The first copy of Ulysses I opened had a brown paper wrapper over the green cover with the bow down the spine I knew nothing about, the property of my uncle, a seafaring man. I was a pre-ejacaculative adolescent in New Zealand, mid 20th century. I was looking for dirty bits and 4 letter words. My uncle had probably purchased it Sydney with the same intent. It was not well thumbed and dogeared like Ruby, the Indian Girl from the Olympia Press. For the syntactically incompetent Ruby was better value. Molly diddling through 3 prodigious sentences eluded me till Stephen Dedalus had replaced Holden Caulfield as my teenage rolemodel. What a callow young tosser the Artist turns out to be forging the uncreated conscience of his race in the smithy of his soul, clang clunk. As I reached the Age of Irony he diminished & I saw the guiltriddled faker, spellbound by his own genius, pissing away his talent gathered in like a prodigal by Leopold Bloom with whom my sympathies now alligned themselves. Once the faintly urinous tang of grilled mutton kidney pressed against my palate fine, I was Bloom. I found I could speak the language of cat. I was swept away by the sullied stream of blooming consciousness, to the stale flowerwater breath, to the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of Molly’s rump. What is all this but the magic of dirty words made flesh? Chrysostomatic Joyce made a Logophage out of me.
Years later I’m still gnawing at the entrails of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The enthusiast eats Joyce’s words (or those of Shakespeare, the Pentateuch or any true poet) then breathes them out aloud, effecting a communion, an act of transubstantiation. The secret is in the saying, the reader is a party to the poet’s creation, she comes to a carnal knowledge of the words through aural sex.
It was Siobhan McKenna who taught me that the Wake, delivered in a Dublin accent can warm cockles, in some parts even produce erections. James Joyce is a sex mechanic, his words are sex machines. He has the happy knack of putting the Eros in the Logos, the enlightening tendency to corrupt, a corrupter of words like Feste the clown in 12th Night. And in principle, corruption is generation.
Two of my children are named Finn and Anna Pome, a testament to an order of influence worth trying to explain. I didnt read them the Wake at bedtime. I never read them Dubliners at all. Mea culpa. In fact I havent partaken much of the corpus since the 70s and here I am stepping along Flinders Lane, Bloomsday last, to join in a Joycean cenacle at 45 downstairs. On the nonce. Itchy for a read. There are gatherings all over town: at the Celtic Club, lost in the Twilight of the Pokies. The State Library’s got medialinkage to Dublin, live from the House of The Dead on Ushers Island Dublin. Organised by the techno jesuit CEO. Properly global for Joyce Lives on the Net. No way to get my Shem the Penman on the menu there, unless by guerilla action but I am sober and Security would be tight. Molly Blooms in South Melbourne goes through the motions, Collected Works in the Nicholas building keeps the faith, Here Comes Everybody re- Joycing, but to this white walled subterranean gallery I have come on a wintry night. Things are clearly not in hand as I part with $10 at the door and get stuck into an iced cold can of Guinness. It appears that the man in charge, Declan “Cast a cold eye” Foley, convenor of the Beyond Ben Bulben Society and the present soiree, has fallen from the roof of his home and broken his neck. Gravity prevents any apt comparison to the fall that broke the skull of Tim Finnegan of the Ballad and the Wake. It means they are short of a reader. The offer of my services is accepted with alacrity and I, petty poormouth, ask for my $10 back. This tickles big John Flaus, basso, polymath and archivist who files it under Anecdote (active list). Dark, lustrous Helen who once played Mary Shelley, is here in green, out of an Edwardian poster for Pears soap, to give her Molly. Yes. I try and con my Joyce writ. I was wearing this same leather drizabone in a publicity photo with her long ago. One of three other Elder Readers kisses her hand with blushing fervour. Nelly cum Molly, the persona descends. With all my imagination I thee endow. I approach. Turns out she’s not doing Molly at all, she’s doing Gerty McDowell, the fireworks of Bloom’s coming. Yes, time for a Jamiesons, I shall wing it. Jah, oui, Joyceance be my friend!
The room was long, the house was thin. Lone males, three kinds of couple, some Dedali, mostly middle aged, post-Bloomfolk, eternal studes of Himself.
His speak was spoken trippingly in a velleity of dubble N accents. Paddy’s funeral in the morning catch as catch can, knowing chuckles among the nodding and the blank till memorably Bloom’s late afternoon Jouissance. Interval & Guinnessance. Then we staggered on into the night, my delivery becoming increasingly thick with phlegm and stumblejim. Elements in the scattered crowd drifted away on private streams of consciousness. The rest picked at the crazy sonic salad, peppered with epiphanies of sense, some good bits. A fair bit of lingua incognita burred in their ears till we all came yea-saying home with herself doing the Mollymonolorgasm. And waxed fat about doing it again next year. The Joyce jazz, the jism of the words.
The Wake I said.