Preliminary Investigation of Giacomo Joyce
by © John McCourt
Giacomo Joyce, James Joyce's slim Triestine poem-in-prose, is a text (or rather a manuscript which its author chose not to publish) that has always resisted simple, one-dimensional definition and left critics struggling to find adequate descriptive terms to convey a sense of its multi-levelled complexity. 1 It is a most difficult document to classify, codify, consign to a genre, perhaps because it was written by an author in transition, by a Joyce straining between genres and sub-genres as he attempted to plot his writerly course from the confessional and autobiographical earlier fictions to the larger, third-person polyphonies of Ulysses. In Giacomo Joyce, the reader finds himself caught among the tight and "scrupulous meanness" of the realism of Dubliners, the combination of lyricism and naturalism of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the larger polysemic structures of Ulysses, one of the key revolutionary texts of Modernism. 2 As Michel Delville says, "In the context of Joyce's career as a poet and a novelist, the stylistic and modal ambivalence of the prose lyrics of Giacomo Joyce appears to constitute a transitional stage between the restrained sophistication of his early verse lyrics in Chamber Music and the epicoburlesque prosaism of Ulysses." 3 True though these readings are, Giacomo Joyce has too often been discussed teleologically, as an avant-text for Ulysses, as raw material for future collocation, as a marginal and non-compulsory step for Joyce (and Joyceans after him) in the genesis of his writing, and without due respect for its own inherent dynamic. Giacomo Joyce needs to be understood on its own [End Page 17] terms as a liminal, in-between text, written when Joyce was still languishing in the no-man's land of non-publication (apart from his only marginally satisfying book of poetry, Chamber Music), chiefly for personal use but also with an eye to being read in the future by a larger public. It is a lexically dense multimodal mixture of several genres—part biography, part personal journal, part lyrical poetry (owing much, surely to the Symbolist conception of thinking in images), part prose narrative—veering from the realistic to the impressionistic and back again. It still today seems a hybrid, sometimes exasperating polysystemic text, a collection of tiny mises-en-abîme (stories within stories), which is commonly, for want of a better definition, described, rather resignedly, as a poem-in-prose. Drawing on a wide and eclectic variety of sources, Giacomo Joyce is full of complex narrative techniques, complicated assemblages of words and images, and it achieves coherence through its most significant context—Trieste—and cohesion through a series of lexical clusters and linguistic devices which help bind together at least some of the ambivalence contained within it. Cohesion is also provided by the idiosyncratic visual layout—more blank space than word—which is a constant and a significant feature throughout the text. Given the text's uncertain status, critics have sought unsuccessfully to find a terminology with which to describe what Henriette Lazaridis Power has termed a "maggot."_ 4 As Paola Pugliatti succinctly puts it:
Clare Wallace too has commented that Giacomo Joyce is "a work which resists simple narrative-orientated explication in spite of the many attempts that have been made to resolve 'the story' it tells." 6 Murray McArthur's assertion that the reader may have to accept the text as "a private love offering, whose addressee is both known and unknown, hidden in code" is also apt, as is his description of the text's being "generically uncertain, both autobiographical and fictional, both continuous and discontinuous, both open and closed." 7 Giacomo Joyce is a law unto itself and seems to correspond to Friedrich Schlegel's affirmation that "every poem is a genre unto itself." 8
If it is difficult and ultimately self-defeating to attempt to pin Giacomo Joyce down to a single genre, it is equally vexing to seek a single, authoritative reading of the text itself. Meaning is provided in a series of fleeting, allusive, fragmentary glimpses which add up, at best, to an overall [End Page 18] picture which is consciously shadowy and evasive. The text resists a satisfying reading both paradigmatically (in terms of an interpretation connected with the world from which it comes and which it in some way represents) and syntagmatically (in terms of its internal lexico-grammatical workings). In The Years of Bloom, I wrote that Giacomo Joyce "gives the impression of having been written down live" because of Joyce's use of the present tense as the chief narrating tense, but, as Sheldon Brivic has pointed out, this presents the reader with a problem: "The effect of the continuous immediate present is that the reader cannot locate the events in a timeline." 9 And yet one must attempt to reconstruct chronologically a plot or story line by attempting to read the text in a traditional, diachronic manner. This, however, is ultimately unsatisfying since many of the paragraphs, including the first and the last, are not accorded any precise time or location. Therefore, the reader has little choice but to approach the manuscript synchronically, allowing himself to respond to the text's constant calls backwards and forwards. Yet the readerly requirements of Giacomo Joyce, with their constant demands for retrieval on the part of the reader, should not be seen as negative. Indeed, its use of a series of splintered yet mirroring images and its lack of clear chronology may allow us to see it, in Michel Delville's terms as:
This still does not go far enough towards coming to terms with the physical nature of this genre-bending manuscript which exudes meaning and yet, at the same time, excludes any definitive interpretation. For these reasons, Giacomo Joyce demands more a focused linguistic and codicological interpretation even if the fragmentary nature of the text ensures that any final results will inevitably fall far short of being definitive. Barthes's description of his own discontinuous writing style—"never lengthy, always proceeding by fragments, miniatures, paragraphs"—and his delight in the fact that the fragmentariness of his texts works to break up "the smooth finish" and to deny any "final meaning to what one says," 11 could well function as a statement of Joyce's own intent in Giacomo Joyce. [End Page 19]
