A Justly Forgotten Poet.

Emily Bernhard Jackson begins her 2015 review of Emily Harrington’s Second Person Singular: Late Victorian Poets and the Bonds of Verse and Elizabeth Ludlow’s Christina Rossetti and the Bible with the refreshing sentence “There is, it should be admitted, such a thing as a justly forgotten poet.” I applaud the desire to rescue good writers who have fallen into obscurity, but that generous impulse can easily go too far; I like very much this paragraph in which Jackson explains the kind of problem it can cause:

One queries Harrington’s decision to include a chapter on Dollie Radford, for example. Several times in the course of her discussion, she herself confesses that Radford at least appears to be a minor poet, and the verse she includes does nothing to suggest otherwise. There seems no reason to anticipate a renaissance in Radford studies, and one cannot help feeling that this chapter might have been removed with little lost overall. Perhaps, in fact, the space opened up by removing the Radford chapter might have been used to lengthen the others, for the book’s other flaw is the brevity of its study of each poet. Granting only a chapter each to a group of smaller poets results in their continuing to seem small; these women might gain greater weight in the canon if each had been the subject of a longer, individually focused study.

Incidentally, on the next page of that issue of the TLS Claire Lowdon reviews James Wood’s The Nearest Thing to Life (which I wrote about here) and complains about his “fatal tidying instinct … the desire to gather up several disparate concepts into a single neat theory”; she says “Wood seems to feel the need to defend literature against charges of slightness. The result is obfuscation.” That seemed to shed some light on something that startled me in an interview with Wood I heard this morning, in which he confessed (or boasted, depending on how you take it) that he never reads genre literature, even though he’s happy to watch junk TV and read car magazines (so it’s not just a matter of not wanting to waste precious time). I suspect it’s the need, perhaps based somehow on his intensely religious upbringing, to have literature be Serious. That’s not a good basis for criticism, though it’s not incompatible with good criticism (obviously, since we’re talking about Wood); it’s all too reminiscent of the pomposity that infected the generation that came to prominence in the 1950s, Lionel Trilling et al. Literature — worthwhile literature, at least — is not made by high-minded creatures with ichor in their veins, and it’s a bad idea to approach it that way.

Comments

  1. Des von Bladet, Burlap of Marginalia, Bearer of Imperial Grudges says:

    I have generally favoured the locution “justly neglected” and I do not intend to change mumpsimuses midstream but it is a broad bandwagon and all are welcome.

  2. Des, you’re being summoned to the princessor.

  3. When I was a child my mother encouraged me to read, and one of the books that she gave me was Tales of the Greek Heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green. I guess that was a successful project because I read it over and over.

    Unfortunately we were forced to move to another country and I had to leave most of my possessions behind. Nevertheless I still remember this book. I also had a book by him about the Arthurian legends.

  4. There is something funny going on. My comment was much longer than that. I’m not claiming it was deathless prose, but still…

  5. @LH, that’s prinsessor. (Plural since there were some more in the article that Des linked. Reverse causality FTW).

  6. Undskyld!

  7. @LH, you mean Ursäkta! — The ‘sessor that Des was always going on are Swedish, Daisy only has prinser.

  8. I also had a book by him about the Arthurian legends

    So did I: King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. It’s readily available from Amazon and other offensively enormous booksellers both on paper and electronically. I got the spelling Launcelot stuck in my head from reading this book, and Lancelot has somehow always seemed somehow thin and flat to me, like ancient compared to auncyent.

  9. Perhaps Faulkner had the same feeling when he added the u to his name.

  10. My point about Roger Lancelyn Green, who was one of the Inklings, was that he was considered a minor author compared to Tolkien and CS Lewis, but nevertheless he had quite an influence on me. He wrote quite a lot too.

  11. On me too, though much more subtly than Tolkien, whose works are at the very bottom of everything I know about writing of any sort. I think if Tolkien had not published the L.R. he would probably be even less known than Green today.

    His son Richard Lancelyn Green, writer, Sherlockian, and possible murder victim, was also a very interesting fellow. It’s curious that both the Greens and the Tolkiens had an unusual familial given name: Reuel in the Tolkiens’ case.

  12. I got my son Green’s The Adventures of Robin Hood a few months ago, but he didn’t really care for it. I was disappointed, since I liked it so much as a child, but it’s erratic what particular things he decides he likes.

  13. Greg Pandatshang says:

    The title of this post inspired me to remind myself via Google which poet it was who described a spider as possessing “lithe, dictatorial thighs”. Turns out to be one Francis Saltus Saltus of New York, New York. My main thought about this is: what a name this man had! A lithe, dictatorial moniker, one might be inspired to say.

  14. Perhaps he was named after his father Francis H(enry) Saltus. Similarly, John Myers Myers, the author of Silverlock, was named after his grandfather John Myers; his father was John Caldwell Myers.

  15. Francis Saltus Saltus! A dapper-looking fellow, who didn’t even make it to forty. (His gravestone calls him, inter alia, a linguist.)

  16. “He was the elder half-brother of the once popular but now relatively obscure novelist Edgar Saltus.”—Hurray!

    Jerome Klapka Jerome changed his name from Jerome Clapp Jerome, after his father, who had changed his name from Jerome Clapp. A twice-daft family.

  17. Don’t forget Edwin Abbot Abbot, possibly nicknamed “A Squared.”

  18. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    There’s also Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth Secretary-General of the UN.

  19. Rather “A Square”.

    (His gravestone calls him, inter alia, a linguist.)

    No doubt because he could converse in ten languages and wrote poetry in three, rather than because he was a student of language as such.

  20. Indeed, but still always a nice thing to see on a gravestone.

  21. Would “A square” have been idiomatic for A² in Abbot’s time and dialect?

  22. @Brett: “A Square” was the narrator of Abbot’s parable Flatland. I think the inference here, though I never heard it before, is that Abbot may have based this on his own supposed nickname. Two sidelights:

    (1) Math nerds usually miss the Christian aspect of the book. Abbot had written a book called Through Nature to Jesus which was as widely ignored as A Square’s Through Flatland to Spaceland.

    (2) Tolkien, by his own account, was sometimes called “JR Squared.”

  23. Not according to the OED. On Abbot’s grave it refers to his pseudonym as the author of Flatland.

    (jinx!)

  24. January First-of-May says:

    Lev Uspensky’s You and Your Name (Ты и твоё имя) mentions a German novelist by the name of Friedrich Friedrich.

    Apparently, this guy.

  25. Trond Engen says:

    Hat: always a nice thing to see on a gravestone.

    That’s harsh.

  26. David Eddyshaw says:

    There is also, to bring in a poet who would not be justly forgotten, William Carlos Williams. If you’re going to be so neglectful as to inflict the name William on your son Master Williams, you can at least atone like this by giving him a cool middle name. Ezra Pound seems to have called him Bill Bill.

    It was, incidentally, a William Williams who wrote the Welsh original of the hymn “Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” It’s much better than the English version.

  27. And the late Cook Islander poet Kauraka Kauraka.

  28. Not to mention James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree.

  29. Des von Bladet, Burlap of Marginalia, Bearer of Imperial Grudges says:

    It was, incidentally, a William Williams who wrote the Welsh original of the hymn “Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” It’s much better than the English version.

    A tune by any other words would smell as like a dog with no nose to a blind horse, of course, but we always sang “o great redeemer”, and I hadn’t known there was a variant. Probably something to do with halibut.

  30. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart, the unjustly forgotten poet, er, philosopher.

