Niall Montgomery, ‘A Context for Mr. Joyce’s Work’, in The Celtic Master, ed. Maurice Harmon (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1969), pp.10-15.

Among the admirers of Mr. Joyce’s work there will be those who consider it to be sui generis, and to them it would be both irrelevant and irreverent to attempt to consider that work in any context. Others will elect to see the work in the context of something called European literature, an abstraction which [...] seems to partake of some of the characteristics of Immanuel Kant’s great invention, the nounmenon - which is, beautifully, glossed as “an object of intellectual intuition, devoid of all phenomenal attributes.

Other again, affecting to dismiss the work, will profess to see Mr. Joyce as a French writer of the school of Flaubert. [...] It is perhaps more correct, in view of his passport and other affiliations, to see Mr. Joyce as a British writer. It is a measure of his achievement - and I use achievement I use achievement in the sense of doing what y ou set out to do - that we cannot see Mr. Joyce in that context, we cannot see his work in the context of Anglo-Irish literature. This is achievement.


Nor can we see Mr. Joyce as a Catholic writer, although, if there is such a thing as a literature of Catholicism, and if thereform we substract Mr. Joyce’s work, that literature, if it exists, will appear rather gappy. [9] I imagine Mr. Joyce would see our perception of these ambivalences as a tribute to his protean personality. It is such a tribute certainly, but It may have other attributes. It one turns to Joyce’s great contemporary - his great analogue, I might say his cardinal analogue - Marchel Proust, we have no such difficulty.


I want to say that, for a man of my generation and my class, there is a truth in considering Joyce in a certain context, and that context, quite simply, is the context of Ireland. I want to say that Joyce’s work illuminates that context and the context illuminates it, and I want also to draw attention to certain analogies of form, certain affinities of pattern existing between the work and aspects of our history - political and cultural.

In 1922 we had reached a nadir in our political and cultural life, and, in that year, a partial form of liberation from England was achieved for some of us, by a portion of our nation, which came from the class of artisans, clerks and school teachers. It was some years later that control of the country passed out of the hands of the government into the feet of the civil servants - a [10] process liable to happen anywhere where there is the evil of free education. In 1922 we had reached a nadir in our cultural life. Mr. Yeats had not yet discovered the godlike persona of the great W. B. Yeats. Our typical cultural expression would have been the Celtic Twilight, that Irish Revival which was, in effect, an overseas affiliation of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood - with slightly funnier hats. In that context and in those circumstances, the publication in Paris of Ulysses seemed to be everything that was most exotic, most unrelated to our lower middle-class life in Ireland, and it has to be said that, since that date, we Irish, on the one hand, and the more intellectual followers of Mr. Joyce on the other, have been at pains to stress not the resemblances but the differences. (pp.10-11.)


One can see that Ulysses is a classic example of dualism, to go no further, and one can see in Finnegans Wake that the process is one [13] of dichotomy, one of repeated bifurcation and, in fact, that there the ideal of the Book of Kells is realised, in the sense that the dichotomies are interlaced. I say - but have no time to do more than say - that in those works the forms are in phase with similar forms in the development of Irish history.

I shall take first dualism, and I shall refer to a comparison made by our greatest living Irish scholar, Professor Daniel Binchy, who in speaking of the two civilizations, which ran side by side for about five hundred years, their growth rates in inverse ratio, says of our ancient civilization - which can be taken as going from about the middle of the third century B.C. down to seventeen hundred years thereafter, when it was destroyed - he says of that ancient civilization that it was in its essence tribal, hierarchical, rural and familiar and he contrasts it with the civilization which came to us in the twelfth century and which has developed and which is what we have today, the same sort of civilization one has all over the world today, the civilization which is unitary, urban, egalitarian and individualistic.

Then you have the dichotomies which generate the dualisms. They are dichotomies which exist mostly in the realm of religion, race and language, but they do not stay in those pigeonholes, and a typical dichotomy would be Norman into English of the Pale and Anglo-Irish; Anglo-Irish bifurcating, when the time comes. into Protestant and Catholic, and those two, when the time comes, bifurcating into Unionist and Irredentist, and that process continuing until, in 1922, we have the cruel, logical. tragical, physical separation of our country into two mini-states. My saintly, distinguished fellow-citizen, Conor Cruise O’Brien, I have heard refer to a celebrated English writer as le petit Shakespeare. That English writer into the mouth of “that sweet lovely rose”, Richard Plantagenet, puts the memorable joke regarding us, that we are “rough, rugheaded kerns, which live like venom where no venom else, but only they, have privilege to live!” We have found that King Richard was not quite right. We have found that the English do not leave, and that, even if they appear to do so, the venom does not lose its virulence. When I was young there was a war fought in Spain, from which the phrase fifth [14] column developed. We have in Ireland the oldest, strongest and the purest fifth column in Europe. We have an English line and lineage, in literature and culture, of people who are not even pieds noirs, a line which runs from Berkeley, Swift and Jeremy Taylor right down to Doctor Samuel Berkeley Beckett, and here is where you get the great dualism of these two exiles in Paris. Doctor Beckett reacted so violently against Protestantism and the Pale that he became a Frenchman, much more violently than Mr. Joyce's reactionagainst his environment and his religion. Between the two of them there appear to be affinities: in fact they are very different. Doctor Beckett is a man of academic education, a man of tremendous human compassion, above all a thinker, in the Protestant sense. Mr. Joyce. on the other hand, I think one can regard supremely as the cool cat of cybernetics. The ancestral city of that cool cat's clan is Cork and there, in the early years of the last century, for some time dwelt the great English professor, George Bool [sic for Boole], inventor of the new algebra, a man to whom has been attributed the posthumous birth of electronic data processing, and it may be, in fact, that in binary arithmetic alone lies the solution to Finnegans Wake.

It should not be beyond human ingenuity to abstract, from Finnegan and Ulysses, the significant elements, to list, code and tape them, and thereafter to write a programme from which it should be possible to obtain a print-out of Finnegan from which by sortation, under the various headings, it would be possible to schedule all the various hierarchical values of which we have been told by scholars from America and from Germany. From that point it should be only a step to code the activities, using overcodes and super-overcodes, so that we will emerge into the bright light of network analysis and there, the Celtic twilight fading, I leave you with a picture of the Celtic master, Mr. Joyce, sitting in the centre of the network, engaged in his typical, magistral, artistic activity, which I think might reasonably be called la toilette de l’araignée [spider]. Thank you.


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