Sunday, June 17, 2018

existential moment in light of a pole star



I write letters that I don’t send. Below is one. Uncanny coincidence is that her last name is Martin, as I’m thinking (unspoken) of Heidegger, circa 1917, seeing boys returning from the front.



Dear Professor Ann Martin,

A happy thing it is to find a dissertation online about Ulysses and WW-I.
My googling only anticipated some sentence or two about the matter somewhere, in some article, at best (a Wikipedia article, at worst—or maybe the worst is someone's blog). Since this was just a few minutes ago, I've only read your “Abstract” and “Conclusion.”

I suppose that the pole star for the stabilizing coordinates is “love beyond all reason.” Yet, the reconstituted security for the post-War reader is literally that text, whose love restores. One is saved by literary portability, renewing oneself through the mirror of the author finding himself through the severe uncanniness of the times, which spawns modernism. The literary mind entertains “inner monologue” and “stream of consciousness” (one and the same? surmises Britannica), always citing Ulysses as exemplar.

So, here we are a century later, almost exactly. The beginning of the “Great War” will be duly recalled in a couple of months. Boys went off to war at first anticipating gallantry, like their toy soldiers come alive. But movie technology back then was mature enough to give us actual footage of boys back from the trenches in spastic shell shock and torn faces, like something from a Lucian Freud painting, though only in washed-out black-and-white. What was it to be
a medic there, living starkly colored fact?

So, what of our cheerful Bloomsday celebrations? If Joyce is most confessional in his sense of uncanniness, perhaps Ulysses is a massive literary conceit, since such a thing—that work scaffolded by coordinative charting with The Odyssey—such is all a writer can offer the shock of what’s epochally new, as if a grand literature of the day can be a hologram of the archetypal bildungsroman that Homer fabled, coping with future shock that torn seafarers can’t explain: how knowing home for the first time is being haunted by merciless sea.

Believe it or not, my dad was named Homer, and I was born on Bloomsday.
(My mother’s name was Ann.) For years, I chirpily bragged about being so born, as if I had some special validation through osmosis. I do have my charts—well, actually: many-leveled outlines of unexplicated text, thanks to the miracle of the “outline” feature in word processing. Perhaps you don’t know that Proust would revise his pages with strings of text on paper that he would tape onto his current versions, such that his secretary would receive pages with lots of “spaghetti” phrases hanging off his draft, from which she (he?: some pretty boy) was to provide new drafts of his streaming consciousness. Now, we just insert on the page, and explain non sequiturs and idiosyncrasy as riverrun toys for literary theorists.

When you finished your dissertation, the Web was still a baby. Gawd, what a species we are.

Joyce first published pseudonymously as “Stephen Daedalus,” maybe because
he was already a daemonic transgressor in youth. I was. Then, Stephen becomes the protagonist, after Joyce owns up to his creation, like a Kierkegaardian authorship displacing himself into the text, so that the authorship can shift one more level of protean pretense, as if there is James Joyce for a reader. (See?: Someone with that name was performing a still life in photos of him, as if waiting.) There is only Stephen Daedalus twice removed, the author himself being nowhere, all of the characters being the protean authoriality (even the named author: that authorship), as if writing themselves for the pretentious author coping with being in our Time by troping a Creator (displacing authorial origin) which a reader needs for faith, concealing authorital Joy: The Author captured
at last? No, a chameleon playing for you.

So, I thought a few days ago, why not be happy about Bloomsday. Life’s short, texts can be immortal (e.g., life is an odyssey—such a worn-out trope). I am worthy of Bloomsday!—even though…well... Imagination can be merciless.