Sunday, April 10, 2011

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce — Apr 8, 2011

 First edition

Joyce's first novel challenges but does not intimidate. Several of the Joycean devices that became hallmarks of his style are on display in this book, but not in their extreme form.



James Joyce as a child in sailor outfit

One of the outstanding features of this novel is that Joyce changes the diction as the novel progresses from innocent memories of childhood, through the rigours of a Jesuit training, to the young artist in budding revolt. Those changes of style lend an artistry to the novel that would be missing in a pure recollected biography.

Young James Joyce aged 22

Naturally, some found the patina of Catholic pietism repellent. A debate on this was a running theme of the discussions initiated by Indira. 
 
Talitha, Priya, Zakia, Thommo, and Mohan

There is much to discover in this novel, even though the story line is thin: kissing, moocows, epiphanies, passion, reveries, poetry, flight, Thomist philosophy, and more. Joyce rewards readers by presenting a lyrical drift that has gone quite out of fashion with modernism. Plenty of dialogue, it may have, but feeble it is not! (sorry Mr Nabokov).

 Amita, KumKum, and Indira

At the end Talitha gave readers great delight by reciting an ode she wrote for KRG members. She said it was a response to the sonnet Joe wrote for her and Amita, when they announced they were leaving for other parts. Click on the images below to read the full ode in her hand, testifying to the various oddities of the readers in our group.



 For a full account of the discussions and readings, click below.
 
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce (1882-1941)

Reading on Apr 8, 2011



Present: Amita, KumKum, Talitha, Indira, Priya, Joe, Thommo, Zakia
Absent: Bobby (busy for reception), Soma (no transport), Minu (out of station) 
Returning: Mohan Vellapally, taking part on a visit from New Delhi.

These dates for the next two sessions have been posted on the blog:
May 6, 2011 : Poetry
Jun 10, 2011 : Tess of d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (choice by Amita and Talitha)

The next novel is to be selected by Minu solo without an additional reader, because Ammu Joseph who was originally assigned has left KRG. 
 

This is James Joyce’s first novel, the semi-autobiographical story of a young Irish boy who struggles with family, country, and religion to become an artist and a man. It is a very rich book, one of our readers, Talitha, said. Joe remarked on a change of style that occurs in the book, as you traverse the journey of the artist from pampered child to young man in full-blown revolt. Indira too noted this and Mohan agreed. There are three seductive women tip-toeing through the book, as KumKum noted. Joe pointed out there is even a villanelle to one of them which begins:
Are you not weary of ardent ways,
Lure of the fallen seraphim?
Tell no more of enchanted days. 

Amita read an annotated version of the novel. KumKum wanted to know how it helped her reading. Sometimes annotations are good; Indira found the Web annotated version of Moby Dick fascinating. It resolves all the allusions. 

Listening to a reading of it (http://www.archive.org/details/portrait_artist_pb_librivox ) with book in hand enables one to go fast (about 9 hours for the whole book). Priya read it aloud to herself when she got stuck with a hard part. The Kindle reader has a synthesised voice to read out a book to you.


The usefulness of Flipkart.com as an online book ordering source in India is now established. It has a wonderful TV ad released during the ICC World Cup of Cricket competition. Indira said the expression on the mouse's face as the old lady presses it to order online by a single click, is best. The other excellent ad is by an actor for a Health Insurance company; on being diagnosed for a heart condition, he begs the doctor to change the diagnosis (though not the treatment) to kidney disease because that's all his insurance covers. Thommo thought the actor and the look on his face were so well-done you could see the ad again and again.

Here are some Joycean links:


1. Indira
Indira offered a quotation from Nabokov about the novel: “Actually, I never liked A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I find it a feeble and garrulous book.” Luckily most readers had not heard of Nabokov's pronouncement on the book, and reading on, made good another of Nabokov's obiter dicta: “a good reader is bound to make fierce efforts when wrestling with a difficult author, but those efforts can be most rewarding after the bright dust has settled.” Indira also offered Nabokov's obloquy on Goethe (who happens to be a favourite of Bobby): “The rejuvenation of old Faust has an unpleasant effect on me.”

