James Joyce » Best Writer of the (Entire) Twentieth Century?

Rad note » the text contained in this entry originated in another entry. I transferred it here .. to its own, separate entry, because the topic seemed to demand its own page.

I'm not sure why, but it was the most difficult thing .. to off-load this text on Joyce to its own, separate entry. Afterwards, I was downright exhausted. It took me far longer than I ever imagined it would.

Anyway .. at the end of this entry (that you are now reading) I provide a link to return you to the exact spot from which this entry originated.

Here you go...

James Joyce | Age 6 (1888)James Joyce is » One of Us

James Joyce died the same year that Dylan was born » 41. Just like Galileo died the same year that Newton was born (1642).

It is beyond the scope of today's entry .. but perhaps I should note that, after becoming familiar with Joyce ..

.. my impression of him is » he is one of us.

One day in the sweet by-and-by, you are going to walk out onto a baseball diamond to take the field and you are gonna look over and say »

» "Holy Mackerel .. look! .. that's James Joyce. James Ulysses Joyce is on our team. How cool is that? I hope he fields as well as he writes."

As opposed to somebody like, say » Nabokov (1899-1977, born the same year as Hemingway) ..

.. who I read and feel like he is a talent that defies grasping. A monster talent. Obviously. "How does he *do* that?"

Joyce, on the other hand, is someone with whom I feel a certain, easy sense of artistic kinship.

Nabokov used to teach classes on Tolstoy and Anna.

These classes, I feel, were certainly some of, if not THEE best college classes .. in the history of higher education.

James Joyce » Best Writer of the Entire Twentieth Century?

I would be arriving early for those classes.

Leo Tolstoy | 1828-1910And yes, that is a big compliment, I would say.

For not only Nabokov and Tolstoy .. but for the novel itself.

The end result of Tolstoy's hand-crafted art. Some say the best of its kind.

But with Joyce .. I felt something inside (actually) thank God for him. Like you might do for a good friend ..

.. who sticks with you thru even the ugliest of shit. And makes you feel like he is not only glad .. but honored to do so.

[ What you might call » a true dogbrother. Who makes you feel rich to be their friend. ]

This thing, this thank-Godness, it happens on its own. Like a laugh that comes over you that you can't control.

Remind me to tell you the story about the moocow. Joyce's moocow. Every kid oughta know about » the moocow .. that came down along the road.

I can see why intelligent well-read folks might put him (Ulysses) as the #1 novel of the entire Twentieth century.

But his wife, Nora (I read) felt that Finnegan's Wake (published 1939, two years before his death. Joyce's final work, which he spent 17 years writing) was his best (by far).

She said folks didnt get Finnegan's Wake. That makes me wanna see if I can see what it was that they didnt get. A challenge, maybe.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)1939 .. that was the year Grapes of Wrath was published.

Certainly one of the greatest novels of the century.

But I noticed that Steinbeck is not listed on the Top 100 Novels of All Time in Any Language list.

(Tho I think he should be listed there, yes.)

I also noticed that James Joyce *is* listed there. (with Ulysses)

But look at how they put Portrait at #3. They are saying that Joyce gets positions #1 and #3 both .. for the entire century. That is a huge claim.

[ My favorite version of Portrait is the Recorded Books audiobook, because it is narrated by an Irish guy with an Irish accent. ]

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••• today's entry continues here below •••

James Joyce | 1904 Age 21A century is a long time. You will not likely live a century.

And there have been some monster writing talents during that time. During the Twentieth century.

[ Do you not wonder what opinions will come from those living in the Twenty-second century?

What kind of light will be shed upon your text by the unfolding of the ages?

Let me be bold and make a little prediction here and say that » David Mitchell will be one of those names identified as a literary light of the 21st century. ]

And the first three are all » Irishmen. Then comes a Russian.

By this I mean » Joyce grew up in Ireland and Nabakov grew up in Russia.

The fact that Joyce gets spots both #1 and #3 tells me » it is about more than just the writing. Rather, it is also about » the man. The writer himself. And his message. His ability to communicate a message. An important message.

But notice how that same list places Lolita at #4 (.. of the entire Twentieth century). I guess what I am saying .. is that I somehow resonate with the folks who assembled that list.

Cormac McCarthy (1933- ) | The Real Deal[ Tho I cannot understand how they could omit Cormac.

I bet they choked. I bet they 'flinched' .. like Harold Bloom did.

That would be certainly understandable.

Yes, Cormac is hard to read. Full fucking strength.

You need to work out and get in shape before you can even think about reading some of Cormac's gnarlier shit.

Sure, he is still writing .. but I would definitely consider him a Twentieth century writer.

A Cuban Slides a Copy of Cormac's » The Road Across the Table

Tho myself, I did not really become of aware of his talents until the Twenty-first century ..

.. when Big Al (born in Cuba) slid a copy of The Road across the table at the coffee shop and said, "I bet you'll enjoy this."

Big Al must know me pretty well.

Cormac's writing transcends any list that I've ever seen. ]

Everyman I go with thee .. yes, to be thy guide. But only if you read the books.

Dad did not read books. Only the Wall Street journal and Barrons. And maybe the daily newspaper. But never a novel. Ever.

[ So here's what I learned » the man who has only the Wall Street Journal for his guide .. is bound to be lacking. ]

Remind me to tell you the story about when Joyce (as a boy in Portrait) went and talked to the Rector (like the Commodore, like the Wizard himself).