  31. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Grand Burlap:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cwm_Rhondda

    seems pretty comprehensive. I’ve never come across the Welsh version described as “given in the standard collections.” It looks like it’s influenced by the (palpably inferior) English version. My (Welsh Calvinist Methodist) “Llyfr Emynau”, has pretty much the same version as the one the ‘pedia lists under “History.” Perhaps I’m just that old …

    On this business of “improving” hymns, John Wesley himself has said the definitive word:

    “And here I beg leave to mention a thought which has long been upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them ; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favours : either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse ; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page ; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.”

  32. @Rodger C: I have heard it suggested that Abbot was nicknamed “A Squared” and based the name of his narrator “A Square” on that. I thought John Cowan was suggesting that his nickname was actually the same as the name of the character, and I was inquiring whether this was idiomatic.

  33. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Grand Burlap:

    I just triggered moderation retribution by editing a post with a link in (seems to be the common thread …)
    Eh bien … the Wikipedia article for “Cwm Rhondda” says pretty much all one might wish to know.

    I’ve never come across the Welsh version described there as “given in the standard collections.” It looks like it’s influenced by the (palpably inferior) English version. My (Welsh Calvinist Methodist) “Llyfr Emynau”, has pretty much the same version as the one the ‘pedia lists under “History.” Perhaps I’m just that old …

    On this business of “improving” hymns, John Wesley himself has said the definitive word:

    “And here I beg leave to mention a thought which has long been upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them ; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favours : either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse ; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page ; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.”

  34. Also, the benighted Tollemache-Tollemache children.

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    Also http://languagehat.com/the-evolution-of-spanish/

    the superbly named physicist-turned-linguist Cuauhtémoc García-García.
    I dare say you’re entitled to duplicate your name when you have two PhDs.

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    Cuauhtémoc García-García PhD PhD really should relocate to Baden-Baden.

    His background in biophysics could lead to groundbreaking developments in the applications of ylang-ylang.

  37. Maj. Major Major Major.

  38. Also, the benighted Tollemache-Tollemache children.

    Leo Quintus Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet Tollemache!!

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Kev” to his friends.

  40. When Central Asian peoples of the Soviet Union were given Russian surnames, most of them couldn’t quite grasp what a surname was, so they ended up with doubling the patronimic as a surname.

    Hence, people born before 1930s, overwhelmingly have names like Ahmed Karimovich Karimov or Kadyrbek Zhanybaevich Zhanybayev…

  41. Hat: always a nice thing to see on a gravestone.

    That’s harsh.

    Obligatory old joke: An old man is dying. His family is by his bed. “I want to join the Communist party” – “But, Father, your whole life you were against communists” – “And when I’m dead there will be one less communist”

    AFAIK, in Russia nobody fusses about names like Александр Александрович Александров

  42. An old Jewish man is run over by a streetcar and horribly mangled. A Catholic priest runs over to him and says “Do you renounce the Devil and all his works?” The old man looks up to heaven and says “I’m dying here, and you want to talk theology??!”

  43. Eh bien … the Wikipedia article for “Cwm Rhondda” says pretty much all one might wish to know.

    And then some, he muttered darkly. I grew up singing reluctant boy treble in an English church choir, and there were plenty of hymns we sang as were semantically opaque to me, not that I tried very hard to peer through the patinas. I later discovered that the Chermans have many of these hymns with significantly more coherent texts, from which ours had been haphazardly translagiarised.

    I guess I could in principle have learned from this experience to see how liturgical Latin could have seemed reasonable, but I didn’t. In fact I learned nothing at all, including the text of the hymns, and I am not at all sad to see the demise of conscripted choir children although when I say “see” I don’t live in Blighty or go to church so it is very much my inner eye with which I observe these things.

  44. Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Rolf Schwendter was known in radical student circles as Genosse Genosse Genosse, according to WP.

  45. Sir JCass says:

    No mention of Martin Martin?

    Also, there was an Italian humanist called Sperone Speroni.

  46. David Marjanović says:

    Galileo Galilei, who somehow only goes by his first name in English.

  47. Buonarroto Buonarroti, Michelangelo’s obscure brother.

  48. Rodger C says:

    The first permanent European settler in West Virginia was a Welshman named Morgan Morgan.

  49. Sirhan Sirhan. The actor in the book Even Cowgirls Get the Blues who always doubled his lines (“Sure is quiet out there. Sure is quiet out there.”); he was from Walla Walla. Jacob Two-Two (of the eponymous books and TV series) is the youngest child in his family and tends not to be heard; as a result, he repeats everything twice automatically.

  50. January First-of-May says:

    Marianna Donauwellen. Marianna Donauwellen.

    (The Russian translation of Ferdinand the Magnificent – is there an English translation, by the way? I couldn’t find any online – was one of my favorite childhood books.
    Still like it – it’s kind of shortish, but very funny.)

  51. jamessal says:

    Just got to this thread and, first, “lithe dictatorial moniker” gave me a much needed laugh. So thanks, Greg! Fucking Francis Saltus Saltus! I’m still laughing. His line was good, but yours was better.

    Second, I never thought I could be disappointed by James Wood again, but what the fuck? Perhaps if he’d read more of the critic he was so quick to steal from and disparage while doing it** — Hugh Kenner, dead at the time (what a classy pussy!) — he’d understand the concept of genre better and realize that he was either speaking nonsense or letting the sales divisions of publishing companies dictate what he considers worth reading. Every book thay isn’t modernist or post-modernist falls into a genre, some more quickly than others, but even those . . . well, historical fiction, that’s a pretty well established genre, no? So then he hasn’t read the most reliantly excellent novelist of the decade — Hilary Mantel — whose novels about Thomas Cromwell work as well as they do in part because she knows when to employ generic details and settings, so that (this is how genre works, James) she doesn’t have to explain, e.g., subtle actions that characters take for us to infer their significance. The more that writers deprive themselves of generic conventions, the more explaining they have to do, because without experience in similar worlds and similar situations there’s no way for us to know the significance of a glance, a tone, a summons from one character rather than another, a few cryptic words. If a writer wants to tell a story and doesn’t want it to be as difficult to understand basic plotlines as it is in “Ulysses,” some generic controls are needed for cryptic, or even subtle, to become flat-out unintelligible. It’s a matter of degree, in short. And that degree often doesn’t correlate at all with the novel’s merit. Of course sometimes it does, but then novels can be bad for all sorts of reasons. And other than obvious trash, about which Wood needn’t speak, how can you tell ahead of time that the reason a book isn’t worth your time is that its author either relied too heavily on generic controls or simply handled them poorly? Because of the aisle a bookstore’s clerk placed it in?

    **Finally, about that theft, I’ve said it here before — Wood stole his grand theory of free indirect discourse (or whatever still more self-aggrandizing scholarly sounding title he’s slapped on it now) — from Hugh Kenner’s “Joyce’s Voices,” in which Kenner called it the Uncle Charles principle. A real scholar-critic, not to mention a world-class writer, he could have an insight, articulate it as a principle, give it a cool and fitting name, and then move on, knowing that he’d have more insights and that he could always later expand on this one, as he did in other books, like his “Ulysses.” Anyone who doubts the theft itself — or either its concussion-level stupidity or its knowing and malicious intent (that is, Wood can either plead too dumb to critique or guilty plagiarism and dickishneas) — need only read one short chapter of “Joyce’s Voices” (“The Uncle Charles Principle”) and the first 20 pages of “How to Write a Novel” (Wood’s phallic Trumpishness rears its ugly head on page 17, if I remember right). I suppose if ever truly confronted, he’ll blame his “Fatal tidying instinct … the desire to gather up several disparate concepts into a single neat theory.” But you know, given the apparent severity of this singular condition, maybe we should give him a break.

  52. jamessal says:

    And now the whole comment’s gone! Ah well, James Wood is a literart larcenist who doesn’t underatand the significance, or really the meaning, of genre. I went into some detail about that. But nevermind, I’m beat.

