Giacomo Joy, a Blog

Welcome to Joyce’s Private Obsession

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, the flag of Trieste 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, and 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 at least, 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 imagined love are connected by 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 begs then to be excused for his urges toward Lucia who 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 a prototypical shared consciousness and metempsychosis, an understanding of threatened innocence passes from Amalia to Lucia.

I remember vividly 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 pride and wonder followed by a flood 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 affixes isolation to the Irish water-girl of Portrait and to Jewish Amalia Popper. Genetics in the Edwardian era and in the preamble to the Great War left much assumed, much misunderstood. Joyce and his world were still groggy and unable to shake off the “nightmare of history.”

Irish genetics stubbornly resist analysis by the Genographic Project. The protection of a short sea offered limited isolation as Joyce notes but with unexpected and enduring breaches.

Continental Neanderthal genomes are better represented on the Irish island than the average. They ranged in 52,000 years from Croatia to Pakistan, India, Tibet, Mongolia, and the vicinity of Beijing. The highest concentrations of Neanderthal DNA is found in Southeast Asia. Irish Neanderthal DNA is typically not short strand DNA. This means it did not arrive while Neanderthals still dragged knuckles across Europe. It came later, perhaps with the Norwegian Vikings whose DNA is broadcast evenly across Ireland.

If Joyce’s Irish bird-girl enjoyed or suffered from the “seclusion of her race,” the isolation was culturally imposed by English occupation. 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 immigration). This was true even as late as 2017.

Amalia Popper might also be the product of racial seclusion. Forty percent of all Ashkenazic Jews are said to be descended 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. They were married into the group from neighboring non-Judaic Semitics as women of child-bearing ages. Conversely, Sephardi are sometimes said to be indistinguishable genetically from other middle eastern Semitics. Despite the established studies, new data published in 2017 link the brood of the four mothers and Iranian Sephardi.

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 vast differences of culture and personality between Amalia and Molly. Molly is Sephardic but ironically she in boundlessly cosmopolitan, the most Irish Jewesss, and experienced beyond of all “seclusion.” Amalia is quite “insular” (although supportive of Italian nationalism).

Given the genetic trail, it might be Amalia Popper who is “rounded by the lathe of intermarriage,” more than the bird-girl of Portrait who would have been socially secluded by genetics, by 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 by flight 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. 31-5, 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. She is attended and defended in her fortress cold and crenelated. The echoing “clack” of high heels suggest her role as dominatrix although the heels are worn not by SHE but by her factota. SHE need not stoop to conquor. Her functionaries deal with petty tradesmen.

Joyce exaggerates the opulence of HER home to reflect his devotion. 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 was forced to surrender his business ventures due to institutionalized anti-semitism after Austrian aunchluss with Nazi Germany ( As Jews, they were probably not emblazoned with heraldry. The chainmail that protected the maiden was not literal but almost impenetrable none-the-less. 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 unlike Ms Popper than like her. Bice in Dante is didactic even boorish. SHE is merely reserved, keeping her own counsel except once when questioning the author’s motives in Portrait. More of Dante in later discussions but the inaccessible one in a distant paradiso of love is a palatable connection. 

Ellmann writes the introduction to “Giacomo Joyce” a few pages of notes then repeats much of the introduction in his biography of Joyce. We might not know the identity of Amalia Popper were it not for Ellmann. Similarly, we would not know the identity of Bice Portinari were it not for Boccaccio. A new Beatrice, a new Paradiso and a new Boccaccio. Certainly that connection to another immortal wasn’t lost to Ellmann.

Beatrice will resurface in Exiles. Beatrice Justice will appear weak-eyed like SHE and attended by lesser beauties as is Bice during her second meeting with Dante.

by dward7097 June 25, 2020

Canto II, (p 1, ll. 21-7).

“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 acknowledgement from his prey. Amalia sparks aware that among the subtle and overt hostilities against a Jewess in the Austrian Empire, Joyce transcends religious bigotry. 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 could embrace both Judiasm and Christianity. This by introducing HER to mystical thinkers who attempted to extended the boundaries of Christianity. He cites four.

Emanual Swedenborg: Swedenborg, scientist and mystic, was most prominent during the mid 18th Century. His scientific work was mostly theorethical but proved intuitive as knowledge and new technology confirmed some of his proposals. His mental health declined over time, however, 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 believed that he had been elected by Christ to reform religion, that humans lived one life on earth but 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 a number of Christian sects (The Swedenborg Foundation,

Swedenborg was an intuitive thinker. He surmised there were vibrations occuring in the brain’s cortex that influence thought and memory. He also wrote with surprising accuracy about the pituitary gland, spinal fluid and the motor cortex of the brain. His science blended new information with traditional religious thought, bridging the remaining gap with mysticism. But Swedenborg also understood his scientific limitations. Offered the Royal Chair of Mathematics, he refused saying his mathematical skills were not sufficient to the honor.

