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on 1 May 2013
James Joyce's Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing (compiled by Kevin Barry) is a wonderful edition, and one that chronologically charts the Irishman's odyssey through the modern world of letters. Primarily, Joyce spent his early years as a literary critic for the Daily Express, followed by a period of lecturing and intermittent journalism on the continent. The various articles expose Joyce's mutating views regarding literature and Ireland, imperialism and censorship, religion and aesthetics. They also illuminate Joyce's magnificent metamorphosis, his subtle transition from the ornate effusions of his undergraduate days to the refined essays on William Blake and Daniel Defoe.

In some of the earlier pieces, such as 'The Study of Languages', Joyce sings of literature's ability to allow us entry into the 'hearts and spirits' of great writers, 'into the privacy of their proper thoughts'. In the essays 'Drama and Life' and 'Ibsen's New Drama' we witness the gradual creation of Joyce's own aesthetic, an aesthetic in which he openly states his predilection for the 'dreary sameness of existence...[from which] a measure of dramatic life may be drawn'. And it is this aspect of his art, the 'average lives [portrayed] in their uncompromising truth', that underscores his revolutionary importance.

Collectively, though, it is Joyce's views on Ireland that provoke the most interest. As a self-imposed exile, he felt justified in condemning the failures of his homeland. Despite the snippets of vitriol scattered throughout the book, it isn't until the lecture 'Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages' that Joyce truly explodes: 'Ireland is second-rate and backward', its 'economic and intellectual conditions...do not permit the individual to develop', and, taking aim at the noisy Nationalists, he declares he cannot see the point of fulminating against 'English tyranny while the tyranny of Rome still holds the dwelling place of the soul'.

But, as a salve to these acidic censures, Joyce writes exceptionally well on Henrik Ibsen and James Clarence Mangan (twice) and not so well on the literary ephemera reviewed for the Daily Express. Yet in 'The Centenary of Charles Dickens' there is one passage in which Joyce unintentionally evokes his own exquisite gifts: 'The colours, the familiar noises, the very odours of the great metropolis unite in his work as in a mighty symphony wherein humour and pathos, life and death, hope and despair, are inextricably woven'. Did Joyce, then, for all his seeming indifference, unconsciously seek to emulate the panoramic novels of Dickens? Well, if Ulysses is anything to go by, it would seem so.
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on 25 February 2016
Joyce was 40 yrs old when Ulysses was published, it is a day in the life of a husband and father of Joyce's age (at publication). Joyce loved Dublin and Ireland and though the book was written on the European continent - he wanted to memorialize his birth home (Ireland). The framework of Ulysses is Homer's Odyssey - The Roman Ulysses: 1 Telemachus, 2 Nestor, 3 Proteus, 4 Calypso, 5 Lotus Eaters, 6 Hades, 7 Aeolus, 8 Lestrygonians, 9 Scylla And Charybdis, 10 Wandering Rocks, 11 Sirens, 12 Cyclops, 13 Nausicca, 14 Oxen Of The Sun, 15 Circe, 16 Eumaeus, 17 Ithaca, and 18 Penelope.

Ulysses is the tale of a Modern-day Odysseus, Leopold Bloom in his personal existential/sexual quest. The conclusion of this quest is the quintessential affirmation of humanity, the fundamental family unit - the father, mother, son, and daughter. Like Odysseus, absent from Penelope, traveling the world, for many long years, Leopold Bloom is also absent from his Penelope (in Dublin). Like a traveler (Odysseus), Bloom is sexually absent (abstinent) from Molly “10 years, 5 months and 18 days” (736). Unlike Odysseus, the obstacles Bloom faces are psychological (modern) - internal travails instead of Odysseus' external travails. Bloom's only son’s death has become a psychological barrier; as Molly reflects: “we were never the same since” (778). Yet Bloom is optimistic throughout the work - in regard to the possibility of another child, again Molly: ”Ill give him one more chance” (780). Affirmatively (as we grow to know Molly) we find she has given and is willing to continue to give Bloom “one more chance”. Through the course of the (Dublin) day, Bloom experiences “deep frustration, humiliation, fear, punishment and catharsis” (Herring, p.74). Bloom needs to lead himself back, out of self-deception, fantasy, and frustration to Molly’s (and his marriage) bed.

