The Centrifuge and the Outlaw
Abstract and Keywords
This introduction argues that error is the central theme in Joyce’s work, and all of Joyce is written in what he calls “the language of the outlaw.” Together with this internal moral compass, there is a parallel drive in Joyce’s work to explore the boundaries of experience, to travel outwardly, or through centrifugal motion, in an attempt to widen the range of human thought. Both movements are necessary for a student’s exploration of the world.
1. The Outlaw
- —Tell us a story, sir.
- —O, do, sir. A ghoststory.
Joyce does everything he possibly can to put you off the scent, to conceal his value, to resist interpretation. Puzzlement is his essential starting point: the boy in “The Sisters” worries over his three words (paralysis, gnomon, simony) like a dog over a bone (D 1); the young Dedalus is fascinated by the sound of the word “Suck” and the sight of the word “Fœtus” (P 11, 89); Sargent, the schoolboy in Stephen’s class in “Nestor,” has trouble with his sums (U 2.128).1 Bafflement is the default position in all the books: “Repeat” (P 204), says Lynch, not understanding the difference between pity and terror. “It skills not” (U 15.129), says Lynch again, unable to recognize Stephen’s gestures for bread and wine. At the end of Finnegans Wake, Anna Livia speaks for her maker: “A hundred cares, a tithe of troubles and is there one who understands me?” (FW 627.14–15). At his wits’ end in “Circe,” Bloom speaks for his reader: “When will I hear the joke?” (U 15.3831). Finishing his limerick, Lenehan speaks for everyone in the room: “I can’t see the Joe Miller. Can you?” (U 7.582). Think of a puzzled dog, hair and tail upright, nose to the wind. That is you.
Over the course of your reading experience, Joyce will leave clues for you to find your way. In the olfactory extravaganza that is Ulysses, he will provide bloody clouts for you to sniff, perfumed handkerchiefs, burned kidneys, lemon (p.2) soap, soiled letters, and personal linen turned to the light for better viewing.2 You begin, technically speaking, at fault. Joyce knows this: as Bloom tracks Stephen on a “Wildgoose chase” through Nighttown, just before feeding the dog in the street, he suddenly “stops, at fault” (U 15.635, 632–33). Strangely enough, there is a second reference to this unusual phrase in “Circe,” and again in a canine context: the pack of bloodhounds chasing Bloom in “The Hue and Cry” are “picking up the scent, nearer, baying, panting, at fault, breaking away” (U 15.4330–31). “At fault,” it turns out, is a term taken from fox hunting: to be “at fault,” according to the OED, is to “overrun the line of scent owing to its irregularity or failure.”3 This is how Shakespeare used the term in “Venus and Adonis” in 1593: the “hounds [ … ] have singled [ … ] the cold fault cleanly out.”4 Only later in the seventeenth century did the term migrate from dogs to people, and come to mean “puzzled”: “We are [ … ] at a fault,” says the Reverend Wotton in 1626, “in the Hunter’s term.”5 So Bloom is at fault in “Circe” not because he is guilty but because he has lost his way. Stephen is equally at fault in “Nestor” when he lets the fox of his riddle escape: his puzzled students have reached a “disappointed bridge” (U 2.39). The characters lose the scent: this is what it means to be “at fault.” When Gerty MacDowell waves her handkerchief in Bloom’s direction she is literally putting him back on the scent. One of the lovely things about the phrase “at fault,” then, is that it doesn’t mean “in fault” in the way we commonly take it to mean. “At fault” is incorrectly used in its common meaning of “having failed,” for which “in fault” should be more properly used.6 All of us have lost the scent.
What makes Ulysses such a maddening and satisfying experience is that the track is yours to find, and yours alone. There are six keys to reading Joyce, one for each sharp in the key of F# major (see figure 9.1 for a demonstration of the cycle of fifths, which will be more relevant later). Father Cowley chooses this dark and rich key for his accompaniment of Ben Dollard’s trenchant rendition of “The Croppy Boy”: “What key? Six sharps?” (U 11.996). First, you must understand the importance of transubstantiation: the Catholic Mass is Key #1. Second, you must understand the importance of history: Parnell and Home Rule is Key #2. Third, you must understand the importance of music: “When First I Saw,” the principal song in “Sirens,” is Key #3. Fourth, you must understand the importance of riddles: the Man in the Macintosh is Key #4. Fifth, you must understand the importance of character: Bloom’s vision of Rudy is Key #5. Sixth, you must find the key that locks the door that only you can open. You are Key #6.
(p.3) The sixth key, in my case, took a long time to find. It is error. By which I do not mean the intentional errors that are so deftly delineated in Tim Conley’s Joyces Mistakes, or the transcription errors that Roy Gottfried catches so cleanly in Joyce’s Iritis and the Irritated Text. Neither do I refer to my own delight in anachronisms and genetic manipulations recorded in The Dublin Helix. This book is more interested in the phrase that has been beautifully misread in Joyce’s work: the question of being “at fault.” Fritz Senn, says Matthew Creasy in his introduction to Errears and Erroriboose, “presents error as a universal failing, common to humanity” (Creasy 16). For Joyce and for all of us this is exactly right, though error is not merely, as Creasy suggests in the same essay, a means by which “unreliable characters evade their responsibilities and draw others into their misdemeanours” (Creasy 21). To be “human, erring and condonable” (FW 58.19), as HCE is at the moment of his trial in I.4 of Finnegans Wake, is not just to be condoned. It is to be already forgiven.
Guilt, betrayal, and mercy are the black, red, and white threads that weave themselves through the web of Joyce’s writing. James Frazer, in “Farewell to Nemi,” the final chapter of The Golden Bough, speaks of human thought as a “web woven of three different threads—the black thread of magic, the red thread of religion, and the white thread of science” (Frazer 855). Guilt is to mercy as black is to white, but betrayal is Joyce’s religion.7 The voice of Saint Peter is heard in the thrice-repeated denial at the bazaar in “Araby” (“O, I never said such a thing! [ … ] O, but I didn’t! [ … ] O, there’s a … fib!”—D 27). A wife’s betrayal drives the plot in Ulysses and Exiles, and Finnegans Wake is riddled with Wagner’s epic of betrayal, Tristan and Isolde. In that opera, a crucial subtext for the post-Ulysses Joyce, Isolde is betrayed twice by Tristan (killing her lover Morold, leading her to King Mark), the love potion betrays both lovers (it is not a healing potion, as he believes, or a death potion, as she believes), Tristan is betrayed by his trusted friend Melot (who leads King Mark to the place of the lovers’ tryst), and the language of betrayal applies in the finest detail: when Tristan drains the poisoned cup Isolde cries “Betrug auch hier? / Mein die Hälfte!” [Betrayed even here? Give me my half!] (Wagner 56). King Mark himself, whose presence in Finnegans Wake is nearly as ubiquitous as that of Tristan or Isolde, has an extraordinary aria to betrayal that speaks of disloyalty as a poison (or “Gift”) destroying his brain: “Dort mit der Waffe / quälendem Gift, / das Sinn und Hirn / mir sengend versehrt” [There with your weapon’s tormenting poison, you have scotched and disabled my senses and my brain] (Wagner 86). As Finn is betrayed by Grania and King Arthur (p.4) (“Arthurgink”) by Guinevere (“Everguin”—FW 285.L2), “Muster Mark” (FW 383.01) becomes the Wake’s archetypal fallen hero, a broken king.
Robert Spoo has rightly suggested that Joyce is “obsessed with the dialectics of injury and remedy” in all his life and work.8 The execution of “law and mercy” is Joyce’s greatest role:
WILLIAM, ARCHBISHOP OF ARMAGH
(in purple stock and shovel hat) Will you to your power cause law and mercy to be executed in all your judgments in Ireland and territories thereunto belonging?
