Musings on Contemporary Waffle
Digging deep into my bag of ideas from before I had the idea of having a blog, who do I find but James Joyce!
At the age of 26, I found Ulysses to be a chore to read, except for the beautiful stream of consciousness at its end that even a Neanderthal twenty-something like me could relate to. Apparently modeled after Joyce’s wife Nora‘s writing style, it contains no punctuation and a steady stream of a woman’s words.
Nora apparently didn’t think her husband knew the first thing about women, but I probably learned more from James Joyce’s depiction of them than from anything else I read (or watched) until then, even more than from, say, D.H. Lawrence, who seemed better at depicting girls who haven’t grown up yet.
Joyce, who lived longer than Lawrence and had children, knew more…
Or from someone like Marco Vassi, who was probably more responsible than anyone for influencing all of those fake letters and “articles” about the sexual exploits of Penthouse readers that held our attention with every issue our dads would hide under the National Geographics through the 1970s.
But getting back to Ulysses. My favourite words are the 111 that end the novel, spoken (?) by the novel’s heroin, Molly Bloom (Nora?). What a wonderful name… Here are those words again:
“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and 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 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.”
Pretty hot, no?
He kissed her under the Moorish wall!
I’ve been trying to find that spot for years, but I think only Molly knew exactly where it was. And that lucky bastard found it on his first try.
And we’ll never know why “Flower” is capitalized. Or maybe we men will never know. Molly surely knew.
Who needs the Internet, when you’ve got Molly.
But there’s more to it than perfumed breasts and a gal who’s going to say Yes.
Maybe it’s the lack of punctuation and the unusual diction that isn’t grammatical or even a convincing depiction of speech. That 111-word passage, and the dozens of pages written in the same style that precede it, set out to do damage to the structure and complacency of a writing style that, until Joyce and Lawrence came along, was still overburdened by the overwrought style of expression of the 19th century.
The niceties of commas and periods are dispensed with as mere trivialities in Molly’s expressionistic outburst.
And what should emerge 30 years on, in another art form — painting — than the destruction of that 19th-century structure? It’s probably a stretch to bring up the Abstract Expressionists at this point, because Joyce was telling a story, regardless of how he took liberties to ‘destructure’ the language that he used.
Well, in painting, there is rarely a “story” anyway. There is depiction of … something. I hate to skip over Picasso, who was essential to what eventually happened in American art in the 2nd half of the 20th century, but I feel justified in linking what Joyce did (especially later with Finnegans Wake) and what Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and the rest of the suited AE set did before Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg blew art completely open to, well, the masses en masse.
As humble bloggers, we are always asking ourselves what we shall blog about today. This attitude of free will towards artistic expression is a relatively new phenomenon. To ask: what shall I create today? would go against the prescribed modes of thought about writing, painting, sculpture, etc., that were essentially unquestioned until our modern era.
It was only after Europe collapsed after World War I that T.S. Eliot stated “Do not ask what is it/Let us go and make our visit“; and America asked: “Well, what exactly is it that I should visit?”
There is a wonderful documentary film called “Painters Painting” that explains this evolution of art from the 19th-century to what we take for granted today. Not meaning to drop another name, but Barnett Newman, a contemporary of Pollock’s, explains this beautifully. He asks what all of the Abstract Expressionists asked of themselves: “What should we paint?”
What they meant was, what is worth our while and talent to paint, in this day and age? It can no longer be mythological beings, Jesus on the cross, the Virgin Mary, virginal Monas with inscrutable smiles, still lifes, French landscapes, and even naked women.
The point is that a cross-roads was reached by American painters of a certain personality. They wanted to paint something new, something else. Whatever that was to be, it was to have little or no baggage from the past. There’s no more quintessentially American point of view than that. The past was to be obliterated. Any inkling of iconic depiction was to be eliminated, until Warhol brought us back to (American) reality. Thus was established what we do today — we everywhere — even in Russia: we create of our own free will, until the Cossacks come with their whips to beat us down. Who do they think they are?
Painting something new. Writing something new. Finding that spot under the Moorish wall that sends her over the edge. Go to MoMA while it’s still there, and take your fuckbird with you.