Bloom’s travails come in the Circe chapter and it is imperative (for Joyce) that as readers, we recognize Joyce’s change from Homer's Odyssey - this is Joyce's major rework, deviating from his Greek predecessor. For Odysseus: insight, understanding, enlightenment, and all importantly direction come to Odysseus in his journey to the (ancient Greek) Underworld. For Bloom, the Hades chapter or “the other world” represents an “emptiness of mind”; Joyce was a man grounded (and devoted) to the present world of man's consciousness and unconsciousness. In Ulysses enlightenment comes in the Circe chapter: described though the Joycean technique of hallucination or the discoveries of the "unconscious mind”. Joyce's Circe chapter (a surrealistic one-act Ibsen-like play) is where Bloom finds self-possession - (Joyce makes) Bloom encounter his own psycho-sexual existential questions, rather than finding life's answers in the dead ghosts of his life (the ancient Greek Hades chapter of the dead past).

In the Circe chapter, Bloom confronts and overcomes every major obstacle in his existential/sexual quest: the Molly he serves in Calypso reappears as Bello the whoremistress, Molly’s letter from Boylan and his from Martha are reworked into a series of seductive letters ending in a trial, his sexual infidelities beginning with Lotty Clarke and ending with Gerty McDowell are relived (importantly balanced by Molly’s infidelities) and reconciled, and lastly, Bloom triumphs over whore, Virgin-Goddess, and most importantly himself. Joyce equanimously gives both Molly and Bloom extramarital sexual infidelities - infidelities known by each of the other (as early as the Calypso chapter) Bloom was conscious of what was to come. Of course there will be resolution in marriage, for Molly only needs to feel that Bloom is willing. As we read, Bloom has undergone the travails of his own mind and has emerged Victorious. He has succeeded in his psycho-sexual existential quest. He has arrived at Molly’s bed. Self-possessed. Victorious. Eager.

Molly "I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him...then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down in to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. (END)".

After publishing Ulysses, Joyce began FINNEGANS WAKE (FW) - Joyce largely stepped out of one work into his next (and last work). The change Joyce made in FW was instead of using Homer's Ulysses as a framework - FW's framework is Giambattista Vico's "La Scienza Nuova's" 4 cyclic stages of history.

Joyce realized that he ended Ulysses wrongly (not in accordance with the Universe) in Molly's bed - Joyce corrects his mistake in FINNEGANS WAKE by incorporating Vico's revelation of restart / recirculation. "HCE day" similar to Bloomsday (roughly 24 hrs): Chronologically FW starts with memories in "book I:3" of HCE arrested in front of his tavern/home, like Bloom unable to enter his front door (but HCE does not enter his home through the back door) - instead HCE is arrested for disturbances in hours before dawn. Then memories "book I:4" HCE's conscious/musings or unconscious/dream psychological travails of past guilts (underworld coffin, Ulysses ch Hades) while incarcerated in early hours of morning. Followed by memories "book I:2" HCE walks home through Phoenix Park accosted for the time of day (12 noon) which threatens (real/unreal memories, Ulysses ch Nausicaa) his innocent well-being. These 3 chapters in FW are Joyce's major rework to incorporate Vico's revelation of restart / recirculation into FW - Joyce rewrites 3 chapters of Ulysses: When He is denied Her front door, He is in Hell (on earth), when released (from Hell) His odyssey to Her begins again (with His ever-present accompanying internal travails) for She always knows when He is worthy of Her acceptance (their Paradise).

Then "book I:1" Finnegan's afternoon wake at HCE's tavern and retelling memories (books I:2-4). Inside HCE's tavern (his ship) his patrons talk about his family (Norwegian Captain and the Tailor's Daughter), truthful letters (ALP) and fabricated stories (books I:5-8 & II:3); while the children (Shaun, Shem and Iseult) are in and out of the family tavern/home all day taking their lessons (book II:2) and playing about with their friends (Shem's closing dream, book II:1); HCE, as proprietor, defends himself with a self-deprecating apologia before his intoxicated collapse late night (book II:3). HCE dreams on his tavern floor (book II:4); then dreams in his bed (books III:1-3); before intercourse with his wife ALP (book III:4). HCE & ALP's lovemaking dissolution dream (book IV) to awaken to a new day, Joycean Nirvana is attained by ALP's (& HCE's) unification with the Unmanifest (Creation, Incarnate conception) and Reincarnation (the baton has been passed on again), awaiting Joyce's God "thunderclap" at the beginning of FW's "book I".

