Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bad Joyce

Ray Davis comments of Ulysses’s 18 stylistic menu-choices, “I wonder if fear of stylistic tinnitus is why goofy "Eumaeus" and "Ithaca" have been my favorite episodes for so many years…” Having just ploughed thru ‘em both, I can only sympathize. There’s something beautiful about watching a writer who seems to be able to do anything turning his hand to actively bad writing: the first half of “Nausicaa” is pretty breathtaking in that way, with its spot-on pastiche of 1904 Redbook, Cosmo, & Reader’s Digest, but “Eumaeus” is just plain sublime, a cliché in every line:
Prepatory to anything else [cliché] Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk [cliché] of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally [cliché + limp adverb] in orthodox Samaritan fashion [cliché, but oh how deliciously wrong-headed – if there’s anything the Gospel Good Samaritan isn’t it’s “orthodox” – remember the priest & the Levite] which he very badly needed [limp, limp ending].
This first sentence of Section III of the novel ought to bring to mind the first sentence of Section I: ”Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” There’s the “Buck” of “bucked him up generally,” and of course Mulligan is about to shave (“the greater bulk of the shavings”). Not to mention the more distant echoes between “plump” and “bulk.” One great joy of obsessively re-reading Ulysses lies in hearing those echoes propagate themselves in one’s echo-chamber mind, but another – in “Eumaeus” – is simply marvelling at how the bad prose unfurls itself. Or watching Joyce’s more familiar lyricism break thru the wall of tone-deafness, as in the antepenultimate paragraph:
The horse having reached the end of his tether, so to speak [indeed], halted and, rearing high a proud feathering tail, added his quota [ouch! yes, it’s a street-sweeping cart] by letting fall on the floor which the brush would soon brush up and polish [cliché], three smoking globes of turds. [and here’s the real thing:] Slowly three times, one after another, from a full crupper he mired. And humanely his driver waited till he (or she) had ended, patient in his scythed car.
Except for that tell-tale "he (or she)," those last two sentences are as beautiful as anything JJ ever wrote.
Thanks be Thanksgiving is over. Not that I mind national holidays, especially ones which call for large-scale cooking – but I just don’t like anything on the menu, turkey most of all. This year’s substitution was a big-ass Smithfield salt-cured ham, the sort of thing you have to soak for two days ahead of time to get enough of the salt out to make it edible. It came out beautifully, in case you’re wondering, but I’m afraid I’m the only one in the household enthusiastic about this particular comestible, so I have a great deal of salty swineflesh in my future.
For those of you still on tenterhooks as to my selection of course texts for this Spring’s Milton, I’ve decided to go with the half-century old Merritt Hughes over the Flannagan Riverside. Okay, so Hughes doesn’t annotate “Hermes” or “Virgin mother” or much of the basic stuff Flannagan does – but isn’t that what Wikipedia and the online Brittanica are for? And Hughes doesn’t, as Flannagan does, manage to confuse “Philistine” and “Pharisee,” or claim that in “Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints” Milton is somehow “perverting” the Roman Catholic notion of sainthood. (Is there a Protestant in the house, please?)


Anonymous said...

A favorite leftover recipe from my Okie grandfather:
Toss a meaty hambone in a crock pot with a cup or so of pinto beans and water. Brew it all day, remove the bone, and heap it over johnnycake (cornbread). Dee-lish.

Anonymous said...
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