Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

Coincidences No. 114 & 115

WordPress is telling me I registered with it 14 years ago – digital time flies. To mark the occasion here’s one of those word coincidences we all have. The word is ‘helpmeet’ – “A helpful partner, particularly a spouse.” It comes from the Bible, in the King James’ version: “an helpe meet” for Adam i.e. Eve (Genesis 2:18). So this also marks the occasion of my Silver Wedding Anniversary this week. I always associate “helpmeet” with Eve in the Old Testament.

Now I haven’t thought about the word ‘helpmeet’, or even the more common ‘helpmate’, in many a year. But it cropped up twice today before 8.00am.

I am writing in my Faber & Faber Poetry Diary 2020. Opposite today’s date is a poem by Julia Copus, ‘Lacan Appeals to the Patient’. It has the line:

Beyond the clayey dark your helpmeet is waiting. 

It is clear this particular helpmeet is masculine and I think it refers to the sculptor in the poem which I understand to be the Creator, perhaps God, perhaps some other kind of artist or higher being. The name Adam means ‘red earth’ or perhaps ‘red clay’. It is the substance God moulded the First Man from in the Bible and this poem is about the shaping of “one’s selfhood”.

Started during lockdown, I am now up to page 242 of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Today’s page contains this line:

Helpmeat too, contrasta toga, his fiery goosemother, laotsey taotsey, woman who did, he tell princes of the age about.

To be honest I’m a bit lost in this chapter – it’s about the three children in the story, two brothers (a bit like Cain and Abel from Genesis) and a sister. It has a lot of references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes, hence “fiery goosemother” = fairy godmother meets goosey goosey gander. “laotsey taotsey” may echo ‘goosey goosey’. “Fiery” may relate to the fact that one of the brothers (the one this sentence is about, I think) is associated with the devil. “Helpmeat” will be a deliberate pun/misspelling as that is the nature of the novel. I’m fairly sure it is referencing biblical Eve. Joyce had a strong Eve character in his own life – his wife Nora Barnacle from Galway. What the woman “did” I’m not sure, but it might include eating the forbidden fruit. The man might well find that something to tell princes and others about. 

“laotsey” is a reference to Lao-tse, the ancient Chinese philosopher and central figure in Taoism. The Woman Who Did is a Victorian novel (1895) by Grant Allen. “taotsey” may be related to ‘tutti’ type words i.e. ‘all’. Finnegans Wake is constructed from such layers of meaning and reference. The trick with both Finnegans Wake and Ulysses is not to get too hung up on understanding every word. 

1st (trade) edition, Faber & Faber, London, 1939

My edition of Finnegans Wake is a Penguin Modern Classic. But of course the original publication was by the bold, Modernist Faber & Faber. So that is Coincidence No. 115.

Simple Pleasures of Summer

From Summer by Ali Smith, published this month, the fourth of her seasons series. I picked the quotation out for its reference to Simple Pleasures.

This section is from just after the bit where this lane with its grassline down the middle appears

What a great thing it must be, to be able to make a seat like that look so good.
The best thing is, it’ll last, he says. Decades. Simple pleasures.
Simple pleasures, she says. I was just walking along thinking about them. Well, about how I tend to wish pleasures were a lot simpler than they end up being.
He laughs.
He licks the cigarette paper along its edge.
Uh huh? he says.
Oh, you know, she says. How even when things are lovely it’s like we can’t help blocking them from ourselves. What a lovely summer it is and how, it’s like, no matter what we do, we can’t get near its loveliness.

This links to another key paragraph set along the lane in the image above:

The briefest and slipperiest of the seasons, the one that won’t be held to account – because summer won’t be held at all, except in bits, fragments, moments, flashes of memory of so-called or imagined perfect summers, summers that never existed.
Not even this one she’s in exists. Even though it’s apparently the best summer so far of the century. Not even when she is quite literally walking down a road as beautiful and archetypal as this through an actual perfect summer afternoon.
So we mourn it while we’re in it. Look at me walking down the road in summer thinking about the transience of summer.
Even while I’m right at the heart of it I just can’t get to the heart of it.

I call this the Beauty Stab.

Schema for Ulysses

To mark Bloomsday 2020 (or Zoomsday as it has widely become known due to Corona Lockdown circumstances this year) I’ve decided to publish Joyce’s 1921 schema for the novel (largely for my own convenient reference).

