Saturday, 26 March 2011

Wandering exiles, Joyce's Dyoublong & custard pie

O'Connell Bridge and Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street), Dublin circa 1900

"So this is Dyoublong?"    [Finnegan's Wake]

I once had a long conversation in a bar in Paris with a man from Lithuania. We talked just for the sake of it, and because we were both fairly drunk, exchanging lies and anecdotes about our various travels. He was an educated man who spoke four or five languages, though, as I impertinently pointed out to him, he wouldn’t get far in the world if he only spoke Lithuanian. 

Among the many things he spoke of was his great admiration for James Joyce, who he lauded as the funniest man that ever lived, and his ambition was to go to Dublin and follow in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. I’ve seen the bronze pavement plaques on the streets in Dublin marking the lunchtime route that Bloom took from the Evening Telegraph office on Prince‘s Street to the National Library, where Stephen Dedalus holds forth his theory that Hamlet reflects Shakespeare’s rage at being cuckolded. I have also been in the alley off O’Connell Street where Bloom placed his ad in Freeman’s Urinal and Weekly Arsewiper, but have never done, or wanted to do, the full odyssey.

Ulysses is undoubtedly the most celebrated novel in English of the twentieth century, but how many people, I wonder, who set out to read it, get further than the first two pages? And of those who manage to read it from cover to cover, how many actually enjoy it? And of those who say that they did enjoy it, how many enjoyed it as much as they say they did? Not many, I’ll bet. I read it once, and at times it was like running a literary marathon, though very funny in parts. But I couldn’t manage Samuel Beckett’s The Unnameable (known as The Unreadable), the 200 page monologue delivered by a man with no limbs who lives in a bin outside a restaurant. It ends with the words I can’t go on, you must go on, I’ll go on. Well I couldn’t! Maybe because I couldn’t understand it. We can’t understand everything, after all. I once had a girlfriend who thought Led Zeppelin’s Custard Pie was a song about custard pie.

Entrance to 7 Eccles Street,
home of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses
Joyce has become the tourist attraction of Dublin. There are two Joyce museums: the James Joyce Centre at 35 North Great George’s Street, at which is preserved the front door of 7 Eccles Street; and the Joyce Museum in Sandycove to the south of Dublin. This latter has real importance in the biography of Joyce as it was an incident here in 1904 that precipitated our hero’s hasty departure from Ireland with Nora Barnacle - who it is said stuck with him throughout - and supplied the opening chapter of Ulysses. I’ve visited both in my aimless trampings around Dublin. At both places there were no other visitors, so I guess the curators could have the best jobs in the world. Ticket inspectors without the tedium of inspecting tickets.

Ulysses ends with Molly’s long monologue (yet another one!) which Joyce wrote without any punctuation, as this was how Nora wrote him in her letters. There’s an amusing anecdote about it. Apparently the eminent Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung read it and wrote Joyce telling him that it had taught him a lot about women. Joyce was flattered by this and never wearied of repeating it to his friends. But when Nora was asked she reportedly replied: “He knew nothing about women!” Good old Nora!

I don’t know if my Lithuanian ever got to Joyce's Dyoublong, but he probably did. There seemed to be something of the wandering exile about him, someone who believed that settlement was unnatural, against God’s holy law, so he just had to keep moving. And so I’m sure he will have made it. Though it doesn’t really matter if he didn’t.

College Green leading to Trinity College, circa 1900.
'His smile faded as he walked, a heavy cloud hiding the sun, 
slowly shadowing Trinity's surly front. Trams passed one another, ingoing, outgoing, clanging. Useless words. Things go on same, 
day after day'.

College Green, Dublin (circa 1900)
Here Joyce got into a fight and was saved by a man called Hunter.
The episode was adapted for Ulysses with Stephen Dedalus as Joyce and Bloom as Hunter.

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