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Ideally, one should be able to account for everything in a poem and among comprehensive explanations we should prefer those which best succeed in relating items to one another rather than offering separate and unrelated explanations. And poems which succeed as fragments or as instances of incomplete totality depend for their success on the fact that our drive towards totality enables us to recognize their gaps and discontinuities and to give them a thematic value. 12
And yet the reader is obliged to try to provide connections. One of the principal means of doing this in Giacomo Joyce is to approach the text not only as a meaningful body of writing but as a series of significant visual images. I have elsewhere termed Giacomo Joyce "a visualogue" 13 and attempted to portray it as a jotting down of visions, a journal containing transient images in words. It represents a vital stage in Joyce's quest to achieve what is effectively and at the very least a bi-modal representation (linguistic/visual), or—as he has Stephen Dedalus formulate it in Ulysses—to portray "thought through my eyes" (U3. 1-2). The visual aspects of Giacomo Joyce are more complicated than this formulation suggests: the consciously idiosyncratic graphics of its pages— awash as they are with irregular white spaces, which seem at times almost to overshadow the carefully inscribed hand-written fragments that they contain—calls out for interpretation. Little surprise, therefore, that in recent years, critics have finally sought to interpret Giacomo Joyce by taking into consideration the possible significance of the spaces among the fifty paragraphs. Donatella Pallotti has described it as "a visual encounter. A text which has to be seen as much as to be read, to be seen in order to be read. Its language and its silence are charged through phanopoeia; its writing and its void are images thrown 'on the mind's retina' (Pound, ABC, p. 52)." She has also compared it to "a hologram containing many separate images on a single surface. In the same way as every bit of the hologram conveys information about the whole scene, so too does every paragraph in relation to the whole text." 14 In a similar vein, Giuseppe Martella has described Giacomo Joyce as a "text designed to be perceived in its material body rather than just to be read" and as "a surface poetry of fragment, collage, radical difference, calligraphic arabesque. . . . the precursor of postmodernist anaesthetic intertextuality and historically flat pastiche." 15 The sense of the blank space, according to Italian artist, Enrico Frattaroli,
Increasingly, Giacomo Joyce is seen as a text to be approached not as a graphically conventional piece of writing but as a manuscript to be viewed through the lenses of the visual arts. Again, Frattaroli explains:
For these reasons and others, Frattaroli has described the text as "the genetic laboratory in which Joyce gave life to an intermedia creature: the chimera (in the sense of the mythical animal) which is GJ itself. . . . Taken one by one, the fifty paragraphs of GJ are narrow-angle shots of occurred consciousness; taken as a whole, a horizon of as yet inexistent consciousness." 18 Martella supports this interpretation, describing Giacomo Joyce as "a radically innovative work" and as "a unique calligraphic instance representing multimedial contamination of genres." 19 These readings align closely again with Roland Barthes's mode of seeing his own fragmentary style in physical, non-verbal terms as "so many stones on the perimeter of a circle. I spread myself around: my whole little universe in crumbs; at the centre, what?" 20
In the light of these comments, Giacomo Joyce can be placed at the outer end of the Symbolist movement and within the revolutionary efforts of Modernism, one of the defining features of which was the attempt to achieve an effect of simultaneity, 21 an effect readily realized in the early years of the twentieth century through cinema. Clare Wallace has written recently that perception and the ambivalence of "seeing" are at the crux of Giacomo Joyce and suggested that Joyce's text can be compared to the Zootrope (or Zoetrope)—a technological predecessor of the cinema, [End Page 21] which was a key development in that it offered the possibility of frame-by-frame motion for the first time.
But it is probably more efficacious to connect Joyce's text with the cinema itself, especially in light of the Irish writers' fascination with cinema during his Trieste years, culminating in his opening and for a time managing the first permanent cinema in Dublin, in 1909. An equally personal encounter with film and the innovative grammar of visual effects it offered later provided inspiration for various forms of expression adopted in Ulysses, but Giacomo Joyce too seems to bear resemblance with the techniques of early cinema. Critics such as Arnold Hauser have identified Joyce as being exemplary of the quest for simultanéisme, as a verbal analogy to the technology of film:
Hauser argues that Joyce's use of montage achieves a level of aesthetic autonomy, and he suggests, as Marshall McLuhan had earlier done, that Joyce's text represents a convergence of media that translate the "real world" into the "reel world" (FW 64.25-6). 24
Thus, for Louis Armand, the visual arrangement of the textual fragments and the blank spaces in Giacomo Joyce "might also be seen as a type of filmic notation, montage effect," or "script-writing"—the variable repetition of a "perfect signature" of "word, letter, paperspace" (FW 115.06-08) in lieu of its "unrepresentable" other-subject. The filmic blind (the screening of the "other" or mechanism of difference as the frame which makes the image visible), simultaneously contracts and runs over from this unequal division, in turn describing the visibility of the mechanism itself, breaking apart the whole of which it nevertheless remains a fragmented, metonymic counterpart." 25
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Hologram, hybrid form, visualogue, calligraphic instance, collage, visual encounter, filmic notation, script-writing, montage, intermedia creature, textual zootrope...