FW is aural (oral) history like Homer's Odessey and Celtic folktales - when one pronounces (phonology) FW's words (aloud) there are more languages than just English; also, when one reads (morphology) FW's words almost all the words are "portmanteaus / neologisms" which gives each of FW's "poly-syncretic" words many meanings (universal impermanence, Heisenberg uncertainty/obscurity), each FW syncretic sentence dozens of possible messages, each FW syncretic paragraph hundreds of possible readings, Joyce's rendering of a more expansive English language and multiplicating universal book with coalescing syncretic themes/stories (that responds/opens to each reader's inquiries). Joyce schooled in Christian Jesuit metaphysics (pushed down into the mindfulness of human consciousness) breathes in the spirit of expansive Celtic (Irish) democratic community tavern life where man's stories of life are told. Tavern life teaches the evolution of Joyce's ten God "thunderclaps" (one hundred lettered words) pushing man's evolution forward from cave man's tales to modern tv media tales. Inside the tavern man learns of the purely human (animal) fall, taken down by another human(s) - like animal taken down on the African savanna. A granular reading of FW can render FW as an updated John Milton's Paradise Lost (regurgitated knowledge from the tree, to affirm man's damnation); however, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species was published in 1859 and Joyce in FW book II clearly walks Shaun, Shem and Iseult through their earthly evolutionary lifetime travails, our mortality is a consequence of Life's evolution. Every page of FW speaks to man's evolution (unconscious biological, conscious social, aspirational personal) and to Life recirculating (West meets Dzogchen East a "meeting of metaphysical minds") that binds humanity together into the future. Dzogchen (beyond all dualistic polarities) the heart of human consciousness - Joyce's underlying (subcutaneous) arguments refute the "Western curse of metaphysical/mythological damnation", the curse does not exist in the Eastern mind. Like "counting the number of angels on the head of a pin" (Aquinas 1270) Joyce provides a granular/expansive reading of FW as a "defense against all Western adversity" for our conscious and unconscious Western travails. HCE's angst is caused by his community that imposes a Western curse (damnation) upon him that man is not guilty of...to experience Joycean Nirvana, a defense against this man-made guilt is required - for as Zoroaster revealed cosmogonic dualism, evil is mixed with good in man's universal everyday travails (even the Dalai Lama must defend Nirvana rigorously from the most populous authoritarian state in human history).

Joyce's FW celebrates the Joys of Christian/Buddhist diversity of humanity (expansive human consciousness: Gnostic Norwegian Captain, Shem, Archdruid), Brahma (Finnegan, HCE, Shaun), Divine Women (ALP, Iseult, Nuvoletta), his family - and the Sufferings of the inescapable "evil" of Shiva (Buckley), the debilitating harmful sterile intrusive authoritarian institutionalizing damnation (MaMaLuJo, St. Patrick) by Augustine, the manufactured clerical corruption identified by Luther (since 367 AD) and the burdens of "survival of the fittest" anxiety (modern commerce) met with a Dzogchen Buddhist stance. The (innocent infant) Norwegian Captain (Krishna, HCE), occasionally defensive (Shiva, HCE), though concretized (Brahma, HCE) by community family life (MaMaLuJo) - through spirits (drink) HCE can access his spirituality (dreams) and through spiritual (cutting through) love-making with ALP (direct approach) can access (their Krishnas) unification with the Unmanifest. Joyce was a Prophet who consumed Man's conscious and spiritual "thoughts and dreams, history and gossip, efforts and failings" - to reveal the joys (Nirvana) and sufferings (Saṃsāra) of Mankind.

Joyce's FW message: Christian/Buddhist omniscient compassion (Christ/Krishna) is eternally joyful and recirculating. Affirmative family (HCE/Brahma, ALP/Divine woman & children) existentiality: life's biological evolution (sex), modern survival (money), constraining community (Dharma, social evolution) are constantly assaulted by inescapable "aggressive insidious vile" corrupt soul(less/sucking) ossified demonic antipathetic attacks. Joycean Nirvana is attained via the Christian/Buddhist affirmative middle way, "beyond polar opposites" the path of Christ/Buddha.

JCB
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on 12 September 2015
I'd highly recommend buying, even if it's only for his review of Ibsen. At the time I read it, I was in a coffee shop and it was truly one of those moments where you can only smile at the visceral beauty and majestically eloquent mastery of Joyce's words to bequeath his reader with his fondness for well, the visceral beauty and majestically eloquent mastery of Ibsen's words. Even, with this aside, it's still a truly stunning compilation for anyone who is an aficionado of Joyce. Or those who may appreciate an insight into the development of the thoughts and artistry of a great mind, or anyone with an inkling for Irish history, and an interest in the culture and social issues surrounding Dublin at the turn of last century. Or just simply for anyone who has an appreciation for writing. The breathtaking use of language is a joy, and one that may stick with you longer than you could possibly imagine.
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