(placing his right hand on his testicles, swears) So may the Creator deal with me. All this I promise to do.
From the priest in “The Sisters” who has “something gone wrong with him” (D 10) to the man in Phoenix Park who may or may not have done something namelessly horrible in Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s characters are always falling short of the mark. “He was too scrupulous always” (D 9) says one of the sisters about Father Flynn; “in my heart I had always despised him a little” (D 20), the boy says of Mahony after their encounter with the man in the field. Guilt is general all over Joyce’s work, and human frailty is his greatest subject. But, in Joyce, it is more than just the falling. Humpty Dumpty is put back together again; Tim Finnegan rises from his wake. The beauty of Joyce is that through reading him we learn to make mistakes, and through them we learn to forgive ourselves.
“We are a generous people but we must also be just” says Mr. Deasy unjustly, to which Stephen replies “I fear those big words [ … ] which make us so unhappy” (U 2.262–64). Deasy is a fraud, Stephen is “not born to be a teacher, I think” (U 2.402), Sargent is hopeless at sums, Talbot stumbles over his recitation of “Lycidas” (U 2.79), and the boys outside can’t even get a hockey game together without fighting: “Cochrane and Halliday are on the same side, sir” (U 2.190). That’s in “Nestor” alone: outside of the schoolroom, Don Giovanni is sent to hell by the Commendatore, Bloom gets the words of the duet with Zerlina wrong, Lazarus misses his chance to come forth, Charles Stewart Parnell is unforgiven by the Catholic Church, for which the Catholic Church can never be forgiven by Mr. Casey, Icarus flies too close to the sun, and Mr. Duffy casts Mrs. Sinico from his mind after reading of her death, “his moral nature falling to pieces” (D 113).9 All the characters in the Joycean universe are in the dock. (p.5) Stephen must “Kneel” before the prefect for his accidentally broken glasses (P 51), Bob Doran must marry the girl at the boarding house because her mother deals with “moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat” (D 58). The Mob in “Circe” calls for Bloom to be lynched and roasted, to which Bloom excitedly responds, “This is midsummer madness, some ghastly joke again. By heaven, I am guiltless as the unsunned snow!” (U 15.1768–69). And so he is, and so are all of us. This, the appreciation of human error, is the sixth key, the darkest key, F# major. It is, again, the key of “The Croppy Boy,” the song that will hold our attention in chapter 1: “Six sharps?” (U 11.996), says Father Cowley. It is this sixth key that allows us to experience Ulysses as the work of an outlaw.
When Joyce recorded himself on the gramophone in 1924, on equipment borrowed by Sylvia Beach from His Master’s Voice, he chose a curious section to read. In “Aeolus,” the “ponderous pundit” Professor MacHugh (U 7.578) delivers himself of a lengthy speech to a rapt audience in the newspaper office, ending with the following peroration:
—But, ladies and gentlemen, had the youthful Moses listened to and accepted that view of life, had he bowed his head and bowed his will and bowed his spirit before that arrogant admonition he would never have brought the chosen people out of their house of bondage, nor followed the pillar of the cloud by day. He would never have spoken with the Eternal amid lightnings on Sinai’s mountaintop nor ever have come down with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw.
On Joyce’s recording, the final beats (“graven in the language of the outlaw”) are declaimed with extraordinary relish. This is a text that has been twice “graven”: once in the manner of an engraving, as a recording is engraved, and once as a text coming from beyond the grave. John F. Taylor’s speech on the revival of the Irish tongue, which MacHugh quotes from memory, is both positive, as an example of fine diction from a bygone age, and negative, since Taylor died, as Moses did, without entering the land of promise: an engraving also has that dual distinction. It’s curiously predictable, too, that Joyce mangles the text in several places on the recording, underscoring his delight in accident in all things. Joyce reads “never have led the chosen people” instead of “never have brought,” and omits “amid lightnings” (Dachy): neither variation appears in any earlier version of the text. Though the tables of the Ten Commandments may be engraved in stone, there is nothing fixed about Ulysses, and as for Finnegans (p.6) Wake, there is always the sense that the text before us is only an approximation of what Joyce had in mind.
There are in fact only two recordings of Joyce’s voice: the speech in praise of Moses from “Aeolus,” made at Sylvia Beach’s urging in 1924, and the end of “Anna Livia Plurabelle,” recorded for C. K. Ogden in 1929.10 These two selections have always had a pleasing complementarity. “Aeolus” takes place inside, during the day, in the company of men discussing language; “Anna Livia” takes place outside, by the River Liffey at dusk, in the company of washerwomen becoming myth. The stentorian tones of the orator in “Aeolus” do not brook compromise: when Joyce declares that Moses bears in his arms “the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw” (U 7.868–69), nothing is left in doubt. The windy fluting notes of the women in the Wake place everything in doubt: the language chitters and flitters to an open close. If MacHugh’s divine afflatus has the cadence of a Beethoven overture (crescendo, marcato), the washerwomen’s descent into darkness is more like Debussy (decrescendo, calando). Here are male and female, agency and entropy, order and chaos, and “that’s the he and the she of it” (FW 213.12).
In both recordings, Joyce allows his customary margin for error: we have seen that the ventriloquizing of MacHugh’s rendition of Taylor’s great speech is frequently inaccurate, and the Finnegans Wake reading (FW 213.11–216.05) differs from the printed text in several places, including a stunning drop of the lines “Night! Night!” six lines before the end (FW 215.36). Ellmann claims that the light in the recording studio for Joyce’s reading at Ogden’s Orthological Institute was so bad that he had to be “prompted in a whisper throughout” (JJ 617), though if this is true the prompts are undetectable on the recording. What Joyce had in mind on both occasions is made very clear by the readings: both texts are as much aural experiences as visual ones, and to read with the ear, or hear with the eye, is crucial to Ulysses and the Wake.
The decision to record the end of the “Anna Livia” section of Finnegans Wake (I.8) strikes everyone who hears it for the first time as a no-brainer: not only are these pages the most accessible in the text, in terms of narrative line, but they also show off to fullest advantage the importance of being Joyce. To understand Finnegans Wake you have to transform yourself into the kind of person who can understand it, and this generally means that it is necessary to become Joyce to the greatest extent that one possibly can. The recording allows us to become Joyce for a spell, to transform ourselves into tree (“Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm!”) and stone (“I feel as heavy as yonder stone”) as we listen to the play of (p.7) Joyce’s “hitherandthithering waters” (FW 215.36–216.05). The reading is desperately funny (“Oronoko” comes unexpectedly out of a stretch and a yawn—FW 214.10), and Joyce plays the sound effects to the hilt, with brilliantly rolled rs, the sounds of bells and bats and birds, a nursery lilt, and a gorgeous dying fall. “It seemed to me that I had been transported,” as John F. Taylor says on the other occasion (U 7.830).
On the other occasion, the decision to engrave MacHugh’s ventriloquism of Taylor’s speech on the youthful Moses for posterity isn’t as immediately obvious, especially to those who may have hoped for something lyrical from “Sirens” or “Penelope.” Sylvia Beach writes of arranging for the “Aeolus” recording to be made, and the reasons behind Joyce’s selection of the speech, in her memoir Shakespeare and Company (Beach 170–71). As Sylvia Beach remembers it, this was the perfect choice. No other section commands its audience so fully, from the opening “Mr chairman, ladies and gentlemen” (U 7.828) to the ringing declaration at the end. Joyce is always the poet and musician, balancing “law” and “outlaw,” stressing the final line for all its metrical worth. Above all, the text establishes Joyce as the visionary, coming down like Moses from Mt. Sinai, as the nationalist, speaking passionately through several screens in favor of the Irish language, and as the outlaw. Joyce writes from exile in an outlaw language as he participates in the outlaw creation of a new Irish literature; this, above all, is why his writing takes flight.
