Category Archives: joyce

Worldbuilding

My guests, at that time, were greatly interested in literature and displayed a marked predilection for works of fantasy, especially those composed in English during the twentieth century. I informed them that such works, although they had always had their defenders, were not held in high regard. It was difficult enough to make my meaning plain without insult, for the very things which captivated my guests – the maps, glossaries of invented languages and scripts, annals of kings and migrations of peoples that never were, or which were cobbled together from mythologies or revived notions of the historical past – were exactly those which seemed to the eyes of literary criticism to be trivial and childish. Once I had politely pointed out that Tolkien and his epigones, despite their popularity, were not ranked among the foremost writers, my guests (employing a grammatical mood of their language which I had always found somewhat slippery and which indicated, I think, in this case, that the question was in fact sincere in spite of its superficially seeming to be a mere act of politeness) asked for examples from the higher literary traditions of this period which would be would be more worthy of their study. I spoke of the revolution in acceptable subject matter and style which came with Modernism; of the importance of literature which allowed itself to slip the confines of suburban morality and deal with subjects hitherto barred by prudishness from serious writing. Without concealing my personal tastes, I suggested that the works of James Joyce epitomised this artistic revolution.

At our next conversation, my guests, who had absorbed the works in question with that speed and comprehensiveness which was one of the disquieting reminders that they were not, despite appearances, human, were full of enthusiasm for Joyce and particularly for Ulysses. (I did ask them, at a later date, for their opinion of Finnegans Wake, but confess that I could not grasp it, and was left with the same feeling as I have always had when an aficionado of cryptic crosswords attempts to induct me into their cult.) We talked of the stylistic brilliance and daring of the work, on the initimacy of characterisation made possible by the stream-of-consciousness technique, and of the relish which the author had for the least details of quotidian life. “And the world-building!” said one. “We now percieve that our admiration for Tolkien was ill-placed. How could one compare Minas Tirith with the marvellous city of Dublin, where the evidence of millennia is present at every turn? How delicately Joyce’s exposition hints at a whole world beyond its borders! We marvel at the subtlety and skill of his creation.”

Somewhat taken aback by what I took to be a display of naïveté, I objected that Joyce’s Dublin was no fictional creation: on the contrary, like Proust’s Paris, Dostoyevsky’s St Petersburg, or Flaubert’s Rouen, it was a transfiguration of the marvellous reality of an actual time and place into a great work of literature. I was rebuffed with what I understood to be one of my guests’ rare attempts at humour.

“Why, then, Joyce is no mere genius, but a thaumaturge of rare power, able to create real persons, a real city, an entire country with its painful and bitter history! These cities of which you speak, Paris, St Petersburg, Dublin: do you imagine that even the most obsessive novelist could represent but a shadow of their true immensity? For all that Bloom’s Dublin has an original in what your race are pleased to call ‘reality’, it is nothing more than a finely wrought tissue of words. But with such great artistry, it is understandable if you forget that even Joyce has given us only appearances.”

—from Hearn, The New Arcana Cœlestia: A Memoir of My Time with The Visitors

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Ulysses: Alternate Endings

Ulysception

“What is this place?” asked Stephen. Eerie monuments stalked off to a fog-shrouded horizon: many were like trees and standing stones. Here and there were more disquieting shapes, like broken fragments of limbs or tremendous statues with blurred features. Voices seemed to murmur all around them in a hundred accents and languages.

“It’s a dream I shared with her,” replied Bloom. “We were happy here, for many decades. But it is too deep: too close to Limbo, the formless chaos behind all dreams.”

The murmuring voices rose around them, and with them a tide of dark river water. “A MacGarath O’Cullagh O’Muirk MacFewney sookadoodling and sweepacheeping round the lodge of Fjorn na Galla of the Trumpets!”

* * * * *

Stephen gasped on the floor of 7 Eccles Street, his head doused in cold water. “A bit of a turn,” said Bloom, “Syncope. Cold water the best remedy,” gesturing awkwardly with the chipped enamel basin he held.

“Mgkranow,” said the cat, as the ceiling caved in under the weight of a torrent of syllables.

