THE CATHOLIC ELEMENT IN WORK IN PROGRESS By Thomas McGreevy

The technique of Mr.Joyce’s Work in Progress has probably been already sufficiently explained to give readers interested in serious literature a line of approach to it. Technique is, of course, important always and there are still technical aspects of the work the implications of which will continue to interest the critic. It seems to me, for instance, to be noteworthy as marking nota reaction from realism but the carrying on of realism to the point where it breaks of its own volition into fantasy, into the verbal materials of which realism, unknown to the realists, partly consisted. This fantasy is obviously richer than the fantasy of, say, Mr. Walter de la Mare, which turns away from reality and takes refuge in a childishness which at its best is no more than charming. Perhaps the best justification for the technique of Work in Progress, however, was that implied in the phrase of the late President of the English Royal Academy of Art at the 1928 .Academy Banquet in London (See The Observer, May 6, 1928). “There are”, he said, “examples in our language so perfect in their beauty and fitness that one feels they cannot have been formed out of a language already fixed but that a language had been created in order that they may emerge.” I do not know whether Sir Frank Dicksee had Work in Progress in mind when he was speaking. I scarcely think it likely. But evidently he might have. For Mr. Joyce has created a language that is necessary precisely to give beauty and fitness to his new work.

It is well to remember, however, that the beauty and fitness are the important things and technical considerations may be put aside for a moment in order to consider Work in Progress from the point of view of other beauties and fitnesses than verbal ones. Obviously, the book being still unfinished, one may not yet say that it is marked by beauty at and fitness as a whole. But every chapter and passage that has appeared is so admirably realised and so related to every other chapter and passage that one has no doubts that when the end does come the author of Ulysses will have justifed himself again as a prose writer who combines a wellnigh flawless sense of the significance of words with a power to construct on a scale scarcely equalled in English literature since the Renaissance, not even by the author of Paradise Lost. The splendour of order, to use Saint Thomas’s phrase, has not been the dominating characteristic of modern English prose and it is partly because the quality was demonstrated on a vast scale in Ulysses that that book marked a literary revolution. And signs are not absent that, in spite of the difficulty of having to invent a new language as he writes, Mr. Joyce in his latest work has lost nothing of his amazing power in this direction.

That the conception of the story as a whole is influenced by the Purgatorio and still more by the philosophy of Vico is well known. Mr. Joyce is a traditionalist, a classicist. That is why he is regarded as a revolutionary not only by the academic critics but by those of the fervidly scientific advanced school whose attitude towards the biology of words is not what, if they were consistent, they ought to wish it to if be. The deep-rooted Catholicism of Ulysses was what most upset the pastiche Catholicism of many fashionable critics in England. The enthusiastic converts who discover the surface beauties of Catholicism at the older universities, “temporary” Catholics one might call them, tend always to be shocked by the more profound “regular” Catholicism of Ireland. And one remembers the difficulties of even the true born English Catholic Bishop Ullathorne in trying to keep the over-enthusiastic converts Newman and Manning in order. To an intelligent Irishman and to Mr. Joyce least of all, Catholicism is never a matter of standing on one leg. It is not a pose, it is fundamental. Consequently it has to face everything.

But the temporary Romanizers were as shocked by the unsavoury element in Ulysses as a sentimental Saracen of the middle ages might have been by the way in which Dante put popes in hell (compare, incidentally, the introduction of the phantoms of the Catholic and Church of Ireland primates into the night-town scene in Ulysses). Again Irish Catholics are not shocked by finding amongst the detail in the superb monogram page (Christi autem generatio) of the Book of Kelis two rats tearing the Host from each other with their teeth. They face the fact, as the monk who painted the page faced it, that devilry exists. The Introibo ad altare diaboli with its response To the devil which hath made glad my young days intoned by Father Malachi O’Flynn and The Reverend Mr. Love in Ulysses should be taken in exactly the same spirit as the rats in the work of the monk. But an English Catholic critic writing of Ulysses wanted it all to be like the passage relating to the chanting ofthe Creed:

The proud potent titles clanged over Stephen’s memory the triumph of their brazen bells: et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam; the slow growth and change of rite and dogma like his own rare thoughts, a chemistr of stars. Symbol of the Apostles in the Mass for Pope Marcellus, the voices blended, singing alone aloud in afiirmation: and behind their chant the vigilant angel of the church militant disarmed and menaced her heresiarchs. A horde of heresies fleeing with mitres awry: Photius and the brood of mockers, and Arius, warring his life long upon the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father and Valentine spurning Christ’s terrene body and the subtle heresiarch Sabellius who held that the Father was Himself His own Son ….. idle mockery. The void awaits surely all them that weave the wind: a menace, a disarming and a worsting from those embattled angels of the Church, Michael’s host who defend her ever in the hour of conflict with their lances and shields.

