Thursday, 28 November 2013

'With this hash of sounds I am building the great myth of everyday life'

In June 1937, Joyce made a rare public appearance at the PEN Congress in the Jouvet
Jan Parandowski
Theatre, Paris. He was there to deliver a paper attacking the piracy of Ulysses. Leaving the stage, he was helped through the darkened auditorium by the Polish writer Jan Parandowski.

The pair slipped away from the meeting to a neighbouring restaurant, where they got through two bottles of Orvieto. Conversation turned to Finnegans Wake, then still known as 'Work in Progress':

'Perhaps you have heard that I am writing something...'
'Work in Progress.'
'Yes, it doesn't have a title yet. The few fragments which I have published have been enough to convince many critics that I have finally lost my mind, which by the way they have been predicting faithfully for many years. And perhaps it is madness to grind up words in order to extract their substance, or to graft them one onto another, to create crossbreeds and unknown variants, to open up unsuspected possibilities for these words, to marry sounds which were not usually joined together before, although they were meant for one another, to allow water to speak like water, birds to chirp in the words of birds, to liberate all sounds of rustling, breaking, arguing, shouting, cracking, whistling, creaking, gurgling - from their servile, contemptible role and to attach them to the feelers of expressions which grope for definitions of the undefined. I took literally Gautier's dictum, 'The inexpressible does not exist.' With this hash of sounds I am building the great myth of everyday life.'
  After a while he added, 'Perhaps it will end in failure, be a wreck or 'catastrophe' such as Virginia Woolf believed Ulysses was; and perhaps in the years to come this work of mine will remain solitary and be abandoned, like a temple without believers.'

Parandowski, who never met Joyce again, had witnessed one of the rare occasions when he voiced doubts about Finnegans Wake. Yet these doubts were offset by one of Joyce's most powerful defences of his book.

After this, the pair fell silent.

I saddened at the thought of the exhausting, obstinate toil that Joyce had put into his book, which had no other chance than to be regarded by both his contemporaries and posterity as a genial caprice....His last work seems to me a wrecked ship, incapable of delivering its cargo to anyone....
   Such, more or less, was the burden of my silence, from which I could not rouse myself. Joyce was whistling thoughtfully some sort of tune that I did not recognize. I asked, 'What is that you are whistling?'
  'Oh, it's one of those old, old ballads from the music hall; it ends: 'Isn't it the truth I've told you, /Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake.''
  He repeated the last verse again. I didn't know at the time that it contained more or less the hidden source and the very title of his curious work. 
  Joyce appeared exhausted. He paid, we left, and I called a taxi for him. He held out his hand to me and said:
  'If you should wish to record our conversation (I always reckon with such a possibility), please do not publish it while I am alive. It would be indiscreet. After my death it won't do any harm; it will become part of the scholarship business, which will probably never let me out of its grip. Goodbye.'

Jan Parandowski, 'Meeting with Joyce', in Portraits of the Artist in Exile (ed Willard Potts), pp 160-2

1 comment:

  1. Re: Parandowski's description of the Wake as 'a wrecked ship, incapable of delivering its cargo to anyone', Cachou LePitou has sent a great comment to the FW Reading List:

    'Note to Parandowski: It may be a shipwreck with no agent ashore however it is an excellent exercise for honing salvaging techniques. And as Ms. Glasheen has remarked, "a hell ova lots more fun than bake sale jamborees in dampoxed-up, old Church basement where nothing but creche props and tatters soutanes, wednesdays ashes, used F.L., the broken cross from 1953, old noosepapers, empty Cretan wine buttles...'