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 himself was never charged with heresy in Sweden, two of his followers were tried for publishing his beliefs. This figure becomes one vehicle for Joyce’s attempt to impress the young Jewess, but Swedenborg was also an inspiration for Mr. Leopold Bloom. Amalia Popper’s papli was, in fact, named Leopoldo.

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 Joycean fire. Christianity was undergoing a transformation at the time and part of that was the acceptance of platonism into thinking that had been literal, intellectually simple. The name Pseudo-Dionysius reflects a connection (and creates a confusion with)  St. Dionysius the Aeropagite a first Century Christian converted by Paul. Psuedo- Dionysius sometimes wrote under his predecessor’s name to connect with earliest Christian thought. The later Dionysius is credited with making platonic thought palatable to Christian thinking but not without objection. Even a millenium later, Luther accused Dionysius of being more Platonist than Christian. 

Pseudo-Dionysius wrote four important works at least two of which wormed into Joyce’s thinking in ways that reflect in Ulysses. In one work he wrote about the names of the Judeo-Christian God as descriptions of the divinity’s roles. This was accepted in eastern religions. Shiva is the Destroyer, The Creator, 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 roles for a deity too. The Greek god Dionysius was god and cult hero , joyous lord of dance (like Shiva) and sacrificial lamb.Joyce employs eastern religious thought in Portrait, in Ulysses and in The Wake.

Pseudo-Dionysius incorporated mystical thought into Christianity. This was more familiar to Jews perhaps than to the  more literal gentiles. The God of the Old Testament and now the New 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 Rosecrucian but is not understood by any of those labels. He is better understood as unreligious but ethical though without a coda.

Miguel de Molinos:  Like Swedenberg and Pseudo-Dionysius, Molina might be thought of as a pan-religious theologist. Also Like Dionysius and Swedenberg, 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 reverie, praying repetitively while fingering a rosary. The Buddhist may experience something similar while turning a prayer-wheel. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, incorporated an active type of meditation into the discipline of his order. His meditation mandates the contemplation of religious mysteries. Molina came under fire especially from the Jesuits for suggesting prayer should be more “passive.” One might think of the difference like that between modern yoga and that meditation which attempts “mindful mindlessness” in order to connect the mind with something greater than itself. Molina’s goal was direct spiritual contact with God. The concept is called Quietism. It’s a very 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 Semetic 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 for his failure to further the cause of sainthood for a member of his religious order. He then further alienated himself by suggesting that Catholicism adopt a new, more embracing, attitude toward mysticism. He was called to task for claiming 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 vehicle of the Holy Spirit, 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 would hope to transcend the boundaries of religious mores and the bonds of any discrete religion.

don June 18, 2020

Discussing “Giacomo Joyce”

Beginning at the end, the last task will be to decide what type of artistic creature is Giacomo Joyce. It might be a prose poem. It might be a diary. It is confessional, spiced excitation penanced with pain. Ellmann’s introduction, perhaps three times the word count of the piece itself, is not purely autobiographical. Joyce didn’t see his subject after 1909, but some events in Giacomo Joyce  like the conception of Ulysses take place later. There may be a second Amalia. This could be Martha Fleischmann. Joyce perseverated over the possibility that Martha’s might be Jewish too, a dangerous speculation at the time and not one the Fleischmanns might like explored. Another possibility is that Amalia returns over the years as a spectre 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 handwritten not by Joyce but by some unknown spirit. You might at times think these pages are an undated diary rather than a prose poem. There is a third possibility, that is, despite the imposed title suggesting the subject is Joyce, the piece is a true portrait capturing SHE at a moment in time.

For now, I’ll assign thoughts about Giacomo’s reverie to cantos. In the manuscript SHE is adorned with knotted hair like Beatrice Cenci’s. Raped by her father, that Beatrice murdered him and was beheaded. Thus the reader might infer a suggestion punishment for an older man who defile a young student. Ellmann also notes a connection to Dante’s ideal, Beatrice Portinari.

Read the sixteen page text here…

Copyright @ don ward, 2020

Canto 1, (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.” But we know even after these few words that Amalia Popper is the antithesis of earthy, loquacious Molly. Joyce’s own birdlike Beatrice contrasts with the Irish Sea bird of Portrait too. That bird is made of salt and sea, 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.

don ward, June 9, 2020

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