Looking over the list of terms drawn from various media—film, painting, photography—with which critics have attempted to describe Giacomo Joyce, and which flank the more traditional literary tags, it becomes clear that we are dealing with a document which is very different from the standard formulation used to describe it: poem in prose. It is, in fact, a hybrid multimodal manuscript which draws on a variety of different genres and discourses and borrows from an array of competing modalities without ever thoroughly belonging to any of them. It is centrally concerned with the issue of the ways in which modalities cross, with words becoming images and images or gestures being translated into words.
At a level above the syntax, we are asked to come to terms with a written manuscript sustained by a strong visual platform, screened through an innovative visual layout, which is not mere backing but which contributes actively to the text's overall making of meaning. The written text is somehow contained within the largely visual framework, but it, in turn, contributes to reinforcing and drawing the reader's attention to the visual form and content through the linguistic choices [End Page 23] contained within it. For these reasons, it is useful to consider Giacomo Joyce as a multimodal text and to examine some of the semiotic resources that it deploys in order to produce its overall meaning within the framework both of Michael Halliday's systemic functional grammar (which seeks to interpret language not as a set of structures but as a network of systems or interrelated sets of options for making meaning) and of Kress's and van Leeuwen's theories about the grammar of visual design. In doing so, the issue of the text's genre can be addressed from a more fluid perspective, and light perhaps can be cast on its overall meaning-making strategies.
A useful starting point can be found in Paul J. Thibault's definition of multimodal texts, although he is concerned with a far more clearly and more immediately accessible multimodal text—a television advertisement:
Anthony Baldry confirms these views: "Like any other textual unit, a page cannot create meaning through the use of language alone but relies instead on a combination of several meaning-making resources: linguistic, graphic and spatial at the very least." 27 While this belief may be hard to apply to a page of a traditional novel by Dickens or even to a page of Dubliners, the visual aspects of an experimental text such as Giacomo Joyce seem to lend themselves to an interpretation of this nature. Baldry's assertion that all texts are multimodal rather than monomodal and that Halliday's metafunctions (experiential, interpersonal, textual) apply to visual texts as much as to language is also highly persuasive in this context, as is his proposal to start "reformulating genre in multimodal terms" and his questioning of how "particular kinds of text in a given culture typically combine and deploy resources from more than one semiotic system." 28 This fits in neatly with Kress and van Leeuwen's theories of "visual grammar" which seek to provide a means for describing the visual effects of images in terms usually reserved for verbal analysis:
What can become clearer through an application of such a visual grammar to an idiosyncratic literary text such as Giacomo Joyce is that image and layout, like language, play a complex role in meaning making, not simply portraying a reality in a neutral or straightforward way as a sort of seamless filter, but making precise meaning with their own specific resources.
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The manuscript of Giacomo Joyce takes up just eight sheets of drawing paper measuring approximately 34 by 26 cm. The title, Giacomo Joyce, is written in another hand on the cover. The eight sheets contain fifty unevenly separated paragraphs, written recto and verso in Joyce's best handwriting, and give the impression that the document is a transcript both of an earlier draft (it is devoid of the mistakes and corrections which are such a feature of other Joycean manuscripts) and of a series of real or imaginary fragmentary events, epiphanies, and moods, mostly set in Trieste and involving the author, sometimes as viewer, sometimes as participant, sometimes as both. The spatial collocation of the paragraphs is odd to the point of being a feature of the text, with the gaps suggesting fracture, rupture, or absence. The reading eye is forced to pause between the paragraphs, which, in any case, are not often linked with obvious, logical connections. Where literary texts in the nineteenth century were usually bound together exclusively by words, by more words, by more text, in Giacomo Joyce, in common with other Modernist texts—including some by Joyce's friend and sometime mentor Ezra Pound—the text is held together by visual connections. Instead of grammatical continuity, we are offered spatial colligation, connection by means of blank space in Joyce's thwarting of the traditional literary or semantic impulse. In its embrace of a non-traditional layout, this short text surely bears comparison with much of the work produced by the Futurist and Imagist impulses (in which Joyce was interested while living in Trieste around the time of Giacomo Joyce's composition) 30 to make written texts visually innovative and meaningful, a tactic that Joyce himself later adopted in such chapters of Ulysses as "Aeolus" and "Circe" and in Finnegans Wake.
