Today is James Joyce’s birthday. As a predominantly “genre” writer, you might think I have little interest in one of the parents of modernism, that Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness prose and focus on the mundane aspects of everyday life might leave me cold.
You would be wrong. And right.
You would be wrong in that I have actually spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Joyce. In pursuit of my Master’s in English, I spent an entire semester studying just Joyce, reading everything from DUBLINERS to FINNEGANS WAKE, including some Joycean poetry and even a play! Despite my love of genre and popular fiction, my Master’s thesis focused on modernism and the short-story cycle, which included a study of DUBLINERS. And if you read here, I’ve even made the case that Joyce’s short story “Eveline” can be classified as horror. So I understand and appreciate James Joyce’s contribution to modern literature.
At the same time, I do often find Joyce’s writing cold. Not sterile so much as detached. Maybe it’s because the bleakness he portrays is almost too real, too grounded in the everyday. I need a little glimmer of the unreal in my reading, I guess, even if that glimmer is fool’s gold.
Except for FINNEGANS WAKE. While perhaps unclassifiable, this stream-of-consciousness prose/poem always strikes me as owing a debt to the fantastical. Maybe it’s because Joyce grounds this tale in a mythological context. Maybe it’s because there’s almost no way to impose “reality” on this incredibly complex literary experiment.
If DUBLINERS strikes me as horror, FINNEGANS WAKE perhaps owes a debt to Lewis Carroll. There’s got to be a “Jabberwocky” in there somewhere.
In any event, happy birthday James Joyce, a man whose work continues to cast a large shadow over English literature.