Monday, September 19, 2011

Goodbye to Flatland

Captain's Log, Stardate: 43 Bureaucracy 3177

There has been much speculation, much of it unwelcome, on the matter of who or what James Joyce is and what we ought to make of his work. Who are we to believe with so many academic careers at stake and each new theory -- in its pretentious thinker's mind -- boldly rushing where angels dare not lie in a pile of their own sick after a night of hardgoing close reading in the co of Mr John Jameson & Co. What does it all mean, if indeed any of it holds any meaning? Can the previous works hold sense while the supposed keystone of Finnegans Wake stands as a monumental prank to rival the best of them?

Mr Joyce has been accused of recapitulating everyone from Homer and Dante to all the literature of the previous millennium and even the previous millennium and a further two hundred years into our own future. We must ask in turn, if this is to be believed, who are these writers? Are they really serious, or what? Is Aeschylus the pinnacle of a long dramatic tradition or the Stephenie Meyer of "his" own time, being quite difficult about the spelling of "his" name, doomed to be perpetually burned by but never consumed in the rejections of adolescence and turning to mawkish reimaginings of past hurts in a fictional world of the supernatural? An oresting thought indeed.

Does Dante, too, so want to be a mother? He has pushed out a wet and fragile being to suck the life force directly from a teenage girl, full of anguish and screaming in a tongue only recognized by the "mad," to get a bloody nose on the playground, to blossom into the sort of guy whose clothes you buy a forgery of in the hopes of scoring with a girl at a train station... just this one time. How was Mr Joyce to triple distill the words of the sages and the lucky dopes, spilled out a spoonful of ink at a time, when the inspiration of the Holy Smokes struck those names we all recognize: Moses, the Oracles, Tennyson? Was he, in fact, plugged into a computer memory bank from the future, as Mr Philip Dick suggests? Was he brilliantly sublimating his own schizophrenic tendencies in jingle jaunty to keep from sonnez? Are we to believe that Portrait is his new life in art and Ulysses is his hellish urban stasis? What literary sins do we purge by reexamining The Wake and will saying the rosary free us any sooner? Is this permanence or impermanence? Are those really that different? Chiefly: is he serious, or what? John Bishop writes in his introduction: "Its admirers see it as a comprehensive summa of twentieth-century culture and letters; its detractors, an arrogant compilation of arcane materials patched together for the amusement of a literary elite." Isn't that two ways of saying the same thing? In the end, must we turn and shoot our poncy father The Novel in the face to fulfill the desire to be with our mad Italian mothers, making a verbal hodgepodge of the collective memory of life itself &c?

How very human to ascribe such banal motives to a man of genius! How human to expect "contradiction" to form the sign of weakness! Mr Joyce is none of these things, yet all of these things. You've just crossed over into a world with more than the usual 3+1 dimensions, into the world of cheaters and liars and people like Mr Joyce. Compared to the place you've just entered, your old world was a flatland. Those of you who have visited the world of 2+1 know what a terrifying and relativistic adventure that can be. A million ricursos in 2+1 take but a few minutes in our ordinary 3+1 frame of reference. Mr Joyce's visit to us was apparently brief, but in actuality it would have been -- to us -- several trillions of years: plenty of time to collect information about everything from primitive insects to the way thermonuclear war plays out on reality television. At once completely hyperdimensional and completely human, Mr Joyce was able to know our humanity more fully than we could, for we can never distinguish the subtle signs of permanence itself amid a sea of apparent change. (Readers with insufficient imagination are encouraged to seek out Carl Sagan's Cosmos, in which Mr Sagan illustrates how three dimensional objects would appear to two dimensional beings.)

Welcome to our extradimensional explorations. We could end up anywhere next.

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