He went on glibly to say, “it is a case of corruprio optimi pessima and a great Jesuit—trained talent has gone over malignantly and mockingly to the powers of evil ”. He presumably rejects and would eliminate the rats from the Book of Kells, the gargoyles from the thirteenth century cathedrals of all Europe.

Actually, it is worth while to note, malignance and mockery are precisely the things that are absent in Ulysses. In this inferno from which Stephen is ever trying spiritually to escape, for he, unlike the Jewish Bloom, knows the distinction between the law of nature and the law of grace and is in revolt against the former however unable he be to realise the latter even the most obscene characters are viewed with a Dantesqne detachment that must inevitably shock the inquisitorially minded. These do not notice that as Stephen leaves after having put out the light on the scene that revolted him by smashing the chandelier the Voice of All the Blessed is heard calling:

Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!

The inquisitorially minded I hasten to add however, exist in Ireland as well as in England. VVe in Ireland have been, though only to a relatively slight extent, affected, first during the Penal times when our priests had to be educated abroad, by French Jansenism and the orientally fanatical Catholicism of Spain and later during the nineteenth century by our political association with the censorious Nonconformity of England. We are even now founding an Inquisition in Dublin though one may believe that it is not likely to be a very successful obstacle to the self—expression of a people who with fewer pretensions have a sense of a larger tradition than that of the half—educated suburbans who initiated the idea of a new censorship. These latter understand no more than the enthusiastic converts who lay down the law to nobler men than themselves in England that Catholicism in literature has never been merely lady-like and that when a really great Catholic writer sets out to create an inferno it will be an inferno. For Ulysses is an inferno. As Horner sent his Ulysses wandering through an inferno of Greek mythology and Virgil his Aeneas through one of Roman mythology so Dante himself voyaged through the inferno of the mediaeval Christian imagination and so Mr. Joyce sent his hero through the inferno of modern subjectivity. The values are not altered but because Mr. Joyce is a great realist it is the roost real of all – one notes for instance that the Voice of All the Damned is the Voice of All the Blessed reversed, a realistic and understandable effect (c. f. Dante’s mysterious and not altogether intelligible “Pape Satan, pape Satan aleppe…”) – and it is as terrible and pitiful as any.

The purgatorial aspect of Work in Progress is most obvious, of course, in the purgatorial, transitional language in which it is written. This language is adequate to the theme. Purgatory is not fixed and static like the four last things, death, judgment, heaven and hell. The people there are not as rooted in evil — or, for Dante or for Mr. Joyce, even in personality – as the people in the inferno. And therefore for literary purposes, not in definitive language either. In Work in Progress the characters speak a language made up of scraps of half the languages known to mankind. Passing through a state of flux or transition they catch at every verbal, every syllabic, association. Is it not natural that in such circumstances without irreverence — on the contrary indeed — Qui Tecum vivit et regnat should become for one of them Quick takeum whiffat and drainit and that In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost should become In the name of the former and of the latter and of their holocaust. The former is surely the Eternal, the latter the world and the holocaust the world consumed by fire as pre-ordained from eternity. .

Then there is a politically purgatorial side to the work dominated by the Figure, intermediate from every point of view, of the Anglo—Irishman, Earwigger, Persse O’Reilley. And there is, perhaps, the personal purgatory of the author. I imagine —— though it is an interpretation of my own that the writer himself is suggested in that transitional stage of self-realisation when he was still James Joyce the musician who, to find himself really as an artist, had to become James Joyce the writer. All through his work it is evident that Mr. Joyce never loses sight of the fact that the principality of hell and the state of purgatory are in life and by the law of nature not less within us than the kingdom of heaven. The questions of the law of grace triumphant and of a modern Paradiso will probably be more appropriately raised in some years’ time.