  53. Fortunately, your original comment was preserved in the e-mail WordPress automatically sends to me, so I’ve reinstated it, fixing the missing period and odd paragraph break; if you want anything else changed, let me know.

  54. jamessal says:

    Thanks! As always, you’re the best!

  55. jamessal:

    Reading is an active and elusive experience. Every reader, reading exactly the same text, will have a slightly different reading experience depending on what s/he projects into the words s/he sees, what strings of meaning and association those words call up in his/her (always) private mind. One can never therefore, talk about the quality of a book separately from the quality of the mind that is creating it by reading it, in the only place books live, in the secret mind. The real reason discussions of the quality of literature get emotionally hot very rapidly is that they inescapably entail a covert judgment being passed on the private and invisible mind of another human being. You can get into trouble by mistaking your reading experience for the reading experience, as though anyone who ran their eyes over the same words brought the same mind to it.

    I’m not one of those control-freak writers who feel that everybody has to read the book precisely as I intended. I know perfectly well they’re going to take this text and turn it into something in their heads that is at most fifty percent my contribution. When I do get feedback, it’s kind of interesting to see the different things they’ll do with it. They startle me sometimes.

    —Lois McMaster Bujold (a genre, but definitely not generic, writer)

    The story of Ender’s Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that we made together.

    —Orson Scott Card (ditto)

  56. jamessal says:

    One can never therefore, talk about the quality of a book separately from the quality of the mind that is creating it by reading it,

    Amd therefore there can be no criticism? Or at least no worthwhile criticism in which critics don’t talk about their personal reactions to the books? I have to say that though I agree in general about the slippery nature of language and what readers will take it to signify, I think you’ve overstated the case considerably. Looking over what you’ve written, I’m not entirely sure what you’re argument is — or rather how literal it is — and I don’t want to do you the disservice of assuming I know your mind from the one paragraph you’ve offered. Can you expand? Are you really saying that because some people have minds that can be challenged and entertained by Dan Jones, his books can’t be said to be inferior to, say, “Dubliners”? To me that says a lot more about the aforementioned minds than the possibility or lack thereof of accurately assessing the merits of a book. I hate slippery slope arguments, so I won’t say anything more resembling one. I’ll just say, well, first, I’m curious about what in my comment made you feel the need to write the one to which I’m now responding and, to make my position clear, that I think criticism is valuable to reading precisely because it can be such a tricky business. Hugh Kenner, Mark Van Doren, Derrick Attridge, Kenneth Rexroth: these critics have both illuminated and addrssed some of the most difficult and influential books we have, from Homer to Shakespeare to Beckett and beyond; to do so they’ve made persuasive arguments about the significance of particular words; and the idea of giving up what I’ve gained from them because of rhe notion that readers have secret, unknowable minds seems wrongheaded. I’m ultimately agnostic, about God, the nature of reality, true love, and the trustworthiness of my mechanic; but the key word there is ultimately. I don’t live my life by that agnosticism; I certainly don’t lead with it; decisions must be made, life must be lived: every day I take leaps of faith. Invoking mysteries of the mind and declaring the impossibilty of ascribing quality to books per se seems to me analogous to leading with the agnosticism, i.e., living my life in scare quotes.

  57. Looking over what you’ve written

    I haven’t in fact written anything here: the first two grafs are by Bujold, the last by Card. And no, I don’t think reader-response criticism is the only kind of criticism, but I think it’s particularly appropriate for the kind of genre books you are talking about: the writer writes for a reader who understands the conventions of the genre. (Modernism and postmodernism are genres too.)

  58. jamessal says:

    John, in what way particularly appropriate? I was in no way being dismissive of genre books — quite the opposite. I was arguing that all works of fiction are genre books to one degree or another — except modernist and post-modernist ones (an exeption I’ll defend in a moment) — and that the degree has little to do with either the setting of the story or how its publisher decided to market it; that since a writer doesn’t need to invent the wheel to write a great book, there’s nothing at all wrong with using generic conventions, prudently; that many books labeleled genre books employ fewer generic conventions than those that don’t, because all writers who want to tell stories in a matter more traditional than Joyce post “Dubliners” aren’t just sitting on the shoulders of a few writerly forebears but rather being carried by a sea of hands to the stage that is their work desks; that it’s impossible to tell which books rely too heavily on generic conventions — making them conventional themselves (i.e., dull) — without actually reading them, given that sales departments both care nothing for quality and more than anyone else codify and label the books (their product); and that therefore it’s idiotic to write off genre books, or any other umbrella term developed by salesmen, especially if you’re not just a consumer but a literary critic.

    I haven’t in fact written anything here: the first two grafs are by Bujold, the last by Card.

    Since you addressed me an then used neither quotation marks nor blockquotes, I’m sure you can see why I found that unclear. Seeing the attributions, I assumed the first paragraph was yours, the others by the authors whose attributions they preceded.

    (Modernism and post-modernism are genres too.) Only in the shallowest, marketing sense mentioned above. “Ulysses” is so difficult to read, even though it tells a story far more precise than most novels, because it used few, if any, generic conventions. That made it incredibly difficult to decipher the action — the trade off is that merely figuring out just what someone is doing in “Ulysses” is often as thrilling as reading a clear, exciting story — and though books later emulated it and took its approach further, that lack of reliance on generic conventions remains at the heart of both modernist and post-modernist books. So, no, I would call modernism and post-modernism a literary movement, but most definitely not genres. Not that it makes modernist and post-modernist books any better for it. There are simply tradeoffs.

  59. John, in what way particularly appropriate?

    It’s appropriate to look at books through the genre lens (I think that’s better than saying “look at genre books”) using reader-response criticism because the conventions of the genre exist not just in the writer’s head, nor in the head of any one reader, but are distributed throughout all the heads in question, just as the language is. Indeed, a great deal of genre writing is knowing how to use the language of the specific genre. Science fiction and fantasy make this loud and clear: if you use a term like FTL or bag of holding, you better know what that means, or your readers will “throw the book in the fire” (John Gardner, TAoF, in a different context). Anyway, I agree with everything in your first paragraph.

    I’m sure you can see why I found that unclear.

    Yeah, my bad.

    Ulysses is so difficult to read, even though it tells a story far more precise than most novels, because it used few, if any, generic conventions.

    Moby-Dick is hard to read too, and I think that’s because it’s a failed attempt to create a new genre out of existing ones (sea stories, castaway stories). If it had caught on, instead of being almost forgotten for more than seventy years, it might be seen as the Lord of the Rings of its genre. New genres are rarely actually new: the L.R. has its precedessors too, but it came to define both what came before and what has come after. (Interestingly, one of the critics who helped bring M-D back to life in the 1920s was D.H. Lawrence, himself the creator of a genre.)

    But as for Ulysses being genre-free, it is no more so than the Well-Tempered Clavier is atonal. In fact it is a virtuoso demonstration of every known genre, from historical fiction in “The Oxen of the Sun” to drama in “Circe” to the dramatic monologue in “Penelope”. From there we jump to another failed attempt to create a new genre in Finnegans Wake.

  60. jamessal says:

    John,

    I’m so glad we’re making headway. I think you’ll see we agree entirely once I make clear the difference between “genre-free” and “free of generic conventions.” No novel that tells a story — certainly not one as manfiold in its ultimately perlucid narrative as “Ulysses”– can be genre-free. All stories have been told before, so any book with a coherent story will fall into a genre. What made “Ulysses” the revolutionary work it is — its absence in 20th century literature as unthinkable as that of General Relatively in 20th century physics (to paraphrase Kenner) — is that it told its story with virtually no generic conventions. I’ll use your words to illustrate:

    It’s appropriate to look at books through the genre lens (I think that’s better than saying “look at genre books”) using reader-response criticism because the conventions of the genre exist not just in the writer’s head, nor in the head of any one reader, but are distributed throughout all the heads in question, just as the language is. Indeed, a great deal of genre writing is knowing how to use the language of the specific genre.

