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Analecta 14 Oxen of the Sun BLOOMSDAY AFTERTHOUGHTS

This year’s online Bloomsday seminar via Facebook was a global conversation in the privacy of our own screens. Each of the eighteen short films, released online by Bloomsday in Melbourne at the hour set for each episode, were treated as the ‘papers’ to prompt online discussion. Episode 14 included contributions by Sian Cartwright, Michael Cooney, Jennifer Sarah Dean, Frances Devlin Glass, and Ben Frayle, whose initials appear where their thoughts are represented in these analecta.

The more slowly we read Ulysses, and it’s more so in the Wake, we realise Joyce is conducting an orchestra of wildly different voices, discourses, registers in his novels. (FDG) Furthermore, this and other later episodes are already inventing the language of Wakese. What is language at all, Joyce asks, that it is so protean and transitory?

There are not many writers in English who can do what Joyce does. The main one is Shakespeare. It’s the ability to choose the form, technique, style that suits a particular person, place, situation, that is always something different but appropriate. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a good example of a multiplicity of poetry forms used to enact comedy. Most writers do what they do. They hear their character’s voice, provide an approximate rendition (Dickens, for example), but few can do this sustained range and pull it off.

We all do voices in daily life, routinely, e.g. taking off a politician, mocking a teacher, knowing whether you are listening to the ABC or 3AW, reading Byron or a children’s book. But his range is generally much broader and better informed, richer than most. (FDG) This is what we do in Australia, sure enough. But what if we went to live in Trieste, in isolation, hearing Italian, German, and French all day, while writing a book that reproduces the perfect idiom of Australian English on every page? Would our send-up of Potato be convincing? Could we get the exact intonation of a conversation on a tram, or the outer on Saturday afternoon?   

Fecundation! (MC) Feck-undation! Fact-undulation! Fiction-adulation! Fog-and-fashion!

Bawdy song rubs shoulders with fragments of Dante’s Paradiso, and why not? (FDG) It makes more sense of Oxen, which granted is a showpiece yet an overt indication of his modus operandi. Joyce once said Ulysses is about matters of style. It isn’t just that, it’s about everything under the sun, but he’s saying this from his artist’s point of view. The content can take care of itself, it’s how it is to be written that is the question, if you are Joyce the artist.

What do we make of Joyce’s canter through period writing styles of English? What do we make of Joyce’s carousal through writing styles of English? What do we make of his parturition of English? What do we make of Joyce’s counterintuitive counterfeited countersigned counterpoint counterlunch account of uncountable periods of English writing styles? What do we make of Joyce’s recounting of them? And that’s just English.

Aren’t there easier ways of describing drunken medical students in a maternity hospital during a three-day birth? Yes yes yes.

If we discuss this episode, is it preferable to do so in Elizabethan English? Or should all discourse forthwith be conducted solely using Wildean paradox? Are we through with Wilde and his paradoxes? This episode makes us aware of our consciousness of our own language use. We cannot respond in genuine Elizabethan English, even if we tried. Whatever we said would be a contrivance, however elegant. In 2020, we can only respond in the English of the global pandemic. History is a nightmare I wish to rewrite in best 21st century English. Our paradoxes will be our kinds of paradoxes. They will outwit all previous paradox. I wish I’d said that. You will, Oscar, you will.

So that’s cheers and hearty congratulations on the birth of Mina Purefoy’s thirteenth child. (SC) Of all the stages of life, birth is the most crucial. Language and prose were themselves born into the world yet the base biological desires are still predominant, even in the most educated persons. (BF)

Great team effort. (JSD) Indeed, and how curious that control and loss of control co-exist so intimately in the history of a language. The language of the theatre is highly controlled, even as it describes such realities as drunkenness, stupidity, chaos, collapse. It’s a veritable paradox.


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