Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026150, Mon, 27 Apr 2015 16:32:37 -0300

] James Joyce's "Ulysses": E.Wilson in 1922. V. Nabokov in 1937
and later
After a detailed rereading of V.Nabokov's lecture on James Joyce, while
enjoying a new translation of Ulysses in Brazilian Portuguese (2012) by
Caetano W. Galindo, I let the epic "cotidian" slowly overwhelm me (this is
why I was pondering in the VN-L about C. Kinbote's last words on his future
metamorphoses). It was when I came across Edmund Wilson's inspiring review (
seeing in it the "homeless symbolism of a Catholic who has renounced the
faith") and decided to add a quick survey about his and Nabokov's
commentaries to share with you with links to the complete texts as they were
published online. JM

Edmund Wilson on J.Joyce's Ulysses:

"And as a result of this enormous scale and this microscopic fidelity the
chief characters in Ulysses take on heroic proportions. Each one is a room,
a house, a city in which the reader can move around. The inside of each one
of them is a novel in itself. You stand within a world infinitely populated
with the swarming life of experience. Stephen Dedalus, in his scornful
pride, rears his brow as a sort of Lucifer; poor Bloom, with his generous
impulses and his attempts to understand and master life, is the epic symbol
of reasoning man, humiliated and ridiculous, yet extricating himself by
cunning from the spirits which seek to destroy him; and Mrs. Bloom, with her
terrific force of mingled amorous and maternal affection, with her roots in
the dirt of the earth and her joyous flowering in beauty, is the gigantic
image of the earth itself from which both Dedalus and Bloom have sprung and
which sounds a deep foundation to the whole drama like the ground-tone at
the beginning of The Rhine-Gold. [.]Nonetheless, there are some valid
criticisms to be brought against Ulysses. It seems to me great rather for
the things that are in it than for its success as a whole. It is almost as
if in distending the story to ten times its natural size he had finally
managed to burst it and leave it partially deflated. There must be something
wrong with a design which involves so much that is dull-and I doubt whether
anyone will defend parts of Ulysses against the charge of extreme dullness.[
.] Now in precisely what is the interest of Ulysses supposed to consist? In
the spiritual relationship between Dedalus and Bloom? But too little is done
with this. When it is finally realized there is one poignant moment, then a
vast tract of anticlimax. This single situation in itself could hardly
justify the previous presentation of everything else that has happened to
Bloom before on the same day. No, the major theme of the book is to he found
in its parallel with the Odyssey: Bloom is a sort of modern Ulysses-with
Dedalus as Telemachus-and the scheme and proportions of the novel must be
made to correspond to those of the epic. It is these and not the inherent
necessities of the subject which have dictated the size and shape of
Ulysses. You have, for example, the events of Mr. Bloom's day narrated at
such unconscionable length and the account of Stephen's synchronous
adventures confined almost entirely to the first three chapters because it
is only the early books of the Odyssey which are concerned with Telemachus
and thereafter the first half of the poem is devoted to the wanderings of
Ulysses. You must have a Cyclops, a Nausicaa, an Aeolus, a Nestor and some
Sirens and your justification for a full-length Penelope is the fact that
there is one in the Odyssey. There is, of course, a point in this, because
the adventures of Ulysses were fairly typical; they do represent the
ordinary man in nearly every common relation. Yet I cannot but feel that Mr.
Joyce made a mistake to have the whole plan of his story depend on the
structure of the Odyssey rather than on the natural demands of the
situation. I feel that though his taste for symbolism is closely allied with
his extraordinary poetic faculty for investing particular incidents with
universal significance, nevertheless-because it is the homeless symbolism of
a Catholic who has renounced the faith-it sometimes overruns the bounds of
art into an arid ingenuity which would make a mystic correspondence do duty
for an artistic reason. The result is that one sometimes feels as if the
brilliant succession of episodes were taking place on the periphery of a
wheel which has no hub." http://www.newrepublic.com/book/review/ulysses
July 6 <http://www.newrepublic.com/book/review/ulysses%20July%206> , 1922.

James Joyce on Ulysses (and a quote from his conversation with V.Nabokov in

Excerpts from: A clash of Titans Joyce, Homer and the idea of epic. David
Norris <http://books.openedition.org/puc/238>

Joyce had since a child been fascinated by the story of the Odyssey which he
encountered as a boy in a children's book first published in 1808 Tales of
Ulysses by the essayist Charles Lamb known also as Elia. Indeed even after
the completion of Ulysses, Joyce was still recommending this small book to
friends and commentators as a helpful key to the understanding of his novel.
Writing to the Italian critic Carlo Linati on the 21st of September 1920 in
a letter which also included a detailed scheme of the structure of Ulysses
Joyce wrote as follows:

"It is an epic of two races (Israelite / Irish) and at the same time the
cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life). The
character of Ulysses always fascinated me - even when a boy. Imagine fifteen
years ago I started writing it as a short story for Dubliners! For seven
years I have been working at this book - blast it! It is also a sort of
encyclopaedia. My intention is to transpose the myth sub specie temporis
nostri. Each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being
interconnected and interrelated in the structural scheme of the whole)
should not only condition but even create its own technique. Each adventure
is so to say one person although it is composed of persons - as Aquinas
relates of the angelic hosts. No English printer wanted to print a word of
it. In America the review was suppressed four times. Now, as I hear, a great
movement is being prepared against the publication, initiated by puritans,
English imperialists, Irish republicans, Catholics - what an alliance! Gosh,
I ought to be given the Nobel Prize for peace."

[.] It is a curious side light on Joyce's attitude towards the Homeric
substructure that he appears to have altered his attitude towards its
significance after the initial reception of the book in the 1920's, in much
the same way that he said he thought he could no longer take any interest in
music after writing the Sirens episode of the novel because he had exhausted
the possibilities of music. This may of course to a certain extent have been
conversational attitudinizing during a period in which his interest had
transferred to the creation of Finnegans Wake. But it is curious to note the
episode retailed by Ellmann in his biography of Joyce which recalls a
conversation between the novelist and Vladimir Nabokov in 1937: Joyce said
something disparaging about the use of mythology in modern literature.
Nabokov replied in amazement, "but you employed Homer!" "A whim," was
Joyce's comment, "but you collaborated with Gilbert," Nabokov persisted. "A
terrible mistake," said Joyce, "an advertisement for the book. I regret it
very much."

[.] Similarly although Joyce indicates in the Linati Schema of 1920 the
titles of the various episodes of Ulysses that give the most immediate clue
to their Homeric correspondence he specifically omits these from the
published work. In other words they nowhere appear as chapter titles in the
printed version of the novel. It is I think clear that by omitting these
titles Joyce was seeking to avoid the displacement of critical attention
from his creation onto its epic original and a concentration on measuring
the discrepancies between the two works instead of assessing Ulysses as a
work of art in its own right.

Vladimir Nabokov on James Joyce's Ulysses:

Lectures on Literature: " I must especially warn against seeing in Leopold
Bloom's humdrum wanderings and minor adventures on a summer day in Dublin a
close parody of the Odyssey, with the adman Bloom acting the part of
Odysseus, otherwise Ulysses, man of many devices, and Bloom's wife
representing chaste Penelope while Stephen Dedalus is given the part of
Telemachus. That there is a very vague and very general Homeric echo of the
theme of wanderings in Bloom's case is obvious, as the title of the novel
suggests, and there are a number of classical allusions in the course of the
book; but it would be a complete waste of time to look for close parallels
in every chapter and every scene of the book. There is nothing more tedious
than a protracted and sustained allegory based on a well-worn myth; and
after the work had appeared in parts, Joyce promptly deleted the
pseudo-Homeric titles of his chapters when he saw what scholarly and
pseudoscholarly bores were up to."

Strong Opinions: "Joyce himself very soon realized with dismay that the
harping on those essentially easy and vulgar "Homeric parallelisms" would
only distract one's attention from the real beauty of the book. He soon
dropped these pretentious chapter titles which already were "explaining" the
book to non-readers. In my lectures I tried to give factual data only."

Playboy interview: "They had to know the map of Dublin for Ulysses. I
believe in stressing the specific detail; the general ideas can take care of
themselves. Ulysses, of course, is a divine work of art and will live on
despite the academic nonentities who turn it into a collection of symbols
or Greek myths. I once gave a student a C-minus, or perhaps a
D-plus, just for applying to its chapters the titles borrowed from Homer
while not even noticing the comings and goings of the man in the brown
mackintosh. He didn't even know who the man in the brown mackintosh was."

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