Joyce, meet Joyce

From Donald Barthelme’s “After Joyce”:

Satisfied with neither the existing world nor the existing literature, Joyce and Stein modify the world by adding to its store of objects the literary object—which is then encountered in the same way as other objects in the world…Interrogating older works, the question is: what do they say about the world and being in the world? But the literary object is itself “world” and the theoretical advantage is that in asking it questions you are asking questions of the world directly. [The writer] has in fact removed himself from the work, as Joyce instructed him to do. The reader is not listening to an authoritative account of the world delivered by an expert but bumping into something that is there, like a rock or a refrigerator…

It has been argued that the ontological status of the literary work has always been just this, that Pilgrim’s Progress is an “object” in this sense just as Finnegans Wake is. But such arguments ignore the changed situation that ensues when the writer is aware of and exploits the possibilities of this special placement. Joyce and Stein’s creations modify the beholder. I do not think it is fanciful, for instance, to say that Governor Rockefeller, standing among his Mirós and de Koonings, is worked upon by them, and if they do not make a Democrat or Socialist of him they at least alter the character of his Republicanism.

From John Berger’s “The First and Last Recipe: Ulysses“:

The ‘illegality’ of the book was for me, the fourteen-year-old, a telling literary quality. I was convinced that legality was an arbitrary pretense. Necessary for the social contract, indispensable for society’s survival, but turning its back on most lived experience. I knew this by instinct and when I read the book for the first time, I came to appreciate with mounting excitement that its supposed illegality as an object was more than matched by the illegitimacy of the lives and souls in its epic…

I was about to write: there were many parts, during this first reading, which I didn’t understand. Yet this would be false. There were no parts that I understood. And there was no part that did not make the same promise t me: the promise that deep down, beneath the words, beneath the pretenses, beneath the claims and everlasting moralistic judgment, beneath the opinions and lessons and boasts and cant of everyday life, the lives of adult women and men were made up of such stuff as this book was made of: offal with flecks in it of the divine. The first and last recipe!…

And he did not stop there—this man who was telling me about the life I might never know, this man who never spoke down to anybody, and who remains for me to this day an example of the true adult, which is to say a being who, because he has accepted life, is intimate with it—this man did not stop there, for his penchant for the lowly led him to keep the same kind of company within his single characters: he listened to their stomachs, their pains, their tumescences: he heard their first impressions, their uncensored thoughts, their ramblings, their prayers without words….And the more carefully he listened to what scarcely anyone had listened to before, the richer became life’s offering.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: