Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Giacomo Joyce: James Joyce's prose-poem: Review

Next to "Pomes Penyeach," this ranks rather low on my shelf compared to the major Joycean texts; it was published only in 1968. Still, it's around (Amazon review posted today) 3.5 stars, as it's a minor effort by a major genius. Richard Ellmann in his introduction to this edition accurately finds in its versifying unfortunate traces of the "anemic" style of his other verse. I agree. I doubt if ever it was offered anonymously to a press it would have seen the light of day, yet this is a value judgment impossible to realistically consider nearly a century later. Joyce sent it to "The Egoist" in 1914, but then withdrew it and instead, as Ellmann notes, pillaged it for use in his greater works in their slow progress. We come to these few lines knowing Joyce. So, we approach this as a prose-poem deserving respect and acclaim. It glows with the aura of its creator, as even a lesser work by a classic artist can dazzle intermittently.

Most critics, following up clues that Ellmann in 1968 had not identified, match the dark Jewish girl that the narrator falls for, if only in his thoughts, with Amalia Popper, a student that Jim/Jamesy as named here becomes enchanted-- and possibly repulsed-- with as he teaches her in a Trieste classroom. The prose-poem floats into the realms of an older consciousness than Dedalus and a younger one than Bloom, but as Ellmann observes it prepares the way for "Ulysses" in its plunge into a stream of associations around the allure and horror of the feminine body. Written around the time Joyce turned thirty, the editor notes that even for late-blooming Italians, the time of adolescence generously granted ended, and "youth" began with the start of one's fourth decade. "A love poem which is never recited, it is Joyce's attempt at the sentimental education of a dark lady, a farewell to a phase of his life, and at the same time a discovery of a new form of imaginative expression." (ix) This wandering set of short reflections, evanescent and graphic, evocative and shadowed, shimmers like dreams half-recalled and half-articulated in words rather than a vanishing miasma of images, terrors, and langours.

P.S. A collection of essays, "Giacomo Joyce: Envoys of the Other," has been published June 2007; it is astonishing that 400 pp. can emerge from scholarly attention to these eight large sheets of a few hundred lines at most, but such is the appeal of Joyce and the fervor of academics as they combine to make even this, one of his most evanescent and fragile texts, worthy of sustained scrutiny.

[Image credit: Amalia Popper, Joyce Trieste Museum. Deserving of her own story, I will post on her separately today.]

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