The paragraphs function as a series of interconnected visual images, connected through mood, setting, vocabulary choice. Both verbal and non-verbal resources combine to achieve the overall effect. It seems clear that Joyce pondered carefully the collocation choices for each of the paragraphs—selecting to place as many as five together on one page and other times just three. The effect is visually intriguing and disrupts a smooth, traditional reading. Just as the constant breaks between the paragraphs achieve an effect of repeated discontinuity and forced pause, the paragraphs themselves are often extraordinarily static, the syntax contributing to an effect which is similar to that of a series of impressionistic, still-life friezes. The sentences of the individual paragraphs operate in a similar way, challenging our traditional reading patterns, and the reader is asked to come to terms with a text which, in its resistance to narrative and logical linearity, seems to belong to what Barthes terms "novelistic"—a form which is distinct from the novel and in which "no logic links the figures [that is, the incidents or schema in the book], determines their contiguity: the figures are nonsyntagmatic, nonnarrative, they are Erinyes; they stir, collide, subside, return, vanish with no more order than the flight of mosquitoes." 31 In Giacomo Joyce, [End Page 25] paragraphs do not follow other paragraphs with logical sequence, nor is there any continuous block of storytelling; but clauses and word groups themselves are linked through juxtaposition, through parataxis rather than through explicit subordination. Further disorientation is caused by the choice of the author not to locate his paragraphs within a specific and/or consistent timeframe or within a constant and clearly defined space. As we progress through the paragraphs, we move almost at random through the seasons from the "Wintry air in the castle" (GJ 1) to "creamy summer haze" (GJ, 2) to winter snow (GJ, 4). Day and night alternate in this text's almost constant movement between light and dark, white (or rather off-white) and black. We move from "night, darkness" (GJ, 3) to "twilight (GJ 3) to "raw sunlight" (GJ 8). The settings are equally disjunctive, as we move with almost cinematic ease and licence from the partially described scenes—which range from the "resonant stone stairs" of the castle (GJ 1) to "Vercelli (GJ 2) to the "Piazza delle Erbe" in Padua (GJ 3)—to a ski-resort in the mountains, to a tobacco shop in Trieste, to the Carso hills above the city, to the via San Michele.
If time and location remain shady, the actions described within the paragraph entries are often equally fleeting and evasive and mysterious:
Heavily nominalized clauses are often left almost devoid of active transitive verbs, of additive, temporal, adversative, or causal links, conjunctive or modal adjuncts, of the means for the reader to locate a given sentence semantically within a context and syntactically within a larger textual frame. The first example—with its use of the Triestine expression "si pol"—provides a rare opportunity for the reader to locate the scene in the Adriatic city. It is a phrase which is not easily translateable without losing its essence. It is equally difficult to find equivalence in English for the other brief clauses in Italian, such as "Che coltura!" (GJ 1), or "Cinque servizi per cinque franchi" (GJ 3), or the German "Abe das ist eine Schweinerei!" (GJ 7); these brief snatches of dialogue actually form a cohesive group which provides an important thread through the passages. The very brevity of the phrases of spoken discourse is reminiscent of the captions used to portray speech between scenes in silent movies; Joyce may well have had this technique in mind.
In the second example, the subject of the sentence is absent—or rather is present only through ellipsis. The theme of the sentence therefore is marked and contained in the past participle of the verb "to round" in its intransitive sense meaning—to reach fullness or completion—and in the inchoative verb "ripened," which would usually be adopted to describe a wine or a fruit. The effect is to turn the vision of the girl into a vision of a product—the product of her race, but also the fictional product of Giacomo's pen and of his imagination.
While repeated readings can throw up some significant examples of lexical cohesion, the effect of the absence of other cohesive devices increases the still-life effect of the prose and so blocks a development of the narrative dynamic. Increasingly it is evident that each text or discourse unit—for simplicity each frame or paragraph of Giacomo Joyce—needs to be read first as an autonomous still, for it is intentionally disjunctive in the sense that what distinguishes it is its being [End Page 26] fractured from other paragraphs placed before and after it. Only then can it be (re)placed within the context of the text that surrounds it—in a procedure which is not unlike that of film montage, the creation of a single pictorial composition made by juxtaposing a variety of single pictures or designs. As an example of the text's strategy of narrative disjunction:
The reader may well wonder what to do with this paragraph. It appears as out of nowhere and has no anaphoric or cataphoric reference, no immediately apparent cohesive lexical ties with the paragraphs placed immediately before or after it, with the possible exception of the repeated possessive pronoun "her" which can be linked in a backwards movement to various not terribly illuminating images including "race," "never blows nose," "ladyship," "of quality," "movements," (GJ 1-2). We are bound to be frustrated by taking this readerly route, however, because the final point of arrival is to the interrogative "Who?" of the opening line of the book. We might also try to piece together some lexical chains, such as "smile, smiling face, jawbones, brow, eyes," all of which clearly belong to the same semantic field. Another lexical chain of color words signifying yellow could also be constructed and might be significant in the light of the fact that the girl's Jewishness is later alluded to and that, in Trieste as elsewhere, Jewish people were once made to wear yellow signs so that they could be singled out.
