“ON NOT COMING TO TERMS WITH GIACOMO JOYCE
There was a ripple of excitement early in 1968 when a smallish, limited, expensive edition of a book called Giacomo Joyce presented itself to the reading public as a second posthumous work by Joyce, after the considerably longer fragment of Stephen Hero. There was a new, unknown work and uncharted territory. Actually there was nothing quite new. Richard Ellmann, the editor and annotator, had already offered extracts and commentaries in his biography of 1959, where a "notebook" in private hands he had inspected dealt with Joyce's involvement, mainly imaginary, with a student and was described as "an account of the affair in his best calligraphy under the title of Giacomo Joyce" (JJI 353). The publication of the whole in elegant book form complete with facsimiles turned it all from a personal affair into a composition, an artefact. It still retains that position in-between.
Ellmann's monumental biography was still, deservedly, the standard hard rock of Joyce scholarship, and his introduction to Giacomo Joyce provided a base for almost all further studies. The biographical packaging had its lasting impact. Though the Triestine phases of Joyce's life were among the most sketchy parts of the book, Ellmann had uncovered tantalising local connections and a personal framework. Inevitably the biographical underpinning conditioned readers' attitudes. Giacomo Joyce first emerged as a translation of Joyce's life rather than a work of fiction in its own right, as any publication would be judged whose title is almost identical with the author. Given the embedding, to dismiss the highly useful context and approach the precious prose naively as writing demanded a concerted effort. Expectations preceded unbiased readings.
What was that new work? For those scholars who are (or were then) classifying animals and for some readers a first task was to determine its nature or genus. These sixteen pages seemed to read like prose poems, or else they might be made up of notes, though at a high level of composition and obviously structured; some passages looked like drafts (and were in fact transplanted for later use). Perhaps the pattern was a narrative string of those "epiphanies" that are surrounded by so much numinosity. Some parts were in the nature of a diary; there is also an air of disjointed confession about them. Possibly Joyce tried his fingers at exercices de style or was testing the ground-how close one can get to purple poses unscathed. (Imagine how readers would respond if the author were not known to be Joyce.)
Such problems, neat compartments, are largely self-imposed. Giacomo Joyce is, and has every right to be, as all of Joyce's works are, sui generis, perhaps even more so. There is no adequate label for it; even to speak of Giacomo Joyce neutrally as a "book" feels problematic though factually it has, but it apparently was never intended to become one. With something so hard to pin down, the challenge is all the greater and a new fascinating happy hunting ground has been staked out which is open on all sides. We are faced with a series of stimuli from which to take off.
The title already is not, as Ellmann noted early on, in Joyce's own hand, we are not even sure if it is his own choice. If it is, most likely then Joyce, a foreigner in Trieste, has assumed a native guise as a homely alien and Italianised his first name, or else the name "Giacomo" is a foreign variant of the Dublin writer. "Quizzing-glasses" figure in the fourth sentence already, like a tacit invitation to apply our own. As always we do rise to the occasion. In the meantime even the spaces of uneven lengths that separate the paragraphs have been subjected to investigative scrutiny. With little categorical prompting, some of us naturally resorted to philological cross-referencing or the tracing of sources from life or literature. If we cannot get at the whatness of something at least we can follow the links to what it is not.
Puzzling as Giacomo Joyce may remain, it has the one practical advantage to be short and easy to handle as it comes in small, homeopathic doses. It appears, more and more, to feature many Joycean complexities but as yet none of the sheer bulk and extravagances of the major works to follow. Maybe that makes it the first thing to put in the hands of a prospective reader for training purposes.
Giacomo Joyce stands at the crossroads, Living and Writing intersect, more than elsewhere. It is deeply involved in events, longings and fantasies of the Trieste years, with only passing references to Dublin and Ireland. It is the only piece which explicitly refers to the Portrait and Ulysses which were in actual or conceptual progress at the time. Many passages became integrated into the later works. Strandentwining cables lead to Portrait, Exiles, Pomes Penyeach, and Ulysses, a fact which made it easy to relegate the prose to what it is physically, a notebook and therefore a quarry for use in future constructions. Joyce was never one to waste anything, no throwaways for him.
"Who?" the notebook begins with existential triviality, and within the biographical context the person around whom the text pivots was to be determined, assuming it was one person. In real life it was not; Amalia Popper, Ellmann's prime candidate, now seems to be just one among others, as scholars have established, especially John McCourt to whose initiative and impulse we now owe so much. The Trieste School (also its Summer School) has put in a lot of archaeological research and filled many gaps in the local background.