Indira drew attention to Nabokov being exiled like Joyce. Joe added that Nabokov's exile was forced, whereas Joyce's decision on where to live was his own choice. Catholicism is awful, said Indira, as it comes through in the novel. It seems like Catholic authors cannot get away from their Catholicism, she said, mentioning, Graham Greene, with his strong sense of sin. Indira pointed to another example of Edna O'Brien in whom she sees the “horrible shadow” of Catholicism. Indira briefly mentioned a story by that author in which a woman's lover falls down the stairs, and she at the top vows to God that she will forgo her lover's company forever if he was not killed by the fall. Sure enough, the fellow was only dazed, but he is puzzled why she never more requites his ardour. How cruel can be the effect of Catholicism, Indira thought. Talitha rebutted by saying the guilt that follows is often as real as the commission of sinful acts that violate the moral norms held by the person. On the other hand Stephen in the novel has no truck with Protestantism:
--Then, said Cranly, you do not intend to become a protestant?
--I said that I had lost the faith, Stephen answered, but not that I had lost self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?
The passage Indira chose is from the opening lines of the novel, evoking the author's memories of childhood using the prattle of children to recall events impressed in Joyce's memory long ago. To recall another of Nabokov's assertions: “When we speak of a vivid individual recollection we are paying a compliment not to our capacity of retention but to Mnemosyne's mysterious foresight in having stored up this or that element which creative imagination may want to use when combining it with later recollections and inventions.”

The memory of smells from childhood gives a sentimental colouring to this passage (“His mother had a nicer smell than his father“). This made Indira say that each person has their own smell. She noted how even after her father's death, the smell persisted when she entered his room in the house. Amita said some people preserve that by retaining an old shirt worn by the person in a sealed container.

Indira reiterated that Catholics are on an “endless guilt trip.” She gave the example of a woman acquaintance; when asked what is a woman's ultimate virtue, she replied, 'Virginity.' Indira, who had granted her some intelligence before the remark, despaired. Was she a nun, someone asked. No, a married woman who kept her body for her husband alone. A quaint Catholic custom.

2. KumKum
James Joyce is not an easy read, said KumKum. “I had to put in a conscious effort to finish the novel, but in the end I felt rewarded. There is a magic in his style and a fantastic command over words. He was a keen observer of life – every situation described in the book is authentic, and the characters are true to life. The poet in Joyce was palpable below the surface of the narration, and at times his prose read like poetry.

Yet, one cannot ignore the difficulty of the book. The reader has to struggle with the allusions and the context which he switches often. Joyce partly modeled Stephen Dedalus after himself. Stephen is reflective, argumentative, opinionated, and at odds with everything in life – even ordinary things young people accept without a fuss. 

 
"I chose the passage about the flight of swallows because we saw a similar strange sight in our garden two weeks ago. A flock of small gray birds with forked tails, later identified as swifts, were circling low in a frenzy around our garden, taking a turn in the adjacent gardens also. We watched them from our balcony and wondered what these birds were, and what the cause of their agitation. They had never been observed before in these parts. The birds flew in tight circles for no purpose, it seemed, emitting sharp, short notes incessantly — not melodious at all, expressing some dire alarm. The drama went on for about half an hour. Then, as though the spell was over, suddenly all those black-white-gray birds with forked tail dispersed, leaving no trace."

A swarm of swifts flew around our house for half an hour and left
Joe later identified the birds as swifts, and found the reference in Salim Ali's The Book of Indian Birds, where the ornithologist writes: "The birds spend the day hawking tiny winged insects in the vicinity of palms, turning and twisting in the air adroitly to the accompaniment of a shrill joyous triple note ti-ti-tee." To 'hawk' here means to hunt on the wing, not to clear the throat noisily.
Stephen narrated a similar scene in the passage KumKum chose (see below at Readings).

Stephen meditated on this event a long time. Probably, those free flying birds gave him an inspiration to escape from his life in Dublin and Ireland – the constrictions of which made him despair of finding himself as an artist. He was alienated from his family, the University, and his friends; he had serious questions about the religion derived from his family and his schooling; and the divisive politics of his country was another factor for his discomfort.
It was easy to buy sex to satisfy the physical craving of a young man. But, that satisfaction was bought with attendant feelings of guilt and remorse. And love? He remained confused on that front all along. Love was still beyond the reach of the young artist. It produced one lovely poem, and nothing more.
We sense, at least three fleeting young women tip-toeing along the story – unreal creatures of his dreams. He cannot make up his mind about his feelings for them. The entry on April 16 in his diary is a remarkable one. He accidentally meets E.C. (Emma Clery) face-to-face and they have some sensible but mundane conversation. Will that free her from his dream-world?
Zakia said Joyce is fascinatingly visual in this passage. She concurred that Stepehen finds a message in this passage for his own tortuous escape to freedom.

3. Amita
Amita selected another passage, like Indira's, in which Stephen remembers events from his childhood about leaving for boarding school. KumKum who has taught at one in the hills of N Bengal had pity for the poor young children left there, often bed-wetting at night and being punished.

Indira thought the childhood scenes in this book are special. Joe mentioned that Clongowes, the school Joyce attended which is featured in the novel, has a library named in his honour and the school has a website:
http://clongowes.net/wordpress/

The school (termed 'college' in the book) is two years short of celebrating its 200th anniversary.


4. Thommo
Thommo recounted the narrative where Stephen wins a money prize:
Stephen drew forth his orders on the governor of the bank of Ireland for thirty and three pounds; and these sums, the moneys of his exhibition and essay prize, were paid over to him rapidly by the teller in notes and in coin respectively."

Then he proceeds to lavish the sum on his family, a cloak for his mother, dinner for his parents, and so on, until he has run through the money entirely. “How sweet,”said KumKum.

 The passage Thommo read was Stephen's reflection on his alienation from his own family, and the shame and guilt he felt after visiting prostitutes. This transgression and shame was a result of his Catholic background, said Indira. He is a thinking man, and he is unhappy. Why should he be? Indira as before ascribed his unhappiness to his feeling of guilt, which is the residue of the Catholicism he imbibed. Note the following sentence from the passage:
Only the morning pained him with its dim memory of dark orgiastic riot, its keen and humiliating sense of transgression.

Mohan with a smile inquired rhetorically: “Can any thinking man survive the Catholic Church?” From there the discussion went on to the concept of original sin, which Indira thought a very false doctrine. “Catholicism feeds on ignorance to an alarming extent,” said Indira, and for good measure she added that education makes no difference for “The faith of the ignorant is more powerful than that of the educated.”

Talitha in a different vein noted that the sentiment in the passage is “very fake.” Joe does not see anything fake, for that was how the artist felt as a young man, at that point of his mental journey.


5. Zakia
Zakia confessed she was about to chicken out of the reading. Perhaps buoyed by the knowledge that other KRG members might be toughing it out too, she persevered and read slowly, trying to understand, and used all the Web resources available to her. Mohan reassured her by saying that the very difficulty of reading Joyce is part of his reputation. Zakia took note of his stream of consciousness method. She said it has two components:
(1)
“Perhaps the most famous aspect of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is Joyce's innovative use of stream of consciousness, a style in which the author directly transcribes the thoughts and sensations that go through a character's mind, rather than simply describing those sensations from the external standpoint of an observer. Joyce's use of stream of consciousness makes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a story of the development of Stephen's mind.” (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/portraitartist/themes.html )

(2) The use of epiphany, a moment of sudden and stark revelation, to map the discontinuous way in which the mental journey of Stephen takes place. Zakia referred to the image of the girl on the beach in the novel as an example:
He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a sandy nook amid a ring of tufted sandknolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood.
He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast.
He closed his eyes in the languor of sleep. His eyelids trembled as if they felt the vast cyclic movement of the earth and her watchers, trembled as if they felt the strange light of some new world. His soul was swooning into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings. A world, a glimmer or a flower? Glimmering and trembling, trembling and unfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and fading to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flushes, every flush deeper than the other.

There's a quote on the subject:
This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By epiphany – a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or gesture, or in a memorable phrase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that the themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.
--
Stephen Hero

Nora Barnacle - Joyce fell in love and left Ireland with her

Indira remarked after Zakia read Joyce's passage (see Readings) that “Joyce loved women.” No doubt, but perhaps the evidence from this passage points to a narrower conclusion; he loved describing women:
Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down.

And of course, he loved women in pink, added Thommo!

6. Priya
Priya decided to go for broke and selected for her reading the passage describing Stephen's first kiss (of a woman, in ardour). Joe raised a mild objection, saying that such passages were meet (meat?) for him. But for all the passion in the scene, Priya read it with a straight face, from her recently elevated status as mother-in-law.

Indira however thought it a very “dry kiss.” If so, the author, has changed what must have been a very wet kiss, into a dry recollection of it. Again there's the lady in pink, which Thommo noted as a fixation in the novel. But Talitha was bowled over with hysterical laughter at this patch :
His lips would not bend to kiss her. He wanted to be held firmly in her arms, to be caressed slowly, slowly, slowly. In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself. But his lips would not bend to kiss her.