* * * * *

“The fuck is this,” said the reader. “Hello there,” said Bloom, at his elbow. A crubeen span and continued to spin upon its trotter, tottering, trottering, teetering, tottering…


Hey Hey It’s Bloomsday

Standing outside Paddy’s Markets, a quartet of AUSTRALIANS wearing blackface, comically oversized leprechaun hats and hoisting pints of green Guinness and blocks of Coon cheese shout “Top o’ the morning to ye!” at passers-by.

MULLIGAN (aside): Stage Irish.

BLOOM: Come on now, that’s a bit much.

THE AUSTRALIANS (sobbing and exposing their stigmata): WE DIDN’T KNOW, WE CAN’T BE RACISTS, WE’RE NOT BRITISH/AMERICANS, STOP CENSORING US, WHERE’S YOUR FUCKING SENSE OF HUMOUR, &c.

They are impaled on a huge steel I-beam which slips from the crane of a nearby construction site.


Stephen Hero

—But Stephen, gasped Mr Deasy, what about our history?

Stephen grins and puts on a pair of sunglasses.

—History is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake.

He walks towards the camera as the school explodes.

Tales of Louchébem

In that time (so Master Borage relates) the makars of the city took such great delight in the precise description of the material circumstances of their tales that they durst not leave these to their own invention, holding that to do so were to pollute the purity of an history with the rank and egotistical sentiment of its creator, so as to bring it to the level of a mere tavern-ballad. In a sarcastic phrase that became notorious, one of these bards sneered, “How fortunate that the tempest should be such a punctual guest to the wrathful castle, and the downpour faithfully attend the hero’s funeral!” Whether this poet was, in fact, the first to consult an accurate record of the weather over a period of several years, and, willy-nilly, apply it to his own story, that his characters be subjected to the same happenstance of the elements as his readers, is not known. Certain it is, though, that the attested works of this period acquired a steadily greater encrustation of accidental detail, such as tide-tables, paradigms of dead tongues, minute descriptions of the city and the surrounding country, lists of the virtues of herbs and precious stones, annals of the heads of minor noble houses, folk songs, descriptions of military engines, fortifications and strategies, catalogues of the works of earlier poets, miracles of saints, monstrous births, horoscopes, laundry lists, bills of sale and merchants’ books of accounts, and so on, leaving the substance of the narrative as a mere footnote. It was not uncommon for the action of a poem in fifty cantos to be an event as trifling as an exchange of pleasantries between friends or the purchase of a heifer, swollen to great length by the intricate, skilfully versified and, as far as may be determined, accurate accumulation of incidental facts.

The apotheosis of this fashion was that bard who, not being satisfied with erecting a veritable encyclopædia as the background to his characters, was determined that their own lives be subject to the same stern rigour of verisimilitude, and sought to apply the then novel mathematical technique of probability to their fates. With the aid of a cousin versed in the arts of chance, vast tables were derived from the lists of births and deaths in the royal archives, and lots were faithfully cast. (It is said that the cousin went on to found the Insurer’s Guild.) The results of this endeavour are, of course, well known: the developing love triangle between a lord, his lady, and an equerry, which is abruptly cut off in the third stanza by the deaths of all three in a freak falconing accident, followed by the narration of their burial, the disposition of their household and a minor legal dispute over the succession to certain tenant farms. The bulk of the work is then occupied by an hundred and forty-seven stanzas in which the slow growth of grass about the noble tomb and over the simple churchyard plot of the servant is described in exquisite and beautiful detail, to the undying gratitude of Louchébem’s literati and the equally eternal exasperation of its schoolboys.

Finnegans Jake

adventurrun, by Ooo and Atom’s, from swerve of sword to BMO bay, brings us by a bombastic canine of transmogrification back to Her Candy Empirium.

Sir Iceking, viola d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had hardly gunter Kingdom Come to processcute his Mushroom War: nor had A Lumpy Princess spacedout when they went doublin their drama all the time: nor avoice from afire kingdom bellowsed tree trunks thuartbonkers: not yet, though venisoon after, had Hunson Abadeer ateup fries of Marceline.

