Archive for the ‘joyce’ Category
Maybe I’m just being silly, but I find this video strangely fascinating…
For one thing, I could see these videos dragging Stephen Joyce into his most insane legal action yet. But beyond that I have this vague sense that I’d love to write something that somehow was the exact fictional equivalent of these videos. Not sure what that would mean, exactly. But here we have attention-in-distraction (is he actually playing while he reads these?) plus porn (excellently – porn in epistolary form captured in a streaming video – brilliant!) plus the asynchronous “plot arcs” of the letters and the games (on one of the later video you get JJ abruptly cutting off the letter because he purportedly just uh-oh’d himself in the course of writing it) plus virtual sociality (the erotics at a distance of the letters crossed with the fascination of the girl gamer with the letters, and perhaps, we might imagine, the guy who is reading the letters) plus the stupidity of imitative pastiche (the guy who keeps resaying lines from the letters – quite accurately, as if he’s writing them down – in a sort of movie-announcer-cum-Halo-guy voice….)
I could keep going. Sometimes I really miss the US PhD seminars that I ran. I’d totally throw this in for us to kick around at the end of one of the three hour blocks….
Think I just, whilst having my 30th cigarette of the day down below my office *, broke the back of the last and hardest part of my book-in-revision. In mind if not yet on paper. It’s an analysis of one of my favorite scenes in literature, and just happens to be a scene about masturbation. What’s there is based on an ancient piece I wrote, my first good publication, and I just now, ten years later and in an instant figured out how to make it fit properly.
Making it fit properly, by the way, involves an interesting expansion upon the text that gave this blog its name. **
How about a little help, though, to get me rolling. Scenes from modern literature – preferably say 1850 – 1940 – that feature signficant chance encounters. Baudelaire’s “A une passante,” Bouvard and Pécuchet on their parkbench, Leonard Bast and his umbrella and the Schlegel girls in Howards End, Peter Walsh seeing Septimus and Rezia on the parkbench in Regent’s Park (ah Regent’s Park) in Dalloway.
Now your turn, go on….
* I’ve been working too much (12 hour days, eight days in a row, in my office) and smoking too much while I do. Yesterday, a colleague knocked to chat, entered, and said in a knowing tone: ADS! You’ve been smoking in your office during reading week! I responded that it was just my disgustingly nicotine-inundated jacket hanging on the door. Embarrassing. Today I wore the only other light jacket I own, a sporty Adidas windbreaker, that just looks wrong in an academic setting and has been drawing wtf? stares from everyone all day. But I can’t worry about these things! I have a book to finish!
** UPDATE: Ha! I’d forgotten that I sneak my blogname into this chapter. Just came across this:
In the section of The Coming Community entitled “Without Classes,” Georgio Agamben, compares the life of “single planetary bourgeoisie,” who have inherited the world in the wake of the rise of capitalist modernity and the arrival of secular nihilism, to an ad without products. With the dissolution of diversity, social identity, and meaning, they are brought face to face with the “phantasmagorical vacuousness” of inauthenticity without end:
[T]he absurdity of individual existence, inherited from the subbase of nihilism, has become in the meantime so senseless that it has lost all pathos and been transformed, brought out into the open, into an everyday exhibition: Nothing resembles the life of this new humanity more than advertising footage from which every trace of the advertised product has been wiped out. The contradiction of the petty bourgeois, however, is obstinately trying, against all odds, to make their own an identity that has become in reality absolutely improper and insignificant to them. Shame and arrogance, conformity and marginality remain thus the poles of all their emotional registers. (62-3)
Just as Agamben’s post-historical actors go through the motion of acting out the ad, whistfully staring at the car in the garage (except there’s no car), ravenously devouring the entrée (except there’s no food on the plate), going to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster (except there’s nothing on the screen)…
…and then back to the lit text at hand. How tricky am I!
Recently promised myself (again) that I’d do only serious posts, no more self-reflection, no more twittering. But just this last time:
Aforesaid friend mentioned in my last post arrived and spent the day today hanging around my office and the environs of my uni while I did what I had to do at work. When we were done, he said to me (I paraphrase a bit, but only a bit) man you do work fucking hard here huh?
I made him repeat this to my wife when we finally got to my place.
It’s true. I do. This system is way way more work-intensive than the US model. Academic work is always intensive, but this thing is pretty close to forty-hours-a-week of actual scheduled or semi-scheduled activities. I.e. reading and preparation, let alone research, don’t’t count in the total.
