Saturday, 8 November 2014

Miracle or Mutation?

New things out of old things.  The artist thinks:
A swarthy boy opened a book and propped it nimbly under the breastwork of his satchel.  He recited jerks of verse with odd glances at the text:
-Weep no more, woful shepherd, weep no more
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor…
It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible.  Aristotle’s phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night.  By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy.  Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds.  Thought is the thought of thought.  Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms.  Tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.
A thought enters.  It swims around.  And disturbs the domestic fauna, who shuffling and fluttering kick up the mud and scatter the stones that lie on the mind’s sea-bed. Around and around it goes; almost aimlessly; when suddenly - desire comes like an exclamation mark - it feels the urge to mate.  But…the water is dark and misty.  But what luck!  This intruder - we’ll call him Clive - is too consumed with sexual craving to care about the niceties of the orifice exposed to him.  No matter that it belongs to a different species. Instinct only is left.  He penetrates.  She conceives.  A fluorescent fish swims by to reveal…no, not a whalophin, but a new idea - “thought is the thought of thought….”  After the conception there follows an epiphany - “tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms” -; although to less refined ears it sounds like post-coital repose.

These shenanigans are invisible to the outsider.  Art is conceived in the dark places of the mind that the public would rather not see; one reason, we guess, why Ulysses was attacked by those who should have known better - D.H. Lawrence is a good example.  Leopold and Stephen and Molly are revealing the secrets that lie behind the magic.  They show us the sex talk, the banalities and the contingencies that all go into the show that we call literature.  The mind of the artist.  It is a dirty room in an overcrowded house that lies on the edge of a slum.  We could live with such a truth, after all, a romance can be made out of poverty; but it is hard to accept the solipsism that is impervious to an outside world seen as dull and trivial. 
Over his untasteable apology for a cup of coffee, listening to this synopsis of things in general, Stephen stared at nothing in particular.  He could hear, of course, all kinds of words changing colour like those crabs about Ringsend in the morning, burrowing quickly into all colours of different sorts of the same sand where they had a home somewhere beneath or seemed to.  Then he looked up and saw the eyes that said or didn't say the words the voice he heard said - if you work.
Only a threat to join that world - that reference to work - wakes Stephen out of his revelry.  Of course he rejects this suggestion; but at the same time he misunderstands Bloom, whose defensiveness at his partner’s reaction leads to high-blown words about “important work” and “Ireland”.  Just the kind of bombast - that “synopsis of things in general” - of which the genuine artist is wary.  Such public words have little meaning and are quickly buried by oblivion.

Only the phrases that we create ourselves have value.  The climax of the novel an interior monologue that through its rich romantic and sexual imagery is entirely insulated from the world outside - daytime Bloom is asleep; his feet lying next to Molly’s fantasising head.  Looking once at Bloom’s toes she incorporates them into a flow of words that transforms her middle-aged husband into the young lover she married years before.  Marriage.  This conjoining of two individuals into holy matrimony resembles the interpenetration of two completely separate ideas to create something that is totally new and utterly unique. No wonder she has an epiphany at journey’s end. Molly’s finger rubs her “Flower of the mountain” and ecstasy results. Yes!  Art is a woman masturbating.  An odd idea, for sure.  But a correct one.  

(Review: Ulysses)

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