Joyce is not to be described by an etiquette or located within the four walls of any aesthetic creed. His logic is that of life and his inventions are organic necessities. His present work therefore, it seems to Me, is best understood by what has preceded it, his own in the first place and then its kindred among past productions.
His mediaeval Catholic affinities have been often indicated but while not denying the catholic-Irish element in Joyce —its universality and its passionate localism — I think I can see a kinship, equally authentic, with heathen Scandinavia. The whole of Joyce’s work has been hitherto one long celebration of the principal city of the Ostmen. (If tomorrow Dublin were spirited away it could be reconstructed out of “Ulysses“). His genius is theirs — adventurous, secular, and logical.
In the Edda we find the same sense of continuous creation as in Joyce’s Work in Progress. The world and the Gods were doomed but phoenix like they were to rise again. The Sun bore a daughter before the Wolf swallowed her. Vidor and Vali found on the grass the golden tables of the stricken gods and Thor’s hammer fell into the mighty hands of his two sons. Joyce writes: “The oaks of aid now they lie in peat yet elms leap where ashes lay. Phall if you but will, rise you must: and none so soon either shall the pharce for the nunce come to a set down secular phoenish.”
Joyce is at present reconquering and extending a poetic freedom partly usurped by the working intelligence. Human speech has always had two functions. It seems expedient that a number of men building a tower shall attach fixed meanings and logical relationships to the words they use but when not actually working, the words become as free as their users and are as able and willing to lay aside their union cards doll their overalls and dance. ln Work in Progress they are dancing new figures to a new tune. The Norse poet also was alive to the immense emotional force of indirect and allusive speech as a principle of leverage applied to the imagination. He called a Spade a Spade and a Ship a Ship when he was using the one or the other. But as a poet he loaded his song with Kennings so that the image of the thing besung might appear with new life out of the multicoloured mosaic of its attributes and associations.
The language and thought of Europe have since been enriched with ten centuries of cultural effort. Technical progress has brought the sundered tribes of Europe nearer together. Their interests interlock and their thought and speech inter penetrate in spite of wars and customs barriers. Joyce’s material is therefore infinitely richer and more varied. He has at his disposal all the legends not only of his own tribe but of all the human race, and he is surrounded by a- social organisation immeasurably vaster and more complex than that of viking Scandinavia. All languages and dialects are there for him to draw on at will and the shop talk of all trades and the slang of all towns. Like every great craftsman he freely makes use of all that he finds existing and adds thereto his own inventions. ln this connections it seems curious that the inventor of a wireless gadget or of a patent medicine may burden the dictionary with a new compound but that the poet shall be forbidden an expressive word because it has never been used before. For Joyce’s purpose no word is unpoetic —- none obsolete. Words fallen out of use are racial experience alive but unremembered. When in the poet’s imagination the past experience is relived the dormant word awakes to new life and the poet’s listeners are lifted out of their social, functional grooves and partake of the integral life of the race. The average literary snob would reject half the material that Joyce uses and no one but an artist of sovereign freedom and tireless logic could subdue such headstrong stuff to the purpose of his design.
Necessarily, for every one poetic device of the skald Joyce must have a hundred. The kenning was extensive. In every case the theme was expanded. Odin was the Wielder of Gungni; Thor, Hrungni’s bane, God of Goats, Hallower of Earth; Sleep, a parliament of dreams; the eye, a cauldron of tears; a ship, a plank bear, and so on. The object was imaginatively reborn in the light of each new name. The universality of Joyce’s theme dictates an intensive technique — a greater density of word texture. Meanings can no longer lie side by side. Here they overlap and there into one word he crowds a whole family of them. A letter added or left out the sound of a vowel or consonant modified — and a host of associations is admitted within the gates. And one letter may stand pregnant with meaning as a rune. Through this singular compactness a page of Joyce’s composition acquires some of the potency of a picture. The words seem to glitter with significance as they lie on the printed page. We speak i them and they flow like a river over our consciousness evoking images vivid and unexpected as those of a dream.
