On James Joyce’s Ulysses, Melville and Writing

I’m re-reading Joyce’s Ulysses while simultaneously re-reading Ellman’s biography on James Joyce. It is facinating stuff, but similar to many other writers in this way: Joyce was always poor, always dogmatic on his writing, and always making his way as an artist. And this got me thinking once again of the writing life and the writer’s commitment to the craft. Joyce initially sold  (let’s be generous) 500 copies of A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and could not find a publisher for Ulysses.  His good friend Ezra Pound encouraged him while he read chapters of the novel, and all of this before the great censor lawsuit when it was finally published. And this made me think of Melville (just re-read Moby Dick and Parkers two volume biography on Melville a few montha ago) who left novel writing all together because the public did not get what he was trying to do as an artist (actually called him “Mad” in a headline). He turned to Poetry for the next thirty years and died in obscurity.

I bring this up because those of us who are “in the game” and quiety publishing, or not publishing, but still quietly writing and writing and writing, creating one novel after the other, or one book of poems after the other, or one book of creative nonficiton after the other are the norm. There is no rich and famous. There is always the next project. The writer of novels is in it for the craft of creating a story that will capture the volcanic imagination inside her! The goal of every writer is to learn the craft, then write the stories, no matter how long it takes or how hard it appears to be. A very few people accepted Joyce’s work when it was written, and that is the norm. Joyce struggled to live, to write, to raise a family, was probably (like all of us) a bit mental, bipolar and single-mindedly driven. But in the end, like some ancient prophet of Delphi or the Old testament pronounced into the imagination for all time the most profound characters that live and breathe for us today. We can, any time we desire, pick up a copy of Moby DickUlysses and immerse ourselves into those universes. All we need do is read. And like Shakespeare with Hamlet or Melville’s Moby Dick or the ancient Iliad, Odessey, Old Testament, the Gospels, Symposium, etc…. beings are called ex nihilo and brought to life… forever. The magic and wonder is never… and never will be… remuneration… it is always… in the end… the audacity of the spoken word that stops time, and brings the makebelieve to life.

 

 

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