I’m not finished with this idea of the GraceHoper yet, not by a long shot.
If you didn’t catch my last post, I’m referring here to the Aesop fable ‘The Ant And The Grasshopper’, only James Joyce used the divinely inspired term ‘GraceHoper.’ He should know, for he was as fine a specimen of the breed as they come.
Most people stop at ‘A Portrait Of The Artist (GraceHoper) As A Young Man’ when tackling Joyce. I suppose that’s understandable, given the challenges of his next two volumes, ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Finnegans Wake.’ But if it was a portrait of the artist they were after, they didn’t go far enough.
June 6th is celebrated widely in literary circles as Bloomsday. That’s the day, specifically in 1904, when the fictional events recounted in ‘Ulysses’ take place. We follow Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s Everyman, around Dublin from morning breakfast until early the following morning, when he crawls into bed and kisses his wife Molly on the rear before falling into a dead sleep. Incidentally, the two lie head to foot in the bed, like a yin-yang symbol.
But June 6th could and should be–for us GraceHoper wannabees at least–equally celebrated as Daedalus Day. And the book be equally titled ‘A Portrait Of The Artist As Almost But Not Quite But Nevertheless Right On The Verge Of Fully-Fledged Adulthood.’
Much of the difficulty in reading ‘Ulysses’ stems from the chapters devoted to Joyce’s alter-ego Stephen Daedalus. In the earlier work, ‘A Portrait’, he succeeded in breaking free of the cultural matrix into which he was born, namely Dublin lower-and-plunging middle class Irish Catholicism. As the book ends he is ready to try his luck in the wider world, or Paris at any rate.
In Ulysses Stephen is back, his mother is dead and he wanders the streets of Dublin just as Bloom does, mulling over the things that GraceHopers mull over. He ponders life, he ponders death, he ponders isolation and he ponders the infinite succession of generations running back through the umbilical cord of time.
He has died to the values of early twentieth century Irish Catholic Dublin, but he has not yet been born a fully fledged Artist. Until the final chapters of the book that is. There a Death and Resurrection occurs.
Recently I read something about Ulysses being at the top of the most overrated books list, but don’t believe it. Bloom? In the end there’s nothing altogether remarkable about him; but Stephen Daedalus–as artist/GraceHoper, lifts the book into the Pantheon!
Now here’s the thing: artists create works of art. These works stand alone. They are stained glass windows through which we catch a glimpse of Life, if we’re ready for it that is. However, don’t put them on a pedestal and mistake them for Life itself.
Here’s another GraceHoper voice.
“I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.
“This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what have you. I am going to sing for you….”
That’s Henry Miller from his 1934 proclamation, Tropic Of Cancer.
–You see what has happened here? He’s blowing the whole pedestalized shebang to smithereens! He’s undergone a Death and Resurrection of his own, as recounted in his Rosi-Crucifixion trilogy, but refused to be reborn an Artist. He simply IS.
And isn’t that what we all aspire to today?
Hail to Life, hail to the GraceHopers past and present who lead the way!
Because Life is ALL there is.