Arthur Power, Conversations with James Joyce (London: Millington 1974)

See also extract From an Old Waterford House (London: Carthage 1940), pp.63-64; quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (OUP 1959), p.520.

‘As I say, repeated Joyce, you do not understand him [Ibsen]. The purpose of A Doll’s House, for instance, was the emancipation of women, which has caused the greatest revolution in our time in the most important relationship there is, that between men and women; the revolt of women the revolt of women against the idea that they are mere instruments of men. [...] the relationship between the two sexes is now on a different basis, but I do not know whether they are happier or unhappier than they were before; I suppose it depends on the individuals. But I know that Ibsen has been the greatest influence on the present generation; in fact you can say that he formed it to a great extent. His ideas have become part of our lives even though we may not be aware of it.’ (p.35.)

‘[...] there is also the intellectual outlook, which dissects life, and that is now what interests me most, to get down to the residuum of truth about life, instead of puffing it up with romanticism, which is a fundamentally false attitude. In Ulysses, I have tried to forge literature out of my own experience, and not out of a conceived idea, or a temporary emotion.’ (p.36.)

‘It [A Portrait] was the book of my youth [...] but Ulysses is the book of my maturity, and I prefer my maturity to my youth. [36] Ulysses is more satisfying and better resolved; for youth is a time of torment in which you can see nothing clearly. But in Ulysses I have tried to see life clearly, I think, and as a whole; for Ulysses was always my hero. Yes, even in my tormented youth, but it has taken me half a lifetime to reach the necessary equilibrium to express it, for my youth was exceptionally violent; painful and violent.’ (pp.36-37.)

‘As for the romantic classicism you admire so much, Ulysses has changed all that; for in it I have opened the new way, and you will find that it will be followed more and more. In fact, from it you may date a new orientation in literature - the new realism; for, though you criticise Ulysses, [53] yet the one thing you must admit that I have done is to liberate literature from its age-old shackles [...] the modern theme is the subterranean forces, those hidden tides which govern and run humanity counter to the apparent flood: those poisonous subtleties which envelop the soul, the ascending fumes of sex.’ (pp.53-54.)

‘[...] sentimentalism is never firm, nor can it be; it is a trend of warm comfortable fog.’ (p.57.)

‘When we are living a normal life we are living a conventional one, following a pattern which has been laid out by other people in another generation, an objective pattern imposed on us by church and state. But a writer must maintain a continual struggle against the objective: that is his function. The eternal qualities are the imagination and the sexual instinct, and the formal life tries to suppress both. Out of this present conflict arises the phenomena of modern life.’ (Ibid., p.74.) ‘Most lives are made up like the modern painter’s themes, of jugs, and pots and plates, back-streets and blowsy living-rooms inhabited by blowsy women, and of a thousand daily sordid incidents which seep into our minds no matter how we strive to keep them out. These are the furniture of our life, which you want to reject for some romantic and flimsy drop-scene.’ (p.75.)

‘Yes, it [mediaevalism] was the true spirit of western Europe, Joyce remarked, and if it had continued, think what a splendid civilization we might have had today. After all, the Renaissance was an intellectual return to boyhood. Compare a Gothic building with a Greek or Roman one: Notre Dame, for instance, with the Madeleine. I remember once standing in the gardens beside Notre Dame and looking up at its roofs, at their amazing complication-plane overlapping plane, angle countering angle, the numerous traversing gutters and runnels, flying buttresses and erupting gargoyles. In comparison, classical buildings always seem to me to be over-simple and lacking in mystery. Indeed one of the most interesting things about present-day thought in my opinion is its return to mediaevalism.’ (p.91.)