2. The Centrifuge
As he grew accustomed to the great gallery of machines, he began to feel the forty-foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross. The planet itself seemed less impressive, in its old-fashioned, deliberate, annual or daily revolution, than this huge wheel, revolving within arm’s-length at some vertiginous speed, and barely murmuring—scarcely humming an audible warning to stand a hair’s-breadth further for respect of power—while it would not wake the baby lying close against its frame. Before the end, one began to pray to it; inherited instinct taught the natural expression of man before silent and infinite force.
When Henry Adams visited Paris at the turn of the twentieth century, he heard the hum of a room full of dynamos, and it sounded to him like the future. He found himself “lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new” (Adams 382). As part of what are habitually his final meditations of the day, (p.8) Leopold Bloom imagines “one sole unique advertisement to cause passers to stop in wonder, a poster novelty, with all extraneous accretions excluded, reduced to its simplest and most efficient terms not exceeding the span of casual vision and congruous with the velocity of modern life” (U 17.1770–73). This “novelty” is the novel he is in: passers have long stood in wonder at the singular advertisement that is the novel of Bloom and Stephen’s day, their historical necks broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new. Listening closely to the end of Ulysses, we may hear much the same thing that Henry Adams experienced in the Paris Exposition Hall: Ulysses is a dynamo, hurtling through space at vertiginous speed, barely murmuring, a huge wheel of infinite power. Though it is anything but simple, efficient, or casual, its present does not exceed the timespan of a single day and is congruous with the velocity of modern life. And like the forty-foot dynamos in the Paris gallery, Ulysses has a “moral force” (Adams 380).11
“Before the end, one began to pray to it” (Adams 380): the moment just before the end is always Joyce’s primary focus. Bloom’s “final meditations” (U 17.1769), in which the image of Ulysses appears, are penultimate to those of his wife. Joyce has little interest in exposition: his beginnings are re-beginnings, revolutions. The opening story of Dubliners, the first episode of Ulysses, the first part of Finnegans Wake: all these are less interesting than Gabriel’s swoon, Molly’s reverie, and Anna Livia’s dying into the sea. Joyce’s characters reflect and anticipate but rarely begin. “Telemachus” starts the book hesitantly: Buck Mulligan’s “Introibo ad altare Dei” is thwarted by corporeal resistance (“A little trouble about those white corpuscles”), and we never visit the Martello tower again (U 1.05, 22–23). “Begin!” (U 11.63) says the conductor as the curtain comes up in “Sirens,” but the summons is oddly placed, bracketed within the opening section.12 “Begin to be forgotten” (U 6.872), Bloom thinks as the clay falls on Paddy Dignam’s grave. Joyce’s dynamo, the velocity of his method, is not a “radiant node or cluster [ … ] from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing” (Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska 92). Rather than moving centripetally, as Pound’s vortex does, Joyce’s method flies outward, turning and turning in a widening spiral, as Yeats’ gyres do. It moves, as Adams says of his contemporary St. Gaudens, “beyond all” (Adams 387). It is a centrifuge.
Technically speaking, centrifugal force is an invented, or “fictitious,” force that allows for a rotational frame of reference: it accounts for the perception of movement that Newton’s laws of motion, which are based on an inertial, or nonmoving, frame of reference, cannot accommodate. It is calculated as (p.9)
where F is the Relative Centrifugal Force, r is the radius of the object, ධ is the angular velocity and g is our old friend gravity, hurling objects earthward at “Thirtytwo feet per second per second” (U 5.44).13 Bloom’s thoughts in “Lotus-Eaters” on the natural buoyancy of human beings in the Dead Sea (“Couldn’t sink if you tried”) lead him to a fundamental equation in Joyce’s world: “Law of falling bodies: per second per second. They all fall to the ground. The earth. It’s the force of gravity of the earth is the weight” (U 5.39, 44–46). In the universe of Joyce’s Ulysses, which is also governed by fictitious forces, objects can be located only by their relative frame of reference (r), are congruous with the velocity of modern life (ධ), and are dependent on the law of falling bodies (g). Centrifugal force is radius times velocity squared over gravity:
What Bloom calls “the velocity of modern life” (U 17.1773) is Henry Adams’ principal subject. The celebrated chapter on “The Dynamo and the Virgin,” which gives this introduction its subtitle, leads to “A Dynamic Theory of History,” which insists on acceleration of motion from equilibrium to “new equilibrium” (Adams 489): both mind and matter are moving as a comet moves, constantly in flight, constantly renewed. According to Henry Cabot Lodge, Adams’ editor, in 1918, the original subtitle for The Education of Henry Adams was “A Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity” (Adams xxi): this is as good a definition of Ulysses as any. But Bloom’s statement “They all fall to the ground” (U 5.45) is, for Joyce, more than a law of gravity. We are all fallen. “They all fall to the ground” is Gabriel’s moment of anagnorisis, or recognition, as he hears the snow faintly falling and falling faintly “upon all the living and the dead” (D 225). “They all fall to the ground” is the overtone behind Bloom’s valediction to “Poor Dignam!” (U 4.551) and the hideous revelation that sticks deep its grinning claws into Stephen’s heart: “All must go through it, Stephen. More women than men in the world. You too. Time will come” (U 15.4182–84).14 Joyce’s centrifugal force is based on the law of falling bodies: all human beings are drawn by gravity to fault and error. Without that basic principle, Joyce’s world would remain as virginal as Our Lady of Lourdes. With it, the characters in the Joycean universe begin to display their relative rotational force. “First we feel,” says (p.10) Anna Livia at the end of Finnegans Wake, “then we fall” (FW 627.11). This is a miraculous line in the context of a book where nothing ever speaks true, where every page is mediated through semantic occlusion, and where no statement ever runs clear. The effect, as John Gordon has said, is axiomatic (“one of the Wake’s saddest axioms”—Gordon 142). The fundamental things apply.
Gretta Conroy and Gerty MacDowell are both fallen and feeling women, their frailties on full display. Their respective falls in “The Dead” and “Nausicaa” are instructive, since they take place on separate axes. Gretta Conroy falls in time, losing her innocence retroactively. Her previous relationship with Michael Furey has the cadence of a fairy story—“I am thinking about a person long ago,” “It was a young boy I used to know” (D 220)—until her past catches up with Gabriel, and he plummets: “A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer as if, at that hour when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him” (D 221). Gerty MacDowell falls in space, leaning back to reveal the arc of her unseen: “His hands and face were working and a tremour went over her. She leaned back far to look up where the fireworks were and she caught her knee in her hands so as not to fall back looking up and there was no-one to see only him and her” (U 13.694–98). The two Eves fall before their respective Adams: Gabriel discovers at the Gresham Hotel that he is no longer Gretta’s First Man, and Leopold writes “I. [ … ] AM. A” (U 13.1258–64) in the sand with his stick. ”A” stands for Adam, Aleph, and Alpha: on the same beach earlier in the day Stephen says “Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one” (U 3.39–40). The dynamic force of each woman’s fall from grace sends Gabriel Conroy and Leopold Bloom on a trajectory outward: they are nought, or “naught,” cast out from Edenville. For Gabriel at the Gresham, “The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward” (D 225). For Bloom on the beach, it is time to push on: “Better not stick here all night like a limpet” (U 13.1211).
