READING JOYCE FOR PLEASURE BY Dirce Waltrick do Amarante
Atualizado: 13 de jul.
The Italian writer Italo Calvino wrote an amazing book entitled Un ottimista in America (An Optimist in America: 1959-1960), that has not been translated into English yet. The book was published posthumously in 2014, because in 1961, after proof-reading a second time, Calvino himself considered it “too modest as a literary work and not original enough as a journalistic report" (All quotes from the book were translated by me).
An Optimist in America is a travel book, which describes the experience of the writer in the United States of America, and it is not modest, it contains extremely sharp reports on the culture and the way of life of that country. Reading these notes, it is even possible to trace the path that led that nation, considered the greatest democracy in the world, to embrace, nowadays, dictatorial and retrograde ideas, which, incidentally, have always been there: "America [as Calvino refers to the United States of America] always tries to think through absolute entities, whether money or success; although its reality is dynamic, it has no sense of antithesis other than as a counterpoint between God and Satan".
On June 16th, when we celebrate Bloomsday, as is known the party in honor of Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Ulysses, James Joyce, a passage of the book of Calvino draws attention: "The readers of Joyce". In it, the writer describes some characteristics of the life of American friends. The family (a couple and two young daughters) lived in the suburb of Washington -- "a universe of avenues, balconies, little gardens and small green hills," as Calvino describes, adding: a "quieter, more ascetic and utopian city in the world, but undoubtedly the most tedious".
The monotony of this daily life was only broken thanks to the family's passion for literature, most prominently, by the matriarch's interest in the "word of the most difficult poets and writers", among them, James Joyce.
The lady had finished college, but, like the vast majority of women at the time, became a housewife, so that, as Calvino says, "her true happiness lies with the reader: reader of James Joyce, especially the most obscure and almost indecipherable text of the Irish writer: Finnegans Wake". She read it daily and defended the thesis that "just reading every day, every day, gradually it becomes transparent".
This reading for pleasure was shared with the friends, a "group of ladies" quite heterogeneous: "some were ministries employees, others teachers, others mere family mothers". There were also "some husbands present, good old men, curious and encouraging".
This group met frequently to read Finnegans Wake. Among the ladies there was an Irishwoman who uncovered references to popular songs from her country; another reader, who was Catholic, discovered in the text allusions to the Church and its rituals, while her colleagues pointed out "obscene double senses" or references to Joyce’s biography.
To rest, they would dwell on another book by the Irish writer, an "easier" one, according to the hostess. Then, as Calvino recalls, "with less effort", they read and commented on "a random passage from Joyce’s book that comes soon after on the scale of indecipherability: the Ulysses".
It is worth noting that adjectives such as "difficult" and "indecipherable" were used only by Calvino. For these readers there was no difficulty, but curiosity, the only quality necessary to read Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, and, I would say, so many other books that made unprecedented experiences with the language. On Bloomsday, the collective reading of this group of ladies is an incentive for the current reader, still frightened by the radical possibilities of the literary text, to leave aside his fear and surrender for pleasure to the reading of Joyce’s works.