It was with considerable trepidation that I opened the pages ofthe new work by Mr. James Joyce. Upon finishing Ulysses it had seemed to me unlikely that a man could go much further in literature, After all Ulysses was making literature wear seven league boots and having to take considerable in its stride at that. So when I began to read this new volume, and found what seemed pages of madness I was not surprised, I was ready to believe it the madness not of the lunatic asylum but of a man whose sensibilities along certain lines have been developed far beyond those of his readers and who is therefore unintelligible to them.
I had hoped that Mr. Joyce might have brought his extremely interesting idea of presenting a character in the light of his emotions, his actions, and his stream of consciouness, to a greater perfection of handling, but I was ready to sit at his feet for any further word that the writer of Ulysses might have to say. So that my trepidation developed into definite disappointment as I tried to penetrate the maze of printing that Mr. Joyce would evidently have us regard as a serious work.
For he appears to have entirely abandoned the height of his great argument to toy with an idea not new, but never I believe carried out to this extent, of making words serve as music and letting their sound convey a meaning quite apart from the actual specific meaning of each word. Miss Gertrude Stein has experimented along this line but up to the present she has contented herself with the quite simple madness that one can produce with already existing words. Mr. Joyce however has gone her one better and invented his own words if you can dignify them by that name.
Now there is no doubt that so far as reading words for sound is concerned we are but simple cave men with only the most elemental ideas of what might constitute rhythm, tone, and expression so it is extremely difhcult for a reader, in the folk tune stage of development to be faced with a literary Sacre du Printemps for full orchestra. One can but struggle. And in this case as you read on and on you have the sensation gadually increasing, of a temperature risen to meningital heights and you feel that by the end of another page you will have joined the coverlet pickers.
Whether or not a public can ever be trained to absorb this kind of thing seems to me extremely doubtful. The sort of person who will spend time in the exercise of a new set of muscles such, for instance, as for ear wagging, might be interested in developing a new set of brain or reciving cells, always supposing such cells exist.
After a few minutes of reading I tried to erase from my – consciousness the knowledge that the book bore so significant a name as that of James Joyce. I tried to put myself in the place of, say, the dentist’s waiting room reader, who will bury himselfin any bit of printed matter, from Archaeology to steam fitting, to escape the acute apprehension of his impending doom. After a half hours reading from that angle I came to the conclusion that I should think the book written by a clever rogue with a somewhat Rabelasian tongue in his cheek. For if one abandons the search for beauty of sound in this work one is struck by a certain significance in this method of shading off actual words and inventing others. Is Mr. Joyce’s hog latin making obscenity safe for literature?
Or is he like an enormously clever little boy trying to see how far he can go with his public? Did he write this book while balancing a lamp on a whip with the other hand, or is he the Milhaud or Honegger of literature?
It is to be hoped that Mr. Joyce who is so profoundly respected and has been so ardently followed by the youth of his generation, is not turning on his current to make the animals jump instead of to shed further illumination on the paths of his real readers.