A Portrait of the Artist
As a Young Man
Jim Norton, Reader
(Naxos)Portrait is awash with those heavy Joyce-symbols: figs, swallows, seabirds, ashsticks, and ... O no ... a louse, crawling on Stephen's neck, which he "rolled its body, tender yet brittle as a grain of rice,"
The tickling of the skin of his neck made his mind raw and red. The life of his body, illclad, illfed, louseeaten, made him close his eyelids in a sudden spasm of despair: and in the darkness he saw the brittle bright bodies of lice falling from the air and turning often as they fell. Yes; and it was not darkness that fell from the air, it was brightness.
§ § §
Joyce's poetry --- Pomes Penyeach --- was flaccid. His prose, on the other hand, is poetical. Throughout Portrait, there are lovely words, as in an extended narrative poem, repeated over and over:
and an especial favorite, the call from Stephen's friends, bathing in the river, his Latinate name,
Stephaneforos.There are even Irish ballads, sung, and nicely sung, by Jim Norton, the reader on these discs:
And when we are married,
O, how happy we'll be,
For I love sweet Rosie O'Grady
And Rosie O'Grady loves me."
Joyce is a musician (they say he had a fine ear for Irish ballads, which he could be persuaded to sing when provoked by spirits).
Like a song, this version of Portrait can possess one. At times, we found ourselves listening to some of the disks over and over again, partially because of Norton's superb rendering. He's a man who can switch instantly between the proper English of the text, to the Gaelic-inflicted dialogue of Dublin, to the heavy voice of the old priests, to the high, light voices of the occasional woman.
In Portrait we find a man filled with profound certainties on questions of art, god, family. At the same time, Dedalus shows a heavy ambivalence over love and passion. Early on in Joyce's next novel, Ulysses, Buck Mulligan, Dedalus's friend, sings of the god the is trying to become. He does this by descending into slapstick: "his mouth open happily, his eyes, from which he had suddenly withdrawn all shrewd sense, blinking with mad gaiety. He moved a doll's head to and fro, the brims of his Panama hat quivering, and began to chant in a quiet happy foolish voice:"
I'm the queerest young fellow that ever you heard.
My mother's a Jew, my father's a bird.
With Joseph the joiner I cannot agree,
So here's to disciples and Calvary.
"He held up a forefinger of warning.
If anyone thinks that I amn't divine
He'll get no free drinks when I'm making the wine
But have to drink water and wish it were plain
That I make when the wine becomes water again.
"He tugged swiftly at Stephen's ashplant in farewell and, running forward to a brow of the cliff, fluttered his hands at his sides like fins or wings of one about to rise in the air, and chanted:"
Goodbye, now, goodbye. Write down all I said
And tell Tom, Dick and Harry I rose from the dead.
What's bred in the bone cannot fail me to fly
And Olivet's breezy . . . Goodbye, now, goodbye.
Portrait is not only a picture of a young man going to war with his country and his religion, it is, more cunningly, the story of a man at war with himself. It is a contrary war that can fill Stephen with self-rebuke. Throughout it all, there are hints of young Dedalus's true love: the "queer" sound he hears in the word kiss; his father calling him a "bitch;" his mother saying that he always did have a "queer mind;" Cranly and Dedalus, touching blushingly on the question of love,
"Have you ever loved anyone?"
"You mean women?"
"I am not speaking of that," Cranly said in a colder tone. "I ask if you ever felt love towards anyone or anything?"
Despite Dedalus's (and Joyce's) immersion in the theory and practice of being a powerfully committed artist, one who must famously endure "silence, exile, cunning," there is overall the portrait of a man who has been torn apart by ambivalence over his own soul, if not his own passion.--- John Felter, MASecret Lives of Common Birds
Enjoying Bird Behavior Through the Seasons
(Houghton Mifflin)Spring (robins and grosbeaks), summer (warblers and teals), autumn (grosbeaks and jays), winter (cardinals, chickadees, pelicans, cormorants, and gulls). Lots of pictures (180 or so), not too many pages of text to overwhelm you (95) but lots of bleeds (printer's bleeds, not avian). Charming pix, nature in full color, spare text,
Along comes the Downy Woodpecker! Tapping on the gall surface, the bird senses the subsurface tunnel and continues pecking away the woody gall tissue, finally claiming its juicy prize.Oh gall! Secret Lives of Common Birds, sent out in August, smells of Xmas: a present for a friend we don't know too well, one who loves animals but not too much (this is no field guide). Something that won't strain the mind, a throwaway gift --- they'll fluff through it for a few moments, then it goes on the table or up there on the shelf with a thank you. Soon, it'll get dusty and next summer they will call up Powell's on the internet and see if they can get a few bucks for it.
If you want a real book about our avian friends, forget this one. Try, instead The Singing Life of Birds --- The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong --- recently out from the very same publisher, Houghton Mifflin. It's by Donald Kroodsma, and it's a song-filled sensation complete with CD of almost 100 birdsongs to cheer up your days.
Waking Up America
The Possibility of an Earthy Enlightenment
Amidst All the Excess, the Stress,
The Pleasure and the Pain
(White Cloud)Let's see if we can report on this one with only a few more words than in the subtitle.
There is a hectic passage on intercourse, "that delicious union which makes us brainy mammals so mindlessly happy." ("Orgasms are grand," he informs us.)
"If I lost the ability to move my legs, I would fantasize not about the runner's high afterwards but about the run itself." (Tell that to Christopher Reeve.) Finally, the Buddhist truth that Taub has learned, in his many years in advertising/public relations, is: look at your feets (not your feats),
"Turns out, I was peaking [sic] over the horizon, looking past where I was actually standing."
The cover shows a Buddha simpering out at us from the driver's seat of a red sports convertible.--- Lolita Lark