Neue James-Joyce-Biographie

Gordon Bowker schrieb eine neue Biographie über James Joyce. Ein willkommener Anlass für Fintan O’Toole in der New York Review of Books einen lesenswerten Essay über den berühmten Iren zu schreiben: Joyce: Heroic, Comic.

Joyce wird bekanntlich gerne als Literaturheiliger stilisiert. O’Toole nimmt diese Mythen kritisch unter die Lupe:

Much of it, however, is nonsense. Joyce had his share of human suffering—the physical pain of his malfunctioning eyes and the emotional pain of watching his beloved daughter Lucia descend into mental disturbance. But this is the kind of suffering that is inflicted by life, not by art. Had Joyce stayed in that bank in Rome, glaucoma and cataracts would not have spared him the agony and semiblindness that made his later decades so difficult. And however nicely it serves as a moral tale of the curse of great creativity, there is no evidence that Lucia’s illness was related to her father’s obsessive dedication to his writing. The children of farmers and dentists can suffer from schizophrenia too. The attempt to make these vicissitudes into a price that Joyce paid for his art, like Prometheus tormented for stealing the fire, is often irresistible but nonetheless deplorable.

As for hunger, Joyce was hardly the first student to have to miss a few meals in Paris (where he briefly studied medicine when he was twenty-one). Bowker reports his reduction to such basic fare as “hard-boiled eggs, cold ham, bread and butter, macaroni, figs and cocoa”—not exactly starvation rations. Thereafter, there is precious little evidence that Joyce ever had a sustained period when he could not afford to eat or did not have a roof over his head. He had to work at some boring jobs before he became famous—the bank in Rome, teaching English in Trieste—but neither is likely to have been more dispiriting than, say, Leopold Bloom’s attempts, in Ulysses, to sell advertising for newspapers.

Far from being doomed to poverty by his art, Joyce was extraordinarily blessed with patronage. The idea of him “suffering…financial dependency for much of his life” is very funny. Which of us would not embrace such suffering? Bowker, following Ellmann, records that by 1923 alone, Harriet Weaver had given Joyce, out of pure admiration for his talent, £21,000—the equivalent of not far off a million dollars in today’s money. Economically, if not spiritually, Joyce was a minor member of the imperial rentier class, living off Weaver’s family investments in the Pacific, Canada, and Johannesburg. He also got money from the British government, from Edith Rockefeller McCormick, and, of course, from friends and family, especially his unfortunate younger brother, Stanislaus, from whom he relentlessly leeched money during the Trieste years. He even earned significant royalties from Sylvia Beach’s famous edition of Ulysses, before the book was unbanned in the US and Britain: 120,000 francs, enough, in provident hands, to rent a good apartment in Paris for about six years. Yet “please wire 2,000 francs tomorrow without fail” is as characteristic an expression of Joyce the man as “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay” is of Joyce the artist.

Joyce’s bouts of poverty were the consequence not of artistic self-denial, but of flagrant improvidence—a trait he inherited, along with a fine singing voice, a fund of tall stories and lurid phrases, and a taste for drink—from his feckless father John. To the life of the poète maudit, he preferred the life of Reilly. In his later years, it is true, he spent a lot of his money on medical bills for himself and Lucia, but a lot more of it went on extravagant meals, good wines, flamboyant tips, taxis, grand hotels, Chanel dresses, and fur coats. His was a peculiarly luxurious form of poverty.

Hier noch der Link zu meiner Ulysses-Notiz.

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