James Joyce

How To Understand Everything

Menelaus and his company lay in wait for Proteus.

“We rushed upon him with a cry, and cast our hands about him, nor did that ancient one forget his cunning. Now behold, at the first, he turned into a bearded lion, and thereafter into a snake, and a pard, and a huge boar; then he took the shape of running water, and of a tall and flowering tree. We the while held him close with steadfast heart.”

[...]

“The nature of the universe”, Marcus Antoninus has observed, “delights not in anything so much as to alter all things, and present them under another form. This is her conceit to play one game and begin another. Matter is placed before her like a piece of wax and she shapes it to all forms and figures. Now she makes a bird, then out of the bird a beast—now a flower, then a frog, and she is pleased with her own magical performance as men are with their own fancies.”


posted under r/agnosticism

There are people who take fright. But I am of the opinion, Lachmann, that one should know no fear in this world . . . Love, it is said, is strong as death. But you may confidently reverse the saying: Death is as gentle as love, Lachmann. I tell you that death has been maligned. That is the worst imposture in the world. –Death is the mildest form of life: the masterpiece of the Eternal Love…[His eye falls upon the death-mask of Beethoven. He takes it down and, contemplating it, continues:] Where shall we land? Whither are we driven? Why do we cry our cries of joy into the immense incertitude — we mites abandoned in the infinite? As though we knew whither we are tending! Thus you cried too! And did you know — even you? There is nothing in it of mortal feasts! Nor is it the heaven of the parsons! It is not this and it is not that. What…[he stretches out his hands to heaven]…what will it be in the end?


The Life Of A Text In Its Footnotes

Cusack was of middle height but had extremely broad shoulders. He usually wore a broad-rimmed soft hat and instead of trousers wore knee breeches. Carrying a heavy blackthorn, he would come into a pub and shout at the waiter, ‘I’m Citizen Cusack from the Parish of Carron in the Barony of Burren in the County of Clare, you Protestant dog!’

This comes from a footnote in the great paean to literature I’m reading now, a text which functions like a magical barcode; as my eyes scan it, my mind fills with a whirl of crashing ideas…


One Youth’s Literary Greatness

There is nothing so deceptive and for all that so alluring as a good surface. The sea, when beheld in the warm sunlight of a summer’s day; the sky, blue in the faint and amber glimmer of an Autumn sun, are pleasing to the eye: but, how different the scene, when the wild anger of the elements has waked again the discord of Confusion, how different the ocean, choking with froth & foam, to the calm, placid sea, that glanced and rippled merrily in the sun.

This was written by a teenage James Joyce. His great biographer, Richard Ellman, writes:

The example may give heart to adolescents who are searching their own works for evidence of literary immortality, and not finding much.


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