The fall (algebrawesomeprankinwrongteousgrossgrobgobglobgrodancient-
psychictandemwarelephantjackedupmathematical!) of a braverd venturer is retaled early in bed and late on life down through all cults and references. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finn, erse radical boy, that the doggydumhead of his Jakes prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their treehillfortandplace is at the point in the spark where boom boom was laid to rust upon the green since lichen first loved Lich.

What clashes here of wills gens wonts, Rainicorns gaggin Visidogs! Jekkek kekkek kekkek kekkek! Cosmicowl!

The Game Players of Dublin

He waits for the next player. Not another scholar or student, he hopes, but someone who comes for challenge of the game itself.

It has not been a while between players, for there is no time here, but if a state is embedded in another state in a certain relationship that can from at least one perspective be projected into what would be a series of interruptions in a timelike continuum, then we can say, all provisos accepted, that it’s been a while. And it usually is.

He always tries to guess where they will leave. He doesn’t like to think of it as giving up: it seems unfair. The game makes its player, he likes to tell himself. They leave where it is right for them to do so.

Will they be defeated by the arbitrary first level, its sheer surfaces affording none of the usual purchase expected of a traditional game mechanic? Grow as restive as the schoolchildren in the uneventful second? Or will they shy at the irruptions of Aquinas and the unexpected apparition of Blake’s buttocks on the beach in the second? (They will, he knows, very many of them, unless they take it for weird texture and aim for the true targets.)

Once past this introduction, the next three levels are relatively easy going, and he will have the pleasure of feeling the player settle into the familiar primary character, dumpy in his toothbrush moustache, warming up for the day’s obstacles.

Level seven is always a pleasure – the episodic nature, he supposes, gives a sense of reassuring form to the players, and is also a relatively safe arena where they can fool around with some advanced rhetorical weaponry. The practice will come in handy in nine – eight, admittedly, being something of a palate cleanser – when the first really powerful set of antagonists must be dealt with. There is no boss at this stage, but an elaborate melee which can weed out many casual players.

Usually this is when he can spot the remaining students. They panic, turn on the noclip cheat and start whizzing through the walls. (He’s seen it happen too many times to be disappointed.) And the players who remain with him are a joy to watch in the next few levels: the friendly primary is back, hopping between the floating islands of level ten, unlocking the hidden jam session in level eleven, and rounding on the first big boss in twelve.

The shifts of scale in this level are dizzying, and the tone of the game starts to darken, creating a sense of expectation which is deliciously wrong-footed by the sudden shift to the cloyingly moe atmosphere of level thirteen – assuming, of course, that the player hasn’t read any of the controversy about this level on the ‘net. He’s seen all the ways successful players negotiate the stickiness of this level. Most of them make it through by accepting the game logic on its own terms, although it can be played satisfactorily enough in irony mode, or even casting the character as the villain.

The fourteenth level takes 8-bit homage to a new level, beginning by appearing to drop the player out to a character terminal announcing “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.” Those patient enough to persist after are treated to a recapitulation of the entire history of adventure gaming, in which interface design and play mechanics vary from minute to minute. Many players will give up in dismay or resort to cheats or walkthroughs, but those who do not can be lost for days as they hunt down allusions and easter eggs, a process which he never finds boring.

The level ends in a simulation of a chaotic MMPORG battle which leaves the player, once again in control of the primary, in the nightmarish, constantly shifting environment of the fifteenth level. The most dedicated players can find this level dull, confronting and repellent by turns, as the character is mocked, distorted, humiliated and degraded, and the use of multiplayer chat can give the level the feel of an unmoderated web forum from Hell.

Those who don’t make it to level sixteen have his sympathies, but he is always engrossed by how the survivors negotiate its elementary but interminable mazes, full of seemingly useless weapons and broken equipment. There are keys and treasures here, he is sure, that will keep the players busy for many years.

In the following level, he is allowed, with joy, to participate, almost to become a character himself, engaged in a grave and courteous duel with the primary and secondary character. This was the designer’s favourite – that other self of his, lost, long sleeping in Zurich.