    I’ll also use Hugh Kenner’s, the first words referring to Ulysses:

    A visit to a privy might be pointed to as an instance of perfectly lucid narrative. And one character, Stephen Dedalus, was carried forward from Joyce’s earlier A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, qhere he whored and had highflown thoughts. Still, the reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, a neurologist names Collins, thought it plausible that only he and the author had ever read Ulysses through twice.

    For printed words on a page — any words, any page — are so ambiguously related to each other that we collect sense only with the aid of a tradition: this means, helped by prior experience with a genre, and entails our knowing what genre is applicable.

    Clearly you and Kenner are describing the same literary phenomenon — one that I’ve come to call generic conventions. Just as clearly, they’re neither bad nor good per se, but as you go on to illustrate they can certainly be handled badly — just like they can be handled excellently. By using various modes of established story-telling, they enable the author to skip expository mountains and write subtly, succinctly — well, in short — without the reader either having to study the book, likely with reference guides, merely to understand the significance of a name like Kinch, let alone entire plotlines.

    In “Ulysses,” Joyce decided to forgo virtually all generic conventions — to fabulous, albeit immensely difficult to feel, effect. When one realizes that Stephen Dedalus is going to a funeral, or that Leopold Bloom is wandering about town aware that he’s being cuckolded and trying not to think about it, it feels like an epiphany in itself, even though it’s just a plotpoint. That’s the advantage to Joyce’s method. Though it has obvious setbacks, it was also revolutionary, actually new. And it engendered a tradition of its own, though the nature of that tradition made the books that fall within it no less difficult for having one. Modernism entails eschewing generic conventions, so not only does the tradition itself comprise books without conventions to draw on but also a new modernist book, if it’s to stay true to the modernist tradition, shouldn’t be looking for a pool of shared literary knowledge to make it easier to begin with.

    Indeed, Beckett took the modernist tradition even further — in terms of not relying on generic conventions — by leaving the very stories in his plays and novels largely implicit: all we we know is that something has happened, or will happen, or is expected to happen — we are somewhere in someone’s story, often the end — and the pleasure is in both the linguistic genious and the comedic allusions to a story whose full form will always elude us: comedic, hell, often downright hilarious, because we soon pick up on the fact that we’ve been given a puzzle lacking most of the pieces — and even knowing that we can’t help but look for a corner piece, an impulse for which Beckett never stops mocking us, a joke that never tires because we’re both always in on it and its butt — and also because Beckett’s characters aren’t in on this joke; to them whatever we’ll never know, and can thus treat lightly, is deathly serious — often the tragedy of their lives — filling the sometimes overwhelming humor with pathos that can never be ignored, which then heightens the humor, which then in turn leaves us all the more vulnerable to the pathos. And yet no two plays or novels are the same. The stories, implied and ultimately unknowable as they may be, are also always distinct and as fleshed out as a novel’s in which we would get the details. Otherwise, Beckett would just be a pony with an incredible trick rather than the prolific genius he was. But I’ve gotten off track: I adore Beckett. And it’s time for dinner. I just hope the distinction between genre-less and generic conventions didn’t get lost in my superfluous appreciative remarks on my literary crush.

  61. jamessal says:

    More on Moby Dick later!

  62. I think it’s silly to claim that these books do not have a genre. The idea that the reader is supposed to be puzzling out what the characters are doing and why is itself a genre convention (and one which can, like any such convention, become hackneyed and unpleasant).

  63. jamessal says:

    Thank you for your opinion, Brett. But as I made abundantly clear I never said these books, by which I assume you mean modernist and post-modernist novels, can’t comprise mutual genres. Rather, the traditions — or genres, if you like — eschew generic conventions. And given the inherent difficulty in these genres — for their readers and writers — obviously books by writers not nearly as talented as Joyce and Beckett but nonetheless trying to emulate them would be hackneyed and unpleasant.

    I must say, however, that lumping the two terms I took some pains to distinguish — genre and generic conventions — into “genre convention” is frankly annoying. If you meant generic convention, then you simply haven’t been reading carefully, because the whole point of generic conventions is to avoid all the “puzzling out” that makes “Ulysses” a book rewarding even after years and years of reading it. If you meant something else, please articulate. Otherwise, to answer all but the ambiguous part of your two-sentence comment: 1) I think it’s silly too, but you’re the only one who’s made the claim; 2) indeed, obviously, no one said otherwise.

    In fact, most novels labeled post-modernist in the past 50 years have been utter crap. James Kellman and Don DeLillo at his best are two exceptions. They can write some terrific prose, if not post-modern masterpieces, like Beckett’s whole trilogy of novels: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable (I have yet to read Watt and How it Is, though I have no reason to expect any less than from the trilogy). The sad fact is that most people, including critics and writers, don’t really know what modernism and post-modernism are, though that doesn’t stop them from talking as if they do.

    It is incredibly hard to write a great modernist novel, like Ulysses — so hard that few writers have attempted it. Please do show me the many hackneyed and unpleasant books like it. It’s just as hard, if not harder, to write a post-modern literary masterpiece, but since post-modernism is harder to define, many authors have emulated the easiest parts and gotten their books labeled such. So post-modernist trash abounds.

    I apologize for being brusque, but John Cowan and I were just starting to make real headway, and it was irritating to then find a comment calling things that merely sounded like things I’d just said silly. Your comment then went on to make obvious pronouncements, as if something I’d written made clear I believed otherwise. It is, in short, annoying to be misrepresented, but I apologize for my tone all the same.

  64. jamessal says:

    About Moby Dick: it may be difficult — may be more difficult than I know (it’s been years since I read it as an adult, and having read quite a bit about it beforehand, I didn’t find it difficult that second time around, though either I simply needed the criticism and scholarship I read to make it relatively easy or there’s still a lot I’m missing) — but, regardless, I highly doubt it’s nearly as difficult as Ulysses. In fact I’d wager my bank account’s total on its best day that if we gave two intelligent undergrads hitherto unexposed to either book six months to read them before answering essay questions — they can even have a book up to 100 pages to aid in their quests for literary knowledge — those students would by any reasonable standard do far, far better on their Moby Dick tests.

    My understanding is the book was, and still is for the most part, enormously misunderstood. I’ve heard graduate students, working on their dissertations, claim that the prose of the supposedly boring sections — the encyclopedic chapters on the whale — were there to balance out the ornate, engaging prose of the seafaring adventures. Of course, those supposedly boring chapters are nothing of the sort but rather send-ups of academic writing, parody in short — of that and much else.

    Melville wanted to write a novel that had everything: parody, satire, allegory, reportage, sociology, criticism of many types, history, a ripping yarn of course, and more. And he succeeded, albeit not in fame or fortune in his lifetime. He also didn’t start a literary movement, like Joyce, though like the failure of his coevals to make him rich that can hardly be held against him.

    Both authors wrote sui-generis masterpieces, but not only was Melville further ahead of his time (by about 50 years) — not only did Melville lack the connections to get his book into the right hands and have the things he wanted/needed said — but Melville’s vision was for his book alone, and suitably so. A tradition in which writers do everything they think they’re capable seems either more doomed or unfortunate than the worst to come after Joyce. Melville didn’t start a movement; he wrote a great novel that influenced writers to come, showing them that — though they need not be as bold — their form was capable of more than previously imagined. I’d say the most direct literary descendant from Melville is Pynchon.

