaut is a force, not a person. In that case, Joyce may be another sparrow unable to withstand the scandal’s devastation that will result from the passion that is beyond his control.
don ward August 13, 2020
Canto XVIII (p.7, ll. 1-13).
I hold the websoft edges of her gown and drawing them out to hook them I see through the opening of the black veil her lithe body sheathed in an orange shift.
Separated by a century and a tenth of the globe are two poets, obsessed with undergarments, with phantoms, with undressing their loves.
Onetime American poet laureate and media darling, Billy Collins penned the poem “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes.” You can find it here.
He begins with an overworked and self-conscious line, perfect for his purpose. Collins says: “First, her tippet made of tulle,/ easily lifted off her shoulders and laid/ on the back of a wooden chair.” “Tippet” and “tulle” will drive most readers to the dictionary and are intended to do so. The words pair nicely but are as insincere as Stephen’s argument to the intellectuals in Ulysses’ Scylla and Charybdis. When asked if he believes the case he has just painstakingly presented, Stephen surrenders without resistance with a resounding and final “No!”
Boy Dedalus’ argument is Shakespearian theatre, a juvenile acting-out for his betters in an attempt to be noticed. Similarly, Collins here confesses a mere imperfection. He allows his study of Dickinson has been academic and sterile. Joyce knew Collins’ tandem of T-words, we can be sure. He might use one ideally, but not the overkill of two. Neither would Collins when he evolves into Emily’s mature lover. As the poem opens, he has only removed an already transparent scarf. The poem sets about disrobing the modest Dickinson, struggling to know not only her shift but her artistic outer dermis and rhythmic bone structure.
Compare the poets’ treatments of their subjects:
Joyce: I hold the websoft edges of her gown and drawing them out to hook them I see through the opening of the black veil her lithe body sheathed in an orange shift.
Collins: Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
Joyce: It slips its ribbons of moorings at her shoulders and falls slowly:
Collins: the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.
Joyce: a lithe smooth naked body shimmering with silvery scales. It slips slowly over the slender buttocks of smooth polished silver and over their furrow, a tarnished silver shadow ….
Collins: and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.
Joyce’s words convey color, warmth, and the promise of surrender. In Collins, there is stark, cold perpetual virginity.
The reader notes Collins’ focus on an inorganic Emily. He is interested in better loving her body of work than her body. Images circle in a cold, watery whirl: mother of pearl, puddled water, and whalebone. Joyce sibilates serpentine, sensual, and sensuous. This intention is not to deeply understand but to possess the love object.
Look at the use of the word “moorings” in the separate pieces! One soft and alluring; the other an Artic postmortem.
Joyce: I hold the websoft edges of her gown and drawing them out to hook them I see through the opening of the black veil her lithe body sheathed in an orange shift. It slips its ribbons of moorings at her shoulders and falls slowly: a lithe smooth naked body shimmering with silvery scales.
Collins: and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.
There is one vast difference between the poetic treatments. More than a few of Collins’ poems begin with him looking from a window. He is a great observer of life at arm’s length. Contrast this with Joyce’s confessional treatment of the theme. He is not the juvenile antihero of Portrait or the unripe intellectual of Scylla and Charybdis. Now he will bare his blackest soul to the reader. Few writers have been willing to brave the condemnation and price extracted by critics and censors for this declaration of frailty.
don ward August 11, 2020
Canto XVII (p.6, ll. 20-27).
Pimply Meissel brought me here. He is beyond those trees standing with covered head at the grave of his suicide wife,….
Modernism, the label pinned to James Joyce, abandons traditional society’s buttresses. Modernists name religion and state as outdated and corrupt influences of the traditionalist society. The third prop, the family, nuclear and extended, might be said to crumble today too. Before Modernists could abandon Church and State, Western thought had to first soften from the rock-hard rigor of Augustinian and Kantian ethos into a system made tender by the addition of pathos and a more flexible logos. Intellectuals tussled for a century over the foundations of The Enlightenment and Romanticism before Modernism could manage a foothold. And that struggle may be seen as the culmination of a one-thousand-year debate within Judaism that plays out in Giacomo Joyce and Ulysses.
Until the first quarter of the nineteenth century, European philosophy accepted a rigid set of rules founded on objective reality and unbending ethics. Situational accommodations were forbidden. According to Kant, for example, any lie was a damned lie. Kant’s thinking was slightly out of step with Aquinas’s writings but would have made Augustine smile (if Augustine ever smiled). With the writings of Schopenhauer, Hegel (no hero to Schopenhauer), and Nietzsche, factors reflecting human individuality superseded Kant’s take-it-or-don’t salvation.
Judaism had debated the need for a light hand in ethical matters for a thousand years or more. One subject of debate since the writing of the Talmud is suicide. The earliest thinking regarding suicide is that the prohibition against murder also condemns suicide (Sariel. “A Matter of Life and Death: The Halakhic Discussion of Suicide as a Philosophical Battleground”). Judaism had always distinguished between the proscriptions against honoring the suicide in death and treating grieving family members who are innocent of any wrongdoing. In Tanna’s view in Tractate Semahot, liberal allowances for the feelings and honor of the surviving family were permitted. During the nineteenth century, one rabbinical debate resulted in a more narrow definition of “the criteria for defining suicide,” further showing generosity and empathy toward the suffering suicide and the family.
Jewish written opinion and oral tradition also distinguished among catalysts for suicide. The debate considered justification to avoid violating God’s law (for example, to avoid forced sexual relations after capture). Frequently cited examples came from cases of rape. Others, like King Saul’s suicide, were thought by some scholars to be justified defenses of the honor of God’s kingdom on Earth ( Zion, Noam Sachs. A Rabbinic Life of Temptation, Shame and Suicide). Cases not condemned as suicides included those performed in atonement for sin.