Centrifugal motion is an outward vector: Bloom knows that “at the termination of any allotted life only an infinitesimal part of any person’s desires has been realised” (U 17.1761–62). Bloom’s florin in “Ithaca,” sent into the world for “possible, circuitous or direct, return” (U 17.984), has yet to reappear. This particular coin is worth a closer look: it was marked “in the summer of 1898” (U 17.980), and so has a portrait of Queen Victoria on the obverse side. The florin that Reuben J. Dodd paid the boatman for his son (“One and eightpence too much”—U 6.291), on the other hand, was likely to have been minted in the reign of Edward VII (1901–1910): if so, it was designed by George de Saulles and (p.11) is famous among numismatists for its reverse side, with its device of Britannia gazing out to sea (Mackay 160). I have one from 1903 in front of me as I write, purchased at Spink’s in Southampton Row for forty pounds. Allow me to describe it further. Britannia, statuesque in plumed helmet, is holding an aegis, or shield, sporting the Union Jack. In her right hand, she holds a trident in tribute to Poseidon: both Athena’s plume and Poseidon’s trident pierce the lettered edge that bears the legend “One Florin Two Shillings.” Britannia is wearing a shimmering cloak that artfully fails to conceal the twin apples of her bosom, clearly shown in relief. Her cloak is carried seaward by a wind that blows from right to left, so that it “simply swirls,” like Milly Bloom’s “pale blue scarf loose in the wind” (U 4.438, 435–36): Britannia is one of Boylan’s “seaside girls” (U 4.282). The device on the reverse also includes a poop deck that displays the coin’s date, behind which is the flat horizon of the sea, revealing within its waters a curved indication of what Bloom would call “nice waves” (U 11.300). The coin’s liquidity, in Joyce’s double sense of its “circulation on the waters of civic finance” (U 17.983–84), is represented by the waves of the sea before which Britannia stands. A more Joycean artifact, then, could scarcely be imagined.
The florin never finds its way back to Bloom’s pocket, despite the “three notches on the milled edge” (U 17.981). The coin does return for us, as readers, and this is an important distinction. We may connect it to other two-shilling pieces in the Joycean canon, but the characters do not. In addition to the cost of Reuben J. Dodd’s son, a florin is the payment for the morning’s milk at the Martello tower (“We’ll owe twopence”—U 1.458), the price of Bloom at auction in “Circe” (“A BIDDER / A florin”—U 15.3092–93), and the coin that the boy in “Araby” holds tightly in his hand as he makes his way to the bazaar train (D 26).15 While the return of the florin is there for the Joycean reader to discover, for the Joycean characters all movement is relentlessly outward. For the readers of “Ithaca,” circularity is permitted: we are invited to recapitulate the episodes of Bloom’s day as rituals in the Jewish calendar (U 17.2043–58) or to compile the budget for 16 June 1904 (U 17.1455), and the resulting equations are as satisfactory as a circulating florin or the paternity of a particoloured clown (U 17.977). For the characters in “Ithaca,” however, equanimity is hard-earned and near-achieved. “Ithaca” provides an ending for neither man nor woman: Stephen respectfully declines the invitation to stay (U 17.955), Bloom recognizes that the damage that Boylan has done is “irreparable” (U 17.2194), Milly has thrown her hat at a young student (U 4.399, 14.758), and Molly’s soliloquy is about to take flight.
(p.12) The movement through Dubliners, Portrait, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake is centripetal for Joyce’s readers, folding in on itself as the connections come clear. But for the characters—the boy in “Araby,” the husband in “The Dead,” the young artist in Portrait, the two companions drinking cocoa at the end of a long day in “Ithaca,” Anna Livia at the end of the Wake—all movement is centrifugal. The clown in quest of paternity is not Bloom’s son, and the florin never returns. Stephen plays “the series of empty fifths” (U 15.2073) on Bella Cohen’s pianola, a sequence that arches out to the end of the world: “What went forth to the ends of the world to traverse not itself, God, the sun, Shakespeare, a commercial traveller, having itself traversed in reality itself becomes that self” (U 15.2117–19). (The fact that the cycle ends where it begins will be taken up in chapter 9.) The Odyssean journey is a movement from being to becoming: the self develops into that “which it itself was ineluctably preconditioned to become” (U 15.2120–21). Though the stuck flies copulate on the window pane at Davy Byrne’s, pinioning the past to the present, Bloom can never go back to his old self: “Me. And me now. / Stuck, the flies buzzed” (U 8.917–18). One of the commercial advantages of a modern centrifuge is that it can be used to separate isotopes: the twin isotopes of Bloom’s former and present selves have similarly broken apart (“Or was that I? Or am I now I?”—U 8.608). Stephen has undergone an identical process: “I am other I now. Other I got pound” (U 9.205–06).
Shaking hands in farewell at the doorway of #7 Eccles Street, Bloom is the “centripetal remainer” and Stephen the “centrifugal departer” (U 17.1214). Their “(respectively) centrifugal and centripetal hands” form a “tangent,” or the line through a pair of infinitely close points on a curve (U 17.1225, 1224). In Bloom’s reflections, Molly’s most recent suitor is “neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity” (U 17.2130–31), a series that continues “to no last term” (U 17.2142). Even at rest, the Blooms are moving forward:
In what state of rest or motion?
At rest relatively to themselves and to each other. In motion being each and both carried westward, forward and rereward respectively, by the proper perpetual motion of the earth through everchanging tracks of neverchanging space.
(p.13) Though the Blooms are at rest “relatively to themselves and to each other,” they are carried “westward,” as Gabriel Conroy, also in bed with his wife, travels westward in his mind at the end of “The Dead” (D 225). The “everchanging tracks” of the Earth’s movement in “neverchanging space” provide precisely the rotational frame of reference in which a centrifugal force can be detected: what appears to be an inertial state is in fact an outward motion relative to the Earth’s velocity.
Since the Blooms are at rest, the Coriolis force, which refers to bodies themselves in motion relative to a rotational frame, is not in effect as they fly through space. Both the Coriolis force and the centrifugal force are “fictitious forces,” in that they are only perceived rather than real: we don’t actually move forward when an airplane accelerates on takeoff, it just feels as though we do. Truth then exists in relation to perception, a principle that holds throughout all of Ulysses (see especially the separate vignettes of “Wandering Rocks,” where every character is both perceiver and perceived). The earth rotates from West to East, and so the Blooms’ motion, “each and both carried westward,” is retrograde. Their journey westward is a journey ධestධard, or subject to a squared velocity given as omega (ධ2), they are carried forward (F) and rereward (r), subject to the forces of Gea-Tellus (g). The black dot that closes “Ithaca” (U 17.2332), inked carefully according to Joyce’s precise instructions, is essentially a forty-foot dynamo.16 If you put your ear up close to it, as Henry Adams did in Paris three years before Stephen got there, you may be able to hear it spinning.17 A “silent and infinite force” (Adams 380), it fails to wake the weary traveler, Leopold Bloom, sleeping like a baby against its frame. Molly Bloom, the woman who shares a birthday with the Blessed Virgin, is about to speak.