And he? He is the mechanism of the game itself, an aspect of the designer, but also of all his collaborators, the players: he is the plotfarmer, the voyce. He has watched the primary, moustache abristle, vaulting rolling barrels of porter, countless times, as he and the player ascend the heights of the last chapter, up to the final boss, the great mamamonster, as much a libel of woman as Kong is of ape, to grapple with her great sentences, once more to rescue the princess of her from herself.

Ulysses: eighteen incorrect chapter précis

Telemachus. Stephen is annoyed by Buck Mulligan, who is repeatedly calling and trying to sell him a new long-distance phone service.

Nestor. At Deasy’s school, Stephen is required to perform humiliating duties such as removing pigeons from the eaves.

Proteus. Stephen walks along the beach and admires the flowers.

Calypso. Mr Bloom attempts to speak to his cat using Ancient Greek or “onomatopoeia”.

Lotus eaters. Mr Bloom imagines that he owns an expensive car which he compares with a languid floating flower.

Hades. Mr Bloom and some gentleman visit a funeral and respectfully remove and replace their hats.

Aeolus. An editor is very rude to Mr Bloom. The title of this section is thought to be the origin of the expression “A-hole”.

Lestrygonians. Mr Bloom ponders where to eat, and decides on Gonian’s.

Scylla and Charybdis. Stephen argues in the library. Because it is a library in Ireland, arguments are encouraged rather than shushed.

Wandering Rocks. This is a chapter about how great it is to wander around Dublin, where you may come upon the statue of Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott.

Sirens. In Ancient Greece, sirens were often used to alert protagonists that dangerous birds were near. These ‘birds’ are represented by two sexy barmaids.

Cyclops. The first really weird chapter, in which the narrative “cycles” between a number of different voices, many of them silly.

Nausicaa. The behaviour of Mr Bloom in this chapter, as its title suggests, is quite revolting.

Oxen of the Sun. It was for this chapter that Oliver St John Gogarty, the model for Buck Mulligan, was unable to forgive Joyce, as the initial letters of the central sixteen sentences spell the message “GOGARTY IS A NUMPTY”.

Circe. The action in this infamous chapter are indeed, as its title suggests, “saucy” beyond belief, and may be safely skipped

Eumaeus. Mr Bloom and Stephen discuss events of the preceding chapter with a series of “euphemisms”.

Ithaca. A question-and-answer episode which is based on an ancient call and response: “Duck season!” “Rabbit season!” “Duck season!” “Rabbit season!”

Penelope. Bloom’s wife Molly thinks about which man, or “pene”, she will choose to marry (“elope”). She finally decides on Mr Bloom, which is convenient, as she is already married to him.

Samuel Flood, author of Ulysses

How can it be that within a few weeks of his sudden and unexplained withdrawal from the blogs and web forums which were his primary means of communication with the rest of the world, the genuine literary achievements of Samuel Flood, a man I am privileged to number among my friends, are already sinking beneath a weight of mockery and misunderstanding? A brief correction is surely in order.

As even his detractors will admit, Flood is – in the absence of any positive evidence to the contrary, I persist in referring to him in the present tense – a devoted student of the works of Joyce, and his scholarship received some tokens of respect, however grudging, even from within the groves of academe. I certainly never met anyone whose knowledge of Joyce’s work, or enthusiasm for it, matched that of my friend.

Passion, passion for the works of his beloved hero, was his glory and also his great weakness, for it fuelled his admittedly immoderate on-line behaviour, which in turn gave rise to the opinion that he was a hopeless crank. The obsessed autodidact, the internet addict cloistered in his parents’ spare room, the fanatic interpreter of a novelist with a reputation as “the happy hunting ground of unbalanced minds”; all these stereotypes lay too ready to hand for Flood’s work to be given the attention it deserves. Especially as they each contained a grain of truth.

Perhaps, then, it was inevitable that he would be lampooned as “the mad Aussie rewriting Joyce from scratch.” Inevitable, but inexcusable. Incredibly, some of his online enemies seem to believe that he was attempting to memorise Joyce’s greatest work and then transcribe it verbatim!