As early as 1805, the Chatham Sofer supported a recommendation making suicide classification less likely. The opinion stated it was impossible to know a person’s final intention, even if they declared themselves determined to commit suicide. Sariel points out this development followed trends in the broader European thinking. As early as 1774, a young Goethe in The Sorrows of Young Werther wrote of a justified suicide due to lost love. Hume undertook a series of attacks on Augustine’s condemnation of suicide. Rabbinical documents on the subject were earlier, more liberal, and comprehensive than Christian thinkers’.
Meissel’s trip to his wife’s grave circa 1908 followed the liberalization of religious thought. A modern understanding of human psychology was developing too. For Meissel, these might have offered some comfort but not a removal of his mourner’s grief. Meissel’s suicide was likely in response to his wife’s death. The transition from the Enlightenment rationality to Romanticism’s focus on human feelings may relieve but does not remove grief. The Modernist revolution, however, is looming and about to change the world. Within a decade, the Hades episode of Ulysses takes shape. Bloom, still suffering from his father’s suicide, the death of his son and his lineage, his wife’s infidelity, and his exclusion from society finds a purpose for living, without religion, state or family.
don ward August 6, 2020
Canto XVI, (p.6, ll.12-15)
Did you never walk the streets of Dublin at night sobbing another name?
Joyce was ill at ease in social settings. He learned to use music to gain a foothold and become a target for praise and female adoration. We might guess this happened this night when he returned from HER address on Via San Michele, praying Amalia’s name.
Eileen Vance was first among Joyce’s love objects. She appears in the opening pages of Portrait, noted for having different parents than little Jim. Ellmann tells how her father embarrassed Eileen by sending the Joyce Boy a Valentine’s Day poem she ostensibly authored.
O Jimmy Joyce you are my darling
You are my looking glass from night till morning
I’d rather have you without one farthing
Than Harry Newell and his ass and garden.
Newell was an unsavory street character in Bray, so the poem was hardly a testament of love. On learning about the trick, Eileen withdrew and blushed whenever she heard Joyce’s name mentioned. Joyce had learned of the prank. Stanislaus Joyce reports no unusual reaction from his brother. You’ll recognize the poem as adapted for use by Ulysses‘ Mr. Bloom in praise of Milly.
When Joyce was fourteen, he engaged in a spanking incident with a girl who worked for the family. A priest at school suspected something from Joyce’s changed attitude and coerced Stanislaus into telling his brother’s secret. May Joyce was called to school and warned about her son’s behavior. The result was the servant’s dismissal. A sexual encounter with a prostitute soon followed this. Neither of these incidents would have resulted in the love-sore sobbing of a name on Dublin streets.
Joyce was better at inventing love than giving it. He wrote a story for the magazine Titbits about a young man dressed as a Russian diplomat for a masked ball. He falls into a reverie about his fiance, imagining her as the “laughing witch.” While distracted by love, a Nihilist, thinking the young man a Russian delegate, attempts his assassination. The police arrest both the assassin and his potential victim. Elements of that story and its publication appear in the “Calypso” episode of Ulysses. Joyce also wrote a series of love vignettes played out behind drawn shades. The series was called Silhouettes. This idea is used again in Giacomo Joyce. Joyce believed that love was more alluring when behind a veil.
When not slithering through Monto’s “red-faced” district, Joyce spent many evenings in the home of his classmate Richard Sheehy. From the four Sheehy sisters, Joyce selected Mary to be the object of a “small, rich passion,” although when he had an opportunity to kiss her during a parlor game, he asked if there weren’t some other option (Ellmann). Once more, if there was a passion, however small, he concealed it.
Asked if he had been in love, Joyce replied, “How could I write the most perfect love songs of our time if I were in love?” He claimed that, for the poet, love must always be in the past or the future (Stanislaus Joyce). His answer to the question about his past experiences, while evasive, suggests he had not been in love.
Joyce’s attitude, at least through 1900, was that while love must remain a servant to art, lust was indomitable. It is possible that because of the adoration showered on James Joyce as a child, he more needed to be loved than to love.
don ward August 4, 2020
Canto XV (p.6, ll. 1-4).
There are ghosts in the mirror ….. Candles! Candles!
Giacomo the Seducer huddles beneath Amalia Popper’s window. He is no Romeo or Cyrano. Sheathed against the dark, using the shadows as his blind, he hides his gothic presence.
A blurred shape passes across the room. Joyce calls to his Mephostopholes to cast more light: “Candles! Candles!” More light would not sharpen the vision even for eyes truer than his. SHE is a ghost, already gone to Fiorenza, or the theater. Time twists for the stalker. Some events unfold in real-time. Space-time sometimes leaps forward to after her departure. It returns.
SHE suspects Joyce already, and the Maestro’s motives have revealed themselves through a relentless series of accidental encounters of his pursuit.
A poem (“Hello”) by Naomi Shihab Nye tells of a rat that boldly leaves evidence of his shared occupancy. The vermin signs with pointed teeth, “each fruity turned-up face/ knowing you will read/this message and scream.” The rat could enjoy an old, secret, long life in a matted nest surrounded by its species. Instead, the rat delights obscenely from making his presence “ineluctable.” The mistress will never enter a room without a stick to bash the intruder.
The rat might be anywhere, but he is where least expected, in the drawer, where the mistress keeps the candles that promise light and security. The rat could also be in the fog that paints the window pane.
The rat could skitter along the walls unnoticed and still be well fed. He (or they) insists on coming brazenly to HER table for HER attention and HER food. Despite a small fascination at his boldness, SHE will away. He will skulk back to the matted nest, or the jaws of a trap will crush him.