The Eddie poet tells us Odin had two ravens, Thought and Memory. He sent them out into the world every day ( ” and he loosed two croakers from under his tilt, the groud Phenician rover”}. Thought he loved, but if Memory came not back, how could he endure the loss? This expresses the normal human valuation. Next to the wish to live lies the wish to remember — after experiencing we want to possess ourselves of our experiences through memory. Modern art and modern psychology witness how strong is this urge in the individual. He recaptures for himself and hears from the lips of others the story of his earliest days. He pursues his dreams to the places where they hide, finds them and adopts them. I-le hates his drunken brother but pastes pictures of his grotesque antics in the family album. In Work in Progress the poet’s imagination seems one with racial memory. Human society in its groups, tribes, nations, races, searches the earth and its legends for the story ot its beginning. But it is not as an historical hypothesis that Joyce recreates for us the birth of the city (” Twiliby, Twillby “). The growth of the spoken and written word (” if you are abcedminded “)—— the invention of tools, born of“ Moppa Necessity mother of Injins” It is rather as if these things were personal experiences once forgotten and by a prodigious effort of memory brought to mind.
I see a large humanity in Joyce’s work. None of his contemporaries is so free from highbrow snobbishness and the superiority complex. The characters in Ulysses are of the common run of average humanity. Joyce didn’t find them at hunt balls, country house parties and the Chelsea Studios of millionaire dilettanti but in trams, pubs, shops and the common streets and houses where the mass of the people spend their lives. Ulysses is one day in a certain town but the Adventures of the living and thinking body are as understandable everywhere and at any time as music or a drawing.
And the persons in Work in Progress are as universal as the words through which they live. Adam and Eva, Cain and Abel, Michael and Lucifer, the god who walked in the Garden of Eden and his contemporaries who thundered from the skies of Greece and Scandinavia, the wandering brother of the wide open spaces and the brother of intellectual experiences – antagonistic and inseparable. They are the representative persons of the mind of the human race. The difficulty in entering into the imaginative world of Work in Progress lies in no unessential obscurity on Joyce’s part but in our own atrophied word sense due in large measure to the fact that our sensibilities have been steam—rollered flat by a vast hulk of machine made fiction. The reader is becoming rarer than the writer. The words of dead poets are read and confirmed like the minutes of the previous meeting, with perhaps the dissentient voice of one Scotch shareholder. Taken as read? Agreed. Agreed. (Sonnet 43, When most I wink”) But “Work in Progress” is obviously the next business on the agenda paper, and if the words of a contemporary are not as plain as a soap advertisement on a hoarding there is an outcry – as if no mystery in poetry had ever been. Every poet’s work has always presupposed the necessary religious and mythical knowledge on the part of his hearers and an active imagination to follow identity through change.
The Jute and Mutt dialogue (Transition Nr.1) besides being a passage of great beauty and a good example of Joyce’s recreation of our poetic tongue, is essentially northern in character. If stick and stone had speech to tell the story of more transient shapes this is surely their authentic utterance and this their unmistakeable character, humorous, harmless and if earthy. Only in the Edda where wise giant and Sybil and wiser god discuss the origin and destiny of the world do I find a similar sense of the mystery of creation, Mutt and Jute approach each other like the vast slow moving Figures on stilts fi out of some dreamt—of pantomine and their greetings are the purposeful and significant misunderstandings of slapstick comedians.
Jute: Are you Jeff?
Mutt: Some hards.
Jute: But you are not jeffmute?
Mutt: Noho. Only an utterer.
Jute: Whoa? Whoat is the mutter with you?
They mimic the tribute giving and taking of vanished generations as clowns holding the stage after the exit of great antagonists.
Jute: Let me cross your qualm with trink gilt. Here have sylvan coyne, a piece of oak.
Mutt: Louee, louee! How wooden I not know it, the intellible greyt—cloak of Cedric Silkyshag !… Here where the liveries, monomark. There where the missers mooney Minnikin passe.
The echo of the clamour of a great battle appears to them ghostlike.
Mutt: Just how a puddinstone inat the brook cells by a river pool.
Jute: Load Allmarshy! Wid wad for a Norse like?
Mutt: Somular with a bull on a clompturf. Rooks roarum rex roome! I could snore to him of the spumy horn, with his woolseley side in, by the neck I am sutton on, did Brian d’ of Linn.
Shapes of land and water moulded by elemental forces, compel, in their turn, the placing of cities and habitations of mankind. Mutt calls Jute to witness: —
“Walk a dun blink round this allbutisle and you skull see how olde ye plaine of my Elters, hunfree and ours, where wone to wail whimbrel to peewee o’er the saltings, where wilby citie by law of isthmon, where by a droit of signory, icefloe was from his Inn the Byggning to whose Finishthere Punct.”
And further he sees a thousand years of human destinies crowded into the silence and fury of a snowstorm on a river: —
“Countlessness of live stories have nether fallen by this plage, flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft, like a waast wizzard all of whirlworlds. Now are all tombed to the mound, isges to isges, erde from erde. Pride, O pride, thy prize !”
Settler and raider lie buried together and out of their dust arise new forms of life: —
Mutt: Meldundleize ! And thanacestross mound have swollup them all. This ourth of years is not save brickdust and being humus the same roturns. He who runes may rede it on all fours.
And as the unwilling Sybil sinks to the underworld and the old giant forfeits his wagered head and the god departs, so the familiar spirits of this river valley become again silent and immobile.
Mutt: Ore you astonaged, jute you?
Jute: Oye am thonthorstrok, thing mud.
The Scandinavian poet treated his gods familiarly as being human like himself. Joyce does the same; and singularly enough the similarity extends to their special treatment of the thunder god. Loki flouts each brother and sister deity in turn. He derides the cowardice of the brave, confounds the virtuous with their vices and jeers at the peacemaker for his fruitless meddling. The entry of the thunder god silences him. ” For I know that thou wilt strike”. In Ulysses the thunder god, disguised as phenomenon, interrupts a discussion on birth control with similar effect. His role in “Work in Progress” is still more important. Here he is ever present, woven as a coloured strand in a tapestry, side by side with all other elemental human values. Fear of a soaking, fear, at most, of a lightning struck chimney pot or doubt as to the efficiency of a lightning conductors is all that most of us are capable of experiencing at the approach of a _ thunderstorm. But we may be sure that Thor was a living god before he got pensioned off as a myth. We hear him in Work in Progress, as in the Edda, the friend and affrighter of man, present at the origins of human society as the inspirer of that fear which is the beginning of wisdom.
The many names and states of Mr. Earwicker recall those of Odin with his legion of names — Grimni at Geirrod`s, Vali father on the battlefield, Ygg on the scalfold, Bolverk on the harvest field, Gangleri going up and down the world observing and learning Out of his own labour and a woman’s sufferings he got the gift of song. He learned how to get off with women and how to get on with them, how to drink ale with friends, when to speak and when to be silent and he passed on his knowledge to his juniors. In his multiple personality and his sum of human experience Mr. Earwicker is of Odin’s kin. But Odin feels mental and physical pain. He loses an eye and he hangs nine nights on a wind-swept tree, offered, a sacrifice, himself to himself. In Joyce’s intensely bright composition all human experience is transposed into a key of glittering humour which is the essential province of the intelligence. He discovers in and extracts out of every phase of human experience its intelligent counterpart as a painter distils out of his motive its essence of colour.
Work in Progress gives a bird’s eye view of the time landscape. We see it all at once — as in a section of Earth laid bare by a landslide we see the changes ofa million years lying exposed in a few square feet.
I walked with Mr. Bloom, pro temtraveller in Space-time over Essex Bridge, Sat with him eating liver and bacon in the Ormond hotel, heard with him the Clock Strike nine, stood guard over Stephen and went home with him. In Work in Progress it is I alone who am compelled ideally to move from the Garden of Eden to Eden Quay in the turn of a word those Elements which are the personages of Joyce’s book being appropriately present anywhere at any time.
Thus the beginning of the world and the events of today may lie side by side embedded in the rhythm of last year’s catch phrase (” Ere beam slewed cable or Derzherr, live wire, fired Benjermine Funkling outa th’ Empyre, Sin righthand Son”). Ancient fable and new fact —— starting point and goal become one. Dramatic conflict in its sexual, racial, social manifestations is presented as implicit in its characteristic sign, —
construct ann aquilittoral dry ankle”.
Whatever the elements brought together they have the rightness of a dream wherein all things we ever knew or experienced occur not in their time sequence but according to their necessary importance in the pattern dictated by the dream’s own purpose and logic. And this I take to be the key to the understanding of Work in Progress and the secret of its peculiar beauty. In Ulysses is the life — real life? Of day; here the reality a super reality — of night. The liver and bacon that Bloom ate was limited – not alluring perhaps, but smellable, tasteable and filling, whereas the vast appetite of Shaun is fed on mountains of provoking but unsubstantial food.”While the loaves are aflowering and the nachtingale jugs.” And there is abundant refreshment for the mourners at Finnegan’s wake but they are warned. ” But, lo, as you would quaffoff his fraudstuff and sink teeth through that pyth of a flowerwhite bodey, behold of him as behemoth for he is nowhemoe”, Joyce has penetrated into the nightmind of man, his timeless existence in sleep, his incommunicable experiences in dreams. He is under the spell neither of sleep nor dream but in this vast unexplored province he has found the material with which he is writing the life and adventures of the human mind.