Vico is the imaginative philosopher, the Dante, of the Counter Reformation, little known though there is a road bearing the Neapolitan name in Norwegian Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin. The conception at the back of Work in Progress is influenced by the Vico theory of the four stages of human society’s evolution. But the working out of the parallel between the Vico conception and the reconstruction of it in regarding Dublin’s life history in U/ork in Progress must wait till the complete work has appeared. The thunder clap, in Vico’s system, the most dramatic manifestation to primitive man ofa supreme, incalculabie being is there in Part I, however, and students ofVico will be able as the work moves,to completion to recognise the second third and fourth of the Neapolitan’s main ideas, marriage according to the auspices, the burial of the dead and divine providence in the other parts of it. They may be taken as comically foreshadowed in the childish sing-song repeated in one of the chapters that have already appeared, “Harry me, marry me, bury me, bind me”·

Coming thus to less vast considerations there are details of the work which, in their beauty and Htness are unsurpassed even by the finest things in Ulysses. As characters, the mysterious viking father of Dublin — Dublin was founded by the “Danes” — and his hustru (woman of the house), the wayward Anna Livia, the river Liffey, Dublin’s mother, stand out above all, in some ways more than any of the whole gallery of amazing figures in the earlier work, but the Pecksniffian Earwicker, protean and purgatorial, though less epic is not less vivid. Then there is that broth-of-a-boy, Siegmund—Shaun, sometimes figuring as a cherub, sometimes imagining himself a priest, a much more muscular type of Christian than Stephen Daedalus, entirely uninfluenced by Greek or judaistic thought, the burliest Norse—Irish convert who ever escaladed the walls of Maynooth. As for verbal beauties and fitnesses there are passages and phrases all through that have the delicate magic and dramatic force that one takes so much for granted from Mr. Joyce simply because he is Mr. Joyce. There is the first paragraph of all with the voice of Brigid answering from the turf fire, mishe! mishe! (I am, I am) to tauf tauf (baptize!) thuartpeatrick (peat,Patrick). There is the final passage from the Anna Livia chapter when the two women are discovered as tree and stone; there is the paragraph at the beginning of Part III beginning, “Methought as I was dropping asleep in somepart in nonland of where’s please” and the other ” When lo! (whish o whish) mesaw, mestreamed through deafths of durkness I heard a voice.” There is the meditation on the; death of Mrs. Sanders to compare with an earlier Dublin meditation (Swift’s on the death of Hester) and the delicious little story ot the Ondt and the Gracehoper [1] (the champions of space and time respectively) told by Shaun immediately afterwards. The portrait of the Ondt is worth reproducing.

He was a weltall fellow, raumybult and abelboobied, bynear saw altitudinous wee a schelling in kopfers. He was sair sair sullemn and chairmanlooking when he was not making spaces in his psyche, but laus! when he wore making spaces on his ikey he ware mouche moore secred and wise chairman looking.

This little interpolation is a satire but it is satire that is like all good satire intensely serious and it is subjected to the discipline of literary form. There is much talk of Time in it — see for instance the passage describing the saturnalian funeral of the old earwig (here transformed into Besterfarther zeuts) piously arranged by the Gracehoper to an accompaniment of planetary music:

The whool of the whaal in the wheel of the whorl of the Boubou from Bourneum has thus come to town.

Much, perhaps all, art consists in seeing the funeral of one’s past from the emotionally static point of artistic creation — emotion recollected in tranquility — time recollected in space. The London master of spaces should read Mr. Joyce’s fable. He might learn from it that Gracehopers, for all their seeming time—ness are much more in space than the Ondts who decide that they will “not come to party at that lopps” The author of Time and the Western Man ia is a writer of remarkable potentialities but he has so much contempt for time that he never takes enough time to finish anything pro perly. If he would read the story of the Ondt and the Gracehoper, not impatiently but patiently he might learn from it how to write satire not like a barbarian, ineffectively but like an artist, effectively.


[1] Republished in Three Fragments from Workin Progress, Black Sun Press, Paris.

 

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Publicado on setembro 12, 2012 at 3:09 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] The Catholic Element in Work in Progress, por Thomas McGreevy […]


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