Title Scene Hour Organ Colour Symbol Art Techniq-ue
1

Telemac-hus

The Tower (Sandycove) 8am White & gold Heir Theology Narrative (young)
2

Nestor

The School 10am Brown Horse History Catechism (personal)
3

Proteus

The Strand

(Sandymount strand)

11am Green Tide Philology Monologue (male)
4

Calypso

The House

(Eccles St)

8am Kidney Orange Nymph Economics Narrative (mature)
5

Lotus Eaters

The Bath 10am Genitals Eucharist Botany & chemistry Narcissism
6

Hades

The Graveyard

(Glasnevin)

11am Heart White & black Caretaker Religion Incubism
7

Aeolus

The Newspaper 12 noon Lungs Red Editor Rhetoric Enthymemic
8

Lestrygo-nians

The Lunch 1pm Oesophagus Constables Architecture Peristaltic
9

Scylla & Chary-bdis

The Library

(National Library)

2pm Brain Stratford & London Literature Dialectic
10

Wanderi-ng Rocks

The Streets 3pm Blood Citizens Mechanics Labyrinth
11

Sirens

The Concert Room

(Ormond Hotel)

4pm Ear (Gold & Bronze) Barmaids Music Fuga per canonem
12

Cyclops

The Tavern 5pm Muscle Fenian Politics Gigantism
13

Nausica-a

The Rocks

(Sandymount strand)

8pm Eye, nose Grey & blue Virgin Painting Tumescence / detumescence
14

Oxen of the Sun

The Hospital (Holles St) 10pm Womb White Mothers Medicine Embryonic development
15

Circe

The Brothel 12am Locomotor apparatus Whore Magic Hallucination
16

Eumaeu-s

The Shelter 1am Nerves Sailors Navigation Narrative (old)
17

Ithaca

The House

(Eccles St)

2am Skeleton Comets Science Catechism (impersonal)
18

Penelop-e

The Bed

(Eccles St)

Flesh Earth Monologue (female)

We had a three hour reading session on Zoom at sundown with a reading from each chapter, we being the Charles Peake Ulysses Seminar of the University of London/Senate House. I read a section from Ithaca in which our protagonists, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, have a piss out back of the latter’s house after a night on the town.

Screenshot 2020-06-16 18.09.59

I re-started my third reading of the book today to mark the occasion. My plan is to keep reading it on an endless cycle until I drop into the black hole myself.

Then they follow: dropping into a hole one after the other.

[Hades]

My Ulysses library copies editions book james joyce

A big chunk of my Ulysses library

In the Wake of Waking Up

I’m writing this after having just finished an online session about the Sirens chapter of Ulysses with the Charles Peake Seminar group – it’s the chapter centred on music. I switched straight from that which finished at 8pm to a live online gig from the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin by Iarla O Leonaird (singer in Gaelic) & Steve Cooney (guitar player) which started at 8pm. Music is a Big Thing for Joyce – this morning I got to The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly at the end of the second chapter of Finnegans Wake, marking the culmination of the rumours about HCE’s shameful act, fixing that moment for the long term in folksong. It actually opens with musical staves and notes, underlining the collagey, encyclopedic and scrapbooky nature of the Wake.

Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And he curled up like Lord Olofa Crumple
At the butt of the Magazine Wall,
The Magazine Wall,
Hump, helmet and all?

He was one time our King of the Castle
Now he’s kicked about like a rotten old parsnip.
And from Green street he’ll be sent by order of His Worship
To the penal jail of Mountjoy
To the jail of Mountjoy!
Jail him and joy.

I noticed this morning after finishing this section and the couple of pages before it that when I went to read another (conventional) novel it took a good few minutes to go back to conventional reading – you get into a different mode of reading and thinking when immersed in the Wake. It was a really interesting reading experience. The way you read the Wake is more engaged, playful and energetic than normal reading.

I want to finish off this second post by starting a couple of lists. The central character, HCE, has his initials explained in a number of ways in the book and I want to start capturing them:

  • Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (p30) – see last post
  • Howth Castle and Environs (3) = 1st line of the novel, a key location in both the Wake and Ulysses
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (a section published in 1930 as part of Work in Progress) = Adam, father of mankind
  • humile, commune and ensectuous (29)
  • Here Comes Everybody (32) = Everyman
  • habituels conspicuously emergent (33)
  • He’ll Cheat E’erawan (46) = a sinful fella

HCE Group-Logo-Landscape-Colour

Another list I want to begin here is one of all the different ways Joyce refers to the city at the heart of the novel (as with Ulysses) – Dublin:

  • Dabblin (p16)
  • (Brian) d’ of Linn (17)
  • dun blink (17)
  • durblin (19)
  • Devlin (24)
  • Dumbaling (34)
  • Poolblack (35) = Dub/black Lin/Pool : dubh linn (Gaelic) black pool

phoenix-park map finnegans wake

The focus of Wake’s Dublin

(I’ll keep building these lists as I read through.)