None of this leads very far. To make sense of this paragraph, the reader is forced to make an arbitrary personal choice in juxtaposing it with other paragraphs located some pages away which seem to function in a similar way. It can be grouped, for instance, with other paragraphs which contain semantically related terms or as one of a minority of passages with a clear context of situation—an identifiable setting. And yet it does not seem to correspond to any realistic situation; rather, it reads like a caption to be found under a painting instead of a progressive paragraph in a novel. The clauses and sentences which follow seek in prose to mix media, to borrow visual art techniques, and to become the very painting which they describe. 32 Particular attention is given to colors and hues to the extent that the passage palpitates with impressionistic movement, shadowy light and life: It is a virtual movement, however—the movement of shadows rendered through the alliterating sibilants "s" and "sh" of "shadows, "streak," "smiling," "smitten," in the repetitions of the substantive "shadow" (an example of anaphora) and of the verb "streak" (polyptoton) and in the closing "s" of "shadows," "streaks, "jawbones," in the assonating internal "s" to be found in "falsely" and "moistened." The colors described here are not substantive but indeterminate—"wheyhued" and "eggyolk"—and it seems highly plausible that in creating these compounds Joyce was learning from his discussions with several of the Triestine artists whom he knew at first hand, such as the portrait painters, Argio Orell (who had studied with Stuck and Klimt) and [End Page 27] Tullio Silvestri (who painted portraits of Nora Joyce in 1913 and James Joyce in 1914). 33 Francini Bruni remembered that "Silvestri's style of painting was unique—he charged at the painting with darting strokes—impressionistic, with no preliminary drawing," and there seems to be an echo of this technique of "darting strokes" in Joyce's choice of the past participle "smitten."
The repetition of just a few key words in the Vercelli paragraph denies progressive movement and underlines the static nature of the prose. The mystery lady is obviously present in the scene but is not the actor. There is no human actor at all. Each process is enacted by a non-human entity—a shadow. Considering the thematic structure of the group "Shadows streak her falsely smiling face," the word "shadows" is the theme—"the point of departure of the message . . . that which the clause is concerned" 34 to quote Halliday—while all the rest, including the human element, is reduced to the status of rheme. The verb "shadow," therefore, is used as a transitive but does not describe an event other than a vague darkening process; this is metonymic of the overall movement described throughout the book. On reaching the subsequent clauses, the reader is again disrupted and must search for the subject on which the remainder of the sentence is predicated. A first reading suggests that it must be "face," the complement of the initial clause, but in fact it is "shadows." The syntactic expectations of the reader are denied, and he is forced to return to retrieve the word "shadows" and hence direct linear reading, and so forward movement is disrupted. The result is that the text becomes static—like a painting or a film still.
A careful reading of the whole text of Giacomo Joyce will reveal that many other paragraphs can be found, retrieved, and placed in parallel with this one. The effect of having to adopt this strategy should be, by now, becoming clear: classic linear narrative is disrupted, standard reading practices challenged, and the reader is forced to search for meaning by juxtaposing paragraphs placed at a distance from each other, by engaging in a sort of multimodal (re)construction—piecing together not just words, but visual images, not just text but painting and a variety of other media suggested in the complex text.
The reader/viewer is forced to link media because Joyce has transcribed experience in a variety of registers and modes, transcribing, for example, a musical entry into a written form of itself:
Here Joyce slides from an allusion to a composer to an evocation of his music which, in turn, becomes a visual description, "the vague mist of sounds a faint point of light appears"—a crossing of modes if ever there was one. In doing this, Joyce's technique seems very close to that of the silent-movie makers, who were able to include their extra-visual materials only by transcribing them into captions. Joyce himself was obliged to translate his non-linguistic elements into writing, into a necessarily silent book. [End Page 28]
Two other entries seem explicitly concerned with the issue of transferring or translating from one modality to another. In the first, Giacomo's words are shown taking permanent and concrete form as "stones" through the girl's mental appreciation of them; in the second, a seemingly insignificant gesture, the completion of a necessary bodily function, is interpreted by Joyce as a meaningful form of communication.
Joyce's own choice of drawing attention to a routine gesture, such as blowing one's nose, should be read as an invitation to explore the kinetic elements, the non-linguistic body movements described in the text as a systematic and deeply significant mode of communication (a task which once again brings Giacomo Joyce into the field of film studies). It should also not be forgotten that one of the defining characteristics of silent movies in the absence of heard dialogue was gesture, a feature surely not lost on Joyce. In film and in Giacomo Joyce, the modality of body language is vital and can, in Joyce's hands, become a major source of meaning. This he outlined also in the early autobiographical novel Stephen Hero, in the passage in which Stephen explains his theory of epiphany, a theory which might well also lead the reader to change register once more and describe Giacomo Joyce as a series of epiphanies.
