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The Haunted Heaven: Chapter Five: A Joycean Interlude

By Michael Moriarty
web posted June 27, 2011

James JoyceI think it would be best if I prepare you for much of this memoir by admitting to my almost religious reverence for the revolutionary achievements of novelist James Joyce.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners proved such a literary aphrodisiac to me that I just had to struggle through the mountainous challenge within both of his giant works:  Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.

The erotica within them, of course, only grew stronger.

No, I do not understand most of Finnegan's Wake.

Nor do I feel obliged to understand it.

Ulysses is the key to Joyce the man, whereas Finnegan's Wake holds the farthest reaches of Joyce the artist/explorer.

If you think of the Wake being as much music as literature and hear it read by a great and entirely Irish voice, then the whole thing might begin to make intuitively musical sense. It most certainly introduces you most intensely to Joyce's soul, as poet whose music could well be Gaelic purity itself. Even his speaking voice is the eloquent yearning for things yet to be created.

One thing is unmistakable: Ireland's urgently dancing pulse and pace.

Pagan?

Nostalgically so, yes.

Yes, there is drunken abandon to it … and … well, having been a drunk myself and still being congenitally Irish, I instinctively sympathize with every rebellious corner of Joyce's erotic passions and intellectual mischief.

"Ireland sober is Ireland stiff!"

Here you can see my Chicago "Connection" … or "RE-Connection" since my whole family fell off the boat from Ireland into the South Side of the Toddlin' Town and the South Side is where Pat Hickey makes these breathtaking Chicago Connections between myself, James Joyce and Rachmaninoff.

If possible for you, Pat's link in that column to Olga Kern's performance of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto is, I must insist, always worth more than one hearing. No, it is hardly in the Celtic spirit of this essay … but … I doubt if Joyce himself would do other than sit suspended in ecstasy as he listens to Ms. Kern's and Rachmaninoff's own version of Joycean abandon.

Why?

The lyricism!

Impassioned and lusty articulations of ecstasy far beyond the pounding, male aggressions of, say, Igor Stravinsky and his Rite of Spring.

Hmmm … "must give us pause" … presently Ms. Kern has begun the final movement … and what an explosive pilgrimage that is!

She doesn't climb this mountain, she races up it in ruthless abandon, with the very Amerikan ('K' intended) code of performing arts: "Murder 'em!!"

"Get out there and kill the audience!!!"

"Take no prisoners!!!!"

"Leave them in awe of you!!!!!"

James Joyce's epic length version of this "epiphany" as he might Christen it, the two mountains of soul he endowed us with?

Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake?

I suspect the Chicago article's author, Pat Hickey, is more of a Joycean than even I am … and that's no small tribute to the power of Joyce.

Despite the poet/author of Chamber Music's claim to have left the Catholic Church, I agree with the opinion that James Joyce was never entirely not Catholic.

I will never entirely be not Catholic.

As for my upbringing and Joyce's?

We share the Jesuits … and a "Classical" curriculum, Latin and Greek.

I regret not having also studied French and Italian to the extent he did. My mere two terms in French did not bring me even close to fluency … although, in my most elated states I'm amazed at how the size of my French vocabulary explodes.

There's something Dionysian about all of that, such sudden fits of fluency.

Joyce's acquaintance with Dionysius, God of wine, was quite beyond a scholarly run through ancient Greek history.

Joyce's struggle with the precepts of the Papacy? His voracious obsession with classical Greek and Latin literature, particularly the myths within, had, I believe, a great deal to do with his addiction to Dionysius' most sacred elixir of wine.

An aged vintage out of which I do believe that Joyce felt he had gained his greatest inspirations.

Wine certainly fed the controversial shamelessness with which he examined the human condition.

'

Why are facts of life something to be ashamed of?

The shame itself is what we should be horrified by.

Joyce was obviously infuriated by such hypocrisy.

When asked if, having left Catholicism, he might consider becoming a Protestant, he replied: "I may have lost my faith but I haven't lost my mind."

"Oh, he had a filthy mind!"

That was Nora Barnacle's description of the father of her children, James Joyce.  The film clip I've linked you to is worth all the patience you might be inspired to give it. The two leading figures, Nora and James, are perfectly cast.

Hmmm … the contrast between that film's haunting score, the throbbing energy of what is sometimes referred to as The "Rach's" Greatest Concerto and the sudden beating of Nora Barnacle by her step-father, not to mention Nora's playful comment upon Joyce's eyes as those of a Swedish sailor.

"Don't ye wanna know my name?" asks Nora of James.

When Joyce hears the name, Nora, he instantly thinks of not a Swedish Sailor but a Norwegian playwright named Ibsen. Given the global fling that's being danced so quickly between these two, inevitable lovers? It's not a much larger leap of blissful faith to summon up Sergei Rachmaninoff or "The Rach" and Russia.

Nora Barnacle became Joyce's common-law-wife for what might have seemed at times an endless number of frequently penniless years.

Hmmm … or was his "filthy mind" just nakedly honest genius?

I'm listening to the beginnings of my musical setting for The Haunted Heaven and these brief ideas strung together I have called Seeds.

The God Dionysius thought sex to be profoundly spiritual for he himself was sex itself.

The God of wine, theater and every brand of copulation a man might ever conceive of.

The ancient Greeks knew how all of these were inter-related in The Life Force.

Dionysian abandon.

The only enemy would be hypocrisy.

Euripides' The Bacchae reveals the depth of Dionysius' vengefulness, his rage and damnations upon the mind of a hypocrite.

King Pentheus is obscenely and most hypocritically interested in the private goings-on of his mother.

Dionysius shows up to offer Pentheus a "helping hand".

Mamma Pentheus was obviously having her own brand of pagan abandon and … well … that indulgence was protected by the God Dionysius.

