Joyce Carol Oates, Redux

For those to whom it may not be apparent. James Joyce is one of my very favorite authors.  I collect and cherish anything written by or about him.  And so this little excerpt was of considerable merit:

from "Notes on Failure"
in The Faith of a Writer
Joyce Carol Oates

The curious blend of the visionary and the pragmatic that characterizes most novelists is exemplified by Joyce's attitude toward the various styles of Ulysses, those remarkable exuberant self-parodying voices: "From my point of view it hardly matters whether the technique is 'veracious' or not; it has served me as a bridge over which to march my eighteen episodes, and, once I have got my troops across, the opposing forces can, for all I care, blow the bridge sky-high."  And though critics generally focus upon the ingenious relationship of Ulysses to the Odyssey, the classical structure was one Joyce chose with a certain degree of arbitrariness, as he might have chosen another--Peer Gynt, for instance; or Faust. That the writer labors to discover the secret of his work is perhaps the writer's most baffling predicament. . . 
Deadpan, Stanislaus Joyce noted in his diary in 1907: "Jim says that . . . when he writes, his mind is as nearly normal as possible."

Authorial intention is largely a smokescreen because many authors--perhaps most, have only the broadest sense of what they intend when they sit down to write.  You can read it over and over again in their diaries as they are feeling out the contours of the story.  Certainly in the redraft, there is considerably more control, more sense of direction, but even here, not every choice is deliberate, not every ambiguity erased, not every stray hair tacked down into the perfect coiffure.  Even in the redraft, while the author's intent may be made more manifest, it is equally like that deliberate small changes made throughout the work are likely to stray off in a direction completely unnoticed by the author.  So, while Joyce could construct or reconstruct Ulysses to include an art, a chief symbol, a certain manner of presentation,  once the wild Irish sea is in the work, it is up to the reader to make sense of it.  The cracked lookingglass of a servant means one thing to me, another to Seamus Heaney reading from a different history and a different perspective.  Joyce has no control over this, and in a sense, once the work is out of his hands, it goes rogue--there becomes no "correct" interpretation--and the more powerful and universal the work, the more lights it will light up in the academic critics' circle--marxist, feminist, queer, semiotic, desconstructionist, poststructuralist--you name it and, in a robust work, you can make the system light up with possibilities.  (Witness Marxist and Feminist interpretations of Shakespeare.)


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