‘The old classical Europe which we knew in our youth is fast disappearing; the cycle has returned upon its tracks, and with it will come a new consciousness which will create new values returning to the mediaeval. There is an old church I know of down near Les Halles, a black foliated building with flying buttresses spread out like the legs of a spider, and as you walk past it you see the huge cobwebs hanging in its crevices, and more than anything else I know of it reminds me of my own writings, so that I feel that if I had lived in the fourteenth or fifteenth century I should have been much more appreciated. Men realised then that evil was a necessary complement to our lives and had its own spiritual value. I see that note constantly recurring among the younger poets today.’ p.92)

‘And in my opinion one of the most interesting things about Ireland is that we are still fundamentally a mediaeval people, and that Dublin is still a mediaeval city. I know that when I used to frequent the pubs around Christ Church I was always reminded of those mediaeval taverns in which the sacred and the obscene jostle shoulders, and one of the reasons is that we were never subjected to the Lex Romana as other nations were. I have always noticed, for instance, that if you show a [92] Renaissance work to an Irish peasant he will gape at it in a kind of cold wonder, for in a dim way he realises that it does not belong to his world. His symbolism is still mediaeval, and it is that which separates us from the Englishman, or the Frenchman, or the Italian, all of whom are Renaissance men. Take Yeats, for example, he is a true mediaevalist with his love of magic, his incantations and his belief in signs and symbols, and his later bawdiness. Ulysses also is Mediaeval but in a more realistic way, and so you will find that the whole trend of modern thought is going in that direction, for as it is I can see there is going to be another age of extremes, of ideologies, of persecutions, of excesses which will he political perhaps instead of religious, though the religious may reappear as part of the political, and in this new atmosphere you will find the old way of writing and thinking will disappear, is fast disappearing in fact, and Ulysses is one of the books which has hastened that change.’ (pp.92-93.)

‘[Y]ou must remember that Ireland was never a highly civilised nation in the sense that Italy and France were. We are too far removed from the main stream of European civilization to be really affected by it, and as a result the ordinary Irishman never seems intellectually to have got beyond religion and politics. As a result we have never produced a large body of art in the wide sense-painting, architecture, sculpture. What talent we have seems to have gone into literature, and in that you must admit we have not done badly, especially in drama. The best English plays have been written by Irishmen, while in prose we have Sterne, Wilde, Swift (if you can count him as an Irishman), and then there is George Moore, according to you, and a few others.’ p.94.)

[On Ulysses:] ‘Yes, that is my contribution, and in it I have tried to lift Irish prose to the level of the international masterpieces and to give a full representation of the Irish genius, and my hope is that it will rank among the important books of the world, for it was conceived and written in an original style. If we have a merit it is that we are uninhibited. An Irishman will seldom behave as convention demands; restraint is irksome to him. And so I have tried to write naturally, on an emotional basis as against an intellectual basis. Emotion has dictated the course and detail of my book, and in emotional writing one arrives at the unpredictable which can be of more value, since its sources are deeper, than the products of the intellectual method. In the intellectual method you plan everything beforehand. When you arrive at the description, say, of a house you try and remember that house exactly, which after all is journalism. But the emotionally creative writer refashions that house and creates a significant image. in the only significant world, the world of our emotions. The more we are tied to fact and try to give a correct impression, the further we are from what is significant. In writing one must create an endlessly changing surface, dictated by the mood and current impulse in contrast to the fixed mood of the classical style. This is “Work in Progress”. The important thing is not what we write, but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must, write dangerously: everything is inclined to flux and change nowadays and modern literature, to be valid, must express that flux. In Ulysses I tried to express the multiple variations which make up the social life of a city - its degradations and its exaltations. In other words what we want to avoid is the classical, with its rigid structure and its emotional limitations. The mediaeval, in my opinion, had greater emotional fecundity than classicism, which is the art of the gentleman, and is now as out-of-date as gentlemen are, classicism in which the scents are only sweet, he added, but I have preferred other smells. A book, in my opinion, should not be planned out beforehand, but as one writes it will form itself, subject, as I say, to the constant emotional promptings of one’s personality.’ [End Chap. XII.]


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