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Monday, October 14, 2013

Coincidance, Week Five

This week is a discussion of the essay, "Death and Absence in James Joyce." And so here we are, discussing a book by a writer who is absent, dead now for more than six years and unknown to most of the literary world, talking about an essay about a writer who has been dead for more than 72 years but who lives on in endless literary discussions.

"Joyce, a man of timid courage, has seized the keys of hell [and] of death, by showing that the Ego dies more continually than we realize .... " page 103. Wilson is dead and we can't invite him to participate in this discussion but he is alive in all of our minds.

Dubliners, page 88, it's worth a quick reminder, perhaps, that anyone who wants to read the two stories Wilson mentions doesn't have to hunt up a copy in the bookstore or the library; it's on Project Gutenberg (as is Ulysses.)

"We are Hyperboreans" page 93, I think it is a fair observation that almost everyone participating in this blog discussion would be considered "far out" in the eyes of most people. Welcome, fellow Hyperboreans!

Page 99, thank heavens someone has finally explained the concept of "void" and "no-mind" in a way that I can understand. It is quite interesting to me how often Buddhism and quantum mechanics is invoked to explain Wilson's ideas; Wilson's interest in Buddhism helps explain why his Cosmic Trigger 2: Down to Earth is one of my favorite RAW books. (From Eric Wagner's An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson,  the entry for CT2 in the "Books by Robert Anton Wilson" chapter: "Wilson has called this a Buddhist book which presents different sides of her personality.")

A particularly powerful moment in Wilson's essay points out that a  pivotal point of Ulysses seems to be when Bloom takes a drunken and unhappy Stephen Dedalus home and feeds him (pages 93-94.) Nearly all cultures recognize the power of feeding someone as an act of friendship or love, as Robert Shea captures in his excellent novel, All Things Are Lights, in a scene in which the hero, Roland, and King Louis IX, are taken as captives before Baibars, a Muslim warlord:

“Before we speak of serious matters, please join me in a morning repast,” said Baibars. He clapped his hands and the blond boy Roland had seen waiting on Baibars at Mansura entered, bringing sliced melons, a plate of oranges and dates, and cups of cool, clean water. There was a small bowl holding ground-up salt and a tray of flat, round loaves of bread. The sight of the tray raised Roland’s hopes.

“He offers you bread and salt,” said Roland in French. “That means you are his guest. Once you have eaten his bread and salt, he is obliged by the Muslim law of hospitality not to harm you.”

“I shall eat at once,” said Louis with a smile, salting a slice of melon and biting off a chunk of bread. Baibars watched with a knowing grin, apparently amused that Louis so quickly ate the bread and salt. It relieved Roland to see both men in good humor.

I also liked the way Wilson invokes both Mozart and Bach in this essay, linking music to literature in a way that Wilson also liked to do.

As for HCE, I'll point out again the Hagbard Celine uses the initials.


Bobby Campbell said...

I love that Joyce quote about timid courage. So much so that I drew a bizarre adaptation of it several years ago.

Death & Absence -> "Dove Sta Memoria" (Where Memory Lives) -> "How is it far if you think of it?"

michael said...

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”
-John Maynard Keynes

The continued adherence to ideas about free markets and rational actors and all sorts of other 18th Enlightenment rational ideas about economics has been - to my eyes - proven far too simplistic, and yet these ideas are still being practiced. It cashes out to unbelievable cruelty, suffering and inequality. It's like we're being governed by the guys who refused to believed Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo and instead were forcing epicycles on us in some Ptolemaic madness.

Drew said...

Michael -

Does the essay (can't remember the author) on how neuroscience might effect the justice system have bearing on what you are saying. I think it claims that libertarian views of free-will fail, because neuroscience can show that we might be responsible for something, but that does not mean that we are actually to blame for those actions.

Does that make sense?

michael said...

Drew Zi: It makes a HELL of a lot of sense, and there's really scads of stuff to read on this. It's become a Really Big Deal in some academic circles that have to do with Law, Philosophy, and Neuroscience, although the Sociologists and some Economists are chiming in.

When I responded to Bobby's quote about memory and presence, Keynes's quote jumped out at me, and what I had in mind was more general than the Free Will problem as it applies to Law. I admire Adam Smith (so did Marx) a lot; he's thick and brilliant and I wish Libertarian "free market" people would give him a better reading (not just Wealth but Moral Sentiments).