Even if we disentangle the various modalities competing in each entry of Giacomo Joyce, the overall meaning remains fragmentary; indeed, finding meaning is almost like piecing together a spilt jigsaw, several pieces of which are missing. This piecing together of dislocated elements viewed from odd, partially obstructed angles—"There is one below" (GJ 1), "I look upward" (GJ 6), "I see through the opening of the black veil" (GJ 7), or from the Loggione to the parterre, "All night I have watched her, all night I shall see her: braided and pinnacled hair" (GJ 12)—mirrors the textual disembodiment of Giacomo Joyce itself into oddly shaped paragraphs containing only partial views, the fragmentary subject of Giacomo himself struggling with impulses of narration and of desire, as well as the physical disembodiment of the figure desired by Giacomo through the repeated use of metonymy or, more specifically, synedoche, to describe the female figure. The synecdochial strategies at work in the fragments, by which a body part is made to stand for the whole body, increase the dramatic-cinematographic nature of the text and allow Joyce to control the viewer's awareness of various details about the girl. Instead of an omniscient narrator, we have a furtive cameraman stealing strange-angled glances. Joyce himself was well aware of the power of synecdoche and alluded to it directly in Stephen's definition in the "Circe" episode of Ulysses: "Doctor Swift says one man in armour will beat ten men in their shirts. Shirt is synechdoche. Part for the whole" (U 15. 4402).
From his singular and awkward viewpoints, the cameraman in Giacomo Joyce allows the reader/viewer only a selection of dismembered views: "A pale face" (GJ 1), "long eyelids"(GJ 1), "high heels" (GJ 1), "slim and shapely haunches, the meek supple tendonous neck" (GJ 3), "long [End Page 29] lewdly leering lips: dark-blooded molluscs" (GJ 5), "slender buttocks" (GJ 7). In this sense, Joyce's thin Triestine volume performs as an important precursor of the far more convoluted and dramatic cinematic and multimedia techniques adopted in the verbally and sexually extravagant "Circe" episode of Ulysses.
After a series of set scenes—some painterly, some poetic, some novelistic, some filmic—the manuscript changes mode again and ends with another entry which might best be described with a term more readily applied to film and theatre, mise en scène. Once again, a carefully constructed environment or stage setting is described complete with props, lighting effects, costumes, but the narrative proper is not carried forth—the protagonists are present only through the synedochial "her arms," "my umbrella." This static or frozen arrangement is a metaphor for the non-event, the abortive affair which Giacomo Joyce itself seems to describe. The initial presentation of the scene offers a wide camera sweep of an empty apartment before focusing in (as with a macro camera) on just a few small but significant details:
Joyce's description palpitates with potential movement and with life despite the absence of a human subject and the presence of the oxymoronic coffin-like piano, the paragraph is rich in contradiction, as though it somehow summarized all of his ambivalence towards the lady. This is made apparent in the repeated use of oxymoron—the substantive "Unreadiness," suggesting a lack of preparation, is followed by a detailed description of a carefully prepared scene: "Torbid daylight" (which juxtaposes a chiaroscuro image of darkness and light); "piano" as "coffin of music" rather than producer of sound; "blunt spear" (a spear by definition by a sharp pointed object). The sense of something about to happen, initially negated by the word "unreadiness," is contained in the adjectives "poised" and "furled." But the camera will not roll; the affair will not take place. The moment has passed.
While the earlier "Vercelli" episode had seemed an exercise in impressionism, this bare apartment scene reads almost like an example of the ancient Greek rhetorical exercise of ekphrasis—a literary description of a real or an imaginary visual work of art, another hybrid mixing of media. 35 The ekphrasis parallel is given further weight by the fact that one of the classic examples often given of ekphrasis is the description of Achilles' shield in the Iliad. Interestingly, Joyce's vision here also calls to mind heraldry—the source of one of this segment's key lexical clusters—which is initiated and sanctioned by the fact that she lives in a turreted castle ("Wintry air in the castle, gibbeted coats of mail, rude iron sconces over the windings. . ." GJ 1). Her coat of arms, her blazonry—essentially medieval usages—contains several words relating to heraldry, most of which came into English from Middle French, for example, "casque" (from Middle French) to signify a medieval helmet; "gules" (from "goules"), signifying the heraldic color red, which links with "sable" (black), another one of the heraldic colors. These items of battle-dress (ironic recastings of the hat and umbrella) connect with earlier descriptions of her protective clothing. We see her [End Page 30] sliding downhill on a toboggan "Tightly capped and jacketted, boots laced in deft crisscross . . . the short skirt taut" (GJ 4). As is recalled in Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well, it is "birth and virtue gives you heraldry" (II,iii), and clearly the mystery lady of Joyce's text qualifies on both counts, being both "a young person of quality" (GJ, 1) and a "virgin most prudent" (GJ 8).