A link to “Hello” by Naomi Shihab Nye
don ward July 30, 2020
Canto XIV (p.5, l. 35).
Long lewdly leering lips: dark-blooded molluscs
It is foolish to argue with James Joyce’s selection of a word. He sweated over prefixes, spellings, shades of interpretation, but his decision to describe his love goddess’ lips as mollusk-like reveals a fundamental misunderstanding or perhaps disinterest in what a girl might like to hear. I accept that the mollusk was precisely the romantic symbol Joyce intended. Jim, a mollusk? Base flatterer!
The classification “mollusk” includes invertebrates with soft, unsegmented bodies. Some are aquatic. Others prefer the damp. Genus and species have no meaning for me, so I prefer to classify creatures according to restaurant menu placement. The taxonomy proved faultless: cephalopod appetizers are calamari and octopus; bi-valve entrees include clams and scallops; and, tasting-menu exotics, delicious but bizarre, feature escargot and scungilli or conch. I hope never to learn of a dessert mollusk.
If the inspirational mollusk is viscous, like the romantic slug, the love target might become righteously indignant. But others without shell are soft, clinging, pliable, and savory. Even without breadcrumbs, a kiss would be delicious.
On preceding pages, the Maestro compared Amalia’s coloring to an opal. That seems an unusual comparison, but if you consider the tints blended in painting flesh tones for a portrait, blue could be a shade exotic to an Irish eye, but memorable after a little fixed concentration. What color are lips? Not red, but the tone of putty or darker. Sometimes maroon deepened with brown. The makers of lipstick find this combination alluring. Joyce did too.
Most mollusks have no brains. Instead, ganglia disperse across their bodies. A mollusk-lipped lover might think with her lips. Counter-balancing brainlessness, cephalopods have three hearts but are predators none the less. Bi-valves might have “Long lewdly leering lips.” Unfortunately, they would be rock hard and stingy-thin. Even as the most socially inept pre-teen, I never thought to practice kissing on the long, thin clam’s lips.
don ward July 28, 2020
Canto XIII (p.5, l. 18).
This heart is sore and sad. Crossed in love?
Joyce wrote it! He finally wrote with his best bent script, “the word known to all men.” Hasn’t every teen heart been “sore and sad,” believing itself “crossed in love?” It’s a chemical and biological ontology. The hope for the immature brain is that a new infatuation quickly replaces the lost one.
He wrote it, but could he feel it?
James was the prize foal of the Joyces’ stable, showered with gifts, praise, and the best of educations until family fortune took its final, fatal tumble. Even after the fall, everyone sacrifices for Sunny Jim’s future. He knew a mother’s love (“Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.”) and maintained enough love and respect for his derelict father to reconcile at the end. James was propped up by brother Stanislaus and waited on by servant sisters.
Joyce showed a perfect understanding of juvenile emotion when he composed “Araby.” There, longing is unbaked love and lust. He is disdainful in treating young women in the characters of “Eveline” and Gerty MacDowell in “Nausicaa.” Perhaps he was overly wary. Maybe no lover could ever worship him as his parents did in his childhood. He was never able to share “the word known to all men” with Nora.
In his twenties, Joyce was infatuated with young Amalia Popper and can see the pain of failed love and disappointment on her face. Joyce understood Mangan’s sister’s power over a young boy, but we know of no successful mature love for Jim until Nora. Any success in the Joyces’ relationship was probably due to Nora’s acceptance of Jim’s peculiarities. As time passes, chemicals can rebalance too. Sometimes lust simply shifts to something more enduring. Did a miracle of chemistry cure Joyce of love paralysis? Probably not.
Where and why does the bird of love alight? There are neuroscientific protocols at work. A flood of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, for example, initiates craving for the loved one. That craving is a symptom, not a definition of desire. Meanwhile, an addictive effect borrows stimuli normally allotted to the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala’s warning system. The obsessed are less cerebral, less wary. Of course, only some of the chemical effects create love. Oxytocin and vasopressin produce lust; dopamine and serotonin (produced by the “reward center”) assist in developing love. Love and passion can be created independently of each other. That is too obvious and problematic. Without that fact, there would be no opera.
Perhaps Joyce’s pre-frontal cortex was powerful enough to maintain control when the vessel was under attack by marauding lust. Maybe he could distinguish “the word that all men know” from “the word that all men feel.” It seems probable that Joyce had a masterful Amygdala, always protecting him from heartache.
Another factor is that there are gender-related differences in the processing of emotion. Men, James Joyce being one, require constant visual reinforcement to foster love, and the visual cortex in sighted men responds with little prompting when the right chemical cocktail is mixed. Women, Nora Barnacle being one of this type, don’t have the same need to see interest; they simply feel it. If for a would-be lover, visual signals are unavailable or unreliable, a fleeting expression might go undetected; the reward center would then be left unstimulated. That missed signal might result in a loss of interest or alternately trigger jealousy. Furthermore, eye contact is more than a romantic allusion. Protracted eye contact stimulates the development of love.
While oxytocin breeds temporary security, vasopressin often results in long term love. As passion wanes, love can deepen due to a shifting balance of hormones. Negative feelings pass from the nucleus accumbens to the amygdala. Vasopressin impedes this passage, and reduced negativity allows lust to mature into love.
The eldest of the Joyce children weaned on praise and rewards. It might have been impossible for any lover to compete with that worship.
Neurologically, some brains having wiring run to deliver any comfort seek love without regard for judgment or fear. Joyce was sexually reckless. This might result from a pre-frontal lobe wired to resist intimacy and an overly wary amygdala. Finally, the importance of vision in cultivating love might have disadvantaged Joyce in love too. There were psychological, chemical, and physical barriers to healthy relationships. James Aloysius might know the word but never the sensation.
don ward July 23, 2020
Canto XII (p.5, ll. 1-10).