An exhibition in the city staged in 1999 brought out quite well how Joyce in a new, Mediterranean, ramshackle, highly international and mixed city, was meeting, at times just observing from a distance, women so different from those he had so far encountered in Dublin, women more self-assured, frankly seductive, fashion-conscious, and intellectual.1
The "She" that moves through Giacomo Joyce is an individual and at the same time a composite, nothing unusual in Joyce. The shadowy figure of "E.C." in A Portrait has some similarity, and the Temptress of the Vilanelle there now also takes on a Triestine tinge. Such blending technique seems to be exemplified in at least one passage: "On all sides distorted reflections of her image started from his memory: the flowergirl in the ragged dress with damp coarse hair and a hoyden's face who had called herself his own girl and begged his handsel, the kitchengirl in the next house who sang over the clatter of her plates, [...] a girl who had laughed gaily to see him stumble when the iron grating in the footpath near Cork Hill had caught the broken sole of his shoe, a girl he had glanced at, attracted by her small ripe mouth as she passed out of Jacob's biscuit factory [...]" (P 183). One girl tends to become all girls, one woman like Marion Tweedy Bloom is of many sources and of many facets, including mythological roles. The locally detailed blurs with fictional archetypes. Several young women that came into Joyce's orbit qualify for Giacomo, and we are grateful for every scrap of pertinent speculation, yet in some way the prototypes are also wholly irrelevant. In some essential way, there is no Amalia Popper in Giacomo Joyce.
Joyce is already at his intricate naming games. The main figure herself has no name (just like the pivotal sister of Mangan in "Araby"), yet intriguingly enough, a marginal figure is given a factual and next to pointless identity ("Ralli"). Exceptionally Nora and Gogarty are summoned under their real names. Such a private touch might also indicate that Joyce never planned to share his notebook with the world and elevate it to public exposure. He himself is split up into three names, the Giacomo of the title, one "Jim" and a self-addressed "Easy now, Jamesy" (6). That is how Stephen Dedalus will later admonish himself in Ulysses, "Easy now" (U 3.459); the prominent "Jamesy" will become a meta-textual, no longer direct, address to the author in Molly's unsuspecting "O Jamesy let me up out of this" (U 18.1128). Quite overtly in Giacomo Joyce Jamesy let himself into it.
Giacomo Joyce is also a tribute to Trieste, and any Irish backdrop would be hard to trace from one lonely reference to "walk the streets of Dublin" and a single mention of Ireland. Nor do there seem to be any of the Anglo-Irish inflections in the wording. Triestine dialect is interspersed; streets, churches are called up the way Dublin is referred to elsewhere. Even so it was possible to transfer a highly characteristic vignette of Trieste rawly waking almost verbatim to a Paris scene which appears to be equally evocative and locally coloured in the changed setting. Imagination, it seems, generally takes precedence over observed reality.
Since Giacomo Joyce is closest to the author himself, at least at a particular stage, it lends itself to an analysis of the author, of his urge towards confessional exhibitionism combined with concealment, as well as of his tortured relations with the other sex-a great opportunity for those scholars who are at heart psychologists manqués. Some have produced valuable insights; conjectures on occasion can take us far afield.
Giacomo Joyce, not alone in its onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonances, bears eloquent witness to that Joycean feature that the words and phrases, at the moment when they swing into our attention, display their full force, value, or glory and seem to come into their own, either read silently or heard aloud. There "whatness," to use Dedalean terminology, becomes radiant, or resonant. This is one reason why Giacomo Joyce too is great for recital, an orchestration of distinctive voices and cadences. Words and phrases may even distract from what they stand for, they impinge foremost as verbal events.
Joyce's published works are reminiscences, novels generally are. Things happened some time ago and are now told in retrospect. Fictional events of 1904 became a story in 1922 when Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead. Unique in this way, Giacomo Joyce is, or pretends to be, present, in the present, the here and now, or seems jotted down with great artifice right afterwards. This happens scenically and grammatically and brings the work close to Exiles and the poems.
The style is of a certain period, between Portrait, Pomes Penyeach and certain early passages in Ulysses, with precise details and choice, often monosyllabic adjectives. Those multiple meanings and overtones that would take over once Ulysses got under way appear to be (relatively) absent, which will not of course prevent us from finding them. Somehow Joyce's early phase came to a minute climax in Giacomo Joyce and perhaps the path was cleared for new arts as yet unknown, but already prefigured.
Giacomo Joyce can stand (almost) on its own, and yet is deeply involved with the life of the author as we can never know, as well as intricately connected with the rest of the canon. It remains multivalent and mysteriously challenging, as the present volume will confirm once more. At least one project has been timidly aired, a collective effort towards a display of the qualities, the complexity and opulence of the work in a hypertext format which alone perhaps can bring out the interconnections and multiple aspects.
© Fritz Senn
|volume 3, issue 2, 2003|