The training of economists and "experts" is still at a stage where we pretend Ptolemy is still the Cheese, as if we haven't learned a thing from saner economies or much from behavioral and neuro-economics: Kahneman!

I'm not even getting into the greed, the inequality the inability to fix what allowed 2008 to happen, how banking is mostly a sham anyway, etc.

I'm re-reading an economist I really like, Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism. The 23 seems merely a coincidance. Chang has some interesting things to say about economists and economic ideas that are marginalized, and who to read besides the handful of "experts" we see on TV and all over the MSM.

Chang: "This book is not an anti-capitalist manifesto. Being critical of free-market ideology is not the same as being against capitalism. Despite its problems and limitations, I believe that capitalism is still the best economic system that humanity has invented. My criticism is of a particular version of capitalism that has dominated the world in the last three decades, that is, free-market capitalism. This is not the only way to run capitalism, and certainly not the best, as the record of the last three decades shows. This books shows that there are ways in which capitalism should, and can, be made better."

That essay about Death and Absence in Joyce seems very underrated in Joyce criticism, and I have some guesses as to why but won't go into it, having gone off by far too tangentially.

Oz Fritz said...

If we decide to keep our eyes open to any subtle form or connective thread Coincidance might have then the Shrapnel piece looks quite interesting to me. A lot of it covers Lion symbolism and synchronicities in various way. It ends with "It was only a coincidence of course, of course that their most famous son was Richard the Lion-Hearted."

In The Poet As Defense Early Warning Radar System Wilson writes:
" 'Poem Rocket' contains a line that evokes extra-terrestrial beauty better than the best of the science-fiction writers: 'Which way will the sunflower turn surrounded by millions of suns?'

That seems to connect with another of Allen Ginsberg's lines Wilson singles out earlier as 'sheer genius':
'with your Death full of flowers.

After the sunflower line he writes:
And 'The Lion for Real' brings the spirits of Terror to the page in a way that makes one think of Dante; you can't laugh off Ginsberg's Lion anymore than you can smile at Dante's hell, or Blake's Tyger, or Melville's Whale. Ginsberg has seen the Lion, and, by God, he makes you see it too... This piece ends with: '...that is the soul of the poet today.'

Really like the opening highlighted words from Death and Absence in James Joyce:

"... the time is come wherein a man of timid courage seizes the keys of hell and of death, and flings them far out into the abyss, proclaiming the praise of life, which the abiding presence of truth may sanctify, and of death, the most beautiful form of life."

I see a cabalistic link between these three pieces.

Eric Wagner said...

Your comments made me think of this from Uncle Ezra's foreword to his Selected Prose:
"re USURY:
I was out of focus, taking a symptom for a cause.
The cause is AVARICE.

Venice, 4th July, 1972"

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Last week, for my day job at the Sandusky Register, I wrote a piece about a new museum exhibit at Ohio's state history museum, because it features a gown donated by Miss America of 1963, who is from Sandusky. The name of the exhibit is "Transformation." Then yesterday I wrote a story about a new art exhibit at a Sandusky museum, featuring art objects created from medical supplies by cancer patients. The name of that exhibit is "Transformations."

Oz Fritz said...

The ending of Death and Absence feels somewhat similar in theme to the ending of Werewolf Bridge.

Death and Absence:
"... bringing us back to Anna Livia Plurabelle, the river-woman who is Joyce's ultimate symbol of permanence in change, change in permanence, life in death, presence in absence.

Werewolf Bridge:
" Until defiance builds of its own ruin
A truth more brave than the truth of death
My werewolf heart shall rage against
Both werewolf God and werewolf Man

Until terror builds of its own heat
A myth more green than the myth of life -
But my werewolf heart is pierced at last
By the silver bullet of the lady's gaze

My werewolf self is atom-bombed
By the golden sunrise of the Lady's smile:
I am the Beast the Lady rides,
I am the stars within her hair.

Eric Wagner said...

Brenda Maddox's biography of Nora Barnacle Joyce has an interesting discussion of the biographical background of the story "The Dead." She suggests two of Nora's previous suitors might have influenced the story, as I recall. (I read that section of the book over 20 years ago.)