The clearest example of centrifugal force, and the one that everybody remembers from science class, is the effect of the earth’s rotation on the shape of the earth: the centrifugal forces bulge at the equator where the radius is largest to form an oblate spheroid. Stephen knows this, even in his cups: walking (barely) upright “upon this oblate orange” he finds that his “centre of gravity is displaced” (U 15.4427, 4433). It is this professorial remark that Biddy the Clap and Cunty Kate applaud as having been delivered with “marked refinement” and “apposite trenchancy” (U 15.4444, 4446). “You should see him,” Mulligan says, “when his body loses its balance. Wandering Aengus I call him” (U 10.1066–67); soon after displacing his center of gravity in his encounter with Private Carr, he falls to the ground, murmuring elliptically from a different Yeats poem that itself spirals outward to the “dishevelled wandering stars.”18
(p.14) In Joyce’s notes to “Ithaca” there is a reference to the mathematicians “Lobatschewsky” and “Riemann” (JJA 12:84), both references, according to Ciaran McMorran, originating from Joyce’s reading of “Non-Euclidean Geometries” in Henri Poincaré’s Science and Hypothesis (McMorran 23).19 The note is transcribed by Phillip Herring as follows (Herring, ed., Notesheets 474):
Eucl. space no total curvature of spine ([M]illy)
Lobatschewsky const. tot. curv. neg
Riemann " " " pos.
“Milly” is possibly a misreading for “Dilly” here, since Dilly Dedalus is the child with a posture problem in “Wandering Rocks”: “Stand up straight, girl, he said. You’ll get curvature of the spine” (U 10.662).20 “[C]onst. tot. curv.” stands for “constant total curvature,” which can be either convex or concave. Negative curvature, which Joyce associates with the Russian mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky, is hyperbolic or convex; positive curvature, which Joyce associates with the German geometrician Bernhard Riemann, is elliptical or concave. On another page of the “Ithaca” notesheets, we find the words “concave convex” just above “curvilinear,” with “curvilinear” crossed out in blue crayon (Herring, ed., Notesheets 449, JJA 12:76). This concatenation of non-Euclidean terms can be traced forward to the printed text via the “curvilinear rope” beneath the “five coiled spring housebells” from which hang the “four smallsize square handkerchiefs” and the “three erect wooden pegs” between “two holdfasts” clamping “one pair of ladies’ grey hose” (U 17.150–55). Five housebells, four handkerchiefs, three wooden pegs, two holdfasts, one pair of hose: there is a partridge, or a Poincaré, in this pear tree. Henri Poincaré, the source of Joyce’s non-Euclidean mathematics, is concealed in the final dot of “Ithaca”: in the 1922 edition of Ulysses the dot is square, or a “point carré” (McMorran 23).21
There is no evidence in the manuscripts or typescripts that Joyce ever intended the final dot of “Ithaca” to be square: he draws a circular dot in the placards (JJA 21:140) and calls for a “point [ … ] plus visible” in the page proofs (JJA 27:212) without specifying what would otherwise be an unusual shape. Nevertheless, the fact that it appears as a square dot in the 1922 edition (U-22 689) nicely lines up with the “square round” egg laid in the text just before the dot’s appearance (U 17.2328) and with Bloom’s thoughts of attempting to “square the circle,” as Virag remembers in “Circe” (U 15.2401). Christine van Boheemen-Saaf, in Joyce, Derrida, Lacan, and the Trauma of History, speaks of the “large round/ square dot” and the “squared-circular mark” (van Boheemen-Saaf 156), (p.15) but that is mostly because the ambiguity amplifies her argument for the dot’s double function. Though Joyce’s Jesuit curriculum would never have permitted the discussion of non-Euclidean space (see Bradley 106), there are “ellipsoidal balls” in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (P 192), and a mathematician who takes the Poincaré line, “projecting long slender fabrics from plane to plane of ever rarer and paler twilight, radiating swift eddies to the last verges of a universe ever vaster, farther and more impalpable” (P 191). Right from the start, Stephen Dedalus’ world is vertiginously expansive:
- Stephen Dedalus
- Class of Elements
- Clongowes Wood College
- County Kildare
- The World
- The Universe
Putting Poincaré aside, the outward vectors of narrative movement in Ulysses, from the headlines in “Aeolus” to the interpolations in “Cyclops,” from the trembling extension of Gerty MacDowell’s straining back in “Nausicaa” to the increasing elliptical rings of “Oxen of the Sun,” are Joyce’s best indications of his centrifugal impulse. What begins as “compression, intensity” in Ezra Pound’s evaluation of the first episodes in the Little Review becomes an unmoored object moving with such velocity that it can no longer be captured in an inertial frame.22 After the fireworks display in “Nausicaa,” Bloom’s thoughts form a scattergram:
O sweety all your little girlwhite up I saw dirty bracegirdle made me do love sticky we two naughty Grace darling she him half past the bed met him pike hoses frillies for Raoul de perfume your wife black hair heave under embon señorita young eyes Mulvey plump bubs me breadvan Winkle red slippers she rusty sleep wander years of dreams return tail end Agendath swoony lovey showed me her next year in drawers return next in her next her next.
(p.16) Joyce mechanically thickens this paragraph as he writes, tying Gerty to Molly (“met him pike hoses”), Martha Clifford (“perfume your wife”), Mat Dillon (“breadvan Winkle”), Sweets of Sin (“frillies for Raoul”), William Wordsworth (“Grace darling”), Anne Bracegirdle (“dirty bracegirdle”), the Rock of Gibraltar (“señorita young eyes Mulvey”), and Jerusalem (“next year in drawers”). All these new vectors are added in the original manuscript to send the book flying in all directions (Rosenbach P364 L497–98 N381–82, JJA 13:242). Mairy has “lost the pin” of her drawers (U 13.803), and the text explodes like a grenade.
Some fragments of these ruminations we can trace: “next year in drawers” takes us to “Next year in Jerusalem” (U 7.207), as Rudolph Virag used to say, reading backward with his finger. The final fragment, “next her next,” goes backward to Lessing’s “Nacheinander” (U 3.13) and forward to Stephen’s “Proparoxyton. Moment before the next, Lessing says” (U 15.3609). “Proparoxyton” refers to a stress on the antepenultimate syllable, as in the word “photōgraphy”; Ulysses is one great parable of the penultimate, a Pisgah sight of Palestine.23 Stephen tells us so: “I call it A Pisgah Sight of Palestine or The Parable of the Plums” (U 7.1057–58). History may move to “one great goal” (U 2.381), as Garrett Deasy claims, but in Joyce, as for Moses on Mt. Pisgah, the goal is never reached. Mr. Deasy is wrong, then, not because history is a recurring nightmare, as Stephen suggests in the same conversation (U 2.377), but because an arrow never reaches its target, as Joyce everywhere insists. Return is impossible, from the very beginning: “Home also I cannot go” (U 1.740). Plumtree’s incompleteness theorem, the inability for a character to reach resolution, is a fundamental principle in Joyce’s works: “What is home without Plumtree’s Potted Meat? / Incomplete” (U 17.597–98).24 Joyce’s position is always “Preparatory to anything else” (U 16.01).
A centrifuge is a detachment from magnetic force: “Better detach,” Bloom thinks as he wonders about Molly’s “magnetic influence” on his wristwatch in “Nausicaa” (U 13.980, 984–85). The final firework that concludes the display on Sandymount Strand falls haphazardly out of view, a monkey puzzle rocket disappearing beyond the curve of the rocks, “spluttering in darting crackles. Zrads and zrads, zrads, zrads” (U 13.933–34). Cissy Caffrey throws the ball along the sand and Tommy runs after it “in full career” (U 13.255). Gerty leans back watching the long Roman candle going up over the trees to beyond the point of no return: “he had a full view high up above her knee where no-one ever not (p.17) even on the swing [ … ]” (U 13.728–29). All these are physical representations of the omega velocity of escaping force (ධ), as is the “biscuitbox” that hurtles “through the atmosphere at a terrifying velocity” at Bloom’s head at the end of “Cyclops” (U 12.1880–81).
