Wednesday 25 March 2009

Modern myth-making

From the introduction by Declan Kiberd to the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Ulysses:
The human need to make myths is very deep-rooted, since myths are symbolic projections of the cultural and moral values of a society, figurings of its psychic state. The French Revolution, which purported to put an end to all myth-making, instituted the myth of modernity, the notion of perpetual renewal which animated spirits as diverse as those of Ezra Pound ('make it new') and Leon Trotsky ('permanent revolution').

Standing on the verge of modernity in 1800, Schlegel [...] foretold the emergence of a new mythology, which would be less a radical act of creation than a 'collaboration' between old and new. Ancient myths embodied people's immediate response to their physical experience and were not seen as fictive by their adherents; but the new mythology would be abstract and aware of its own fictive status.
There is much more in Prof Kiberd's introduction which I find both interesting and useful (and some which I find simply baffling), but this part struck me as an excellent description of Alan Garner's work in Strandloper and Thursbitch. Strandloper even has what seems to me to be a self-referential line where one of the characters foretells the writing of the book, with an oblique nod to Garner himself.


I don't feel the reading of Ulysses is going too badly - seven chapters out of the way, though that only comes to about 150 pages. The more I read of it, and around it, the more I think I'm getting out of it; nevertheless, it feels less that one is reading it, more that one has engaged with it - or that it's moved in. I feel a little like Deep Thought - irrevocably committed to thinking about the ultimate question and unable to deal with anything else until the answer's been found. I am certainly finding that it changes the way you think and perceive, though I'm not sure I can articulate in what way. A Joycean way, I suppose. Whatever else, it's certainly an excellent whetting stone for the faculties - I'm reading Bleak House for light relief and finding that an absolute doddle by comparison.

Admittedly Martin Amis poses a good question - who on earth reads Ulysses? Not researches it, studies it, consults it - who actually curls up with it in bed?


Ulysses came top of the 1998 Random House Modern Library board's list for the 100 best novels published since 1900. A little pointy-headed, you might say, and I'd agree, but still preferable to the readers' choice of Atlas Shrugged. And if that gars ye grue, the non-fiction list is positively frightening. That's your argument in defence of pointy-heads and gatekeepers right there.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Room at the Bottom

We all know the joys of degradation. Perhaps I should rephrase that: We must all have lived through times when we discover it was pleasurable, even relaxing, to run ourselves down. […] Then we find ourselves in a place where we can wallow blissfully in our existence, our smell, our filth, our habits, the place where we can abandon all hope of self-improvement and stop trying to nurture optimistic thoughts about other human beings. This resting place is so comfortable that we cannot help feeling grateful for the anger and selfishness that has brought us to this moment of freedom and solitude.
From Chapter 36, ‘Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground: the Joys of Degradation’, in Other Colours by Orhan Pamuk:
A film still veiled his eyes but they burned no longer. A power, akin to that which had often made anger or resentment fall from him, brought his steps to rest. He stood still and gazed up at the sombre porch of the morgue and from that to the dark cobbled laneway at its side. He saw the word Lotts on the wall of the lane and breathed slowly the rank heavy air.
- That is horse piss and rotted straw, he thought. It is a good odour to breathe. It will calm my heart. My heart is quite calm now. I will go back.
From Chapter 2 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.