7. Talitha
Two readers sitting side by side had elected to memorialise kisses. Talitha's passage recounts another kiss. It's the school banter among boys about whether it is appropriate or not to kiss one's mother. Talitha read it to bring out the comedy in how Stephen, a junior, tries to figure out from Wells, a senior, about maternal kissing. There was great merriment among the readers to listen to the dead seriousness of the boys' discussion. Stephen's puzzlement with kissing needs to be resolved but such passages as the following can leave the reader in splits:
What did that mean, to kiss? You put your face up like that to say good night and then his mother put her face down. That was to kiss. His mother put her lips on his cheek; her lips were soft and they wetted his cheek; and they made a tiny little noise: kiss. Why did people do that with their two faces?

But once again the topic lurched to Hell and how Stephen devotes an amazing number of continuous pages (about seven) to the topic. Indira took it as further evidence of Catholic perversion. Joe demurred; it is the power of a novelist's imagination on display, primarily. But it is done in the manner of theme writing in Stephen's school, elaborating on a set arbitrary subject to wring out an extensive essay that leaves no aspect of Hell unexamined. And in so doing, it becomes a satire, giving intimation of the artist in him emerging.

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo

Joe referred to the bottom of the painting behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel, of the damned being sucked into hell. Talitha added that Michelangleo painted the faces of some of his enemies into those scenes. Hell has classical precedents in the work of Milton (Paradise Lost) said Talitha; and of course Dante's great work also deals with hell (Inferno).

Amita disagreed with Indira, saying that Catholics are not overburdened with guilt. Indeed, the availability to Catholics of Confession (the Sacrament of Penance) enables them “to go on blithely sinning after rattling off ten Hail Marys as penance!” So far from a guilt trip, the ready availability of the confessional might facilitate sin trips for Catholics!

Indira insisted that the chief part of Joyce's (Stephen's) escape from Ireland was the overbearing Catholic influence on people. Thommo noted in extenuation that the Irish were a people colonised, and distinctness of religion was a major way of asserting and preserving their identity – as it is in modern times.

Talitha, however, quoted another passage to prove that religion was only a one-third part of the total deal about the Ireland of his times that Joyce wished to escape from:
The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.

Joe agreed; see his appreciation (below).


8. Joe
Joyce's earliest work was poetry, Chamber Music, published in 1907 when he was 25 years old:
Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.


There's music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.

All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.

Joyce wanted to write music for his Chamber Music poems

Then came short stories, Dubliners in 1914, and this book, a semi-autobiographical novel followed in 1916. Like many authors who make their name for prose works, the afflatus that runs throughout this work of Joyce is poetic. The stream of consciousness method he was to adopt later is evident, just barely in this work. The large theme is: how should a young man brought up in one tradition with all its confines, let out his creative urge by throwing off those curbs, one by one.

You see the budding artist taking on a teacher of English from England, about the word 'tundish' meaning a funnel. It is really an Elizabethan term, but it was still current in Ireland when it had already vanished from England. You see the artist deciding he is not going to fight for the Irish cause, though he had learnt to admire Parnell, the nationalist, from his father; he had also learnt to question church authority from his father. He decides he is not going to waste his time keeping the Gaelic language alive, but will rather adopt English. Joyce faces all the same hurdles that Irish poets and men of literature have faced over the centuries: how to write in a foreigner's language and yet resist the cultural domination of the colonial master's language. In our own time Seamus Heaney has faced the same struggle to find his equilibrium. It is also the struggle many Indian poets in English face, and last month Talitha read verse by R. Parthasarathy that narrates his attempt to bridge the chasm between two cultures.

The story line is very thin here. It is about the gradual emergence of a young man from boyhood: the influences that shaped him and the defining of his character through confrontations with his companions, his Jesuit superiors, and his family. That he had a poetic bent is suggested early on, but there are problems to be solved: how does he find inspiration, what does he write about, how do emotions and thoughts get distilled in his brain and find an outlet in his writing of themes, how will his mind formed by the rigorous training of the Jesuits disengage from all that.