.. because of receiving punishment (palms slapped with ruler and then go kneel on the hard floor) .. that he consider unjust.

Key word » unjust. (Fucking sadists. This is not very different from what I read about in » The Gulag Archipelago.)

The first lesson to be learned here is that .. a man (or boy) who feels unjustly punished will not be easily intimidated.

So you want to try very hard to make them believe and feel that their punishment is deserved. No, they won't believe you, but maybe you can convince yourself.

Lessons number two that young Joyce teaches » if you do bad shit to little kids .. when they grow up, they will tell on your ass. And maybe even get it notarized .. to make it too legit.

Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarineWhen I read in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ..

.. about how young Joyce (Dedalus) went to talk to the Rector ..

.. it brought to mind the time I had to go talk to the Commodore.

Because the Captain kicked me off the ship .. near the end of my enlistment. The very end.

But I will tell that Wizard-of-Oz story some other time. [ Update » done. ]

My point » we should be students of that which we do. If we are going to be the best. The best ever.

Actually, that wasnt my point, but was probably worth mentioning, anyway.

Joyce (like me) walked away from Catholicism. Sorta. Mostly. But you are raised up in it .. during your formative years .. so how can really ever be free of its influence(s)?

Calling bullshit on unjust punishment is another wave-length wherein I resonate with Joyce.

I also noted how Joyce left home (for Paris, the Continent) by age 20. He returned the following year when his mother got sick and died ..

.. after which he left again and never returned .. except for a few short visits. I relate to that.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, pub 1925After I read Gatsby and I saw that Ulysses was ranked even higher .. that got me curious about Joyce. Very curious.

Yes, well worth the curiosity. I admit to being impressed .. tho not in the way I had expected.

I mean, he is walking around in eternity, wearing a wreath that says » Best Writer of the Entire Twentieth Century.

He is actually wearing *two* ribbons .. #1 and another with #3.

And I see what they mean.

Sure, I am still in the process of figuring out his ass. But he opens wide the front door and say, "Come right in. Let me show you what we have here."

Dostoevsky takes you down to his dungeon. "Whoa, aint that some gnarly shit." But Joyce doesnt do that.

Joyce has access to the sensitivities than are required to put into words the most subtle and profound of impressions. That is the thing that impresses me about the Dog. Another Irishman.

Maybe it's a genetic thing? A certain gift from a combination of both nature and environment?

The wreath that Joyce wears was not donned by him. Because this is a wreath that must be placed on your head .. by those living in the next century (.. or later).

Imagine a person materializes right before your eyes. He does not have big muscles and may not even be very handsome (like me).

But the fact that he is doing something .. that you can't even figure out. That is far more remarkable than any other metric you can come up with.

Yes, I am waay abstract right now .. but it is so clear.

When I think of Joyce, I think of » integrity. The writer's integrity. The artist's integrity. All one piece. No or minimal corruption.

Not an easy thing.

Ernest Hemingway's 1923 Passport PhotoWhen Hemingway responds to the question » "What is the best training for a writer?" ..

.. by saying » an unhappy childhood ..

.. he wasnt talking about himself. (I now see.)

The reason that Hemingway and Fitzgerald kicked such ass ..

.. is because they both read Joyce. He was their inspiration. Their bar-setter.

And he set that fucker high. Very high. Wow.

Joyce was 14 years older than Fitzgerald and 17 years older than Hemingway.

I should say here before exiting my sidebar on Joyce .. that yes » he is the real deal (.. like Cormac and Tolstoy and Mandela and Oppenheimer and Einstein and Nietzsche).

He proves it. He throws down in a most impressive fashion. The word » awe comes to mind.

I can be impressed .. but rarely awe'ed.

This is why they assign him not only the top slot .. but positions #1 and #3.

Anybody who had a shitty (unhappy) childhood would understand. And if you don't understand, then » lucky you, my friend.

The best biography of Joyce (1983) is reportedly by Richard Ellmann (1918-1987), which is the first and only revision of the 1959 classic, and which has been called »"the greatest literary biography of the century."

An excellent piece on the bio is published here at the NY Times.

» Joseph Frank's 2009 Bio Condensation on Dostoevsky

Any discussion on the best literary biographies would be incomplete without at least mentioning Joseph Frank's 2009, 900-page condensation of his 'monumental' 5-volume (2,500-page, 1976-to-2002) bio on the Russian writer ..

.. titled » Dostoevsky A Writer in His Time .. paperback released 2012.

Joseph Frank died just 2 years ago (2013). He was a professor at Princeton (pre 1985) and Stanford (post 1985) who spent 30 years researching the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881).

Excellent commentary at Stanford and at the WSJ. Better than I could do.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)Joseph Frank actually mentions the Ellman bio when he quotes from David Foster Wallace in the preface to A Writer in His Time .. where he writes »

» The most perceptive reader of my first four volumes, the much lamented and gifted novelist and critic David Foster Wallace ..

.. remarked that "Ellman's James Joyce, pretty much the standard by which most literary bios are measured, doesnt go into any like Frank's detail on ideology or politics or social theory".

It can be fun to compare and contrast the best of the best, no?

I always enjoy learning about the culture of any era. Makes the picture so much richer. More vibrant. Colorful.

Joseph Frank finishes this very paragraph by writing » "Indeed, one way to define Dostoevsky's originality is to see in it his ability to integrate the personal with the major socio-political and cultural issues of the day."

The end. ■

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