Unde derivatur? Mia figlia ha una grandissima ammira- zione per if suo maestro inglese.
Leopoldo Popper innocently asks in which direction Joyce walks. Senor Popper is a trusting man. He shares that his tender daughter admires her instructor, encouraging the casanova, who would seduce her.
The maestro might have two reasons to walk along with Popper. He gathers intelligence through this espionage. Joyce may have another intention less sinister. Joyce’s companion had raised an academically gifted, hard-working, daughter, well-mannered and kind. Amalia Popper is also devoted to her father. Ellmann reveals that Joyce hid a resentment for Amalia’s closeness with her father behind bemusement. Lucia Joyce has many natural gifts, talent, beauty, and devotion. Perhaps due to the seeds of mental instability that would emerge later, Lucia lacks discipline and demonstrated explosiveness, mainly when dealing with Nora. Joyce placed little value on the new treatments of psychoanalysts even after they were widely accepted. The Joyce household in Trieste was surely in disruption both before and after Lucia’s birth on July 26, 1907 (Happy Birthday, Lucia). Nora suffered from postpartum depression. Jim’s jealousy bubbled. He was absent for a bit, returning to Ireland. First one Joyce sister came to assist in caring for the children, then a second. The sisters, particularly Eva, had secret intentions of reforming their wild, unholy brother. The Joyce household’s disruptions might have affected Lucia when Joyce tutored Amalia Popper, but Lucia was only three years old when the Joyces last saw his student. None of Joyce’s research with Leopoldo, none of the Joyces’ interventions would save Lucia.
His discussion with Popper leads to a contemplation of Amalia’s virtues: “courtesy, benevolence, curiosity, trust, suspicion, naturalness, helplessness of age, confidence, frankness, urbanity, sincerity, warning, pathos, compassion.” They seem to make the girl a paragon. Mixed in with her sterling qualities, Suspicion follows Trust. The contradiction might indicate balance, but Warning also introduces Pathos. Amalia will not be easy prey.
Curiously Joyce ends the contemplation with a prayer to Ignatius Loyola. It is not a prayer for fidelity in marriage but self-discipline. Loyola, a professional soldier, on his wife’s death did not remarry but founded the Jesuits, a religious order with military structure and discipline. His prayer calls for patience and self-discipline. On his stroll with Popper, Joyce is a spy rather than one of Loyola’s holy soldiers.
don ward July 21, 2020
Canto XI (p. 4, ll 16-20).
Nay, nay, be not afraid!
Joyce’s polyamorous fantasies sprung from reading about the incestuous pharaohs, the Ottomans who bridged the West and the East, and the earliest Biblical Hebrews. The Orient influenced Ulysses’ underlying themes too, but in exploring “Scylla and Charybdis,” Frank Delaney found more polygamy from an unexpected, occidental source, the life of George Fox, father of The Society of Friends. Fox proselytized among prostitutes. He marshaled a harem of sorts, although there is no suggestion that these relationships were sexual.
The founder of the Quakers was not a member of the clergy. I’m at a loss to describe his professional state, but he was esteemed and even revered by those he converted. Perhaps Fox is better described as a teacher. Whether holy man or teacher, he enjoyed an elevated stature in the eyes of worshipers new to his sect.
Studies conducted between 1988 and 2010 show the influence of mentors over college-aged charges. However, baseline data on the appropriateness of interactions are weak, and U.S. regional differences complicate one study. At times, U.S. Federal Title IX regulations confound understanding too since they invite interpretation into the “rules.” For example, the definitions of sexual misconduct for instructors include “socializing with a student outside the school.” The prohibition doesn’t specify whether the contact may be individual or in groups, whether off-campus class activities would be excluded, or what constitutes “socializing.”
Intuitively, we know Joyce exercised influence over young Miss Popper because of the role he played in her education, but we cannot measure the sway he exercised. If you allow me to be generous, I’ll claim instructors are generally competent and benevolent forces in students’ lives. If you resist my claim, I will be unable to defend it. All the hard evidence is to the contrary. Seven percent of college students report sexually inappropriate behavior by their mentors. A more significant number, 9-15%, self-report undesirable contact on other instruments. It is not uncommon for graduate students and TAs to date and even marry those who supervise their development. Even among adults, this might represent the violation of an ethical standard.
Joyce was no longer the boy who went questing on behalf of Mangan’s Sister in “Araby.” His work with Amalia began when the maestro was twenty-five. In the short story, the boy spied his love through the lace curtain and struggled to speak to her. An older, less innocent, worldly-wise and powerful Joyce suffers no such reservation. He detains his victim, bursting forth from the tobacco shop exhaling “jumbled words of lessons.” He delays her on the street under the pretext of educating her. His true purpose is to use his holy office to turn her face in “kindling opal light.”
This blog wearies of polygamy, corruption of a young girl, and incest, but for now, the subject demands it. Soon the prose poem will turn to other subjects. After writing this, James Joyce will turn this experience onto the character, concupiscence, and connivings of Mr. Leopold Bloom.
don ward July 15, 2020
Canto X (p. 4, ll 6-12).
…the short skirt taut from the round knobs of the knees. A white flash: a flake, a snowflake: And when she next doth ride abroad/ May I be there to see!
By the first decade of the Twentieth Century, Western Europe’s loathing for the Turk, the pirate-invader, diminished. The Ottomans endured an initiation into European warfare in the Crimea, allying with French and English against the Tsar. Later Ataturk’s Turkey replaced a theocratic nation with a secular one, enforcing the change with laws. The “young Turks” even replaced the Arabic script with less beautiful latinate lettering. In exchange, Turkey gained the modernity of a clackety writing machine that aided commerce as well as communication.
At least since he wrote “Araby” (including the homage to “The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed”), Joyce was fascinated by the near east. In Portrait, he found meaning in the romance and magic that drew his mother to treasure the memory of Turko the Terrible, “…the boy that can enjoy invisibility.” He resurrects the inscrutable Turk three times in Ulysses and adds eastern spice to the females who grace the novel. Molly, like the bedroom Nymph, appears in Nighttown with harem wear. Fetishist Bloom plans to buy Turkish carpet slippers for Molly’s feet. Turko, the baths, ladies in pantaloons, soft slippers, a typewriter for secret love letters the reader prepares for Bloom’s (and Joyce’s) a harem dream come true.
Bloom’s harem accommodates a soprano, a daughter, a water sprite, and an invisible correspondent. For Mr. Bloom, comprehensive and expansive mating is another Eastern rite, growing like vines up and across the Moorish Wall. Poldy’s dream is the artistic cultivation of Joyce’s id. The author’s personal “Turkish delight” would mix wife, daughter, student, and perhaps a second student. Here in Giacomo, Joyce, as sultan, imagines two girls, Lucia and Amalia, hitched to a sled. They are oblivious to his attention and surrounded by virgin snow. He enjoys invisibility, like Turko, because they live in his fantasy.
Joyce’s understanding of the harem shaped a fantasy with peppered with more mystery than fact. Harems were typically subject to rules outside of the polyamorist’s control. The sultan’s mother, or lacking one the lead wife, managed the harem. Other events were controlled by tradition and could not be altered by the lone male. Harem translates “place of the women.” As such, Joyce would be disappointed by its functioning. As Kemal Ataturk moved the Turkish Republic toward European secularism, Joyce’s artistic image of a harem life that was magical, mysterious, sensual, and polygamistic became more archaic and inaccurate.
“Lotus Eaters” found Bloom as Turko in an eastern bazaar, a cross-legged potentate smoking a hookah. By “Circe,” he aspires to the stature of that other paternalistic Turko of the Crimea, mustachioed Sargeant Major Tweedy. All this is born of Joyce’s desire for NoraLuciaAmaliaAnother, his desire to legitimize his obsession.
Today, Turkey continues a movement away from Western ideas, disappointed by the European Union’s rejection, a weakening NATO, and the Arab Spring’s sputtering. Turko is shifting from secularism and toward the policies that predated his alliance with France and England during the Crimean War. Turks recommitted to Western partnerships when they joined with an old enemy, Hapsburg Austria, during the Great War. Hagia Sophia soon will revert from an international treasure to a mosque as Turkey slips further into nationalism. And Joyce’s bevy may be compelled to rather than forbidden from head-covering as the Irish Sultan might have wished.
don ward July 14, 2020
Canto VIII-IX (p.3, ll. 8-31).
Mine eyes fail in darkness, mine eyes fail,/Mine eyes fail in darkness, love./
During the 20th Century, Trieste’s flag shimmered iridescent from Austro-Hungarian to Italian, became an independent city-state’s banner, emerged Italian again. It came, at last, to be as cosmopolitan a city as any in Europe. Across the closed end of the Adriatic lies Venice, a dozen miles further west brings the traveler to Padua, PA-dough-vah to the peninsulate Italian, educational capital to Italy and perhaps to the world.
Three of Italy’s greatest geniuses, Giotto, Galileo, and Dante (“silence, cunning, and exile”) owed shares of their glories to Padua and its university. One introduced Humanism to painting. The second discovered natural laws to replace the universe’s old theological clockwork. The third proved that suffering is more interesting than either purification or beautification. Joyce traveled there like an unholy family to this Bethlehem of learning with his specter virgin love and absent perfect child. He vacillates between the roles of Carpenter Joseph and King Herod in a “slaughter of innocence.”
On arrival, Joyce does not visit the university; rather, he attends the night commerce of the Herb Market, where prostitutes are bundles of sage and parsley, commodities cheap and insubstantial. Old demons haunt Joyce. The light of love that lit his way past the old “Dark love, dark longing” flickers. He is tempted as he was habitually in Dante’s Circle of Nighttown. If he resisted, his victory is ambiguous. “Again. No more,” he writes. Does this signal that he is tempted but refuses or that he falls but rededicates himself? Even if he holds to his vow, dark motives are lurking. He may be faithful for Nora’s sake or to promises he never tendered to Amalia.
In the grey shadows, the poet falls into a trance. Nora and Lucia appear as mare and foal. The description is sexual but with an indefinite specific subject. “She follows her mother with ungainly grace, the mare leading her filly foal. Grey twilight molds softly the slim and shapely haunches, the meek supple tendonous neck, the fine-boned skull.” Joyce becomes the ostler who tends the two.
For a moment, Amalia is revealed as a distraction from his taboo feelings for Lucia, attraction to an adolescent student less disturbing than sexual feelings for his blue-veined child.
don ward July 9, 2020
Canto VII (p.3, ll. 1-2).
Frail gift, frail giver, frail blue-veined child.
Three in imaginary love connect through a flower Amalia gives to Lucia. Amalia approaches her teacher only to arm’s length from a generation’s distance. Perhaps the student uses the comparison with Lucia to restore her status as a too-young participant in a too-sacred relationship.
Joyce’s feared his sexual feelings for Lucia and imposed his neurosis onto Bloom and Milly. For Bloom, Milly is Molly persistent in adoring him. Milly wars against her mother now calloused against her father. Lucia fights Nora’s suppression of too-soon sexuality.
The author crafts a rationalization where Milly is a mere extension of Molly and, therefore, an extension of Bloom’s devotion for his wife. Joyce excuses himself for his urges toward Lucia if she is merely a projection of a younger version of Nora. Pot scaled or not. This tea is weak.
