A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘James Joyce’

On the Day We Are All Irish

In Creativity, Writers, Writing on March 17, 2013 at 11:06 am
James Joyce

James Joyce

On a day when everyone loves James Joyce, I thought it would be appropriate to share one of my favorite passages in all of literature, from one of my favorite books in all of literature, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This from the last page of that magnificent book–the young artist has broken ties of home and country and has come to realize the potential of his genius. He is about to set off, an exile, in pursuit of his art:

16 April: Away! Away!

The spell of arms and voices: the white arms of roads, their promise of close embraces and the black arms of tall ships that stand against the moon, their tale of distant nations. They are held out to say: We are alone. Come. And the voices say with them: We are your kinsmen. And the air is thick with their company as they call to me, their kinsman, making ready to go, shaking the wings of their exultant and terrible youth.

26 April: Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

27 April: Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.

Dublin 1904

Trieste 1914

I don’t know how many times I’ve read those paragraphs over the years and they still make my heart race and my eyes misty. O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Indeed! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, friends!

Valentine’s Day

In Writers on February 14, 2013 at 6:00 am
Antique Valentine's Day Card (1909)

,  Antique Valentine’s Day Card (1909)

I am by nature dismissive toward the artifacts of mass consumption, no matter the form. This means, among other things, that I have a low tolerance for holidays, national celebrations, observances, and mass ritual. It is not only the big stuff. I also shun birthdays, anniversaries, and those annoying “holidays” manufactured solely to extract money from one’s wallet. Valentine’s Day is no different, but falling as it does on a day when the micro-essay (read: blog post) is a hard time in coming, I think, with this little preamble (hoping I’ve not cast too dark a shadow on your day of cupidic celebration), I’ll move over and let the big guns do the talking. Have a nice day.

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Compliments of The Writer’s Almanac here are three literary Valentine’s Day missives:

Nathaniel Hawthorn to his wife, Sophia, on the first anniversary of their marriage:

“We were never so happy as now — never such wide capacity for happiness, yet overflowing with all that the day and every moment brings to us. Methinks this birth-day of our married life is like a cape, which we have now doubled and find a more infinite ocean of love stretching out before us.”

And this, especially tender love letter from James Joyce to his beloved Nora:

“You are my only love. You have me completely in your power. I know and feel that if I am to write anything fine or noble in the future I shall do so only by listening to the doors of your heart. … I love you deeply and truly, Nora. … There is not a particle of my love that is not yours. … If you would only let me I would speak to you of everything in my mind but sometimes I fancy from your look that you would only be bored by me. Anyhow, Nora, I love you. I cannot live without you. I would like to give you everything that is mine, any knowledge I have (little as it is) any emotions I myself feel or have felt, any likes or dislikes I have, any hopes I have or remorse. I would like to go through life side by side with you, telling you more and more until we grew to be one being together until the hour should come for us to die. Even now the tears rush to my eyes and sobs choke my throat as I write this. Nora, we have only one short life in which to love. O my darling be only a little kinder to me, bear with me a little even if I am inconsiderate and unmanageable and believe me we will be happy together. Let me love you in my own way. Let me have your heart always close to mine to hear every throb of my life, every sorrow, every joy.”

Here is Zelda Fitzgerald, writing her husband:

“I look down the tracks and see you coming — and out of every haze & mist your darling rumpled trouser are hurrying to me — Without you, dearest dearest, I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think — or live — I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you.

Lover, Lover, Darling — Your Wife”

Thanks for reading.

d

North of “Not Many”

In Adventure, Creativity, Nature, Writers on August 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

Art in a land of giants.

The North Woods. We capitalize the words. Sometimes its the Great North Woods. It’s been reported that Maine’s Great North Woods comprises the largest contiguous undeveloped landmass in the lower forty-eight. I don’t know if that is factually correct, but I hold it true because it comforts me, knowing it’s up there, the vastness of it. Approximately four million acres of pine and moose and bear and lakes and ponds, a few modest mountains, and a lace-work of lumber roads.

A person can get seriously lost in such a place, and frequently I go north and attempt to do precisely that. It was during such an effort last week that I stumbled upon the cache of “drawing pencils” in the photograph above. I was north of the little village of Kokadjo. The welcome sign to Kokadjo states the population as “Not Many.” It is good to have a sense of humor in such a place. Passing through Kokadjo, I left the tarmac and rumbled along a lumber road for untold miles, then turned off onto an unused road. It was pitted and grown-over and I followed it until it began to bog out. I noticed a patch of St. John’s Wart and stopped. I let Lucy out, after attaching a bear-bell to her collar, and began to pick the St. John’s Wart. Harvest the flowers, dry them, crumble them, and you’ve got a winter tea to drive away the doldrums.

I stretched my legs, walking down a path, when I found them, the giant pencils, stacked neatly as you see them in the photograph. I looked around. No cabin. No evidence of life. No recent tire tracks, foot prints, nothing. Yet, here was art.