The exploding text at the end of “Nausicaa” sends a further fragment forward with “next year in drawers” (U 13.1284), which refers not only to Virag’s hopes for a sight of Jerusalem and to the drawers of which Mairy has lost her pin, but also to a set of child’s drawings in a later drawer. “What did the first drawer unlocked contain?” (U 17.1774), asks the catechist in “Ithaca,” and reveals in that drawer a collection of “diagram drawings” done by Papli’s daughter (U 17.1776). Out of Bloom’s drawer in Eccles Street tumbles yet another metaphor for Ulysses itself: a prophecy of Home Rule, pen nibs from Hely’s, a Jewish Christmas card, a reverse letter cipher following the path of an ox in a field, erotic postcards, a penny stamp, a magnifying glass, a prospectus for The Wonderworker, and an hourglass “which rolled containing sand which rolled” (U 17.1787). Space (the sand on which Bloom writes his message) rolls in time (the hourglass in the unlocked drawer). The container contains the container that contains the thing contained, and all move through everchanging tracks of neverchanging space. It is no accident that Bloom opens the drawer immediately following his reflections on a “poster novelty [ … ] not exceeding the span of casual vision and congruous with the velocity of modern life” (U 17.1771–73). As we look closely at the objects in Bloom’s drawer, at the florin that circulates through Dublin, at the other manifestations of the detritus of time placed as carefully throughout Ulysses as Stephen’s ball of snot on a ledge of rock on Sandymount Strand (U 3.500), we come to an understanding of modernist memory. Memory is an hourglass that rolls, containing sand that rolls.
“These fragments I have shored” (TWL 146), says Eliot in his most centrifugal work; Leopold Bloom’s meditations on utopia in “Ithaca” similarly allow him to put his “lands in order” (TWL 146). Bloom’s wandering thoughts lead him to the unlikely prospect of the discovery of an object of unexpected monetary value, such as a precious stone, an antique dynastical ring, or three rare postage stamps (U 17.1679–83). The postage stamps, which we will examine more closely in chapter 2, are windows to an infinite world. Bloom is a philatelist, like his father-in-law before him: his schemes carry forward. He stands, so to speak, “with an unposted letter bearing the extra regulation fee before the too late box of the general postoffice of human life” (U 15.2778–80). “Philately” (p.18) is, etymologically speaking, the love of being exempt from the obligation to come to a close (see chapter 2). Joyce’s texts are philatelic in that they actively resist the telos. The desire to communicate imperfectly, to express desire to no fixed point, has always been with Joyce. The very first letter in the Collected Letters, from the Prefect at Clongowes Wood College to Joyce’s mother on 9 March 1890, refers to another even earlier letter that the eight-year-old Joyce intended to send to his mother but apparently never reached its destination:
My dear Mrs Joyce Jim is getting a formidable letter into shape for you—if he has not already sent it. I attacked him, on getting your letter, for his silence. He met me by saying that he had written but had not given the letter to be posted.
(Letters II:6, italics in original)
The promised letter is in the post: all of Joyce’s writing, from the first to the last, is a sending forward.
Joyce’s texts move in spirals; they repel perfection, rejoicing in that which is not fixed, refusing to end. This is true of Dubliners, which swoons and fades with Gabriel Conroy into a new gray and impalpable world, of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which goes to encounter reality of experience “for the millionth time” (P 253), and of Ulysses, which refuses the reader the satisfaction of a reconciliation between substitute father and substitute son, presenting a day of births and funerals in which nothing is settled and nothing resolved. The final words of Ulysses, “Trieste-Zurich-Paris / 1914–1921” (U 18.1610–11), trace the contrails of a man in flight in space and time, hurtling away from Dublin and 1904. As Stephen would say, Joyce has flown by those nets (P 203), and no text oscillates more wildly than Portrait, which bears Stephen’s “weary mind outward to its verge and inward to its centre, a distant music accompanying him outward and inward” (P 103). The most pivotal departure in the Joycean canon, Stephen’s diary entry at the close of Portrait, is a forgery: “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (P 253). The margin of experience moves “for ever and for ever” for Stephen and Bloom. Ulysses, in Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” best explains the philatelic principle of Joyce’s Ulysses:
- Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
- Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
- (p.19) For ever and for ever when I move.
- How dull it is to pause, to make an end [ … ]!
Joyce’s “Work in Progress,” the working title for Finnegans Wake, is dispositive in this regard. When St. Kevin determines the appropriate location for his baptism, he sits in a bathtub in a water hole in a hut on an island in a lake in Glendalough, “rafted centripetally” into a space that is its own “ventrifugal principality” (FW 605.15, 17):
on this one of eithers lone navigable lake piously Kevin, lawding the triune trishagion, amidships of his conducible altar super bath, rafted centripetally, diaconal servent of orders hibernian, midway across the subject lake surface to its supreem epicentric lake Ysle, whereof its lake is the ventrifugal principality, whereon by prime, powerful in knowledge, Kevin came to where its centre is among the circumfluent watercourses of Yshgafiena and Yshgafiuna, an enysled lakelet yslanding a lacustrine yslet, [… . ]
Finnegans Wake is that “ventrifugal principality”: the first explorer in these parts is “The first exploder [ … ] in these parks” and Esau of Mesopotamia is “Essav of Messagepostumia” (FW 606.23–24, 607.08–09). To explore is to explode; the message is always “aposteriorious” (FW 83.11). Where “Ithaca” counts down to zero, Finnegans Wake multiplies to infinity: “Wins won is nought, twigs too is nil, tricks trees makes nix, fairs fears stoops at nothing” (FW 361.01–03).
What At Fault proposes to do is to rediscover the scent that Joyce has laid down for us, track this philatelic gesture in Joyce, and examine the centrifugal impulse in all his work. “Structurally, Joyce’s works are like a pool,” says Phillip Herring in Joyce’s Uncertainty Principle, “a tossed stone sends ever-widening circles that only stop at the shore’s edge” (Herring, Uncertainty 180); Suzette Henke speaks of “Telemachus” in terms of “widening circles” (Henke 4).25 In the notesheets for “Oxen of the Sun,” Joyce famously sketched a diagram of an ever-widening universe, where the history of English language and the development of human life are arranged in ever-increasing elliptical rings, each corresponding to a month of gestation in the womb: (p.20)
These nine months are reciphered in the notesheets to “Ithaca”:
Immediately below this curious diagram, we find an invitation to take Joyce to the mathematical limit:
(p.21) We are all “at fault,” and so must find our way. At Fault happily hunts through the Joycean universe for unexpected discoveries, from readings of fox hunting in “Circe” to the history of Jumbo the Elephant in “Cyclops” to readings of solfège in Finnegans Wake. Though Joyce is “dead nuts” on the retrospective arrangement as a theme (U 6.149), as Mr. Power says of Tom Kernan, his method is always and everywhere one that moves away from safety, toward error, beyond the nets of expectation. Though “Ithaca” is the home target, though “riverrun” (FW 3.01) is a beginning and an end, though the overarching theme of reincarnation and return is omnipresent in Ulysses, the vectors of Joyce’s method point outward. That is the counterintuitive premise of this book. On one side of the equation, there is pattern, order, and the Logos: Wallace Stevens’ “The Idea of Order at Key West” is the modernist exemplar of that approach, with its “rage for order,” “Arranging, deepening, enchanting night” (Stevens 130). On the other side of the equals sign, there is randomness, chaos, and doubt: Stevens again provides modernism’s finest example, with the ambiguous undulations of casual pigeons in “Sunday Morning” moving “Downward to darkness, on extended wings” (Stevens 70). The former approach was the subject of The Dublin Helix, my earlier and more closely patterned book, which presented the two strands of life and language in parallel. The latter approach is the subject of the present volume. My earlier reading imagined Joyce as a puzzle book, with each piece falling neatly into place. Now I see only the fall. In “The Dynamo and the Virgin,” Henry Adams writes of the Great Exposition that he “haunted it, aching to absorb knowledge, and helpless to find it” (Adams 379). “He would have liked to know how much of it could have been grasped,” he says, describing the sensation as “meditating chaos” (Adams 379). Like Henry Adams at the Paris Exposition, the author of this volume is “meditating chaos,” and has reached a turning point in his thinking about Joyce and his relevance to our world. The dynamo has become a centrifuge; the virgin is now an outlaw.
