terça-feira, 1 de outubro de 2013
By David Kelly
James Joyce in 1951
I have my own strong feelings about the question of genius in literature. I’ve always felt that if we look at the past century, Nabokov was a game-changer, as the academic phrase has it. Nabokov showed there is a place you can go, a place that the alchemy of words can transport reader and writer to, that no one had gone before. And Nabokov went there, with ease, in “Lolita” and “Pale Fire.” So it’s hard to call any other writer in the past century a genius of the same order.
Really? I guess it’s time to push Proust out of the pantheon and kick Kafka to the curb.
For those who think a century is entitled to more than one “game-changer,” there’s a fine new book of literary criticism called “ ‘Ulysses’ and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece.” The author is Declan Kiberd, a professor of Anglo-Irish literature at University College Dublin and the author of “Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation.” Like most professors of English, he wants to rescue “Ulysses” from professors of English. Unlike most professors of English, he thinks “Ulysses” is “part of the literature of the Gaelic revival” (talk about dubious pronouncements).
I used to get irritated by the simplistic emphasis some people would put on the final word of “Ulysses,” seemingly ignoring what had preceded it, as if Molly Bloom’s “yes” were the equivalent of Yoko Ono’s. (John and Yoko’s famous first meeting took place at a London gallery that was showing her artwork. He was mightily impressed by a piece that required him to climb a ladder to the ceiling, where a card displaying a minuscule “yes” resided. In Lennon’s defense, he had been doing a lot of acid that week.) Apparently, the skewed interpretation of Molly’s “yes” was an American idée fixe. Kiberd writes:
If the free circulation of people in city streets helps to open up unapproved routes, so also does language. Joyce’s disruption of syntax all through “Ulysses” served to reroute many possibilities of English. Nowhere is this more evident than in Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy where eight sentences without punctuation fill up over 50 pages, while she muses on her strange life and even stranger day. As night trains sound in the distance, she masturbates to images of Bloom. His long-term strategy starts to pay off, as Molly turns against Boylan for taking all the pleasure for himself. … Unlike Gerty, she refuses to turn herself into a fetish of male desire. Her insistence on affirming her actual sexual needs must have seemed radical in 1922, just as her self-acceptance must have been very moving.
As late as the 1980s, many older readers were still unready to meet the challenge, routinely denying that Molly could have been masturbating. When the Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan performed the soliloquy in this way, scholars in Minnesota walked out in protest, angrily handing back memberships of the James Joyce Foundation like war veterans handing back their bravery medals. The very idea of this lonely woman pleasuring herself was too much for them. These scholars had been educated in an upbeat American tradition which saw Molly as saying “yes” to love and to life, in the spirit of Stephen’s definition of literature as the affirmation of mankind. But Joyce, more somberly, had been asking: does she? Her “yes” might also be sad, since it is the strategy of a lonely monologist, who hopes that somebody might be there and listening. … It is the device of a woman left with nobody to talk to but herself. By the end of her episode, the reader can see just how much the troubled couple have in common; but little of this is shared at the level of speech. Again, the tragedy of interior monologue is the poverty of its social occasions – how little gets said of what is unknowingly shared. Early readers wished for an affirmative conclusion, as if to validate Oscar Wilde’s joke: “The good ended happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” However, Irish interpreters could recognize a “silent marriage” when they saw one.
By the way, Joyce himself said this about the final words of “Ulysses” and what would become “Finnegans Wake”:
In “Ulysses,” to depict the babbling of a woman going to sleep, I had sought to end with the least forceful word I could possibly find. I had found the word “yes,” which is barely pronounced, which denotes acquiescence, self-abandon, relaxation, the end of all resistance. In “Work in Progress,” I’ve tried to do better if I could. This time, I found the word which is the most slippery, the least accented, the weakest word in English, a word which is not even a word, which is scarcely sounded between the teeth, a breath, a nothing, the article “the.”
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 19:01