You will forgive my indignation at this calumny, which reduces Flood’s life’s work to a monstrous parlour trick or vaudeville act.

Better (but still showing a regrettable lack of diligence or literary understanding) are those who characterise Flood’s work as an attempt to write “an Australian version” of Ulysses. In one meagre sense, this is true, but nothing could be further from my friend’s intentions than the creation of a “mash-up” or any other such patchwork, reeking of the pretentious cant of post-modernism. Flood reserved an especial scorn for such assemblages, which he regarded as mere novelties designed  to stimulate literary palates coarsened by the barbarisms of the mass media.

Let us turn with relief to a view of Flood’s own commentary upon his work:

“Obviously, Ulysses is the greatest work of fiction in English. What is less obvious is that it is incomplete.

“Our task is immense: Joyce delineated only a day and a city. We must go on to delineate the remainder of the world.”

“My Ulysses is a section through my life as Joyce’s was a section through his.”

“Slice of life: Ulysses renovates this old cliché. But nothing can be cut into a single slice. The rest of the cake is ours.”

Delineating the world: this monumental ambition, with its echo of Blake, is the task Flood set himself. Readers of the published drafts of his Ulysses were puzzled by the triviality of the subject matter and the lack of anything Joycean in the style. (Modesty compels me to admit that I was not exempt from this.) The drafts appeared to be a flat relation of Flood’s daily routine, from his waking in the late morning, a prolonged visit to the Marrickville council library where he scanned magazines and science fiction paperbacks and engaged in a brief disagreement with a council employee regarding his right to eat takeaway fish and chips on the premises, his dinner with his parents, and lastly to his endeavours in an online multiperson role-playing game, terminating in his retirement at 3AM. There was no stream of consciousness, no stylistic gymnastics.

Also absent were any signs of Irish culture, a fact all the more surprising to those of us who knew of the pride Flood took in his own ancestry. It was his commentary on this fact which led to my realisation of the true nature of his work, which is nothing less than a continuation of Joyce’s project.

“You’re looking for Irishry, anecdotes, nationalism, wit and Guinness. My first drafts were full of all that – the projection of a fondness for Ireland which I nurtured as an alienated young man in the suburbs. All balls. If Dublin can stand in for every city, then any city can stand in for Dublin. I’ve never even been there.”

Now, both the towering scope and the strange humility of Flood’s ambitions became clear. The first Ulysses is a fragment, the result of the intersection of Joyce’s genius, the episodes of the Odyssey and a particular place and time: Dublin, 1904. Flood’s Ulysses is the result of the same procedure operating on different materials: Flood’s literary talents intersecting Sydney, 2010. Naturally, the outcome of the latter is quite different from that of the first. Lower in literary merit, certainly. But who could hope to equal Joyce in those terms?

Eventually, Flood envisages a total Ulysses, a vast library of books of all sizes, each devoted to the consciousness of a particular reader in a particular place. Blogs and photostreams are, perhaps, the crude forerunners of this great project, which will fulfill, in some sense, Mallarmé’s prophecy that “everything in the world exists to end up in a book.”

Revisions of his Ulysses show a great compression, to the point where all eighteen episodes of Ulysses can be expressed in eighteen letters: “WENT OUT AND CAME HOME.” The Homeric correspondences are maintained by reference to an elaborate cypher. We can see how far beyond mere post-modern pastiche Flood takes his rigorous argument. I will leave the last word to him:

“Dublin was only exceptional because it was his home town, and the Odyssey is only special by virtue of its having formed the template of the epic. Beyond his great verbal skill, Joyce’s creation is the overlay of a book onto a city by virtue of its narrative structure, and this structure is arbitrary enough to allow it to be imposed onto any text and any city. It may be argued that only the great genius of Joyce could create a Ulysses: I maintain that just as Bloom, a humble and ordinary man, is the hero of an epic, so too every text, no matter how lowly, is also an epic, when properly considered. Given this, writing Ulysses is not a daunting challenge. What is difficult, given the limitless resources open to us, is not to write Ulysses, at least once.”