Hmmm. Still a good trade to live where I do. And very happy to be employed at all, god.
In the Observer yesterday there was a feature that detailed what people do at their jobs all day. Annoyingly, it only features relatively interesting upper or upper-middle-class jobs (no 9.00 am I stand at the till and ring up groceries, 1.00 pm I take lunch 2.00 pm I stand at the till and ring up groceries, 6.00 pm I go home in other words). And at least one of them is hideously annoying. But they do have the rundown on a day in the life of a university teacher of English whose days sound like they are almost exactly like mine, adjusted for having kids and such.
7am Wake up to the Today programme. Go to the gym, followed by breakfast with my girlfriend, a theatre director and translator.
8.45am Walk to college, which takes about 45 minutes.
10am Give a 50-minute lecture. I do about two a week, at the moment it’s literature and the Second World War.
11am Have an hour-long “supervision”, a one-to-one (or two) tutorial with students about their essays. I do about 12 a week.
1.15pm Eat with the 60 other fellows of the college at high table. It’s a really good way to bond as a unit.
2.30pm Give a weekly seminar, on modernism and the short story.
4pm More supervisions and endless emailing, mostly with the 30 English students I’m responsible for, but also arranging library visits, organising symposiums and contacting the editor of a book I am writing on London’s bomb sites and the literature of wartime London. I also set entrance exams and interview prospective students in December and January.
5pm Work on my book – it’s my first. I try to clear one full day a week, but the reality is that the three eight-week terms pass in an intense, exciting blur, and holidays are for research and writing, preparing reading lists, lectures and seminars.
7pm Sometimes I eat in college, work late in my office and then catch last orders in the pub and debate with friends. If not, I walk home listening to my Welsh-language podcasts practising my vocab. My mother is Welsh but I grew up in Brighton, so I only speak a little.
8pm Prepare for tomorrow’s supervisions, reading all the essays I will be discussing. Practise lectures on my cat Tolly.
8.30pm Cook dinner. I enjoy cooking as a way of relaxing.
9.30pm More preparation. Then I’ll read in bed until I fall asleep at about midnight. I have countless books on the go at once. I like to read articles and journals around my subject, but also completely off-topic as well. As a child, I just wanted to read books and I’ve fallen into a career where I get paid to do that. Some days, I can’t quite believe it.
Not too far off, nope. Except tonight I’m still very much marking papers and it’s currently 12:24 AM.
Just saying. I do have a minor point to make about all of this – something about work and sanity, something about work and sanity and the near absense of consciousness due to overwork , and perhaps all of that in relation to strange utopias of hard work… What? There aren’t any? What about the new bloomusalem? – but there’s no time to make that point now.
Read this post as an extended footnote to my previous one. It’s very easy to forget, I suppose because it’s set in 1904, that Joyce wrote Ulysses during and after the First World War. For instance, Badiou does in The Century:
The twentieth century kicks off in an exceptional fashion. Let us take the two great decades between 1890 and 1914 as the century’s prologue. In every field of thought these years represent a period of exceptional invention, marked by a polymorphous creativity that can only be compared to the Florentine Renaissance or the century of Pericles. It is a prodigious period of excitement and rupture. Consider just a few of its milestones. […] This period also sees the publication of the vast novels of James and Conrad, the writing of the bulk of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and the maturation of Joyce’s Ulysses.
Badiou is making a point here about the relationship between culture before and after the First World War, so it does matter that he’s a few years off with the dating of the development of Ulysses. And it mattered to Joyce, apparently, that we take heed of the dates of the texts “maturation.” Remember what happens at the very end?
watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
The dates and places mark the text as itself marked by the particularly brutal time and place it was written. They are arguably – traditionally – considered to be a part of the text itself, rather than “supplementary” materials added on like an author’s note on the last page of the text.
What do we miss when we read Ulysses without attending to what Joyce clearly wanted us to know (if only retroactively, retrospectively) about his novel? One way to put it is that this novel about 1904 wants to announce itself as a sort of dialectical image, if a strange sort of one. Here are the requisite quotes from Benjamin, the first from the Arcades Project, the second two from the Theses. You’ve probably read them before…
It’s not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.
The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again. ‘The truth will not run away from us’: in the historical outlook of historicism these words of Gottfried Keller mark the exact point where historical materialism cuts through historicism. For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably. (The good tidings which the historian of the past brings with throbbing heart may be lost in a void the very moment he opens his mouth.)