  65. I think we agree now about everything except just why Ulysses is a difficult book, modulo whatever you have to say about Moby Dick (looking forward to it!) I think it’s hard not because it doesn’t use generic conventions — on the contrary, I think it is full of them — but because it systematically subverts them. “Nausicaa”, for example, is a stroke story written in the style of a girl’s romance. The generic conventions are present, but they not only don’t help you read the book, they make it harder than it would be if there truly were none.

    That said, I think Ulysses is actually much easier to read now than when it was first published, because we are more used to this sort of discombobulation now. The popularity of generic crossover stories, fantasy/romance or science-fiction/mystery or what not, among both readers and writers has trained 21C readers to some extent. But it may be just that I myself have gotten older and more experienced over that time.

    Another Bujold quote, not directly on point but offered up as of interest: “As romance stories are fantasies of love and detective stories are fantasies of justice, [modern] science fiction stories are fantasies of political action.”

  66. I now agree with both of you!

  67. L00k, d00d, either the Big U has got generic conventions or it doesn’t has got them! You can’t have it both ways.

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Ulysses” has generic conventions, and simultaneously does not have generic conventions, until it is read, at which point the wave function collapses.

  69. Ulysses thus represents quantum theory, the Wake the more advanced quark theory (see: Muster Mark).

  70. In his (unfortunately, not that good, in my opinion) book The Quark and the Jaguar, Murray Gell-Mann touches on the question of how “quark” should be pronounced. He says he realized, belatedly, that it probably ought to rhyme with “Muster Mark,” but he also justified the pronunciation he chose as being suggestive of “quart.”

  71. Eli Nelson says:

    @Brett: I assume you know this already, but it may be helpful to clarify for others that the atomic particle name “quark” did not actually originate from the Joyce passage; Gell-Mann first thought of the name (with the “or” pronunciation) and then noticed “quark” in Joyce and adopted this spelling, according to the OED.

  72. Star Trek: Deep Space 9 had a character named Quark, but the creators didn’t seem to care about standardizing the pronunciation: some of the other characters said /kwɑːɹk/, others /kwɔːɹk/.

  73. There’s also the 1977 TV series Quark, which is about a space garbage scow. It seems to have similar variation in the pronunciation of the name of the main character.

  74. Eh, it’s like ee-conomics vs. eh-conomics — everybody knows what you’re talking about anyway.

  75. J.W. Brewer says:

    by the time of that ’70’s sitcom set in space (which I remember fondly), network executives had found an early MS of Finnegans Wake with the alternative reading “three quarks for Mork from Ork,” which obviously suggested a different pronunciation. BTW, in a thread from a few years ago John Wells makes the following excellent technical point (showing why Anglophones’ intuition doesn’t prod them to pronounce “quark” with the same vowel as “quart”):

    perhaps I should have mentioned that. The historical post-w backing that affected “wad, squad, war, swarm, water, quarter” did not operate before velars (“wag, whack, swag, swank, quack”). Hence our reluctance to apply it in the case of “quark”.

  76. Ah yes, the infamous “Shazbat Edition” of the Wake.

  77. Better that than the Dalton recension.

  78. jamessal says:

    I think it’s hard not because it doesn’t use generic conventions — on the contrary, I think it is full of them — but because it systematically subverts them. “Nausicaa”, for example, is a stroke story written in the style of a girl’s romance. The generic conventions are present, but they not only don’t help you read the book, they make it harder than it would be if there truly were none.

    But it’s not the generic conventions that are subverted in “Nausicaa.” I fear we may need to bat the ball back and forth before a bit before we decide on how much we agree, because either I still haven’t been clear about what generic conventions are or you’ve failed to evince an understanding of just how lacking they are in Ulysses — a failure that doesn’t necessarily entail your not understanding said dearth. So, I’m still hopeful.

    But first it’s worth remembering that “Nausicaa” is one of the most seemingly straightforward chapters in the book, probably the easiest to just read through and not worry you’re missing something. Indeed, just as Nausicaa’s father, the king of Phaeacia, gave Ulysses a badly needed respite, the chapter “Nausicaa” does much the same, providing readers a narrative with enough generic conventions for them to feel land beneath their feet after being discombobulated by “The Cyclops.” And yes, though “Nausicaa” does ultimately continue Bloom’s story — and add to it subtly along the way — it reads like a chapter from Dubliners, which most of Ulysses does not. The method of subversion is an extension of one I mentioned earlier — the Uncle Charles Principle — much deployed more simply in that earlier work: the idioms of a cheap romance, though spoken by the narrator, really belong to Gerty. That’s what’s subverted, the initial subversions of the Uncle Charles Principle. For though “Nausicaa” largely comprises literary parody — something the average reader, if there is such a thing (but still), wouldn’t even discern — the parody gets turned on its head, because what better way to articulate the thoughts, (hopeless) hopes, and self-image of a poor girl from Dublin than with her own words and phrases from her own idiolect? The discerning reader first laughs at these cliches of Gerty’s — and of Cissy and Edy’s, obviously (would-be sophisticates, we treat the girls no better than the cruel citizen treated Bloom in the previous chapter), but then we come to feel for her deeply. Joyce is kinder to his readers than to most of his Dublin characters, allowing us to redeem ourselves for laughing at an uneducated girl — as he should, of course, since we haven’t actually hurt anyone with our smugness and now should be less eager to do so (a character analogous to a cyclops will never have the chance to hurt anyone other than another character, though of course he does do that, seeing the world only one way, as if with one eye, a way in which Bloom is a pariah).

    To get a sense of generic conventions and their relative lack, reread “The Cyclops”: the far from omniscient narrator is anonymous, though full of character, enabling him to keep the usual grounding details of any story to himself (hell, he knows where he is and what’s what!); the style changes radically from page to page, from play-like dialogue, to demotic yet nebulous paragraphs, to abruptly high-falutin ones; it includes a full page of names of putative Irish heroes, including some true ones, some true sounding-ones, and the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Captain Boycott, Adam and Eve, and one Dick Culdee; and the main character is no more salient than any other, of which there are a multitude. Nobody could mistake it for a stroke story or, without putting some real work into the mistake, any other kind of story at all.

    Returning to the crux, though, generic conventions are nothing but grease for a story: too much makes it unctuous, too little and you’ll have trouble getting anywhere. They give readers a sense of direction and let them know where they should be looking, and they enable writers to, e.g., make significant plot advancements with only a few words. Ditto for character development. Ditto for a touching or meaningful scene. Ditto for anything an author might want to accomplish while telling a story. Telling a story without generic conventions is a recipe for an incredibly long and tedious book, even for the most erudite readers.

    And yet there are exceptional books, like Ulysses, that make it worth it. Instead of following the plot, you have to figure out what it is Instead of chapter ending epiphanies, you have random ones upon deciphering the tone of a conversation or the significance of a single word in the middle of a paragraph. Ulysses is the story of one man’s day, Leopold Bloom’s, and though minute by minute it can be traced with more precision than an episode of 24, it is told with so few generic conventions that it takes over 600 pages of close reading — and a hell of a lot of specific knowledge — to truly follow it, let alone pick up on every allusion, and it’s so good that all the inherent time and mental energy is rewarded many times over: like riding a bicycle with no grease whose gears, if you know how to listen, sound like Mozart.

  79. jamessal says:

    That should’ve been story from Dubliners, obviously, not chapter.

