Archive for James Joyce

Trustan with Usolde

Posted in Literature, Opera with tags , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2020 by telescoper

It is, I think, fairly well known that physicist Murray Gell-Mann was inspired to pick the name quark for the name of a type of subatomic particle by a passage from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce:

— Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

What is perhaps less well known is the identity of “Muster Mark” in that quote. In fact it is King Mark of Cornwall, husband of Queen Iseult in the legend of Tristan and Iseult. The Iseult in that legend is Irish. She has has an affair with Tristan, nephew of King Mark, with tragic consequences. This legend appears in many literary forms including, most famously, Richard Wagner’s Opera Tristan und Isolde. It also comes up frequently in Finnegans Wake including this passage on the same page (in the edition I have) as the Muster Mark quote above:

That song sang seaswans.
The winging ones. Seahawk, seagull, curlew and plover, kestrel
and capercallzie. All the birds of the sea they trolled out rightbold
when they smacked the big kuss of Trustan with Usolde.

See how Joyce plays with the substitution of “u” for “i” here as in “Muster”. Either that or the “I” key on his typewriter didn’t work properly. Or he had fat fingers and kept hitting the wrong key; U and I are next door on the keyboard.

Incidentally there is a small village in Dublin called Chapelizod which is where a church was built dedicated to Queen Iseult. Whether there is any real connection between this place and the historical Iseult is very doubtful.

Now, where was I. Oh yes. Back to Opera.

Years ago, when I lived in Nottingham, on a warm summer evening I decided to listen to some of the live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of a performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde from Glyndebourne. I made myself a cocktail and took the radio out into the garden with the intention of listening to a bit of it before going out for the evening. This was back in the days when I actually used to go out on the town on Saturday nights; now I’m too old for that sort of thing.

Anyway, I was hooked right from the Prelude. Act I came and went and I decided to make some dinner in the interval, opened a bottle of wine, and returned to listen to the rest of it. The glorious music washed over me in the sultry twilight. Darkness fell, a second bottle of wine was opened, and still I listened – no doubt to the consternation of my neighbours. The final Liebestod was so beautiful I almost cried. Eventually I retreated to the house having experienced my first all-out Wagner trip.

My enjoyment of that occasion was of course helped by the fact I could get up and walk around occasionally, as well as by the liberal intake of fine wine. Nevertheless I do think Tristan and Isolde works very well on the radio – nothing very much happens on stage anyway (especially in Act II) so you can just let the music work it’s magic.

The reason for all this rambling is that there is a special broadcast of Tristan und Isolde on RTÉ Lyric FM. This performance, recorded in 2012, features as Isolde the celebrated dramatic soprano Miriam Murphy who very sadly passed away suddenly a few weeks ago. Tonight’s programme is a tribute to her memory. I believe Miriam Murphy is the only Irish soprano to have sung the role of Isolde. I’ve heard a few clips from it and her voice sounds amazing.

The Opera is preceded on the radio by a documentary about the production, the first in Ireland for 50 years and the first by a brand new company based in Ireland. I think James Joyce would have approved.

So that’s my Saturday evening sorted out!

Update: I listened to the broadcast and it is an astonishingly wonderful performance by Miriam Murphy.

Reading Finnegans Wake

Posted in Literature, Maynooth with tags , on July 25, 2020 by telescoper

Doing my bit to support local businesses as they come out of lockdown I decided to order a book from the excellent independent bookshop on Main Street. You can’t browse there yet but you can order books for collection.

I went to collect my order yesterday. I was worried that they might be struggling for business but the place was chock-a-block with packs of school books ready for collection ahead of the new school year.

I picked up this bit of light reading:

I disagree with people who say that Ulysses is a difficult read, but Finnegans Wake is certainly a challenge. The lady in the bookshop said “Good luck with it!” as she handed it to me…

Alfred Hitchcock once claimed that “puns are the highest form of literature” and one of the features of Finnegans Wake is the constant stream of puns (in different languages). It seems that almost every sentence contains some form of double meaning too. Finnegans Wake may be hard going but it’s very playful, not only with linguistic meaning but with the sounds that words make, which can be delightful in itself independently of what they’re supposed to mean.

I’ve always thought of Finnegans Wake not so much as a novel but as as a very long poem to be read out loud. Indeed here is a strange but fascinating clip of Joyce himself reading an excerpt. Note the attention he pays to the rhythm:

I’ve set myself the target of reading 10 pages a day, which means it will take me a couple of months to finish it. I’ll try reading some bits out to myself, though I can’t do the accent…

Lucia Joyce

Posted in History, Mental Health with tags , , on June 16, 2020 by telescoper

Lucia Joyce photographed by Berenice Abbott (date c.1925-1930)

On Sunday I listened to a programme on the radio about Lucia Joyce a celebrated dancer who just happened to be James Joyce’s daughter. Lucia was born in Trieste in 1907 and subsequently moved with him to Paris where she made a big impact in the field of modern dance. W.B. Yeats was an admirer and wanted to cast her in one of his `plays for dancers’.

Lucia’s early years were filled with artistic promise but shadows gathered around her and by the the middle of the 1930s she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was eventually taken away in a straitjacket and forcibly detained in a psychiatric clinic. She spent the rest of her life (until her death in 1982) in various institutions. The programme provides a fascinating insight into her creative early years but the latter part is desperately sad. One can’t escape the conclusion she did not deserve to be locked away the way she was (against her will) and the men in her life (her father, brother and very lovers, including Samuel Beckett) share a large part of the responsibility for her decline. Psychiatric institutions have a long history of being used to dispose of `inconvenient’ women.

Anyway, do listen to the programme which you can find here.

Bloomsday!

Posted in Literature with tags , , on June 16, 2020 by telescoper

So it’s 16th June, a very special day in Ireland – and especially Dublin – because 16th June 1904 is the date on which the story takes place of Ulysses by James Joyce. Bloomsday – named after the character Leopold Bloom – is an annual celebration not only of all things Joycean but also of Ireland’s wider cultural and literary heritage.

If you haven’t read Ulysses yet then you should. It’s one of the great works of modern literature. And don’t let people put you off by telling you that it’s a difficult read. It really isn’t. It’s a long read that’s for sure -it’s over 900 pages – but the writing is full of colour and energy. It’s a wonderful book.

(There’s also quite a lot of sex in it….)

I’ve read it twice, once when I was a teenager and once when I was in my thirties. I then lent my copy to someone and never got it back. The copy shown above is a new one I bought last year with the intention of reading the novel again now that I live in Ireland but I sadly have not had the time yet. I will, though.

Incidentally if you would like to limber up before making an attempt on Ulysses I recommend this set of short stories.

But if you don’t fancy reading it you can listen to an epic 29 hour dramatisation of Ulysses on the radio via RTÉ; see here for details.

A Book of Note

Posted in Literature with tags , on November 28, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve been too busy today to do a proper blog, but I did pop out at lunchtime to buy the above book (for the princely sum of €3). I can’t believe I haven’t read it before now, but I am definitely looking forward to it and will be making a start at the weekend!