Joyce's achievement is to have fulfilled in a masterly oeuvre a particular promise of art in the twentieth century. We can define elements of his mastery by placing him beside his peers. Pound, so curiously hostile to the Wake and eventually disenchanted with Ulysses after he had championed it, was working parallel to Joyce in that he was tracking the beginnings of civilization and cultures, and meditating on what qualities made them vulnerable to destruction or guaranteed them long life. But whereas Pound hoped to instruct mankind and display history as a lesson, Joyce did not. Man is tragically man, never to elude his fate.
Thomas Mann and Proust both attempted an inclusive and exhaustive configuration of European society, and both built complex symbolic structures which can be compared to Joyce's. Mann beside Joyce apppears pedantic, mechanical, humorless. The life that Joyce breathed into his work is not there. Beside Mann, Joyce's success at integrating all the elements of his work into a moving, articulate whole becomes clear. Mann imposes meaning; Joyce finds it; Mann looks for weakness in strength; Joyce, for strength in weakness. Mann's novels illustrate ideas; Joyce's return ideas to their origins.
Proust, so different from Joyce in temperament and method, is yet strangely close to him in saturating an exact realism with a pervasive internal symbolism. ... Their delineations of the childhood of Stephen Dedalus and little Marcel define two cultures, and their studies of the provincialism of Dublin and of the Faubourgs St.-Honore and St.-Germain are the two classics of their genre. How time deepens and forces tragedy is a common theme. They bear strongest resemblance, surprisingly, in their coming to accept the reader as a presence felt in the act of composition.
16 June 2004
Quote for the (Blooms)Day
From "Ariadne's Dancing Floor" by Guy Davenport, in Every Force Evolves a Form: