restricted access Stephen and Bloom at Life's Feast: Alimentary Symbolism and the Creative Process in James Joyce's "Ulysses", and: Joyce's Catholic Comedy of Language, and: Children's Lore in "Finnegans Wake" (review)
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Reviewed by
Lindsey Tucker. Stephen and Bloom at Life's Feast: Alimentary Symbolism and the Creative Process in James Joyce's "Ulysses."Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1984. 177 pp. $20.00.
Beryl Schlossman. Joyce's Catholic Comedy of Language. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1985. 269 pp. $25.00.
Grace Eckley. Children's Lore in "Finnegans Wake."Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1985. 271 pp. $28.00.

Joyceans will have to get back to the text again regardless of their many previous readings, because the three studies here reviewed provide new speculations about Joyce's range of reference. "The sacred is at the heart of Joyce's writing experience," asserts Beryl Schlossman in the opening sentence of Joyce's Catholic Comedy of Language. "All of James Joyce's fiction has the creative process as one of its central concerns," Lindsey Tucker begins her study, Stephen and Bloom at Life's Feast. Writing of Children's Lore in "Finnegans Wake," Grace Eekley claims that this lore "holds especial importance and significance," along with "folklore, mythology, or Judeo-Christian backgrounds."

Each scholar thus explores a specialized field of Joyceana and shares an interest in wider areas of inquiry, extending their studies from literary and psychological sources to insights provided by cultural anthropology and comparative religion.

These approaches provide information, the relevance of which is sometimes questionable. There is the risk of extrapolating casual references into major concerns, of failing to evaluate the conflicting elements of his "jocoserious" manner, or forgetting that the pun was for him a "fatal Cleopatra," as Dr. Johnson said of the Shakespearean "quibble." In a letter to Harriet Weaver Joyce explained one of the key motifs of the Wake, as cited by Schlossman:

O felix culpa! S. Augustine's famous phrase in praise of Adam's sin. Fortunate Fault! Without it the redeemer wd not have been born.

Joyce also mentioned the "sin of Lucifer without which Adam wd not have been created or able to fall." Schlossman points out, incidentally, that Joyce was mistaken about Saint Augustine; the phrase, used on Holy Saturday, "is attibuted to Saint Ambrose." Joyce seems to be in earnest, yet in the Wake "felix culpa" becomes a linguistic plaything—"O foenix culprit" (FW 23:16), the transgression in Phoenix Park, or, as Irish characters, "O'Phelim's Cutprice" (FW 72:04) and "O'Faynix [End Page 789] Coalprince" (FW 139:35). Most extreme is the Chinese "Fu Li's gulpa" (FW 426:17).

With this caveat, for which I have no answer, let us proceed.

Lindsey Tucker adds to the accepted Joycean images, artist-priest and artist-alchemist, references to bodily functions as symbols of the creative processs. She draws on many sources, including two books that were in Joyce's library—those of Jane Harrison and of Lucien Levy-Bruhl—and quotes Erich Neumann (her most frequently mentioned authority): "In creation mythology, urine, dung, spit, sweat, and breath. . . . are all elementary symbols of the creative principle."

Tucker's citations from Ulysses are familiar but not her treatment of Shabout, Passover, and other Jewish and Christian festivals, all of which may have been rooted in Joyce's imagination. Her treatment of Shabout is illuminating. We learn that it was a harvest festival, forerunner of the Christian Pentecost. The feast involves bread and cheese, two loaves representative of the Tables of the Law, the cheese derived from Hebrew gebinah, or "cheese," orthographically close to Hebrew gabnunim, or "mountain," where Moses received the Commandments. If Joyce didn't know that, he would have undoubtedly been delighted to learn it.

According to Tucker, Bloom becomes "a kind of incarnation of an aspect of the Shabout," being "at peace with the alimental and elemental," so necessary for Stephen's development.

The Pentecost, representing the birth of the Church, takes place at another feast, a "feast of Messianic blessing," as stated in the Catholic Encyclopedia. At the hospital on Holies Street young men gather to eat and drink, and a birth is announced. The gift of tongues may parallel the various styles in the chapter. The "Oxen of the Sun" episode is thus a mundane reenactment of a sacred festival, as Ulysses echoes Homer.

Holy Week...


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