These words and music are played again early in Joyce’s Poems Penyeach (“A Flower Given to My Daughter”). Joyce concludes, saying: “In gentle eyes thou veilest/My blueveined child.” In shared consciousness, an understanding of threatened innocence passes from Amalia to Lucia.
I clearly remember my first sight of fractiled blue veins on my infant daughter’s temples and arms. The blue crossed from my eyes to my child’s pulse first in enormous pride and wonder, followed by a weight of crushing responsibility. Joyce’s first responsibility serves his art rather than his child, so Joyce pulls Lucia away from the dance she loved passionately and pushed her toward more “academic” studies. Her mistreatment was not sexual but a corruption of artistic egotism, prompted by Joyce’s belief that his art existed as a force separate from the artist. For Joyce, the blue veins host his art, not Lucia’s unique and original spark.
don ward July 7, 2020
Canto VI, (p. 2, ll. 12-18).
“Shadows streak her falsely smiling face, smitten by the hot creamy light, grey wheyhued shadows under the jawbones, streaks of eggyolk yellow….“
A delicate risotto can take hours of logistical plotting, measuring, constant and conscientious stirring, and admiring. After such a painstaking effort, it’s risky to taste it. What if you fail to adore it? Worse, what if the rapture is too much to survive? What if you are condemned to eat only risotto for ever-more?
Even risotto stirred and simmered at carefully varied temperatures will never materialize as perfect as the photograph that accompanies the recipe. That rice dish is an illusion. The creamy sauce is artistically painted and drizzled hand-cream. The truffles are snippets of rubber gasket. That risotto mirage tantalizes but could never satisfy.
In April of 1911, Joyce traveled by train to Padua to secure a teacher’s license allowing him to earn beyond the opportunities given to him by Berlitz. The train clacked past the rice fields of Vercelli. Signorina Popper accompanying him covered in a hat that slouched seductively over her brow. She wore a simmer of a creamy pale yellow dress and a “false smile.” Joyce’s soul stirs. She is the eucharistic risotto that will never reach the passion of a boil.
Her false smile betrays her absence. She left Trieste to study in Florence and Venice two years before he boarded that train. She is gone and her tutor is left with time and dopamine in exchange for his coach fare. Tortured by his lost forbidden love, his hunger is as hopeless as Dante’s desire for Beatrice. Forbidden as Humbert in a Haze, he fears to write syllables that unsay “the word that all men know.”
don ward July 2, 2020
Canto V (p 2, ll 6-8).
Rounded and ripened: rounded by the lathe of intermarriage and ripened in the forcing-house of the seclusion of her race.
In a footnote, Ellmann attaches isolation to the Irish water-girl of Portrait. The study of genetics during the Edwardian era and before the Great War left much assumed and much misunderstood. Joyce and his world were still groggy and unable to shake off the “nightmare of history.”
Even today, Irish genetics stubbornly resist analysis by the Genographic Project, offspring of the British Isles project. The protection of a short sea offered some protection from invasion as Joyce noted but with unexpected breaches.
Today’s Irish gene pool carries more Continental Neanderthal genomes than most places. Neanderthals roamed from Croatia to Pakistan, India, Tibet, Mongolia, and the vicinity of Beijing. Irish Neanderthal DNA is typically not short strand DNA. This DNA did not arrive from Neanderthals dragging their knuckles across Europe. It came later from European invaders, perhaps with the Norwegian Vikings whose DNA is broadcast evenly across Ireland. The short sea didn’t deter a Norwegian contribution to Irish genetics. All this is to say that if the Irish are genetically isolated, it wasn’t because of the few nautical miles that separated the bird girl from the rest of Europe.
Joyce claims she was different for the “seclusion of her race.” If that is so, it was cultural isolation imposed by English occupiers. Joyce contradicts his claim of seclusion with the phrase the “lathe of intermarriage.” That phrase lifts the genetic quarantine. One curious feature of Irish genetics is that strains seem unusually consistent within regions corresponding to the three of the four ancient Irish kingdoms (Ulster stands apart due to the plantation system).
Amalia Popper might also be the product of racial seclusion. Forty percent of all Ashkenazic Jews descend from at least one of four women. Descendants of these four “founding mothers” carry markers distinct from the other more homogeneous three- fifths of the population (this proposed by Doron Behar, and his supervisor, Professor Karl Skorecki of the Technion’s medical faculty and Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa). Descendants of the four spread not only to the west where they acquired the name Askanazic from locales on the trade route in Turkey but also deep into China to the east. The four women of child-bearing age were married into the group from neighboring non-Judaic Semitics. Conversely, Sephardi cannot be distinguished genetically from other middle eastern Semitics.
To Joyce, Ashkenazic Amalia Popper must have seemed exotic in her look and manner. SHE of his obsession and the number of his Jewish friends in Trieste enticed him to focus his next great novel on the character of another Ashkenazic Jew, Leopold Bloom. But Joyce draws no genetic conclusions about the differences of culture and personality between Amalia and Molly. Molly is Sephardic, but ironically she is boundlessly cosmopolitan, the most Irish Jewesss, and experienced beyond any “seclusion.” Amalia is quite “insular” (although supportive of Italian nationalism).
Given the genetic trail, Amalia Popper is “rounded by the lathe of intermarriage,” more than the bird-girl of Portrait who would have been socially secluded by genetics religion, and by caste. Joyce attempted to escape from his insular limitations of race, religion, and politics by living a common-law marriage with a hotel maid and flying to the Continent. His artistic goal was to break free from cultural limitations making an Askhansic traveler the father of us all.
don ward June 30, 2020
Canto III-IV (pp. 1- 2, ll. 31-35, 1-2).
“There is one below would speak with your ladyship.”
