MR. JOYCE’S TREATMENT OF PLOT By Elliot Paul

Since the first book, or part, of Mr. Joyce’s work was completed in transition, and is available for study as a whole, it is now possible to consider his general plan and discuss such ofhis innovations as are more fundamental and original than the distortion and combination ofworcls and the blending into an English composition of languages bordering upon English. Naturally, with small fragments only before the critic, the philological aspect ofthe work has attracted the principal attention. Strangely enough, Mr. Joyce has almost universally been denied the right to do on a larger scale what any Yankee foreman employing foreign laborers does habitually on a smaller scale, namely, to work out a more elastic and a richer vocabulary which will serve purposes unserved by school—room English.

This is not the only strange thing about the reception of this work. With the precedent of Ulysses to suggest that Joyce is capable of construction in the grand manner, the majority of his former supporters have blandly assumed that the present book is confused and meaningless and that he is wasting his genius beyond the legitimate area within which an artist may move.

There are so many men whose gifts and trainings would r make them so much better able to interpret Mr. .loyce’s work than I am, that I offer the following observations with heartfelt timidity. Had all such men come forward, this article would have been unnecessary. But how few have found either time or inclination to do so. My own inadequacy may,perhaps, afford them encouragement.

In the first place, it seems futile to compare the new it work with any other book, especially Ulysses. There is no similarity, either in execution or intent. Many indications aside`from the fact that the book begins in the middle of a sentence point out that its design is circular, without the beginning, middle and ending prescribed for chronological narratives. The idea of past, present and future must be laid aside, if one is to grasp the composition.

This is not impossible, given the slightest familiarity with modern developments in physics or mathematics or even a moderate appreciation of recent tendencies in painting. If one can consider all events as having a standing regardless of date, that the happenings of all the years are taken from their place on the shelf and arranged, not in numerical order, but according to a design dictated by the mind ofloyce, then the text is not nearly so puzzling. For example, if Noah, Premier Gladstone and “Papa” Browning are telescoped into one, because of common characteristics, no violence is done to logic.

“Take an old geeser who calls on his skirt. Note his sleek hair, so elegant, tableau vivant. He vows her to be his own honey—lamb, swears they will be papa pals, by Sam, and share good times way down west in a guaranteed happy lovenest when May moon she shines and they twit twinkle all the night, combing the comet’s tailup right and shooting popguns at the stars. For dear old grumpapar, he’s gone on the razzledar, through gazing and crazing and blazing at the stars. She wants her wardrobe to hear from above by return with cash so as she can buy her Peter Robinson trousseau and cut a dash with Arty, Bert or possibly Charley Chance (who knows?) so toll oll Mr. Hunker you’re too dada for me to dance (so off she goes !) and that’s how half the gels in town has got their bottom drars while grumpapar he’s trying to hitch his braces on to his trars—. But old grurn he’s not so clean dippy between sweet you and yum (not on your life, boy! not in those trousers! not by a large jugful 1) for some-place on the sly, old grum has his gel number two (brave-vow, our Grum!)and he would like to canoodle her too some part ofthe time for he is downright fond of his number one but O he’s fair mashed on peaches number two so that if he could only canoodle the two all three would feel genuinely happy, it’s as simple as A, B. C., the two mixers, we mean, I with their cherrybun chappy (for he is simply shamming dippy) if they all were afloat in a dreamlifeboat, hugging two by two in his zoo-doo-you—doo, a tofftoff for thee, missymissy for me and howcameyouse’enso for Farber, in his tippy, upindown dippy, tiptoptippy canoodle, can you?”

The treatment of space is equally elastic. Phoenix Park, Dublin, becomes interchangeable at one time with the Garden of Eden, again with the Biblical universe. The Wellington monument and the surrounding drill-field contains the field of Waterloo, when the author is so minded. Mr. Joyce takes a point of view which commands all the seas and continents and the clouds enveloping the earth. In one chapter Anna Liffey, which represents Eve and the multi—mon—ikered feminine element of the book, is joined to more than fourhundred rivers by name and reference, including the four rivers of Paradise and the four infernal rivers.

The characters are composed of hundreds of legendary and historical figures, as the incidents are derived from countless events. The ” hero ” or principal male character is primarily Adam, and includes Abraham, Isaac, Noah, Napoleon, the Archangel Michael, Saint Patrick, Jesse James, any one at all who may be considered “the big man” in any given situation. He is called each of the separate names by which he has been known, or more frequently H. C. E. (Here Comes Everybody, H. C. Earwicker). His symbol in nature is the mountain.

His female counterpart, the river, is Eve, Josephine, Isolde, Sarah, Aimee MacPherson, whoever you like occupying the role of leading lady at any time or place. She is called most often Anna Livia.

The philosophical framework upon which the text is draped was suggested to Mr. Joyce by a page from Vico, an Italian philosopher of the late seventeenth century, who proves to his own satisfaction the existence of a higher power from the evidence in history that each new civilization in turn finds in the ruins of its successor the elements necessary for its growth. Vico likens civilization to the Phoenix. Joyce stages his cosmos in Phoenix Park.