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What we see in entry after entry of Giacomo Joyce is the author to-ing and fro-ing between conflicting desires towards the mystery lady but also going backwards and forwards between distinct genres and modes of expression, constantly translating or transcribing experiences involving all the human modalities for interpreting the world from one particular media form into another. Joyce transcribes fragmentary images—constructed in words, gesture, paint, film, or music—into written copies or transcripts of themselves, which offer not simply additional information for the reader but rather multiply the multimodal resources which are available to the reader and which the reader must draw on in order to decipher the text's meaning making strategies.
For these reasons, this multi-modal text cries out for hypermedia analysis. Its status as a printed book limits the possibilities for a successful reading strategy, and because it is already a composition made up of blocks of words, no artificial strain is needed to turn it into hypertext, that is text made up of blocks of words/images linked electronically by multiple reading paths. Unlike that compendium of information which is Ulysses and which is in very many ways its own hypertext, the pared-down bareness of Giacomo Joyce somehow manages to anticipate the notion of hypertext by encompassing a range of competing and complementary modalities, by being already arranged into blocks of written and visual language in need of multiple reading paths in order to be understood and because it already constrains its reader to plot an associational rather than a linear reading course. Were it now to be subjected to hypermedia treatment, its at once multiplicative and disjunctive meaning-making strategies, its disembodied textual whole, its elusive spatial politics could be pulled together to form a more unified and definite whole than has heretofore been detected or even suspected.
John McCourt is the author of The Years of Bloom: Joyce in Trieste 1904-1920 and numerous articles on Joyce, Trollope and contemporary Irish writing. He teaches at the University of Trieste where he is co-founder and program director of the Trieste Joyce School.
1. I would like to thank Christopher Taylor for commenting on an early draft of this essay.
2. Giacomo Joyce, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), hereafter cited parenthetically in the text as GJ; Dubliners, ed. Terence Brown (London: Penguin, 1992); A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, corrected by Chester Anderson, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: Paladin. 1987); Ulysses, The Corrected Text, ed. Hans Walter Gabler (Vintage, 1986), hereafter cited parenthetically as U, along with chapter and line numbers. Other Joyce works cited parenthetically include Finnegans Wake (London: Faber and Faber, 1989), cited in the text as FW and Stephen Hero (London: Triad Grafton, 1989), cited in the text as SH.
3. Michel Delville, "Epiphanies and Prose Lyrics: James Joyce and the Poetics of the Fragment," in Louis Armand and Clare Wallace, eds., Giacomo Joyce: Envoys of The Other (Academica Press, 2002), p. 90.
4. Henriette Lazaridis Power, "Incorporating James Joyce," James Joyce Quarterly, XXVIII (1988), p. 623.
5. Paola Pugliatti, "'Nookshotten': The text known as Giacomo Joyce" in Franca Ruggieri, ed., Classic Joyce: Joyce Studies in Italy—6 (Bulzoni Editore), p. 293.
6. Clare Wallace, "'Ghosts In The Mirror': Perception and the Visual in 'Giacomo Joyce,'" in Louis Armand and Clare Wallace, Giacomo Joyce, p. 161.
7. Murray McArthur, "The Example of Joyce: Derrida Reading Joyce," James Joyce Quarterly XXXII (1995), p. 237.
8. Quoted in Peter Szondi, "Friedrich Schlegel's Theory of Poetical Genres: A Reconstruction from the Posthumous Fragments" in Szondi, On Textual Understanding and Other Essays, trans. Harvey Mendelsohn (Manchester University Press, 1986), p. 93.
9. Sheldon Brivic, "The Adultery of Wisdom in Giacomo Joyce" in Louis Armand and Clare Wallace, eds., Giacomo Joyce: Envoys Of The Other, p. 194.
10. Michel Delville, "Epiphanies and Prose Lyrics: James Joyce and the Poetics of the Fragment," p. 94.
11. Roland Barthes, The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980, trans. Linda Coverdale
(Hill and Wang, 1985),
12. Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature (London: Routledge 1992), p. 171.
13. John McCourt, The Years of Bloom. Joyce in Trieste 1904-1920 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), p. 197.
14. Donatella Pallotti, "'EVERINTERMUTUOMERGENT': The 'Cobweb (hand) writing' of Giacomo Joyce," in Ruggieri, ed., Classic Joyce, p. 339.
15. Giuseppe Martella,
"Giacomo Joyce: Hypertext and Wisdom Literature," in Ruggieri, ed.,
Classic Joyce, pp. 319
16. Enrico Frattaroli, "The Proteiform Graph Itself is a polyhedron of Scripture," in Ruggieri, ed., Classic Joyce, p. 304. Frattaroli attempts "a complete graphic representation of GJ" setting out to "place the entire structure of the text before a single gaze." Among other things, this revealed that with the exception of pages 11 and 14, "space was always preponderant over writing. . . . Space occupies 60% of the entire 'textual surface'" (pp. 306-07).
