JOYCE CAME FROM THE WILDERNESS, BY Dirce Waltrick do Amarante*
JOYCE CAME FROM THE WILDERNESS
BY Dirce Waltrick do Amarante
“There was a long rivulet in the strand and, as he waded slowly up its course, he wondered at the endless drift of seaweed. Emerald and black and russet and olive, it moved beneath the current, swaying and turning […] and the grey warm air was still and a new wild life was singing in his veins.
Where was his boyhood now? Where was the soul that had hung back from her destiny, to brood alone upon the shame of her wounds and in her house of squalor and subterfuge to queen it in faded cerements and in wreaths that withered at the touch? Or where was he?
He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air”.
This is a passage from the novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, published in 1915, by the Irish writer James Joyce, who seems to represent all of us, Brazilians, "coming from the wilderness", as Argentine President Alberto Fernández said recently.
Instead of being something negative, come from the wilderness (or approach the wilderness), in the case of Stephen, the main character of Joyce’s novel, means to get rid of pre-established concepts. When the writer refers to a "wilderness of wild atmosphere", he seems to want to allude to an empty place, where everything is to be built, even if it is through mirages, or mainly through mirages, which materialize and dematerialize without being able to fix them in one.
The concept of the savage, in Joyce, is close, in my opinion, to the concept of magic in Giorgio Agamben. Magic, says the Italian thinker, is directly linked to the experience with language, to a renewed critical thinking in relation to language. Magic is the deviation that frees the subject from the guilt of the imposition of a name.
In this same excerpt from the novel quoted above, Joyce also speaks of the sea, which has no fixed form. Desert and sea are wild, as Joyce himself was by not allowing his writing to be tamed or ensnared by the literary conventions of his day or the demands of editors. In “Finnegans Wake”, his most radical work, the expression “orthodox savage” appears to characterize the creative process.
It is worth remembering that “A Portrait” had a troubled editorial history and was rejected numerous times. According to Richard Ellmann, one of the editors turned it down on the grounds that there were “too many longueurs” [many excesses] in it and that the author should review it. But Joyce did not proofread the text and kept his “wild” writing, which contributed to revolutionizing literature.
Joyce seemed to be clinging to a wild heart when, in 1905, he declared that he would like a language that was above all languages, a language that everyone could use, as he couldn’t express himself in English without enclosing himself in a tradition. In fact, according to the opinion of some historians, Ireland never came to assimilate the British culture, despite its strong presence and the adoption of the language of the conquerors.
The writer remained a savage in the eyes of the colonizers. The unconventional language of “Finnegans Wake”, which fragments or mutilates the English language, would aim not only to represent the dreamlike universe of the characters in the work, but also to protest against the years of English occupation of Ireland.
Some scholars argue that many of Joyce's revolutionary stylistic qualities can be attributed to and grounded in his understanding of ideological, ethnic, and colonial expropriation. In support of this they show how Joyce wrote in opposition to the imperialist British cultural pretensions of his time.
Perhaps we should remain wild like Stephen, Joyce's alter ego, who did not bow to the colonizer and kept the freshness of his language and work.
*This text was published in Portuguese in "Plural" newspaper: https://www.plural.jor.br/noticias/vizinhanca/joyce-veio-da-selva/?fbclid=IwAR0x0Hu88h6RudAUPGgndxMQ_8TwcsqAree-9Xt3azRI31zoXTH52tDYRf4