There are those who prescribe complete freedom from childhood to learn as you please and play or create or go after anything that captivates the young mind. By contrast, here we see a mind being processed through scholastic philosophy, a mind being formed by logic exercises, a mind being given rein to write themes on prescribed subjects, and so on. We see the young man's mind being formed under rational education, while also being subjected to a religious formation. Joyce derived a lot from both in his time, but then sets about the revolt of the young artist. He has been nourished on something to revolt against; that is what his solid Jesuit formation gave him in the end, something to define himself, by a revolt.

This is a book of episodes, in no particular order. Instead of choosing to read one of those narratives, Joe too up a series of reveries, that are strewn in the book, giving faint intimation of the stream of consciousness method Joyce was to use habitually later on.

Joyce said “The book is in fact a suite of songs and if I were a musician I suppose I should have set them to music myself.”

 James Joyce statue at his grave, Zurich 


The Readings

1. Indira
Ch 1. Childhood recollections. From the opening lines ...
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...
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.
O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.
He sang that song. That was his song.
O, the green wothe botheth.
When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.
His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor's hornpipe for him to dance. He danced:
Tralala lala,
Tralala tralaladdy,
Tralala lala,
Tralala lala.
Uncle Charles and Dante clapped. They were older than his father and mother but uncle Charles was older than Dante.
Dante had two brushes in her press. The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell. Dante gave him a cachou every time he brought her a piece of tissue paper.
The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen's father and mother. When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table. His mother said:
--O, Stephen will apologize.
Dante said:
O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.--
Pull out his eyes,
Apologize,
Apologize,
Pull out his eyes.
Apologize,
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
Apologize. 

 
2. KumKum
Ch 5 Circling of swallows. Stephen receives a signal of flight.
What birds were they? He stood on the steps of the library to look at them, leaning wearily on his ashplant. They flew round and round the jutting shoulder of a house in Molesworth Street. The air of the late March evening made clear their flight, their dark quivering bodies flying clearly against the sky as against a limp-hung cloth of smoky tenuous blue.
He watched their flight; bird after bird: a dark flash, a swerve, a flutter of wings. He tried to count them before all their darting quivering bodies passed: six, ten, eleven: and wondered were they odd or even in number. Twelve, thirteen: for two came wheeling down from the upper sky. They were flying high and low but ever round and round in straight and curving lines and ever flying from left to right, circling about a temple of air.
He listened to the cries: like the squeak of mice behind the wainscot: a shrill twofold note. But the notes were long and shrill and whirring, unlike the cry of vermin, falling a third or a fourth and trilled as the flying beaks clove the air. Their cry was shrill and clear and fine and falling like threads of silken light unwound from whirring spools.
The inhuman clamour soothed his ears in which his mother's sobs and reproaches murmured insistently and the dark frail quivering bodies wheeling and fluttering and swerving round an airy temple of the tenuous sky soothed his eyes which still saw the image of his mother's face. They came back with shrill cries over the jutting shoulder of the house, flying darkly against the fading air. What birds were they? He thought that they must be swallows who had come back from the south. Then he was to go away for they were birds ever going and coming, building ever an unlasting home under the eaves of men's houses and ever leaving the homes they had built to wander.
Bend down your faces, Oona and Aleel.
I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes
Upon the nest under the eave before
He wander the loud waters.
A soft liquid joy like the noise of many waters flowed over his memory and he felt in his heart the soft peace of silent spaces of fading tenuous sky above the waters, of oceanic silence, of swallows flying through the sea-dusk over the flowing waters.
A soft liquid joy flowed through the words where the soft long vowels hurtled noiselessly and fell away, lapping and flowing back and ever shaking the white bells of their waves in mute chime and mute peal, and soft low swooning cry; and he felt that the augury he had sought in the wheeling darting birds and in the pale space of sky above him had come forth from his heart like a bird from a turret, quietly and swiftly.
Symbol of departure or of loneliness?

3. Amita
Ch 1. The Niceness of Mothers. Childhood memories.
He crept about from point to point on the fringe of his line, making little runs now and then. But his hands were bluish with cold. He kept his hands in the side pockets of his belted grey suit. That was a belt round his pocket. And belt was also to give a fellow a belt. One day a fellow said to Cantwell:
--I'd give you such a belt in a second.
Cantwell had answered:
--Go and fight your match. Give Cecil Thunder a belt. I'd like to see you. He'd give you a toe in the rump for yourself.
That was not a nice expression. His mother had told him not to speak with the rough boys in the college. Nice mother! The first day in the hall of the castle when she had said goodbye she had put up her veil double to her nose to kiss him: and her nose and eyes were red. But he had pretended not to see that she was going to cry. She was a nice mother but she was not so nice when she cried. And his father had given him two five-shilling pieces for pocket money. And his father had told him if he wanted anything to write home to him and, whatever he did, never to peach on a fellow.