17. Frattaroli, p. 306. Frattaroli recently tried out his theories, producing Mandala Bianco: Scrittura come perturbazione del Vuoto (White Mandala: Writing as Perturbation of the Void), an original transcoding of Giacomo Joyce's manuscript into a sophisticated visual installation. This artistic event (a composite work consisting of sixteen white cotton canvases "creased" upon sixteen sheets of transparent perspex according to the dispositio and sense of Joyce's autographic writing as it is traced in the sixteen pages of Giacomo Joyce) helps cast light on the multimedial possibilities offered by Joyce's slender text.
18. Frattaroli, "The Proteiform Graph," in Ruggieri, Classic Joyce, pp. 314 and 316.
19. Martella, "Giacomo Joyce," p. 320.
20. Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard (Hill and Wang), 1977. Quoted in Delville, p. 88.
21. Louis Armand's note on this aspect of Giacomo Joyce is revealing: "Fixing on the 'objecthood' of Giacomo Joyce, what is most immediately striking is the typographical arrangement of its fifty textual 'fragments.' Arguably, typographical concretion had first entered the avant-garde vocabulary with the publication of Stéphane Mallarmé's Un coup de dés in 1897. Its 'simultaneous vision of the page,' locating it somewhere between poetry and drawing, provides yet another context for reading Joyce's 'sketchbook.' The physical juxtaposition of text-objects, like the radical forms of catachresis and parataxis described by Lautréamont, suggest spatiotemporal relations beyond forms of narrative continuity which previously characterised Joyce's work. Among Joyce's contemporaries, such formal innovation was linked to the idea that the modern work of art must reflect the global nature of contemporary consciousness: telecommunications, newspapers, radio, cinema, and so on. To be able to mirror such a multiple form of consciousness, the work of art abandoned linear and discursive structures, in which events are arranged successively, in favour of what Apollinaire, seeking a verbal analogy to cubism, called simultaneity—a textual apparatus that "short-circuits the normal process of reading and requires the reader to reassemble the apparently random fragments in a new order that is independent of the flow of time." Louis Armand, "Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on the Other Joyce" in Armand and Wallace, Giacomo Joyce, p. 10.
22. Clare Wallace, "'Ghosts In The Mirror': Perception and the Visual in 'Giacomo Joyce,'" in Armand and Wallace, eds., Giacomo Joyce, p. 164.
23. Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, vol. 4: "Naturalism, Impressionism, The Film Age" (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), p. 226.
24. Stephen Heath, "Ambiviolences:
Notes for Reading Joyce," trans. Isabelle Mahieu, Post-structuralist
Joyce: Essays from the French, eds. Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer
(Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 46, quoted in Armand,
25. Armand, p. 12.
26. Paul J. Thibault, "The Multimodal Transcription of a Television Advertisement: Theory and Practice" in Anthony Baldry, ed., Multimodality and Multimediality in the Distance Learning Age (Palladino Editore, 2001), pp. 311-12.
27. Anthony Baldry, "English in a Visual Society: Comparative and Historical Dimensions in Multimodality and Multimediality," in Baldry, Multimodality and Multimediality, p. 42.
28. Baldry, pp. 55 and 60.
29. Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen, Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design (Routledge, 1996), p. 1.
30. Ezra Pound included Joyce's poem "I Hear an Army" (which is a far less "Imagist" poem than the fragments of Giacomo Joyce) in the first Imagist anthology, Des Imagistes: An Anthology, 1914.
31. Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, trans. Richard Howard (Hill and Wang, 1978), p. 7. Quoted in Delville, p. 87.
32. For a discussion of Joyce's complex relationship with the visual arts, see Maria Elisabeth Kronegger, James Joyce and Associated Image Makers (New Haven University Press, 1968), and Archie Loss, Joyce's Visible Art: The Work of Joyce and the Visual Arts 1904-1922 (UMI Research Press, 1984).
33. Tullio Silvestri was thus remembered by Joyce's best Triestine friend, Alessandro Francini Bruni: "Silvestri was in the group of Francini and Joyce. He was a lively, gay man, the perfect Bohemian, always poor, married to a nice wife. Silvestri used to come to see Joyce all the time. He was a Venetian who had lived in Trieste, played the guitar and sang baritone, Joyce would sing with him." In Richard Ellmann's partially unpublished interview with Francini Bruni in July 1954. The notes of this interview are kept in the Richard Ellmann Collection at Tulsa University.
34. Michael Halliday, An Introduction to Functional Grammar (Edward Arnold, 1994), p. 37.
35. See John Hollander, "The Poetics of Ekphrasis," Word and Image, IV (1988), pp. 209-19.
Created: Tuesday, July 5,
2005; Last Updated:
Thursday, August 06, 2015