  80. reread “The Cyclops”: […] Nobody could mistake it for a stroke story

    No, no, it’s “Nausicaa” that’s a stroke story: Bloom stares at Gerty in a public place and has sexual fantasies about her (as she has about him): she exposes herself to him, and he masturbates (and maybe she has an orgasm too, the narrative doesn’t make it clear). You can find a thousand like it on Literotica. But the girly-romance conventions make it necessary to decipher this plot rather than making it clear from the first page what kind of plot it will be. This is the case I’ve primarily had in mind the whole time, though “Oxen of the Sun” is a fine example too, with its historical romance style concealing its mundane modern action.

    So are these stylistic features not generic conventions in your sense, or do you think I’m missing the point in some other way?

  81. David Eddyshaw says:

    Joyce himself apparently said that the Nausicaa episode was entirely in Bloom’s imagination, so that it is not Gerty’s fantasy, but Bloom’s fantasy of Gerty’s fantasy. Which actually makes sense … and also means that Joyce is not laughing at Gerty herself at all.

  82. It was not very nice of Joyce to shift all the blame for Gerty’s inner thoughts to Bloom. Of course, it is possible that it was Bloom who imagined Gerty to be such a one-dimensional character, maybe because that’s how he viewed young pretty women (but what about his daughter?) or maybe that’s what he was inclined to think at that exact moment. But, really, Bloom is completely incapable of grotesque and, of course, does not have such deep knowledge of girly romances to ascribe all these thoughts to Gerty. The intent and general attitude might be Bloomian, but execution is Joycean.

  83. David Eddyshaw says:

    I don’t find it at all impossible that Bloom would be familiar with the style of girly romances. He’ll have read Molly’s stuff… And his view of Gerty would inevitably be one-dimensional, as he’s never met her. Again, this is not supposed to be Bloom’s empathetic imagining of Gerty’s actual inner life (at which, I agree, he’d probably do better than most middle-aged men) but a sexual daydream.

    Bloom is capable of grotesque. (Surely you can’t be serious!) Joyce, like Dickens, solves the literary problem of making a truly good person sympathetic, believable and interesting by making them also a bit ridiculous. The author gets under your guard.

    Come to that, it’s often seemed to me that this is not merely a way of avoiding your character come across as a dull prig, but based on observation of real life.

  84. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thinking about Molly’s taste in literature (which certainly extends farther than girly romance) I looked up Paul de Kock on Wikipedia:

    “The stories are full of observation at first hand and of spicy humor. The 1905 New International Encyclopædia describes his stories as rather vulgar, but not immoral, demanding no literary training and gratifying no delicate taste.”

    Perfect for Molly.

  85. jamessal says:

    No, no, it’s “Nausicaa” that’s a stroke story:

    I don’t know how you thought I mistook you to be saying otherwise! I thought I made clear that while we generally agreed on “Nausicaa,” it was a poor example for the stylistic turbulence that otherwise abounds in Ulysses — I said it read more like a story from Dubliners, which most of Ulysses does not — and therefore, being an exception and not the rule, shouldn’t be used to make a general statement about the book, especially when the statement entails a controversial term for which we’ve taken some effort to share an understanding. Okay, I didn’t say all that, but I said a good deal of it — and expanded on it just now to make the point clearer still. Is it rude to ask you to reread my comment?

    To make it less so, at least, I’ll add more clarification about what I said and why. I said that nobody could mistake “Cyclops” for a stroke story or — and here’s the crux — any other kind of story at all with which a reader might be familiar. Even the whole first part of the book, which Stephen Dedalus dominates, lacks much of what would make the interactions with his roommates intelligible. It also requires a great deal of specialized knowledge to understand the significance of various scenes and drifts from his thoughts to external action with no helpful little phrases to let the reader know that’s what’s happening. And his interior monologues include, mostly in the third chapter, everything from parts we’d only understand with knowledge from another book (Dubliners) to seemingly unconnected bits of pure esoterica, usually Thomism.

    Generic conventions constitute everything that would clarify the tone of the initial conversation and later help the reader 1) realize that the snatches of esoterica are part of an interior monologue that again shifts to other modes of narrative and back again with no notice, 2) understand the the esoterica itself, indispensable as that understanding is even to the actually quite funny action, let alone what’s conveyed about Dedalus, and 3) make the connections between these crucial bits of arcana, for that too is both relatively difficult, even with a basic understanding of the arcana, and essential to even mostly following and enjoying the chapter. Everything that Joyce could have provided but purposefully held back is a generic convention, and indeed without our filling them in — a Herculean task without the aid of scholarship — Part 1 fits no genre I know of. Even filled in, it’s not really clear what the story we’ve just started is about.

    And no further help is coming — because although we can track Stephen hour by hour (and often far more precisely) even when he’s off the page, Joyce doesn’t make that easy for us — for Stephen then seemingly disappears without so much as a narrative gesture that he’ll be back and that, though he isn’t the hero of this story, as it turns out, he will play a crucial role in it. In short, even the generally acknowledged more traditional first section is largely lacking in generic conventions, and the rest of the book is more so. “Nausicaa” is something of an exception, for the reasons we both articulated — Joyce had other aims there — but then again what kind of novel takes a break to tell a chapter-long short story, in which our hero is barely seen? In fact, as other commenters have pointed out — and as I did before — Bloom isn’t as absent as he seems. His seeming absence owes yet again to a lack of generic conventions. In fact, therein may lie the part of reason for “Nausicaa”‘s seeming exception in its lack of generic conventions (I provided another simpler one in my previous comment), because though they do abound if the chapter is read as a short story, it isn’t a short story. And its reason for being there, in the story of Leopold Bloom, isn’t at all explicit and thus entails another lack of generic conventions itself, in that it raises questions about the novel as a whole which Joyce studiously refuses to answer in any conventional way.

    I still hope that you reread my earlier comment and that now we’ll at least be closer to clarity, if not agreement. I’m hoping for agreement.

  86. Just to warn people: WebFaction is going to take the site down for a couple of hours; they said it would be between 14:00 and 16:00 UTC today, which is 10am–12pm EDT, but it hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, don’t be alarmed when it does.

  87. jamessal says:

    Joyce himself apparently said that the Nausicaa episode was entirely in Bloom’s imagination, so that it is not Gerty’s fantasy, but Bloom’s fantasy of Gerty’s fantasy. Which actually makes sense … and also means that Joyce is not laughing at Gerty herself at all.

    Well, as I hope I made a good argument for, Joyce was never mocking Gerty either way. That said, Joyce said a lot of things to a lot of people, including the critics reviewing his book, and not only can we trust neither the recollection of someone with whom Joyce corresponded, or spoke to, nor Joyce’s, well, let’s call it sincerity (he grossly simplified to the critics especially); we also can’t go on nothing but authorial intent, not even in Ulysses.

    Bloom is completely incapable of grotesque and, of course, does not have such deep knowledge of girly romances to ascribe all these thoughts to Gerty. The intent and general attitude might be Bloomian, but execution is Joycean.

    David, though I agree in spirit with your response to D.O.’s claim that Bloom is completely incapable of grotesque — in fact I agree with most of what you say — the fact remains that Bloom is far indeed from being grotesque. He may be capable of it, under some more extreme circumstance than his own cuckolding, but we’ll never know. Ridiculous? Absolutely. And that point you made well describes one of the many ways Joyce makes us feel for Bloom. But D.O.’s assertion that Bloom likely lacks the knowledge of Gerty’s world to dream her up so thoroughly is sticking with me. And I think his final sentence cuts to the core: “The intent and general attitude might be Bloomian, but the execution is Joycean.” That sounds right as rain to me, having said the chapter reads like a story from Dubliners.

  88. jamessal says:

    D.O., I won’t address you directly until you return my leaf blower. Seriously, though, talking about you rather than to you — while putting in my two cents about a few comments made by you and David Eddyshaw — that wasn’t at all intentional. It was just late at night and that was the form the prose took. I apologize. To talk about you rather than to you is rude, at least in person. In this forum, it’s well, come to think of it. . . entirely normal. But I’ll leave the apology anyway. The internet lacks enough courtesy to be courteous online whenever the impulse strike.

