The Writing Allstars – James Joyce

The modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must write dangerously. James Joyce

While Facebook prefered the 15 authors entered in no particular order, I have to say that James Joyce is always close to the top of any list I make. My experiences with Joyce have been most influential and, though I know his style is not for everyone, enjoyable. If you have never tackled Joyce I would highly recommend his book of short stories Dubliners, which is much easier to approach with enthusiasm than one of the larger, and less punctuated, works. It was my introduction to Joyce, since I hadn’t the time to dive into one of his larger novels and in light of my penchant for short stories, it seemed the logical way to go. I was delighted. I remember picking up my paperback copy, along with Dostoyevsky’s Poor Folk, at the local library’s rummage sale and planning on reading just one or two stories before bed. I stayed up to finish them in their entirety.

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. (Dubliners)

Joyce has a way of dropping you into the middle of something that feels like it could be the most important moment on earth and leaving you there to wonder forever. He doesn’t give you a nice, tidy conclusion or explanation, rather he leaves the outcome of the story to your own imagination by plucking you back out of the story before it has met its end. This feeling of ambiguity was refreshing! I had, up until this point, been reading books that had a clear message, something definite you should be walking away with. I felt like Joyce was extending trust to me, believing that I could make a better ending than even he would create. Perhaps not what he was going for, but it was exhilarating to be part of the story in that way. I was ecstatic to find that many of the characters from this collection would appear again in Ulysses, though in less significant roles.

Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible. (Ulysses)

I remember reading Ulysses and being amazed, both by the lack of punctuation and the beauty of experiencing the unhindered thoughts of another person, like waves lapping the shore again and again. I followed Ulysses with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and was pleased to be able to trace the origins of Joyce’s stream style back to his very first novel. It was as if a door was opened for me into a new way of writing, a more comfortable and familiar way. Until Joyce, I had fought to shorten my sentences. Write more succinctly and directly. Use lots of periods. After Joyce I realized that it was ok to have a voice that rambled and became distracted by itself; a voice that folded back on itself to add layers and dimensions of beauty; a voice that experimented til it found someplace comfortable and then refused to be roused from that place.

Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves. (Ulysses)

Because of Joyce, I fell in love with stream of consciousness writing. Because of Joyce I would discover Virginia Woolf, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Jack Kerouac. Because of Joyce I was able to embrace my non-linear way of storytelling and see it as something positive. Because of James Joyce I am the writer I am today.


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