 

Waking Up

My favourite book is Ulysses by James Joyce. I first read (most of it) at university, completed it six years later. By that time it resonated far more for me – I’d got to know and love Ireland in the interim. It has a reputation for being difficult but once you let go a bit and let it flow over you to some extent it becomes both readable and enjoyable. It feels to me like it’s about everything.

finnegans wake james joyce book novel

Inevitably after a few years the thought occurred to read Joyce’s follow-up, Finnegans Wake. In November 2017 I bought myself a copy of A Shorter Finnegans Wake, edited by Anthony Burgess. The longer original seemed so intimidating that I felt this attractive slimmish Faber volume might be the route in. But on opening to the first page it looked absolutely unreadable. A codebook with no key. Like nothing I’d ever seen, apart from perhaps the most obscure, chaotic parts of Ulysses – reminiscent but far more convoluted.

At the beginning of 2018, on 5th January, I joined the Charles Peake Seminar at the University of London, a monthly gathering at Senate House of mainly academics close-reading Ulysses, which I’d first been told about years before by Fritz Senn, the director of the James Joyce Institute in Zurich. “Good timing”, the person beside me whispered, “we’re just starting a new chapter!” I wasn’t particularly impressed until it came to light that the last one had taken 5 years. We’re talking close reading here.

We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

One of the regular attendees at the Charles Peake was Finn Fordham from Royal Holloway who led another sister seminar on Finnegans Wake, also monthly, same place. He persuaded me to try it out, reassuring me that it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the book. My first session was on 23rd February 2018. we were on page 538. Now we’re on page 547. Two and a bit years to cover 9 pages!

But these two years proved crucial. A few weeks ago, during the Coronavirus lockdown, our seminar having shifted online for now and doubled in frequency through demand and enthusiasm, I realised, after a particularly enjoyable session, looking back to page 1 that I could now read what once seemed unreadable. On 26th April (2020) I embarked on the journey through the Wake. Reading at least a couple of pages every day, usually to get my day under way, I have now read the first couple of chapters, the first 50 pages, in half a month.

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

I’m glad to get a name-check in the opening line. The central character is HCE. By my reading so far HCE is Adam (among others). HCE is a man who has a great fall by committing a sin in a garden or park, Phoenix Park in Dublin. It involves sex and breaking the law. He might have been exposing himself to some young ladies or wanking in a hidden place. He may have been frolicking with some soldiers. His crime changes with each telling. Rumours abound. HCE stands, we are told at the start of Chapter 2, for Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Humphrey connects him to another bad egg (or ego) who had a great fall, Humpty Dumpty. Chimpden is a reminder that we are but bald apes. Earwicker renders him/us lower, creepy weird insects (earwigs). But at the same time HCE is also some kind of a king. This is the night book to Ulysses‘ book of a single day around Dublin city. This one takes us to dawn through the obscurity and dream-world of a typically chaotic, but not without pattern, human sleep. Humphrey becomes Humpty becomes Adam becomes Everyman, struggling with identity, guilt and self-justification, interacting with a family equally fluid, in a language playful, funny, obscure, frustrating, innovative and plumbing the depths for things that don’t really want to come to light…

James Joyce portrait Irish writer novelist

To see or not to see, that is the question

 

19 years and counting

Our book group started in November 2001 with much the same personnel as we have now (lost one or two along the way with moves out of town etc., added one or two to bring fresh blood). I’ve ended up being the one archiving the titles read so here is the last two years’ worth since I last made a record in December 2017.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer book novel cover design