  89. jamessal says:

    Steve, I’m sorry, but I was just reading my last long comment to John Cowan out loud to Robin, and could I trouble you to make two more simple but, in one case, crucial changes? Thank you for making the ones you already have: I think I passed out after hitting submit. The first sentence of the third paragraph should start, “Generic conventions constitute everything”; the only changes needed are adding the phrase “Generic conventions constitute” and de-captilizing the e in “everything.” Also, the first sentence in the following paragraph — the fourth (these paragraph numbers are of my own writing and don’t include the italicized quote at the top) — should have a “for” after its second, closing em dash. Little more help please? I’ve got a paragraph-long sentence that’s nothing but a giant head noun, and the second change, well, it’s not the crucial one, but it will improve the sentence (and was intended all along). Thanks for whatever you can do. And I’ll dial back the special requests to extremely rare to non-existent, by posting neither when I’m too tired to edit nor tired enough to be easily distracted and forget that I should be using the 15 minutes after submitting to reread what I’ve written. Of course, if you’re busy — or you’ve just had it, dammit! — I’ll understand, of course.

  90. Done! Let me know if I got it wrong or if there is anything else you’d like corrected; it’s really no problem. I enjoy using my godlike powers.

  91. Power tends to corrupt, but absolute power makes one a copy editor.

    “He has to take one of these pills every four hours to control his appetite for global domination.”

  92. James: I simply can’t accept that “Nausicaa” is anything like a story from Dubliners. Which one of these first-and-second sentences doesn’t belong? (I’ve deleted the proper names except Dublin.) I think the answer is obvious on stylistic grounds.

    North _____ Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the _____ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground.

    The grey warm evening of August had descended upon the city and a mild warm air, a memory of summer, circulated in the streets. The streets, shuttered for the repose of Sunday, swarmed with a gaily coloured crowd.

    The bell rang furiously and, when Miss _____ went to the tube, a furious voice called out in a piercing North of Ireland accent: “Send _____ here!” Miss _____ returned to her machine, saying to a man who was writing at a desk: “Mr _____ wants you upstairs.”

    Old _____ raked the cinders together with a piece of cardboard and spread them judiciously over the whitening dome of coals. When the dome was thinly covered his face lapsed into darkness but, as he set himself to fan the fire again, his crouching shadow ascended the opposite wall and his face slowly re-emerged into light.

    _____, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry behind the office on the ground floor and helped him off with his overcoat than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest.

    It was _____ who introduced the Wild West to us. He had a little library made up of old numbers of _____ , _____ and _____.

    The summer evening had begun to fold the world in its mysterious embrace. Far away in the west the sun was setting and the last glow of all too fleeting day lingered lovingly on sea and strand, on the proud promontory of dear old _____ guarding as ever the waters of the bay, on the weedgrown rocks along _____ shore and, last but not least, on the quiet church whence there streamed forth at times upon the stillness the voice of prayer to her who is in her pure radiance a beacon ever to the storm-tossed heart of man, _____ , star of the sea.

    There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window: and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly.

    Mrs _____ was a butcher’s daughter. She was a woman who was quite able to keep things to herself: a determined woman.

    Eight years before he had seen his friend off at the _____ and wished him godspeed. _____ had got on.

    The matron had given her leave to go out as soon as the women’s tea was over and _____ looked forward to her evening out. The kitchen was spick and span: the cook said you could see yourself in the big copper boilers.

    Two gentlemen who were in the lavatory at the time tried to lift him up: but he was quite helpless. He lay curled up at the foot of the stairs down which he had fallen.

    The cars came scudding in towards Dublin, running evenly like pellets in the groove of the _____ Road. At the crest of the hill at Inchicore sightseers had gathered in clumps to watch the cars careering homeward and through this channel of poverty and inaction the Continent sped its wealth and industry.

    She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne.

    Mr _____ , assistant secretary of the _____ Society, had been walking up and down Dublin for nearly a month, with his hands and pockets full of dirty pieces of paper, arranging about the series of concerts. When the dome was thinly covered his face lapsed into darkness but, as he set himself to fan the fire again, his crouching shadow ascended the opposite wall and his face slowly re-emerged into light.

    Mr _____ lived in _____ because he wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern and pretentious. He lived in an old sombre house and from his windows he could look into the disused distillery or upwards along the shallow river on which Dublin is built.

    In any case, why doesn’t “stream of consciousness” count as a generic convention of modernism?

  93. jamessal, I didn’t notice any problem at all. I will return your leaf blower with the first north-north-east wind.

  94. Rodger C says:

    I’m sorry, I had to laugh out loud at “_____ , star of the sea.”

  95. Yes, I felt stupid leaving that name out, but rules is rules.

  96. January First-of-May says:

    You missed “At the crest of the hill at _____”, though 🙂

  97. jamessal says:

    John, I said “Nausicaa” reads more like a story from Dubliners than it reads like most other chapters in Ulysses, and I stand by that. Of course the paragraph that starts “The summer evening” differs stylistically from Dubliners: “Nausicaa” differs not only stylistically but also in other more pertinent ways from the rest of Ulysses. We’re still caught on the term generic conventions, but happily the examples you adduced (a quiz, really?) to make your point might just help me finally convey the term’s significance.

    Instead of lingering over the obvious inconsistencies between the prose in Dubliners and that in “Nausicaa,” let’s note the consistencies. First, but less important, the subtle one: they both employ the Uncle Charles Principle; the normally neutral narrative is pervaded by little clouds of idioms, as if a character had gotten at the manuscript during one of Joyce’s smoke breaks: Lily is literally knocked off her feet, two gentleman were in a lavatory, and an evening invades a woman’s vantage of the street. The last might be a stretch, or it might just be more subtle (I don’t remember that story as well as the other two), but the bolded words all reveal more about the characters than the neutral narrator’s words would: Lily is poorly educated, the men desperately want to be two gentleman who happen to both be in a lavatory rather than two guys together in a shitter, and the woman feels vulnerable. In fact, the paragraph from “Nausicaa” is less different from Dubliners than it at first seems: Joyce has merely extended his principle and let the characters really take the reins, so that the normally neutral narrative has been pervaded not by a little cloud of idioms but rather a thick fog.

    It’s the same principle, only Joyce has made it obvious in order to later subvert it with sympathy, engendering pathos. He’s never so kind to any of his characters in Dubliners, let alone the ones who put on airs, like the aforementioned gentleman, the dinner guests in “The Dead,” and Uncle Charles himself (who repairs to his outhouse). No, that one passage doesn’t belong in The Dead; I never said it did. But Joyce was about a decade older, wiser, and more practiced by the time he finished Ulysses, so it’s not unreasonable to surmise that he’d extended his principle a great deal, from little clouds to a dense fog, especially when you consider that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man constituted entirely a narrative method of expressive mimicry — essentially the Uncle Charles Principle writ large, as in “Nausicaa.” “A general truth about Joyce’s method,” wrote Hugh Kenner in Joyce’s Voices, “[is] that his fictions tend not to have a detached narrator, though they seem to have. [. . .] One reason the quiet little stories in Dubliners continue to fascinate is that the narrative point of view unobstrusively fluctuates.” Now from Nausicaa:

    Gerty MacDowell who was seated near her companions, lost in thought, gazing far away into the distance was, in very truth, as fair a specimen of winsome Irish girlhood as one could wish to see. She was pronounced beautiful by all who knew her though, as folks often said, she was more a Giltrap than a MacDowell. Her figure was slight and graceful, inclining even to fragility but those iron jelloids she had been taking of late had done her a world of good much better than the Widow Welch’s female pills and she was much better of those discharges she used to get and that tired feeling

    Now, if I didn’t know the material and you had included that section of “Nausicaa” in your quiz, you might have stumped me. Its style chimes perfectly with that of Dubliners. And though it’s less the case than in Dubliners — both for reasons laid out above and because “Nausicaa” has its own function in its own book — it does have a detached narrator, though it seems not to. It’s narrative point of view also unobtrusively fluctuates. John, you stacked the deck to make your point in that quiz: you chose perhaps the most stylistically different passage of “Nausicaa” from that of Dubliners, and to make the comparison as clearly outrageous as you insinuated you even had to quote far more of that passage than any of the other passages from which you selected quotations. Examined more closely and comprehensively, “Nausicaa” clearly has much in common with Dubliners. Can you still not accept that it’s anything like it?