Read the play for yourself. I refuse to disclose the rather horrifying but impressively Dionysian climax.

The play is both a voyeur's dream and savage nightmare. The pornography is inevitably violence itself, a conclusion so graphically animal that it must occur "off-stage" or "ob-scene".

We can only hear about it.

The Gods are laughing?

In Seeds they are.

They laugh to accompany The Fool or the Yurodivy's song.

He that has and a little tiny wit,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

Must make content with his fortunes fit,

For the rain it raineth every day.

Or as The Fool's master, King Lear says:

As flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods!

Thy kill us for their sport!!

Dionysius makes quite a killing in Euripides' Bacchae.

The more I listen to the main theme of my Seeds the more hypnotic it becomes.

Of course, the opening three measures of Seeds could also be a warning, a Dionysian one.

"Don't interrupt my bliss in life!"

If James Joyce prayed at all, the worship is contained in his writings and Molly Bloom's last word in Ulysses.

"Yes!"

If the Haunted Heaven I have experienced could be described in one word, it would perhaps be best described as "Joycean".

On other days, however, my soul is belligerently, yea, doggedly Churchillian.

Yes, Winston Churchill is another one of my demigods.

Churchill and Joyce? How can they possibly be reconciled?

Intellectually and ideologically they can't.

Musically?

Most certainly James Joyce and Sir Winston Churchill can be reconciled musically.

He, James Joyce and Elvis Presley, as has been noted in this Churchill internet site were, all three, iconic night owls.

I suspect both Churchill and Presley, secretly perhaps, would have agreed with Joyce's advertisements for himself:

"If Ulysses isn't fit to read,

Life isn't fit to live!"

But then again, half of life can't be reconciled with its other half. Mankind appears to be forever on the brink of war.

Now on the edge of suicide.

It is all very Dionysian.

It is God's way … or the way of the Gods … to clean the earth of hypocrites … for it is they, surely, that would most offend any creator of the universe.

I'm now listening to the third movement of my Concerto For Orchestra, a Prelude to King Lear.

What keeps us wanting to live?

Ecstasy. Even if it is bitterly sardonic.

The ever-present possibilities and pursuit of ecstasy … and its occasionally embarrassing moments.

"Do ye have a hanky, Mr. Joyce?"

Some only find such bliss within money and power.

Having seen enough money to realize its infinite limitations, I live the life of a recluse now.

Why then write this autobiography?

I've failed at previous attempts and know I can actually say more of what I want to convey with music.

This chapter has already undergone editing. I seem determined to edit out my entire autobiographical urge!

However, with the mountain of Joyce staring me in the face, I take up his challenge in another way. His literature was,  indeed, his autobiography.

Ulysses In Nightown is a play based upon the journeys in Joyce's Ulysses of both Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom as they learn about each other in a Dublin bawdy house.

I saw the 1974 Broadway production of it starring Zero Mostel as Bloom.

Why?

Well, two reasons: my love of Joyce had begun in college with the reading of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ulysses was still a mountain I couldn't climb without help. What could Zero Mostel do to shed light on the father/son bonding of Bloom and Daedulus?

I ultimately and inevitably learned, years later, that father/son is, in most cases, a competitive encounter … and in some circumstances … such as my own … a belligerently adversarial one.

So it had been that year with Mostel. We had both been nominated for a Tony Award.

The other contenders were George C. Scott, Jason Robards Jr. and Nicole Williamson.

I won.

It was at that point in time I quickly learned the shallow depths of award-winning, worldly success.

What few years I have left, however, are being spent in Joycean liberation as a composer. In my seventies, I haven't the slightest urge to please anyone or anything but my own conscience, artistic and otherwise.

As for Joyce's unsurpassed artistic integrity, in Ulysses, a whore house becomes the meeting place for a father/son bonding that goes on in the mind of James Joyce. If "Father" also infers "Godhead" of some sort … then … well, I'll leave you to draw the inferences of such a "meeting place".

Men, either abandoned or wandering, seek understanding of one another through their obsessive preoccupation with sex.

Are women any different?

Only insofar as sex for women becomes, by necessity, an urgently more persuasive language.

"Men forced them to do it!" say the feminists.

Hmmm … haven't some men's sexual obsession with particular women forced them to marry?

This chapter with its telescope targeted on James Joyce presents one of the most troubling intellectual and spiritual battles within my entire life.

The relationships between sex and divinity cuts in so many directions, I'm still at a loss as to whether or not they are enemies or conspiratorial lovers.

Molly Bloom's soliloquy at the end of James Joyce's Ulysses, the second half of it leading the Joycean "epiphanies" to the day Leopold Bloom proposed marriage to Molly … or the day James Joyce first consummated with Nora Barnacle … "lyin' among the Rhododendrons".

 

"He said I was a flower of the mountain!

"And I gave him all the pleasure I could … and I said 'Yes, I will. Yes!'"

Ah, James Joyce!

He certainly knew how to applaud anyone,

male or female,

wishing to "learn the way".

The Rock of Gibraltar plays a profoundly symbolic role as the very foundation upon which not only Leopold and Molly Bloom but James Joyce and Nora Barnacle seal their lifelong acceptance of reality, a surrender which leads this artist as a young man "to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race".

As an inheritor of that vow, I listen to "The Rach" with much the same certainty James Joyce and Stephen Daedulus had about their time with Molly and Nora on The Rock of Gibraltar.

Out of "The Rach" of Rachmaninoff and the Rock of James Joyce, I have been forging the divinely resilient conscience of my art.

When you escape death by heart failure at 66 years of age?

And you're still living at 71?

God must have said, "Yes, Michael, you will. Yes!" ESR

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and 4Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at rainbowfamily2008@yahoo.com.

 

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