The historical materialist cannot do without the notion of a present which is not a transition, but in which time takes a stand [einsteht] and has come to a standstill. For this notion defines the very present in which he himself is writing history. Historicism offers the “eternal” image of the past; historical materialism supplies a unique experience with the past. The historical materialist leaves it to others to be drained by the whore called “Once upon a time” in historicism’s bordello. He remains in control of his powers – enough to blast upon the continuity of history.
I’d argue that the dates at the end of Ulysses, particularly if they’re taken (as I take them) to be part of the text proper, force us to take the novel as something in line with Benjamin’s notion of the dialectical image rather than, say, simply a “historical novel.” 1904 is summoned / presents itself because it was 1914-1921 in Trieste-Zurich-Paris, rather than the alternative.
But it’s a strange sort of dialectical image or collection of dialectical images. First of all – but I suppose this is true of all images of the sort – it’s not clear what exactly we’re supposed to take from what Joyce has collected. Franco Moretti in Signs Taken for Wonders brilliantly claims that Ulysses is a sort of retrograde dystopia, one that predicts the worst of all possible bad futures, the bad future that has already come to pass:
Ulysses is indeed static, and in its world nothing – absolutely nothing – is great. But this is not due to any technical or ideal shortcoming on Joyce’s part, but rather his subjection to English society: for Joyce, it is certainly the only society imaginable, although he just as certainly condemns it, through a hyperbolic presentation of its worst features, to a future of paralysed mediocrity (a future that Joyce, with a stroke of genius, places in the past, as if to underline his consummate scepticism: one can always hope never to reach the negative utopias of science fiction, but if a negative utopia came into being twenty years ago, and no one realized it, then the die is truly cast…)
But there’s something else that’s strange and complicating about all this. June 16, 1904 is also (we know, we know) the date when Joyce first went out with his future wife Nora Barnacle and when, according to semi-official legend, she gave him a handjob. * This fact somewhat over or underdetermines all that I’ve written above, hard to say which, but nevertheless does lead on to the next of my thetically arranged series of posts, in which I attack Benjamin for always fantasizing about explosions where none were to be found…. Coming soon….
* I’ve always been a bit curious about this whole handjob thing, as the letters indicate that it really did mean quite a lot to JJ, but also JJ clearly had been with women – prostitutes – before Nora and assuredly in a more than manual sort of way. Somehow the handjob from a non-prostitute was more, well, epiphanic than anything else that had happened with prostitutes. Which makes sense…. And doesn’t. No it does actually. But for a good time, read this exchange. Just found it.
Trying another tack to getting myself into fighting shape, I’ve resolved to:
1) Actually read at least the International Herald Tribune, more or less cover to cover, every day. This used to be easy; no one had to ask me to do it. But the other day someone started talking about Mumbai and it was late enough that I should have known, but I had to bluff my way through the conversation. Jesus. Solipcism. Not like me….
2) Read a hundred pages of something each day. Adjustable for density of course. I’ve not been reading except for work, and sometimes not even then. No reading and the wells run dry.
3) Write daily. That is to say nightly. Or daily when I can.
4) Post daily. Something, anything. Blogging keeps me moving in some direction too. Not sure why, but when I don’t blog, it’s not a happy sign.
So, yes, it’s some sort of auto-poetic CBT soup for the faltering intellectual’s soul. Kneel (almost wrote knell) and belief will come? When I talk to this philosopher I know, I habitually get the Pascal bit wrong, even when I don’t even mention the name. Am getting it wrong now. It’s a wonderfully expressive parapraxis, I think, and so I will persist.
Tonight, wouldn’t you guess, I’ve started rereading Ulysses from cover to cover. I believe this is the first time since the first time, though I’m sure I’ve read it through several times over but in parts. (Should post some time on the effect of growing up with cable television, the movie channels, and watching movies that would come to have a formative influence on me over and over but never start to finish… Always picked them up where they were, sometimes left them off when it was time to do otherwise…. Never once seeing them all the way through. See, it’s working – there’s a post idea, the first in weeks!)
Strange to read it though now. The date I wrote on the inside cover of my Gabler edition is Fall 1996. When I read it first, I was younger than Stephen. Now I’m six years short of Bloom. Back then, I thought I’d write novels for a living. Now, I am considered a Joyce specialist though thankfully not a Joycean. Teaching literature is a strange way to make a living, full of hidden stresses and panics that are only sometimes material in nature. I take Stephen differently now, though perhaps not in the way that you or I would expect.