    But again, that’s all far less important to what’s holding us up: a shared understanding of generic conventions. So, returning to your quiz, what else do all the quotes and the few pages before or after them have in common? First, they’re all easy to read, for just about anyone; even a reader who misses all of the above — and all the trenchant irony in Dubliner, along with techniques and subtleties that make it a masterpiece — won’t have any trouble following the pages, i.e., knowing what’s happening from one scene to the next or at least feeling confident in that knowledge (ditto for “Nausicaa” pages). Second, readers will be able to infer — or, as above, assume they know — why they’ve being given certain information. Third, everyone will feel confident about why the sentence and even the paragraphs follow each other. Fourth, nobody will be bewildered by esoterica. Fifth, nobody will encounter page-long lists of names which don’t even include the sort of people the narrator said it would. Sixth, no lines will be bewildering if the reader hasn’t read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Seventh, bizarre changes in register won’t throw anyone off. Eighth, nobody will wonder why they now seem to be reading a play. Ninth, it will soon seem clear who the important characters are. Tenth, nobody will ever wonder if they’re actually reading a story of any kind at all.

    Okay, similarities two through ten all fall under the umbrella of the first — they’re all easy to read — but we’ve been having trouble reaching a shared understanding of generic conventions, so I figured I’d include a good number of specific similarities of legible ease, because legible ease depends entirely on generic conventions. To quote Kenner again, this time from his Ulysses:

    Joyce has not the melodramatists trust in motivation, which more often than we may have been aware has served the novelist as a narrative lubricant. Popular novels — easy to write and read — are peopled with being who all each want one thing, and so plotted as to entangle these lines of desire. The thief wants to save his skin, the sleuth wants to catch the thief, the lady wants her jewels returned, the hero wants to impress the lady; at any juncture in however complex a weaving of these threads we need only glimpse one of these characters looking left and right in the street to divine what us happening, and narration can be episodic without confusing us.

    The type of novel Kenner describes is, to stick with the lubricant metaphor, unctuous. That’s because motivation is itself a generic convention, and these novels employ them too freely to be great works of art. But as I’ve been saying, they can — and often are — used more judiciously and skillfully. Hundreds of great novels, as Kenner implied, depend on motivation; hundreds of great novels are easy to read, like bikes whose gears are silent and get no grease on your pants. There are obviously many advantages to using generic conventions. Nonetheless, Joyce chose to eschew them — and thereby founded literary modernism. His bicycle, if you don’t mind my indulging in repeating myself, grinds slowly along, but if you know how to listen the gears sound like Mozart. I’ll finish for now with a long quote from Kenner, because though he doesn’t use the term generic conventions he clearly refers to them, listing some of the compensatory advantages of avoiding them, and articulating why Joyce chose to write a novel that does so (I’m also too bleary-eyed to explain myself what Kenner already put so well and pithily):

    Bloom does scan the headlines of a late-edition Telegraph, but elects to read only the account of the Dignam funeral [. . .] he glances through a racing story on page 3 while Stephen is drawing morose delectation from the foot-and-mouth-disease letter on page 2; from this we may deduce that if we like that when the elements of the Dublin Trinity are assembled at last the Son sits at the left hand of the Father while the Word engages them both.

    Thematic implications of this sort are frequent in the later pages of the book, and frequently whimsical. So many sorts of minor consistency — as that newspaper, in this book, seem to go with funerals, the funeral episode being followed immediately by one set in a newspaper office — hint at vast order, presided over by an intelligence that keeps track of each scrap of waste paper as Providence discerns the fall of sparrows. We are free to muse on the shabby lot of urban man, passing through the jaws of death with for Recording Angel the casual Telegraph reporter (whom we observe — 6.878 — in the act of collecting misinformation). All such reflections are our responsibility. The author’s responsibility as Joyce conceived it was not to frame sententiae but to create, like God, the huge system, seemingly bounded, in which we glimpse such orderly recurrences. As he did not write it straight through but revised and elaborated, so we cannot read it straight through without the intention to reread.

    There are drawbacks to the method, clearly. It must fragment and distribute through a long text what would have been elements of a single ambient awareness. It puts us to the trouble of collating scraps, and put [sic] the writer also to immense trouble in devising plausible ways to tell us simple things. Its compensating advantageous are three. (1) By restricting with its logic a narrator who could otherwise tell us anything he liked, it circumvents a fundamental question most fiction must outface: Why should we be detained with serial preliminaries when we might be hearing their outcome? (2) It strews our way with hundreds of small revelations, microplots to impel us through the long presentation. When we divine that Bloom must be going to a funeral, that, on its minor scale, is as much an event as his going there. (3) By tacitly observing the constraints on someone who is present, it both defines the present person in many little cumulative ways, and permits a sharp vividness, as though we were present also.

    Sorry to quote at such length; there was more I wanted to say myself, and I hope I haven’t lost the thread. I’m just literally passing out now. More soon! I do hope that clarified things a bit.

  98. jamessal says:

    Oh, and to answer your closing question, John, stream of consciousness is a technique that can or cannot use generic conventions. Plenty do. Plenty include bits of exposition, or provide character insights, by employing words and phrases already familiar to us from other books, But read the opening of chapter 3. While in Stephen’s mind, Joyce will not use a single word that wouldn’t be running through it. That diligence makes the stream of consciousness harder to discern than most, because it refuses to use any generic conventions. Does that help?

  99. John, you stacked the deck to make your point in that quiz: you chose perhaps the most stylistically different passage of “Nausicaa” from that of Dubliners, and to make the comparison as clearly outrageous as you insinuated you even had to quote far more of that passage than any of the other passages from which you selected quotations.

    Sorry about that, John. I ended up ignoring “these first-and-second sentences,” likely because not having any formal education I thought it might be some sort of heuristic jargon for the quiz, and thus glossed over it and eventually forgot it. The only way I can blame you is to say that the dashes weren’t warranted, I don’t think, and they heightened my insecurity that it might be some jargon that everyone buy me would know; also that “these two opening sentences” would have been better. But’s that’s all overly defensive and self-involved bullshit. So, sorry again. I obviously shouldn’t have written the above quote. I tried to apologize for it pretty much as soon as I woke up midday (strange schedule, beside the point); I actually submitted three apologetic comments, all of which disappeared the moment I pressed “submit.” Hat can back me up on this, since I wrote him after the third attempt, while rushing to get out the door.

  100. Finally, after I made sure to have a back-up, the apology appeared! I must admit, I’m relieved that I got a chance to apologize before you pointed out my mistake.

  101. Originally I wrote “these first sentences” and then beefed it up to two sentences and made a really minimal change to the introductory sentence. I’ll leave it up to His Hatness to decide if the hyphens were warranted or not. In any case, I took no offense.

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