The “elements” of the plot, which are not strung out, one after the other, but are organized in such a way that any phrase may serve as apart of more than one of them, are taken from stories which are familiar to almost any one. Among these are the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. From beginning to end, a discussion of the nature of the original sin is carried on in undertones, and often comes directly to the surface. The tale of Noah’s ark, culminating with the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise recurs again and again, and the seven colors of the spectrum, thinly disguised, crop out in frequent passages. “the old terror of the dames, came hiphop handihap out through the pikeopened arkway of his three shuttoned castles, in his broadginger hat and his civic chollar and his allabuff hemmed, like a rudd yellan gruebleen orangeman in his violet indignonation”.

The “fall motif” is easily discerned in the Ballad of Persse O’Reilley combined with the original sin inquest:

“He was joulting by Wellinton’s monument

Our rotorious hippopopotamuns

When some bugger let down the backtrap of the omnibus

And he caught his death of fusiliers”

The installment contained in transition, No. 6 contains a detailed treatment, numbered and in order of their importance, of the twelve principal elements which are not concerned with plot, but with characters, location, etc., ofthe book.

The first is H. C. E, the second Anna Livia, the third their home, the fourth the garden, the fifth the manseryant, the sixth the maidservant, and so on.

The conflict between Michael and Lucifer is one of the “plot elements” which can be traced through almost any page. The fable of the “Mookse and the Gripes” is a good starting point for the study of this component part, although it appears in the first installment ” O foenix culprit! Ex nickylow malo comes mickelmassed bonum, etc.” Variations of the Latin phrase “O felix culpa” (which surely will puzzle no Catholic) occur frequently.

The battle of Waterloo, with Wellington and Napoleon substituting for Michael and Nick, is not an impossible leap for an agile imagination, and the fact that Phoenix Park is dominated by the Wellington monument makes these parallel trains of ideas quite easy to follow.

The Irish ballad of Finnegan’s wake serves as a vehicle for the Humpty Dumpty and the fall of Satan stories in several instances. Finnegan was an Irish contractor who fell from a scaffolding and was stretched out for dead. When his friends toasted him at the supposed wake, Finnegan, aroused by the word “whiskey”, sat up and drank. (The word “usqueadbaugham” is a variant of the Gaelic for whiskey.)

The birth of Isaac, the legend of Finn MacCool, the murder of Abel by Cane, the Tristan and Isolde story, numerous other familiar legends are similarly employed in the pattern of Mr. Joyce’s book, and the design must be considered three dimensionally. Often, in a painting, a part of the canvas contains several forms, one in front of another, with the near ones transparent, So must one of Mr. Joyce’s paragraphs be understood. He has achieved actual polyphony, far beyond the implied polyphony of the Cyclops chapter of Ulysses, for example.

I have made no attempt to say all that may be said about his treatment of plot. If I have given a cue as to howto proceed in the delightful exercise of discovering it and enjoying it, I shall be quite content. Those who cannot transcend Aristotle need make no attempt to read this fascinating epic. The ideas do not march single file, nor at a uniform speed.

Whatever difficulties the individual words may present, and they have been much exaggerated, -—- however baffling it may be to find the elements of character and of plot extending forward and backward as well as from left to right, the sentence structure and the syntax generally will offer no obstacles. Although sentences are frequently long, their lines are definite and the parent ideas stand head and shoulders ·- above their flock of details. Gems like the following are inconspicuous only because of the equal excellence of their context:

“Lead kindly foul! They always did: ask the ages. What bird has done yesterday man may do next year, be it fly, be it moult, be it hatch, be it agreement in the nest. For her socioscientific sense is sound as a bell, sir, her volucrine automutativeness right on normalcy: she knows, she just feels she was kind of born to lay and love eggs (trust her to propagate the speccies and hoosh her fluffballs safe through din an danger !); lastly but mostly, in her genesic field it is all game and no gammon, she is ladylike en everything she does and plays the gentleman’s part every time. Let us auspice itl Yes, before all this has time to end the golden age must return with its vengeance. Man will become dirigible, age will be rejuvenated, woman with her ridiculous white burden will reach by one step sublime incubation, the mane-wanting human lioness with her dishorned discipular man-ram will lie down together publicly flank upon fleece. No,assuredly, they are not justified, those gloompourers, who grouse that letters have never been quite their old selves again since that weird weekday in bleak Janiveer when, to the shock of both, Biddy Doran looked at literature. ”

It is to be expected that Mr. Joyce’s enormous and incidental contribution to philology will be recognized in advance of his subtler aesthetic achievements but the latter is sure to follow and it may prove interesting to observe how, one by one, his former supporters try to creep unostentatiously over the tailboard of the bandwagon.

 

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Publicado on setembro 12, 2012 at 3:10 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Mr. Joyce Treatment of Plot, por Elliot Paul […]


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