Tag Archives: James Joyce

“Let it stand.” (an exchange of emails about James Joyce)

 
Once or twice [Joyce] dictated a bit of Finnegans Wake to [Samuel] Beckett, though dictation did not work very well for him; in the middle of one such session there was a knock at the door which Beckett didn’t hear. Joyce said, ‘Come in,’ and Beckett wrote it down. Afterwards he read back what he had written and Joyce said, ‘What’s that “Come in”?’ ‘Yes, you said that,’ said Beckett. Joyce thought for a moment, then said, ‘Let it stand.’ He was quite willing to accept coincidence as his collaborator. Beckett was fascinated and thwarted by Joyce’s singular method.

 

— Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford University Press, 1965), pg. 662

 

 

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I had the following exchange of emails with my brother the other day. We were discussing certain aspects of writing.

 

 

 

May 8, 2019

 
ROGER

 

Writing shouldn’t amount to an incoherent, rambling screed; a sort of data dump of the brain. But sometimes thoughts creep in and occur that don’t have to be excised.

P.S. There is an interesting passage in Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce describing how in Paris Joyce was dictating a passage from either Ulysses or Finnegans Wake (I don’t recall which) to his amanuensis, Samuel Becket. There was an interruption such as someone knocking on the door and Joyce said something which Becket wrote down. Then, Becket asked, was that supposed to be included? Joyce mulled it over and said leave it in. It was words such as “Come in.”

 

 

 

PETE SMITH

 

Agree.

But leaving “come in” in text when it was just a remark that happened while writing and when it has nothing to do with the subject about which is being written is absurd. Joyce’s ego must have been enormous by then.

 

 

 

ROGER

 

Joyce was a genius. Us mere mortals can’t carp or judge.

Yes, a bit nutty at times.

Dr. Colp [my former psychiatrist] and I talked quite a bit about Joyce from time to time. Dr. Colp once said to me: “What would I do with a genius like Joyce for a patient?”

 

 

 

PETE SMITH

Yes, a genius, but clearly his self-importance was out of control if he had become arrogant enough to leave something in that made no sense.

 

 

ROGER

I wouldn’t argue the point. When I read this (years ago), it made me wonder.

 

 

 

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I read Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce when I was in my twenties.

I don’t think it will be surpassed.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    May 12, 2019

Подушка какая Мягкая.

 

 

Подушка какая Мягкая.

Podushka kakaya Myagkaya.

What a soft pillow.

 

 

Russian is such a beautiful language euphonically, as Professor John E. Malmstad pointed out in an introductory Russian course I took at Columbia University. (Professor Malmstad was co-translator of the symbolist novel Petersburg by Andrei Bely.)

I took both French and Spanish as a high school and college student. I studied both intensively.

It was fun to compare the two Romance languages, both similar in their origins and vocabulary while at the same time (as is always the case with languages) both unique; distinct. Like persons, you like and admire, each one, for the things that make them unique.

It seems to me that Spanish is closer to the original Latin than French. I took two years of Latin in high school. I found Spanish grammar easy to learn.

A notable feature of studying Spanish to me was that spelling is very regular and simple. There are hardly any exceptions. A consonant, for example is either doubled or it is not – doesn’t change for different words.

Which brings us (to quote James Joyce) by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Russian. Russian is very similar to Spanish with respect to pronunciation. Spelling is entirely regular.

And, a notable, major feature of both languages — connected or related to regularity of spelling — is that a given word and spelling dictate the pronunciation. There are no exceptions. Words in both Spanish and Russian are pronounced exactly as they are spelled.

Every language has its own sound, sonority, a unique cadence and rhythm which, once you begin to learn the language, is music to the ear. Now you can “hear” the language, which the untutored can’t.

The musicality of spoken Russian, including the simplest phrases, is undeniable.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2018