Joyce said that “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” I thought of this quote and wondered who this God of creation was. I was struck by the obvious purity of the endeavor, as well as the humor. She–for there was something beautifully feminine about this exhibit–she, this goddess of creation, was beyond the work and the work was purer for that. It is possible to create for the purpose of creation only, not needing the prism of “the other.” It was an exhibit of voided ego precisely executed.

I do not know where I was. I did not check coordinates. That seemed contrary to the experience. It was quite simply my reward for giving myself up to the woods.

Fancy I cannot manufacture.

In Creativity, Life, The Examined Life, Writing on May 14, 2012 at 6:00 am

Van Gogh, self portrait

Artists did not depict themselves as the main subject of their work until the early fifteenth century, which correlates with the rise of individual wealth and power. A hundred or so years later Montaigne made himself the center of his literary work, creating a new genre in the process. In the early twentieth century Joyce declared that “The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.”

Raising a family of three children and sustaining a long and successful marriage has not afforded me time to pare my nails in distant observation. I have dirt under my nails. This project (good to know my efforts here can be rendered a “project”) reflects a modern pace, whereby I attempt to get a thing done without a lot of fancy dancing around the subject. In this instance the subject being me and all the subjects that interest me. (How’s that for a circular thesis?) It may occasionally seem like fancy dancing, but it is not. I’m as straight-forward as I know how to be. Fancy I cannot manufacture.

Some say the advent of the self-portrait correlates to the improvements of polished silvering in the manufacturing of mirrors. I am trying to polish my mirror and determine exactly what it holds–though I am aware of an ancient warning of this conceit. The zen master, Nangaku asked his student, Baso, what he is trying to attain by sitting meditation. “I am trying to become a Buddha,” replied Baso. Then Nangaku picked up a roof tile and began to grind it against a rock.

“What are you doing, Master?” asked Baso.

“I am polishing it to make it a mirror.”

“How could polishing a tile make it a mirror?” Baso inquired.

“How could sitting meditation make a Buddha?” replied Nangaku.

Baso then asked: “What should I then do?”

“If you are driving a cart and it does not move,” said Nangaku, “do you whip the cart or the ox?”

Interestingly, Van Gogh’s self-portraits are all of the left side of side of his face, the right side sporting the mutilated ear. Can a person peer so deeply inside, yet expect to hide the obvious? Is that not whipping the cart? Call it self-knowledge, enlightenment, clarity, t/Truth–the ox is to be whipped.

Moleskine notes

In Books, Creativity, Happiness, Literature, Philosophy, Writers on April 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I was approached by a panhandler this morning as I walked across town. He hit me up for a $5 spot. He was sober. Yesterday on Exchange, late in the afternoon, he hit me up for two bucks. He was drunk. To me the economics are simple: It takes five bucks to get drunk, two bucks to stay drunk. (I gave him a dollar.)

From a recent NY Times piece, Julian Schnabel: “Art is [my] religion.”

A note I made from an article in the The Wilson Quarterly: In the beginning of the 21st century social scientists showed that Americans have a third fewer non-family confidantes than two decades earlier. A quarter have no confidantes at all.

Not sure where this idea came from (but think/worry it is original): There are two types of men. Those who want to show you their penis; and those who want to be geniuses.*

According to Camus, Sisyphus found happiness in meaningful work. [I made this note in two different places. It strikes a chord. The first, older, entry reads as follows.] Was Sisyphus, according to Camus, happy because he knew the secret to happiness to be meaningful work?

On a similar note, Melville wrote that we should “lower the conceit of attainable felicity.”

Joyce on love: “Love (understood as the desire of good for another)…”

From the diary of Anna Magdelena Bach: “Johann Sebastian said, ‘How simple music is, you just press the right key at the right time.”

Though not properly a note in my moleskine, this is worth sharing. My reader’s copy of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King arrived yesterday. The first sentence is poetry:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.”

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*Lest there be any doubt, I’m the type of guy who wants to be a genius. Here’s hoping the distinction is mutually exclusive.

First sentences…

In Books, Literature, Reading, Thinkers, Writers on June 29, 2010 at 6:26 pm

…from a few of my favorite books:

“He awoke, opened his eyes.” The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles

“The difference between the Parthenon and the World Trade Center, between a French wine glass and a German beer mug, between Bach and John Philip Sousa, between Sophocles and Shakespeare, between a bicycle and a horse, though explicable by historical moment, necessity, and destiny, is before all a difference of imagination.” The Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport

“Life changes fast.” The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

“They sometimes met on country roads when there were flowers or snow.” Dubin’s Lives, Bernard Malamud

“Standing amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what’s floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane.”  Rabbit at Rest, John Updike

“The amber light came on.” Blindness, José Saramago

“The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.” Essays of E.B. White

“I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.” Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

“When you write, you lay out a line of words.” The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.” Walden, Henry David Thoreau

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….” Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

…and perhaps the best opening sentence in all of literature:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez