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Joyce, James

Category: Genius

James Joyce (1882 – 1941) was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegan's Wake (1939). He also wrote three books of poetry and a play. In his early twenties, he emigrated permanently to continental Europe, living in Trieste, Paris and Zurich, but he wrote only of his native Dublin.

During his life, he was supported by his faithful wife Nora, his lifelong friend Frank Budgen, whose opinion Joyce constantly sought through the writing of Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake; and Ezra Pound who brought him to the attention of English publisher Harriet Shaw Weaver. Weaver became Joyce's patron, providing him with thousands of pounds, relieving him of the burden of teaching in order to focus on his writing. In Paris, Maria and Eugene Jolas nursed Joyce during his long years of writing Finnegan's Wake. Were it not for their support (along with Harriet Shaw Weaver's constant financial support), there is a good possibility that his books might never have been finished or published.

James and Nora, 1904.

Joyce was born into a middle class family, where he excelled as a student at the Jesuit schools Clongowes and Belvedere, then at University College Dublin. Both his parents were Catholic, his mother in particular was extremely devout, but Joyce rejected Catholicism very early on. Joyce said

My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity—home, the recognised virtues, classes of life, and religious doctrines. [...] Six years ago I left the Catholic church, hating it most fervently. I found it impossible for me to remain in it on account of the impulses of my nature. I made secret war upon it when I was a student and declined to accept the positions it offered me. By doing this I made myself a beggar, but I retained my pride. Now I make open war upon it by what I write and say and do.

His brother, who also broke away from Catholicism later, added

...My brother’s [James] breakaway from Catholicism was due to other motives [than his own]. He felt it was imperative that he should save his real spiritual life from being overlaid and crushed by a false one that he had outgrown. He believed that poets in the measure of their gifts and personality were the repositories of the genuine spiritual life of their race and the priests were usurpers. He detested falsity and believed in individual freedom more thoroughly than any man I have ever known.

There seems to be some sort of belief that Joyce had not really rejected Catholicism, but those who have this view mistake his spiritual leanings and awakening with religion. Joyce was spiritual but not religious. The spiritual understanding he had is evident in all his major works

Dubliners – was an early volume of short stories. The stories incorporate 'epiphanies', a word used frequently by Joyce.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - is partly autobiographical, depicting the childhood and adolescence of Stephen Dedalus [Joyce] . In this book Joyce starts to explore styles he was to use almost exclusively in later books - stream of consciousness, interior monologue, and symbolic references. Daedulus was Greek and is first mentioned by Homer as the creator of a wide dancing-ground for Ariadne. He also created the Labyrinth on Crete, in which the Minotaur (part man, part bull) was kept. In the story of the labyrinth Hellenes told, the Athenian hero Theseus is challenged to kill the Minotaur, finding his way with the help of Ariadne's thread. I hope the symbolism of this is apparent – Joyce had started on his first attempt to weave an intricate little puzzle for us. He also appears to have understood something of his destiny in doing this

Ulysses – work started on Ulysses in 1914, but it was not completed until October, 1921. Thanks to Ezra Pound, serial publication of the novel in the magazine The Little Review began in 1918. Serialisation was halted in 1920 when the editors were convicted of publishing obscenity as a consequence of the “Nausicaä” episode of Ulysses. The novel was not published in the United States until 1933. Numerous copies were over time seized and destroyed by both the UK and USA authorities.

In Ulysses, Joyce again employs stream of consciousness. The action of the novel, which takes place in a single day, 16 June 1904, sets the characters and incidents of the Odyssey of Homer in modern Dublin and represents Odysseus (Ulysses), Penelope and Telemachus in the characters of Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus.

Homer and the Odyssey is the story of a spiritual journey, thus Joyce was borrowing from the idea of the hero's path to awakening. He seems to also be using the Hours [Hours and the Four Seasons] as a symbolic reference, but his day is only 18 hours, meaning at the time he did not see the journey as 'complete'. The book consists of 18 chapters, each covering roughly one hour of the day, beginning around 8 a.m. [Dawn] and ending some time after 2 a.m. the following morning [just after Midnight]. Each chapter is associated with a specific colour, art or science, and bodily organ thus using the symbolism of correspondences as well as the belief in the rise of energy round the body [which culminates in the opening of the crown chakra]. The use of classical mythology as an organising framework, the near-obsessive focus on external detail, and the occurrence of significant action within the minds of characters, make it a unique work.

Clockwise: James, Giorgio, Nora and Lucia Joyce (Paris,1924)

Finnegan's Wake – by 1926 Joyce had completed the first two parts of the book. In that year, he met Eugene and Maria Jolas who offered to serialise the book in their magazine. For the next few years, Joyce worked rapidly on the new book, but in the 1930s, progress slowed considerably. This was due to a number of factors, including the death of his father in 1931, concern over the mental health of his daughter Lucia and his own health problems, including failing eyesight. Much of the work was done with the assistance of younger admirers, including Samuel Beckett. Reaction to the work was mixed, including negative comment from early supporters of Joyce's work, such as Pound and the author's brother, Stanislaus.. Finnegan's Wake was published in book form on 4 May 1939. More negative comments followed

Joyce's method of stream of consciousness, literary allusions and free dream associations was pushed to the limit in Finnegan's Wake, which abandoned all conventions of plot and character construction and is written in “a peculiar and obscure language, based mainly on complex multi-level puns”.

I think it is important to understand here that what Joyce was writing was what he was receiving. This was about as pure an expression of inspiration as you are likely to ever get. Puns are a speciality of the spiritual world; spirit helpers and our own Higher spirit do not communicate in language, they communicate in symbols and plays on words. Joyce wrote down what he received. It was his work because it was his Higher spirit doing the communicating, but the communication is pure. Nowhere else is there, as far as I am aware, so complete and unadulterated example of genuine spirit communication.

Compare the communication received by Edgar Cayce and you will see a similar pattern. Language means nothing in the spirit world, so you are as likely to get words from all sorts of languages.  The spirit world uses words as if they were pictures.

Much of the wordplay in Ulysses stems from the use of multilingual puns, which draw on a wide range of languages.

Where did Joyce get this inspiration? In part it was inherited genes, but his door was kicked open very early on by the traumas caused within his family, mostly his father who was prone to drunken rages, and black moods and who eventually became bankrupt. His mother suffered both verbal and physical abuse from his father. A family retainer taught Joyce to read at an early age, but according to Joyce's brother also inculcated the 'religion of terrorism' that left permanent scars. Joyce, like his father became a heavy drinker.

In 1902, when Joyce was 20 his mother died of cancer. 'Fearing for her son's impiety', his mother tried unsuccessfully to get Joyce to make his confession and to take communion. She finally passed into a coma and died on 13 August, James and his brother Stanislaus having refused to kneel with other members of the family praying at her bedside.  After her death, he continued to drink heavily, and conditions at home grew quite appalling. His drinking became a lifelong problem. Joyce once described himself to C G Jung as “a man of small virtue, inclined to extravagance and alcoholism”.

But worse was yet to come. Joyce, according to his friends, had a penchant for 'wenching' in Dublin's red light district – Night town.

In the course of a nocturnal encounter with the reality of experience, I appear to have acquired the malady described by Galen. I have been urinating fish hooks all weeks

Joyce caught gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea (colloquially known as the clap) is a common human sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The usual symptoms in men are burning with urination and penile discharge.

The treatment in Joyce's day was a wash with Potassium permanganate – which apparently helped, but from later events did not help enough.

Nora Barnacle

 

A few months after this course of treatment, Joyce met Nora Barnacle described as 'auburn haired and earthy', she was a chambermaid in one of the Dublin hotels. Their first date was on June 16th 1904 which Joyce immortalised as Bloomsday, the date on which Ulysses is set. “The occasion was especially memorable for Joyce as she performed a manual labour of love”[wise woman].

Nora was the perfect match for Joyce, she is the model for Molly Bloom. Joyce and Nora eloped to Europe not long after.

But from this point on Joyce, despite support from his brother and Nora, started to suffer terrible bouts of illness, polyarthritis and iritis, as well as sensitivity to light. His iritis was so bad and painful, that leeches were applied to his eyes to reduce the swelling. He had arthritis, back pain and gradually, very gradually, lost his sight.

According to the reports 'the best explanation for Joyce's complex illnesses is an autoimmune reaction triggered by genital infection – Chlamydia or some other bacteria.

His eye problems might be classified today as hyperacute conjunctivitis and this can be caused by both chlamidia and the bacteria of gonorrhea.

Bacterial conjunctivitis causes the rapid onset of conjunctival redness, swelling of the eyelid, and mucopurulent discharge. .... Common bacteria responsible for non-acute bacterial conjunctivitis are Staphylococci and Streptococci, however, bacteria such as Chlamydia trachomatis or Moraxella can cause persistent conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis may cause the production of membranes or pseudomembranes that cover the conjunctiva. Cases of bacterial conjunctivitis that involve the production of membranes or pseudomembranes are associated with Neisseria gonorrhoeae, hemolytic streptococci, and C. Diphtheriae. The most common cause of viral conjunctivitis is adenoviruses. Herpetic keratoconjunctivitis (caused by herpes simplex viruses) can be serious. Though very rare, hyperacute cases are usually caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae or N. meningitidis.”

So whatever sexually transmitted diseases Joyce picked up, they lay untreated and eventually caused him untold agony later in life. They also seemed to have affected Nora [although Nora appears to have got off relatively unscathed by her use of anal sex and hand jobs] and their child Lucia who was diagnosed as mentally ill.

Joyce was treated by Dr Louis Borsch in Paris, undergoing nine operations from him until Borsch's death in 1929. Throughout the 1930s he travelled frequently to Switzerland for eye surgery. It did not really help. He had several attacks of glaucoma including one so sudden and severe that he collapsed from the pain in a street. He had to have part of the iris removed and was traumatised by the operation. It was during these intense painful episodes of iritis and amidst the pain that accompanied them, that Joyce wrote Ulysses. He spent five weeks in a darkened room at one stage and even used cocaine eye drops [they probably made the condition worse].

James and Nora.

More leeches on the eye followed and yet more surgery until he was blind in one eye. He had to wear thick spectacles to compensate for his mangled lens.  Almost unable to see he started Finnigan's wake. Joyce scribbled in giant letters, used a magnifying glass, working long hours.  His weight fell to 112 pounds [he was 6ft tall]. He was treated with arsenic.

He had one more operation, his eleventh, in May 1930 by a renowned Swiss surgeon Alfred Vogt, by then his left eye was functionally blind and with his right he could only see large print an inch from his eye. Even after the operation, the eye deteriorated again, Joyce could face no more operations.

Joyce returned to Zurich in late 1940, fleeing the Nazi occupation of France. On 11 January 1941, he underwent surgery in Zurich, for a perforated ulcer. While he at first improved, he relapsed the following day, and despite several transfusions, fell into a coma. He awoke at 2 a.m. on 13 January 1941, and asked for a nurse to call his wife and son before losing consciousness again. They were still on their way when he died 15 minutes later.

... In a development Joyce would have loved, the reading of Finnigan's Wake has become a cult activity. Small groups, ideally with members from many backgrounds and fluent in different languages, meet weekly in an Irish pub to pour over Wake, a page at a session, reading it aloud as Joyce intended. In the many years it takes to complete this, some drop out and others join, and when the end is reached, the group starts over again at the beginning”.

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