James Joyce and his Ulysses: An alternate view, from Wyndham Lewis

From his 1927 book Time and Western Man, I will cherry-pick, if I may, and present various bon mots and more substantial observations from the man whom T.S. Eliot called “the most fascinating personality of our time” and “the only one among my contemporaries to create a new, an original, prose style.” (Jeffrey Meyers, ed., Wyndham Lewis, A Revaluation, 1980, “Introduction,” 1)

Thus Joyce’s Ulysses presents a “torrent of matter . . . the einsteinian flux. Or (equally well) . . . the duration-flux of Bergson—that is its philosophic character, at all events..”

Lewis was looking for Joyce’s philosophy, apparently in the understanding that everyone has one, knowingly or otherwise, especially a serious writer. But more particularly, in line with his major theme, he cites the “all is flux” thinking of the philosopher Henri Bergson, in this case with passing reference to physical relativity.

In Ulysses it works out in Joyce’s espousal of “mechanicism” in his narrative, a sort of grab-bag assortment of things that just happen. This cobs Lewis no end. He says Joyce is led by “that old magician” Sigmund Freud to “the Aladdin’s cave where he manufactured his Ulysses.”

Joyce’s novel is all about himself, a “highly romantic self-portrait of the mature Joyce (disguised as a Jew) and of his adolescent self—of [Leopold] Bloom and [Stephan {sic}] Dedalus.” Its “homeric framework is “only an entertaining structural device or conceit.”

Well! Lewis cuts through what seems at times a plethora of Joyce-adulation. Beautiful.

In the matter of style, he references “Miss [Gertrude] Stein’s technique of picturesque dementia,” Joyce’s employing of Mr. Jingle, from Pickwick Papers, “the half-demented crack figure of traditional english humour,” and his use of “the manner of [the Elizabethan poet and prose-writer] Nash,” whose “high-spirited ingenuity” said “nothing.”

The mind demands some special substance from a writer, for words open into the
region of ideas; and the requirements of that region, where it is words you
are using, must somehow be met. Chapman, Donne or Shakespeare, with as
splendid a mastery of language, supply this demand, whereas Nash does not.

Even so, as a prose-writer, he was “one of the greatest as far as sheer
execution is concerned.” In reflecting Nash the technician, we have Joyce preeminently the craftsman, also with nothing to say.

All of which here presented gives merely a flavor of Lewis, whom I for one am finding remarkably fascinating.

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