4. Thommo
Ch 2. Fierce longings of the heart. Glimpses of Mercedes in his wanderings.
How foolish his aim had been! He had tried to build a break-water of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life without him and to dam up, by rules of conduct and active interest and new filial relations, the powerful recurrence of the tides within him. Useless. From without as from within the waters had flowed over his barriers: their tides began once more to jostle fiercely above the crumbled mole.
He saw clearly too his own futile isolation. He had not gone one step nearer the lives he had sought to approach nor bridged the restless shame and rancour that had divided him from mother and brother and sister. He felt that he was hardly of the one blood with them but stood to them rather in the mystical kinship of fosterage, fosterchild and fosterbrother.
He turned to appease the fierce longings of his heart before which everything else was idle and alien. He cared little that he was in mortal sin, that his life had grown to be a tissue of subterfuge and falsehood. Beside the savage desire within him to realize the enormities which he brooded on nothing was sacred. He bore cynically with the shameful details of his secret riots in which he exulted to defile with patience whatever image had attracted his eyes. By day and by night he moved among distorted images of the outer world. A figure that had seemed to him by day demure and innocent came towards him by night through the winding darkness of sleep, her face transfigured by a lecherous cunning, her eyes bright with brutish joy. Only the morning pained him with its dim memory of dark orgiastic riot, its keen and humiliating sense of transgression.
He returned to his wanderings. The veiled autumnal evenings led him from street to street as they had led him years before along the quiet avenues of Blackrock. But no vision of trim front gardens or of kindly lights in the windows poured a tender influence upon him now. Only at times, in the pauses of his desire, when the luxury that was wasting him gave room to a softer languor, the image of Mercedes traversed the background of his memory. He saw again the small white house and the garden of rose-bushes on the road that led to the mountains and he remembered the sadly proud gesture of refusal which he was to make there, standing with her in the moonlit garden after years of estrangement and adventure. At those moments the soft speeches of Claude Melnotte rose to his lips and eased his unrest. A tender premonition touched him of the tryst he had then looked forward to and, in spite of the horrible reality which lay between his hope of then and now, of the holy encounter he had then imagined at which weakness and timidity and inexperience were to fall from him.

5. Zakia
Ch 4 end. The girl on the beach. Cheeks aflame, body aglow, limbs trembling.
A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird's, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.
She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek. 
 
--Heavenly God! cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy. 
 
He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him.
Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on! 
 
He halted suddenly and heard his heart in the silence. How far had he walked? What hour was it?
There was no human figure near him nor any sound borne to him over the air. But the tide was near the turn and already the day was on the wane. He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a sandy nook amid a ring of tufted sandknolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood. 
 
He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast.
He closed his eyes in the languor of sleep. His eyelids trembled as if they felt the vast cyclic movement of the earth and her watchers, trembled as if they felt the strange light of some new world. His soul was swooning into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings. A world, a glimmer or a flower? Glimmering and trembling, trembling and unfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and fading to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flushes, every flush deeper than the other. 
 
Evening had fallen when he woke and the sand and arid grasses of his bed glowed no longer. He rose slowly and, recalling the rapture of his sleep, sighed at its joy. 
 
He climbed to the crest of the sandhill and gazed about him. Evening had fallen. A rim of the young moon cleft the pale waste of skyline, the rim of a silver hoop embedded in grey sand; and the tide was flowing in fast to the land with a low whisper of her waves, islanding a few last figures in distant pools.

6. Priya
Ch 2 end. The first kiss. Stephen feels the swoon of sin.
He stood still in the middle of the roadway, his heart clamouring against his bosom in a tumult. A young woman dressed in a long pink gown laid her hand on his arm to detain him and gazed into his face. She said gaily:
--Good night, Willie dear!
Her room was warm and lightsome. A huge doll sat with her legs apart in the copious easy-chair beside the bed. He tried to bid his tongue speak that he might seem at ease, watching her as she undid her gown, noting the proud conscious movements of her perfumed head.
As he stood silent in the middle of the room she came over to him and embraced him gaily and gravely. Her round arms held him firmly to her and he, seeing her face lifted to him in serious calm and feeling the warm calm rise and fall of her breast, all but burst into hysterical weeping. Tears of joy and relief shone in his delighted eyes and his lips parted though they would not speak.
She passed her tinkling hand through his hair, calling him a little rascal.
--Give me a kiss, she said.
His lips would not bend to kiss her. He wanted to be held firmly in her arms, to be caressed slowly, slowly, slowly. In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself. But his lips would not bend to kiss her.
With a sudden movement she bowed his head and joined her lips to his and he read the meaning of her movements in her frank uplifted eyes. It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour.

