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14 posts from March 2011

Mar 30, 2011

Re: Joyce, Episode 42. From Noah to Zeno

Mulligan plays with paradox, and we get a foreshadowing of Stephen's father.

The Writer's Life: “Tolstoy” by Henri Troyat; here’s a compelling extract:

“He labored away at his manuscript, full of mistrust, anger and weariness. He made revision after revision. He felt that he was taking two steps backward for one step ahead. ‘There are days when one gets up feeling refreshed and clearheaded,’ he said. ‘One begins to write; everything is fine, it all comes naturally. The next day one reads itover, it all has to go because the heart isn’t there. No imagination, no talent. That quelque chose is lacking without which our intelligence is worthless. Other days one gets up, hating the world, nerves completely on edge; nevertheless, one hopes to be able to get something done. And indeed it doesn’t go too badly; it’s vivid, thereis imagination by the carload. Again, one reads it over: meaningless, stupid; the brains weren’t there. Imagination and intelligence have to work together. As soon as one or the other gets the upper hand, all is lost. There is nothing to do but throw away what you’ve done and start over.”

Mar 25, 2011

The Writer's Life: What has Jell-O got to do with writing? Or coat hangers? Hilma Wolitzer, a remarkably fine writer of novels and writing advice, had this to say in her thoughtful and oh-so-useful book, “The Company of Writers.”

“I used to compare writing stories with cleaning out my closets. In both instances I was trying to make order out of chaos – in one, by discovering and organizing what was in the back of my mind, and in the other, by discovering and organizing what was on the backs of my shelves. Editing a manuscript to trim its excesses was not unlike plucking out those stray wire hangers and single socks. I confess that now I’m a lot less preoccupied by household chores [or analogies]. I haven’t made Jell-O in decades, not since a spectacular pink-and-green arrangement I was unmolding for dinner guests slithered down the kitchen drain. Like Dorothy Parker, I decided not to eat anything more nervous than I am. But Jell-O appears in every one of my books, as an homage to my domestic past. And because it’s colorful, shimmery, and layered with surprises, it makes a perfect all-purpose metaphor. Whatever you do in your “real” life may also be distilled into fictional material. Despite Hardy’s edict about the “uncommon” in fiction, I now believe that all experience is extraordinary in some ways. It’s just a matter of recognizing its literary potential.”

Mar 23, 2011

Re: Joyce, Episode 41. A Drink With Thomas Aquinas

We learn the price of both a rented tower and a lecture on Hamlet.

Mar 21, 2011

The Writer's Life: How do you package, in very beautiful writing, a hard moral point that’s important to you? Read this –

“Spring” by Gerard Manley Hopkins; he wrote it in May, 1877, and it’s very famous. The rhyming structure takes you along the familiar path of ABBA ABBA, i.e., first and fourth lines rhyme, as do second and third in the first, eight-line segment;and CD CD CD in the last six lines, i.e., every alternate line rhyming. But all that’s as nothing compared to the beauty of the language – savor this poem, even if you know it well; read it aloud to yourself. As to his moral hope/ despair at the end – bear in mind that he was a Jesuit priest of the Catholic Church and he felt his beliefs as others feel pain.


Nothing is so beautiful as spring—

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Mar 20, 2011

Welcome To Re: Joyce

Welcome to Re:Joyce, Frank Delaney's spirited, smart and satisfying deconstruction of James Joyce's Ulysses, in five-minute podcasts.Here is the Introduction and the first episode, and to your right you'll find the entire archive, working backward from the most recent, and added to each week.

You can also download the episodes from iTunes, for free. Hope to see you, right here - every Wednesday, for the next twenty-two years.


Mar 16, 2011

Re: Joyce, Episode 40. Eggs for Sale

Punctuation obfuscates; but we press on, and find significance in Stephen's walking stick.

Mar 15, 2011

The Writer's Life: Who wrote: “The past is an old armchair in the attic, the present an ominous ticking sound, and the future anybody’s guess”?

Answer: The great New York humorist, James Thurber. This is Thurber on genius, from his letters: “One of the things I most resent is the idiotic use of the word ‘genius’ for me, and when it came up… the other day I said I was a reporter with not enough genius to get off newspapers and make more than forty a week until I was thirty-two. Anybody with the slightest critical ability knows that a genius would not have to slave over his prose so long, or over his drawings so little.… First drafts of my pieces sound twelve years old and only get going on the fourth rewrite. I have never cut off an ear or stuck my hand in a fire…”

Mar 12, 2011

The Writer's Life: Who said: “To the timid and hesitating everything is impossible because it seems so”? And said what about novelists?

Answer: Sir Walter Scott, who wrote Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Bride of Lammermuir and stacks more. On novelists: “Every successful novelist must be more or less a poet, evenalthough he may never have written a line of verse. The quality of imagination is absolutely indispensible to him; his accurate power of examining and embodying human character and human passion, as well as the external face of nature, is not less essential; and the talent describing well what he feels with acuteness, added to the above requisites, goes far to complete the poetic character."

Mar 09, 2011

The Writer's Life: As you know: Read from the Masters, old and new. For a stunning example of character description read here;

From a 1956 profile of Tennessee Williams by the late Kenneth Tynan, one of the legendary theater critics. “In Spain, where I saw him last, he lookedprofoundly Spanish. He might have passed for one of those confidential streetdealers who earn their living selling spurious Parker pens in the cafes of Malagaor Valencia. Like them, he wore a faded chalk-striped shirt, a coat slung over hisshoulders, a trim dark mustache and a sleazy, fat-cat smile. His walk, like theirs,was a raffish saunter, and everything about him seemed slept in, especially hishair, a nest of small, wet serpents.”

This, and many other such real-life characterizations, can be found in theTynan anthology, Profiles, one of the finest master-classes in how to write non-fiction. As it’s one of my favorite books, expect to see excerpts from it here fromtime to time.