  • Fire & Fury by Michael Wolff – Feb 2018
  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens – Mar 2018
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – Apr 2018
  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid – June 2018
  • The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Hollinghurst – Sept 2018
  • Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor – Oct 2018
  • Arno Geiger – The Old King in his Exile (Oct-Nov 2018)
  • Ann Tyler – Back when we were grown-ups (Dec-Jan 2019)
  • Crudo – Olivia Laing (Jan-Feb 2019)
  • I Served The King of England by Bohumil Hrabal (Mar-Apr 2019)
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Apr-May 2019)
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (June-Aug 2019) [my choice]
  • To Calais, in ordinary time – James Meek (Sep-Oct 2019)
  • The Unwomanly Face of War – Svetlana Alexievich (Nov-Dec 2019)
  • Karoo – Steve Tesich (Dec-Jan 2020)
  • Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Feb-Mar 2020)
  • A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke (March 2020)
  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (April 2020)

To Calais, in ordinary time – James Meek book novel cover design

A fine plague book

 

The Plague 2

So I am still ploughing my way through Albert Camus’ 1947 novel The Plague / La Peste. I am not rushing, savouring it – got plenty of time on my hands! The parallels continue to resonate. So here’s picking up from my first post on the subject…

la peste the plague albert camus 1947 1971 novel le livre de poche

I recently acquired this 1971 copy of a 1966 edition

[Sunday posting] “Only as the sermon proceeded did it become apparent to the congregation that, by a skilful oratorical device, Father Paneloux had launched at them, like a fisticuff, the gist of his whole discourse. After launching it he went on at once to quote a text from Exodus relating to the plague of Egypt, and said: “The first time this scourge appears in history it was wielded to strike down the enemies of God. Pharaoh set himself up against the divine will, and the plague beat him to his knees. Thus from the dawn of recorded history the scourge of God has humbled the proud of heart and laid low those who hardened themselves against Him. Ponder this well, my friends, and fall on your knees.”

“ ‘Ah, if only it had been an earthquake! A good bad shock, and there you are! You count the dead and living, and that’s an end of it. But this here blasted disease – even them as haven’t got it can’t think of anything else.’ ”

[on the day of the UK Government’s first daily Coronavirus news conference] “a new paper has been launched, The Plague Chronicle, which sets out “to inform our townspeople, with scrupulous veracity, of the daily progress or recession of the disease; to supply them with the most authoritative opinions available as to its future course; to offer the hospitality of its columns to all, in whatever walk of life, who wish to join in combating the epidemic; to keep up the morale of the populace, to publish the latest orders issued by the authorities, and to centralise the efforts of all who desire to give active and whole-hearted help in the present emergency.”

“During the last 24 hours there had been two cases of a new form of the epidemic; the plague was becoming pneumonic. On this very day, in the course of the meeting, the much-harassed doctors had pressed the Prefect – the unfortunate man seemed quite at his wits’ end – to issue new regulations to prevent contagion being carried from mouth to mouth, as happens in pneumonic plague. The Prefect had done as they wished, but as usual they were groping, more or less, in the dark.”

[self-reflexive about these posts] “They began to take a genuine interest in the laborious literary task to which he was applying himself while plague raged around him. Indeed, they, too, found in it a relaxation of the strain.“

“ ‘If things go on as they are going,’ Rieux remarked, ‘the whole town will be a madhouse.’ He felt exhausted, his throat was parched. ‘Let’s have a drink.’ ”

[on the day UK government calls up retired doctors and final year medical students] “ ‘Haven’t doctors and trained assistants been sent from other towns?‘
‘ Yes,‘ Rieux said. ‘10 doctors and 100 helpers. That sounds a lot, no doubt. But it’s barely enough to cope with the present state of affairs. And it will be quite inadequate if things get worse.’ “

“At 11 o’clock that night, however, Rieux and Tarrou entered the small, narrow bar of the hotel. Some 30 people were crowded into it, all talking at the top of their voices. Coming from the silence of the plague-bound town the two newcomers were startled by the sudden burst of noise, and halted in the doorway. They understood the reason for it when they saw that spirits were still to be had here.”

“ …there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is – common decency.’
‘ What do you mean by “common decency”?’ Rambert’s tone was grave.
‘ I don’t know what it means for other people. But in my case I know that it consists in doing my job.’ ”

“ Tarrou said he knew the latest figures, and that the position was extremely serious. But what did that prove? Only that still more stringent measures should be applied.
‘How? You can’t make more stringent ones than those we have now.‘
‘ No. But every person in the town must apply them to himself.‘
Cottard stared at him in a puzzled manner, and Tarrou went on to say that there were far too many slackers, that this plague was everybody’s business, and everyone should do his duty.”

[full UK lock-down was announced last night with a rousing Churchillian speech by PM Boris Johnson] “Now, at least, the position was clear; this calamity was everybody’s business.”