Chapter 1, “At Fault: What Joyce Can Teach Us about the Crisis of the Modern University,” takes us to the necessity of an institutional appreciation of error. A university must be a centrifuge: it is the job of higher education to take students out of themselves, to embrace risk, to search, as Emerson says, “for the extra.”26 Joyce points the way out of our current crisis of conformity. In chapter 2, “Philatelic Joyce,” we start on the path, following Joyce’s propensity for moving ever outward, his love of the absence of the telos. In chapter 3, “Finnegans Wake for Dummies,” a way to open that hermetic text is suggested through a (p.22) spiraled reading that maps Joyce’s process of composition and follows the suggestion of Constantin Brâncuși in his “Symbol of Joyce”:
On the right side of figure 0.4 is an Archimedean spiral (see Israel 25); on the left, Euclid’s parallel lines moving to infinity. Brâncuși’s brilliant combination of the rock and the whirlpool is as good a way of entering the world of Joyce as any. In chapter 4, “The True Story of Jumbo the Elephant,” we follow a trail from the wilds of Africa to a railway line near St. Thomas, Ontario: a reading of carnival elements in “Cyclops” developing from a single line in the text establishes that P. T. Barnum’s elephant represents the excesses of empire and returns the reader to the fundamental levity of human nature as a principle of Joycean engagement. In chapter 5, “Death by Gramophone,” we follow the path in another direction, and a wide-ranging study of the modernist fear of recording technology eventually settles on the tip of a gramophone needle. In chapter 6, “Siren Songs,” all the songs in “Sirens” are exhumed from Joyce’s text, forgotten to all but nineteenth-century-Irish-ballad enthusiasts, lost objects that have acquired the fourth dimension of time. In chapter 7, “Seeing the Joe Miller,” the range of the hunt is still wider: Joyce’s sense of humor is read through the catalogue provided by Joe Miller’s Jests, and an analysis is provided of the neurological process of humor detection in the brain. In chapter 8, “Performing Issy,” an (p.23) outlaw reading of the “Night Lessons” chapter of Finnegans Wake pursues the elaborate conceit that the Earwickers’ youngest child is announcing a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Brooklyn Dodgers, taking At Fault as far from its point of origin as it can possibly go. The book then closes with a series of separate openings, each written to set off the work of another Joycean as she or he embarks on his or her own journey through the work of the master wanderer and adventurer.
This is a book that celebrates openness and engagement, and is everywhere concerned with Joyce’s comic principles of empathy and delight. The words of the final chapter are offered as an invitation to further reading in Joyce, “the happy huntingground of all minds that have lost their balance” (U 10.1061–62). I have had the great good fortune to be the editor of the Florida James Joyce Series since Zack Bowen stepped down in 2004, and the job of an editor is to introduce things. Each foreword included in the conclusion is an image of something that Lucinda Leplastrier, one of the two title characters in Peter Carey’s magical novel Oscar and Lucinda, would identify as a Prince Rupert drop. The Prince Rupert drop is “a solid teardrop of glass no more than two inches from head to tail” (Peter Carey 108); its salient feature is that it is both indestructible and immediately subject to collapse. A fourteen-pound sledgehammer will not break it, but, as Lucinda discovers to her delight, if you nip off the tail with a pair of blunt-nosed pliers, the whole thing will explode. Carey’s book, like Ulysses, caresses its material objects at every step of the way, and it’s worth taking a short detour to nineteenth-century Sydney to share in Lucinda’s delight. The glass drop is an exquisitely distilled metaphor for Carey’s book, which has a trick ending that snaps the plot in two:
You need not ask me who is Prince Rupert or what is a batavique because I do not know. I have, though, right beside me as I write (I hold it in the palm of my left hand while the right hand moves to and fro across the page) a Prince Rupert drop—a solid teardrop of glass no more than two inches from head to tail. And do not worry that this oddity, this rarity, was the basis for de la Bastie’s technique for toughening glass, or that it led to the invention of safety glass—these are practical matters and shed no light on the incredible attractiveness of the drop itself which you will understand faster if you take a fourteen-pound sledgehammer and try to smash it on a forge. You cannot. This is glass of the most phenomenal strength and would seem, for a moment, to be the fabled unbreakable (p.24) glass described by the alchemical author of Mappae Clavicula. And yet if you put down your hammer and take down your pliers instead—I say “if,” I am not recommending it—you will soon see that this is not the fabled glass stone of the alchemists, but something almost as magical. For although it is strong enough to withstand the sledgehammer, the tail can be nipped with a pair of blunt-nosed pliers. It takes a little effort. And once it is done it is as if you have taken out the keystone, removed the linchpin, kicked out the foundations. The whole thing explodes. And where, a moment before, you had unbreakable glass, now you have grains of glass in every corner of the workshop—in your eyes if you are not careful—and what is left in your hand you can crumble—it feels like sugar—without danger.
One of the many pleasures of this paragraph is the way the meter follows the meaning: the text rushes without punctuation to the impulse to smash the object before it (“the incredible attractiveness of the drop itself which you will understand faster if you take a fourteen-pound sledgehammer and try to smash it on a forge”), and slows beautifully to a dying fall as the final sentence collapses into silence: “—and what is left in your hand you can crumble—it feels like sugar—without danger.” The forge we may recognize from the end of Portrait, and in the lyrical close there is a faint echo of the end of “The Dead.” The Prince Rupert drop holographically insists on both the presence and absence of certainty: like Joyce’s “forge” (P 253), it is both a creation and a counterfeit. The glass is “a symbol of weakness and strength; it was a cipher for someone else’s heart” (Peter Carey 110). To Lucinda, it is an object that contains multitudes:
Lucinda was moved by something much more simple—grief that such a lovely thing could vanish like a pricked balloon. But her feelings were not unlayered and there was, mixed with that hard slap of disappointment, a deeper, more nourishing emotion: wonder.
It was very more-ish.
It becomes abundantly clear that this symbol, this cipher, this layered source of wonder and grief, is the dynamo of fiction itself. To Peter Carey, “glass is a thing in disguise,” “a liquid,” “a joyous and paradoxical thing, as good a material as any to build a life from” (Peter Carey 111). Joyce’s joyous and paradoxical world is all (p.25) these things, too, and is certainly as good a material as any to build a life from. If Lucinda Leplastrier’s sense of value can be extended to literary criticism, I would like this book to be “very more-ish.” The major point of At Fault is that Joyce is to be enjoyed, that all Joycean readings are properly flights from the center, that comedy lies at the heart of all that Joyce does, and that if a text is truly atelic then a true reading of that work must take it out of its own bounds. But first we have to pick up the scent.
(1.) He’s not the only one in mathematical difficulties: Bloom, like Sargent, is perplexed by algebra (“The figures whitened in his mind, unsolved”—U 4.141–42), and Stephen had his issues with the subject as a boy: “They had big voices and big boots and they studied trigonometry. That was very far away” (P 17).
