now reading: Sophie's Choice by William Styron
Kafka, Styron, and Joyce...someone might call these guys "writer's writers," if that weren't such a weird way to talk about creative people. (Not that it stops the critics. "She's a real songwriter's songwriter," you sometimes hear. We understand what it means, but it still seems like a phrase to use when you can think of no other words to describe the artist -- truly no other words, so you just use "artist" again.)
Today's Story: "Clay"
Author: James Joyce
My Rating: B
Reading this story, "Clay," puts me in mind of the eternal question I ask myself as a writer (well, one of them): do I want any and all readers to understand my work? Do I care if they don't get it? Does it matter if I refer to things that are clear and obvious now, or known to many people, but that in the future will be confusing, or baffle some folk?
In short, do I want to be one of those annoying pieces in the Norton Anthology where the footnotes take up more of the pages than the actual text? No, I do not. But will I be? ??? Over time, the things which we find so familiar will be altered beyond recognition. And even now, I know some people have a hard time keeping up with my allusions, although I don't say that in a literary snobby way, just an "I-talk-a-lot-and-throw-in-a-lot-of-random-Clue-and-Designing-Women-references" way.
Then again, even a one-footnote story puts forth this eternal question, because were it not for the footnote in this particular case, and despite the story's title, I wouldn't have known that Maria had stuck her hand into the clay, nor known that choosing the clay is ominous. Is this an Irish thing? A 1915 thing? I have no idea. Never heard of it. Never heard of the Hallowe'en game they're playing, in fact. So maybe I'm just unimpressed because I'm confused, but James gets a deduction and the grade is a B. Not fair? (Who ever said I was a fair grader? It's my freakin' blog, after all.) Well, I hardly think that anyone coming to the defense of James Joyce's writing is going to try, "You're just ignorant; he doesn't make any obscure allusions" for the thrust of their argument.
Oh, James Joyce. Good writer, that boy. Are his short stories deceptively simple? Are his deft turns of phrase like Forster's, with more than meets the elegance-beholding eye? Is he as wise as Tolstoy about the human condition? (OK, no on that one, sorry.) Is he the Dante of his generation? The Da Vinci? The Bono?
In AP English my senior year of high school, we were all set to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. We knew this was coming, because as I previously mentioned in my Kafka entry, my sister and several of my classmates' older siblings were two years ahead of us and the English department pretty much kept the biggies of the curriculum the same, at least not altering them in just a couple of years. Now, it wasn't to be our first time around the James Joyce
Before you can become an artist, you must rid yourself of all the baggage of your "influences." But what games did you play on All Hallows' Eve, James Joyce, that now haunt Maria and me? What twists of fate await us, blindfolded, when we try to reach for our destiny? And when the hell will I ever get around to reading Ulysses?