Friday, June 15, 2018
'Missing' Joyce scholar is alive
The New York Times magazine has an article about John Kidd, a once-famous scholar of James Joyce thought by many to be dead who is actually still alive and living in Brazil. Thanks to PQ for pointing it out on Twitter.
I'm not a big Joyce scholar, so please bear with me as I drag in one of my own preoccupations.
Jack Hitt's article talks about Kidd's preference for big books:
It’s not just an aesthetic choice for Kidd but a kind of compulsion toward completedness, suffusing not just how he reads literature but also how he talks about it. We discussed “Gargantua and Pantagruel” and “Don Quixote” and “Tristram Shandy.” He considers them all to be “antic” works, his coinage for books that are marked by a “comic take on the encyclopedic narrative just as the ‘Iliad’ is a tragic take on an encyclopedic narrative.” Those novels are playful, like “Ulysses,” but they mean to embrace and comprehend a sense of everything, and it’s this sense of totality and the longing for it that drives Kidd, too.
So did Kidd read Illuminatus!, an antic work with an encyclopedic narrative? Or did he miss it because it was published as science fiction?
I've been reading a book of literary criticism, largely book reviews, called What to Read (and Not) by Tom LeClair.
In his introduction, LeClair expresses a preference for books that are "monstrous," which he defines as "massive, excessive, both unliterary and super-literary, unique in their narrative combinations and linguistic deformations. Stick with them, and they will stick in you, their effect not to be forgotten. To my mind, these big books did what great literature is supposed to do -- exert emotionally and intellectually transforming power." (His examples of such books include Moby Dick and Gravity's Rainbow.)
Since Illuminatus! sounds like the kind of "monstrous" book he is referring to, and since LeClair 's introduction includes his email address and invites readers to contact him, I wrote and asked if he's read Illuminatus! I told LeClair, "The mixture of popular and esoteric literary influences was at the time (mid-1970s) not so usual as now; the book has references to James Joyce, but H.P. Lovecraft also is an influence and appears in the work as a character."
He replied, " I have not read Illuminatus, perhaps because any ref. to Lovecraft scares me off. Not that I have read Lovecraft."
Well, too bad. I do wonder if many people who would have liked Illuminatus! skipped it because it was published as paperback science fiction.