7. Talitha
Ch 1. To kiss or not to kiss, your mother. Initiation at school.
Wells came over to Stephen and said:
--Tell us, Dedalus, do you kiss your mother before you go to bed? 
Stephen answered: 
--I do. 
Wells turned to the other fellows and said: 
--O, I say, here's a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed. 

The other fellows stopped their game and turned round, laughing. Stephen blushed under their eyes and said:
--I do not. 
Wells said: 
--O, I say, here's a fellow says he doesn't kiss his mother before he goes to bed. 

They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to the question? He had given two and still Wells laughed. But Wells must know the right answer for he was in third of grammar. He tried to think of Wells's mother but he did not dare to raise his eyes to Wells's face. He did not like Wells's face. It was Wells who had shouldered him into the square ditch the day before because he would not swop his little snuff box for Wells's seasoned hacking chestnut, the conqueror of forty. It was a mean thing to do; all the fellows said it was. And how cold and slimy the water had been! And a fellow had once seen a big rat jump plop into the scum.
The cold slime of the ditch covered his whole body; and, when the bell rang for study and the lines filed out of the playrooms, he felt the cold air of the corridor and staircase inside his clothes. He still tried to think what was the right answer. Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother? What did that mean, to kiss? You put your face up like that to say good night and then his mother put her face down. That was to kiss. His mother put her lips on his cheek; her lips were soft and they wetted his cheek; and they made a tiny little noise: kiss. Why did people do that with their two faces?

8. Joe
Reveries. Childhood lost, waiting for the image to encounter him.
He returned to Mercedes and, as he brooded upon her image, a strange unrest crept into his blood. Sometimes a fever gathered within him and led him to rove alone in the evening along the quiet avenue. The peace of the gardens and the kindly lights in the windows poured a tender influence into his restless heart. The noise of children at play annoyed him and their silly voices made him feel, even more keenly than he had felt at Clongowes, that he was different from others. He did not want to play. He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. He did not know where to seek it or how, but a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him. They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst, perhaps at one of the gates or in some more secret place. They would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured.

He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment.
.......
He remained standing with his two companions at the end of the shed listening idly to their talk or to the bursts of applause in the theatre. She was sitting there among the others perhaps waiting for him to appear. He tried to recall her appearance but could not. He could remember only that she had worn a shawl about her head like a cowl and that her dark eyes had invited and unnerved him. He wondered had he been in her thoughts as she had been in his. Then in the dark and unseen by the other two he rested the tips of the fingers of one hand upon the palm of the other hand, scarcely touching it lightly. But the pressure of her fingers had been lighter and steadier: and suddenly the memory of their touch traversed his brain and body like an invisible wave.
.........
Stephen watched the three glasses being raised from the counter as his father and his two cronies drank to the memory of their past. An abyss of fortune or of temperament sundered him from them. His mind seemed older than theirs: it shone coldly on their strifes and happiness and regrets like a moon upon a younger earth. No life or youth stirred in him as it had stirred in them. He had known neither the pleasure of companionship with others nor the vigour of rude male health nor filial piety. Nothing stirred within his soul but a cold and cruel and loveless lust. His childhood was dead or lost and with it his soul capable of simple joys and he was drifting amid life like the barren shell of the moon.
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless...?
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?
He repeated to himself the lines of Shelley's fragment. Its alternation of sad human ineffectiveness with vast inhuman cycles of activity chilled him and he forgot his own human and ineffectual grieving.

1 comment:

Shipra said...

Enjoyed reading this posting,Joe. As always, you did a fantastic job!

It was, indeed, a very enjoyable Session.
Joyce's scare tactics did not work with us, at all. That's something!
I feel confident that KRG could have handled his "toughest" book: Ulysses, in equal candor and ease.
A group of champion readers, we found the ways to tread the "danger zones". Worthy of Talitha's Ode.
Thank you, dear Talitha, for that lovely Ode!
KumKum