Joyce calls on his pupil, who is surrounded by stout defenses protecting her purity. A fortress cold and crenelated protects Amalia Popper. The echoing “clack” of high heels suggests her role as dominatrix, although the heels are worn not by SHE but by her factota. SHE need not stoop to conquer. Her functionaries deal with petty tradespeople.
Joyce exaggerates the luxury of the Popper home to emphasize Amalia’s social status. The Poppers, although well-financed, were not ensconced in a castle. Papli Leopoldo founded companies trading in import and export and finally began his own shipping company. In later life, Popper surrendered his businesses after institutionalized anti-semitism followed Austrian Anschluss with Nazi Germany (http://museojoycetrieste.it/popper-leopoldo/). As Jews, they were probably not emblazoned with heraldry, and the chainmail that protected the maiden was not literal but still almost impenetrable. Principessa Amalia practices an aloofness. Euphemistically, “She never blows her nose.”
Richard Ellmann endorses the similarity between SHE and Dante’s two Beatrices of The Divine Comedy. But Beatrice Portinari is more dissimilar to Ms. Popper than like HER. Bice in Dante is didactic, even boorish. Amalia is merely reserved, keeping her own counsel except once when questioning the author’s motives in A Portrait. More of Dante later, but the inaccessible Beatrice in the Florentine’s Paradiso is not accidental.
Ellmann wrote the introduction to Giacomo Joyce, and a few pages of notes, much of which he reused in his biography of Joyce. We might not have known the identity of Amalia Popper were it not for Joyce’s biographer. Similarly, we would not know the identity of Bice Portinari were it not for Boccaccio. We found a new Beatrice, another “Paradiso,” and a new Boccaccio. Ellmann would not have missed his connection to the immortal Boccaccio.
Another Beatrice will appear in Joyce’s play Exiles. Beatrice Justice is weak-eyed like SHE and attended by lesser beauties like Bice during her second meeting with Dante.
don ward June 25, 2020
Canto II (p 1, ll. 21-27).
“The long eyelids beat and lift a burning needleprick stings and quivers in the velvet iris.”
Called Giacomo like Casanova here, Joyce has won a small acknowledgment from his prey. Amalia sparks. SHE understands that Joyce transcends religious bigotry among the subtle and overt hostilities against a Jewess in the Austrian Empire. She observes her religious rites, so he connives. He cannot claim to be without a spiritual ethos. Instead, he argues for a pan-theology that joins Judaism and Christianity. The Maestro accomplishes this by introducing HER to mystical thinkers who extended the boundaries of Christian thinking. He cites four.
Emanual Swedenborg: Swedenborg, scientist and mystic, was most prominent during the mid 18th Century. His scientific work was mostly theoretical but proved intuitive as knowledge and new technology confirmed some of his proposals. However, his mental health declined over time, and his positions became increasingly radical until 1757 when he announced that the Last Judgement had already taken place. Swedenborg believed he had attended the assignment of all souls to Heaven or Hell. He also thought that he had been elected by Christ to reform religion, that humans lived one life on earth, several in spiritual dimensions (much like reincarnation), and that spirits and angels roamed among us. He believed that Christ visited him once while he dined, telling him: “Don’t eat too much.” His brand of theology is incorporated even today in the precepts of several Christian sects (The Swedenborg Foundation, swedenborg.com).
Swedenborg was an intuitive thinker. He concluded vibrations were occurring in the brain’s cortex, influencing thought and memory. He also wrote with surprising accuracy about the pituitary gland, spinal fluid, and brain’s motor cortex. His science blended new information with traditional religious thought, bridging the gap with mysticism.
Here we find a historical personage with a mystical belief in the transmigration of souls. He is intuitive, theoretical, somewhat lacking in mathematics, and prone to hallucinations. Although Swedenborg avoided being charged with heresy in Sweden, but two of his followers were indicted. This figure becomes one vehicle for Joyce’s attempt to impress the young Jewess. Swedenborg was also one inspiration for Mr. Leopold Bloom, who mixed science with mysticism.
Pseudo-Dionysius: In Trieste, Joyce continued to examine platonic abstractions and the transformation of character over time. This 5th-century thinker provided intellectual tinder for the Joycean fire. Christianity was transforming at the time, and part of that was the acceptance of Platonism into thinking that had been intellectually simplistic. The name Pseudo-Dionysius reflects a connection (and creates confusion with) St. Dionysius Areopagite, a First Century Christian, converted by Paul. Pseudo- Dionysius sometimes wrote under his predecessor’s name to connect with the earliest Christian thought. The later Dionysius gets credit for making Platonic ideas palatable to Christian thinking but not without objection. Even a millennium later, Luther accused Dionysius of being more Platonist than Christian.
Pseudo-Dionysius wrote four important works, at least two of these wormed into Joyce’s thinking in ways that reflect in Ulysses. In one, Dionysius wrote about the names of the Judeo-Christian God as descriptions of the divinity’s roles. Eastern religions espoused this idea. One example is that Shiva is the Destroyer, the Creator, and the Lord of the Dance. Bloom will take on identities too as he changes role from Husband Poldy, to Outcast Bloom, to Seducer Henry. Murphy Pseudoangelos is also an identity shifter. The name Dionysius recommends the separate functions for a deity too. The Greek god Dionysius was god and cult hero, a joyous lord of dance (like Shiva), and a sacrificial lamb. Joyce employs eastern religious thought in Portrait, in Ulysses, and The Wake.