Coincidence No. 544 – Outsider

I am doing a day-long Zoom session for Documentary Campus Masterclass (was supposed to be in Copenhagen but had to be shifted online). I take a short break of 15 minutes and decide to use the time to start re-reading Albert Camus’ L’Etranger in French (the first book, other than comic books, that I have read in French for ages). The usual translation of the title is The Outsider (rather than The Stranger – it means both in French). I read the first couple of pages.

I rejoin the Zoom session and start a one-to-one meeting with a German filmmaker currently based in Thailand. From Chang Mai his very first statement is: “I did a lot of films about outsiders.”

Existentialist philosophy as propounded by the likes of Camus and Sartre has the universe as without meaning and pattern, and man as always striving to see pattern and sense in things.

the outsider albert camus novel l'etranger penguin

The Plague

Back in the good old days of my youth Corona was fizzy drinks

corona fizzy drinks pop 70s

corona fizzy drinks pop 70s truck lorry

In those days when I was doing A Level French and studying Albert Camus among others – in particular L’Etranger (The Outsider) which happily coincided with The Cure’s early single Killing an Arab, based on that slim book) – I read about Camus’ 1947 novel La Peste (The Plague) without actually reading the work itself, often considered Camus’ masterpiece. What I was left with was the notion that you can’t be individually happy without having collective happiness. I applied this in an old post – looking back no idea where it came from, probably from thinking about The Terminatora notional film collaboration between James Cameron and Albert Camus!

This day last week I walked into the small bedroom where my Penguin Modern Classics reside and spotted The Plague just above my head, reached it down and began reading on the basis that there will never be a better time to read this book.

The parallels between Camus 1940s plague in Oran, Algeria and the current global pandemic of Coronavirus or Corvid90 didn’t disappoint. Camus was evidently combining an actual outbreak of a virus in that city in his native country with the realities of living under the Nazi Occupation of France during the Second World War, during which Camus had worked with the Resistance as the editor of Combat, a banned newspaper. Nonetheless the viral spread parallels were very striking so each morning I have published on social media via Instagram a resonant quote from La Peste as I read through and thought this morning that it would be worth aggregating all those posts here on Simple Pleasures Part 4. There’s nothing like a plague to refocus you on the simple pleasures of life.

Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947

Adam Gee
8 March at 18:25
Seems like the perfect time to read this – so I am #Camus #Corona
Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947

 

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky.”

“No, all those horrors were not near enough as yet even to ruffle the equanimity of that spring afternoon. The klang of an unseen tram came through the window, briskly refuting cruelty and pain. Only the sea, murmurous behind the dingy chequerboard of houses, told of the unrest, the precariousness of all things in this world.”

“This bacillus is such a queer one.”
“There,” Castel said, “I don’t agree with you. These little brutes always have an air of originality. But, at bottom, it’s always the same thing.”
“That’s your theory, anyhow. Actually, of course, we know next to nothing on the subject.”

“One of the cafés had the brilliant idea of putting up a slogan: ‘The best protection against infection is a bottle of good wine’, which confirmed an already prevalent opinion that alcohol is a safeguard against infectious disease.”

“ …though in their heart of hearts they were far from recognising the enormity of what had come on them, they couldn’t help feeling, for obvious reasons, that decidedly something had changed. Nevertheless, many continued hoping that the epidemic would soon die out and they and their families be spared. Thus they felt under no obligation to make any change in their habits, as yet. Plague was for them an unwelcome visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come. Alarmed, but far from desperate, they hadn’t yet reached the phase when plague would seem to them the very tissue of their existence; when they forgot their lives which until now it had been given them to lead. In short, they were waiting for the turn of events.”

Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947 picasso

4 quotes of Amos Oz

Amos Oz, 10 September 1979

10th September 1979

1

Every single pleasure I can imagine or have experienced is more delightful, more of a pleasure, if you take it in small sips, if you take your time. Reading is not an exception.

2

The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.

3

The kibbutz way of life is not for everyone. It is meant for people who are not in the business of working harder than they should be working, in order to make more money than they need, in order to buy things they don’t really want, in order to impress people they don’t really like.

4

I find the family the most mysterious and fascinating institution in the world.

Amos Oz

4 great Amos Oz books:

  1. Black Box
  2. A Tale of Love and Darkness
  3. To Know a Woman
  4. Don’t Call It Night
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