(2.) Bloody clouts—“shows coyly her bloodied clout” (U 15.373); perfumed handkerchiefs—“Yes. That’s her perfume” (U 13.1007); burned kidneys—“There’s a smell of burn” (U 4.380); lemon soap—“Ah no, that’s the soap” (U 13.1043); soiled letters—“to soil his letter in an unspeakable manner” (U 15.1071); personal linen—“wrong side up with care” (U 15.3288). The Nymph of the Bath is particularly upset about that last one.
(3.) “Fault,” n., 8a. Oxford English Dictionary. Online database accessed 11 Jun. 2015.
(4.) William Shakespeare, “Venus and Adonis” (11.692–94), qtd. in “Fault,” n., 8a. Oxford English Dictionary.
(5.) H. Wotton, Reliquæ Wottonianæ, 1626, qtd. in “Fault,” n., 8b. Oxford English Dictionary.
(6.) “With still greater impropriety,” the phrase “at fault” is “frequently employed,” sniffs Mr. Fitzedward Hall in the original New English Dictionary, “by American and occasionally by English writers in the sense of ‘in fault,’” (“Fault,” n., 8c. Oxford English Dictionary).
(7.) See most recently James Alexander Fraser, Joyce and Betrayal (London: Palgrave, 2016).
(8.) Robert Spoo, “Injuries, Remedies, Moral Rights, and the Public Domain,” James Joyce Quarterly 37 (Spring/Summer 2000): 333, qtd. in Goldman, ed., Legal Joyce 943. See also Joyce and the Law, ed. Jonathan Goldman (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017).
(9.) Don Giovanni—“a cenar teco” (U 8.1080); Zerlina—“Voglio e non vorrei” (U 4.327); Lazarus—“And he came fifth and lost the job” (U 6.679); Charles Stewart Parnell—“Poor Parnell! he cried loudly. My dead king!” (P 39); Icarus—“Pater, ait” [Father, help me] (U 9.954).
(p.242) (11.) This highly romanticized idea of objects having a moral life derives from Wordsworth’s Prelude, to which Henry Adams’ autobiography is greatly indebted: “To every natural form, rock, fruit or flower, / Even the loose stones that cover the highway, / I gave a moral life: I saw them feel” (Wordsworth, Prelude, Book III, qtd. in Dyer 115).
(12.) The spacing in the original typescript of “Sirens” (JJA 13:59) establishes that “Begin!” always ended the opening section rather than beginning a new one. In that typescript, the sizeable space between “Begin!” and the return of “Bronze by gold” contains the mysterious word “Chartrain,” twice underlined (JJA 13:59). I had hoped that this would refer to the Chartres School of Neoplatonists, Macrobius and William of Conches among them, who held that a singing Siren was assigned to each of eight spheres, creating a single harmony, since that reading would support the argument for an octet in that episode (see chapter 6), but the word is disappointingly just a printer’s signature. See Plato’s Republic X.617b and E. Jeauneau, “Macrobe, Source du Platonisme Chartrain,” Studi Medievali 3a, no. 1 (1960): 3–24, qtd. in Kupke 426.
(13.) Actually 32.174 ft/sec2, but who’s counting. This jocoserious equation of Joyce’s Relative Centrifugal Force is offered in homage to Adams’ similar effort in “Vis Nova”: “The automobile alone could unite them in any reasonable sequence, and although the force of the automobile, for the purposes of a commercial traveller, seemed to have no relation whatever to the force that inspired a Gothic cathedral, the Virgin in the twelfth century would have guided and controlled both bag-man and architect, as she controlled the seeker of history. In his mind the problem offered itself as to Newton; it was a matter of mutual attraction, and he knew it, in his own case, to be a formula as precise as if he could but experimentally prove it” (Adams 469). Please note that this chapter does not serve as an introduction to Joyce and physics: for discussions of chaos theory and quantum mechanics in Joyce, see Thomas Jackson Rice, Joyce, Chaos, and Complexity, Jeffrey S. Drouin, James Joyce, Science, and Modernist Print Culture, Michael Patrick Gillespie, The Aesthetics of Chaos, and Andrzej Duszenko, “The Joyce of Science: Quantum Physics in Finnegans Wake.”
(14.) May Goulding’s peculiar line, “More women than men in the world,” mirrors Bloom’s thoughts in “Hades”: “One must outlive the other. Wise men say. There are more women than men in the world” (U 6.545–47). The two lines are parallactic, triangulating on the song from which the phrase is taken, “Three Women to Every Man” (Gifford 116), which raises the specter of outliving the dead.
(15.) The circulation of the florin through the waters of his work is the reason, perhaps, for Joyce’s lowering the value of Bloom’s contribution to civic finance from the half-crown (two-and-a-half shillings) originally in the Ithaca notesheets to a florin (two shillings): “LB put a marked ½ crown in circ.” (JJA 12:72, see Herring, ed., Notesheets 427).
(17.) The Great Exposition took place in 1900; Stephen’s flight to Paris has been dated to 1903 (see Kenner, “The Date of Stephen’s Flight,” Ulysses 161–63).
(20.) The mark that can be either an M or a D on line 86 of the thirteenth page of the “Ithaca” notesheets (JJA 12:84, see Herring, ed., Notesheets 474) is decipherable as the latter, yielding the more plausible “Dilly,” through comparison with Joyce’s helpful alphabet cipher at the start of the notesheets for “Ithaca” (JJA 12:73). When writing at speed, as he presumably is in working out the reverse alphabet for the cryptogram in Bloom’s drawer, Joyce makes a capital D that looks something like the letter scrawled after “curvature of spine” (JJA 12:84). Herring’s misreading, if it is one, has also perplexed Drouin: “Euclidean space (empty, infinite, ‘straight’) is somehow contrasted with the curvature of Milly’s spine” (Drouin 114).
(21.) See also “Thanks eversore much, Pointcarried!” in the geometry lesson from II.2 in Finnegans Wake (FW 304.05). McMorran also connects curvilinearity with “Penelope,” which is meant to be “amplitudinously curvilinear” by comparison with the “mathematico-astronomico-physico-mechanico-geometrico-chemico” rectilinearity of “Ithaca”: see Joyce’s letter to Claud Sykes from Spring 1921 (Letters I:164, McMorran 115). For more on Joyce’s investigations into non-Euclidean geometry, see Rice, Chaos 52–81.
(22.) “It looks to me rather better than Flaubert,” says “one critic of international reputation” in the opening advertisement for Ulysses in the Little Review (March 1918): 3. This critic can be none other than Margaret Anderson’s foreign editor Ezra Pound, who compares Ulysses to Bouvard et Pécuchet a few months later (The Future 2.6 [May 1918]).
(23.) See Stéphane Mallarmé’s lament on the death of the penultimate in “Le Démon de l’Analogie” [The demon of analogy]: “La Pénultième [ … ] Est morte” (Mallarmé 93). In this prose poem, “La Pénultième” ends the verse and “Est morte” “detaches itself from the fateful suspension, trailing uselessly off into the void” (Mallarmé, trans. Henry Weinfield 93). For more on Mallarmé and the penultimate, see the discussion of solfège in chapter 6.
(24.) Plumtree’s incompleteness theorem is a restatement of Zeno’s arrow paradox, about which more in chapter 5; Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, on the other hand, indicate the formal unprovability of recursive systems.
(25.) From Suzette Henke, Joyce’s Moraculous Sindbook: many thanks to Alison Armstrong for bringing this to my attention. See also the recent study in Columbia’s Modernist Latitudes Series by Nico Israel, Spirals: The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art (2015).