Pseudo-Dionysius incorporated mystical thought into Christianity, concepts more familiar to Jews perhaps than to the more literal gentiles. The Hebrew God was inscrutable and more appropriately identified by negation according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:”…when we say that the Godhead is not ‘living,’ we do not mean that it is ‘lifeless.’ The Godhead is beyond the lifeless as well as beyond the living.” Pagan deities are also action-centric, defined by what they do. Bloom is Jew, Catholic, Protestant, and spiritualist Rosicrucian, but the reader can’t wholly understand him by any of those labels. He is better understood as unreligious but ethical, though without a coda. Joyce’s plan is to make his Christianity more palatable to his Jewess Love.
Miguel de Molinos: Like Swedenborg and Pseudo-Dionysius, Molina might be called a pan-religious theologist. Like Dionysius and Swedenborg, he nudged his creed to expand with greater acceptance of new and alien practices and ideas. Catholic thinking was and probably continues to be an action-centered rather than thought-centered practice. This is not a concept that is exclusive to the Roman Church. A Catholic may settle into a mindful meditation, reciting prayers while fingering a rosary. The Buddhist may experience something similar while turning a prayer-wheel. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, incorporated an active type of meditation into his order’s discipline. His meditation mandates the contemplation of religious mysteries. Molina came under fire from the Jesuits for suggesting prayer should be more “passive.” One might think of the difference between modern yoga and meditation that uses “mindful mindlessness” to connect the mind with something greater than itself. Molina’s goal was direct spiritual contact with God through a practice called Quietism. It’s an eastern idea and brought Molina before the Inquisition. He recanted his writings but died in prison (The New Advent).
Joachim Abbas: Abbas means abbot, but “father” is its Semitic root. From the time of Stephen Hero, Joachim was wandering around the environs of Joyce’s mind. Properly called de Flora or Fiore sometimes Floris any of these names is as appropriate for Bloom-shaping as is Abbas.
Abbas was out of favor even early in his career after he failed to gain sainthood for a member of his religious order. He further alienated himself by suggesting that Catholicism adopt a new, more embracing attitude toward mysticism. He also claimed the Old Testament belonged to the Father, The New Testament to the Son, and that a new age was yet to blossom. The new era would be the Holy Spirit’s vehicle, an age of “universal love” (Farnoli and Gilespie. James Joyce A-Z: The Essential Reflections to His Life and Writings). The ideas of Joachim Abbas are used in Ulysses in “Scylla and Charybdis” with Stephen’s use of the phrase “mystical estate,” but also less directly in “Proteus” and “Wandering Rocks.”
An age of universal love might be useful to the Casanova, who hopes to confuse the boundaries of religious mores and the ethical bonds too.
don ward June 18, 2020
Discussing Giacomo Joyce
The last task should be deciding what type of artistic creation is Giacomo Joyce. It would be helpful to begin reading with that task in mind. It might be a prose poem. It might be a diary, a confession, or an exploration of streams of consciousness. Whichever it is, it’s spiced excitation, penanced with pain. Richard Ellmann’s introduction, perhaps three times the word count of the piece itself, says Giacomo Joyce is not strictly autobiographical. Joyce didn’t see his subject after 1909, but some events in this work take place later. There may be a second Amalia, maybe Martha Fleischmann. That would be long after 1909. Joyce perseverated over the possibility that Martha might be Jewish too, dangerous speculation at the time, and not one the Fleischmanns might like explored. Another possibility is that Amalia returns periodically as a specter even more ephemeral than the SHE of 1907 and 1908.
Joyce never put the title Giacomo Joyce to the pages. Certainly, the title refers to Casanova, but it was written on the cover not by Joyce but by some unknown scribbler. You might, at times, think these pages are an undated diary rather than a prose poem because of the title. Despite the imposed title, it could be a true portrait of the SHE who is Joyce’s obsession.
The very short piece contains many of the seeds in characters and themes that will sprout in Ulysses. Whatever questions you may have about what this short piece represents, two things are certain: the sentiments are confessional and damning, and this work is the bridge from all Joyce’s writing before arriving at Trieste to Ulysses on the opposite shore.
For now, I’ll assign thoughts about Giacomo’s reverie to cantos. Richard Ellmann established a connection to Dante on the sixteen pages, so cantos seem appropriate. In the manuscript, SHE coifs her hair with knotted braids like Beatrice Cenci’s. Raped by her father, that Beatrice murdered him and was beheaded. Thus the reader might infer a suggestion of punishment for an older man who defiles a young charge. Ellmann also notes a connection to Dante’s ideal, Beatrice Portinari.
The most exceptional testimonial from penurious Joyce is that he never submitted the work for publication or even had it typed. I have been guilty of undervaluing Joyce’s poesy excepting “Ecce Puer.” Like all the longer revered works, Giacomo Joyce is, I now think, also revolutionary, a hammered and tempered one-of-of-a kind monstrance of rococo silver with a golden chamber of adoration at the core.
Read the sixteen page text here…https://thefloatinglibrary.com/2008/12/04/giacomo-joyce-james-joyce/
Copyright @ don ward, 2020
Canto I (p.1, ll. 1-10).
“Yes: a brief syllable. A brief laugh. A brief beat of the eyelids.”
There, in the middle of the first three-sentence canto is the orgasmic “Yes.” We know Amalia Popper is the antithesis of earthy, loquacious Molly even after these few words. Joyce’s own birdlike Beatrice contrasts with the Irish Sea bird of Portrait too. That bird is made of salt and sea, and Fraulein Popper is no more than air.
SHE is scentless and drapes herself in musky fur to declare her reality. Like a bird, her actions abrupt and wary. Just a single syllable, half laugh a lashed beat of the eyes. SHE even holds a half glass to one eye when reading. Timid but aloof. SHE might likely fly off without warning if startled or suddenly inspired.
A construction of cobwebbed handwriting, gossamer but deadly, captivates Joyce, the mothlike mentor.
don ward June 9, 2020
Follow My Blog
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.