William Butler Yeats didn’t at all enjoy getting old, and like a Silicon Valley frat boy of the twenty-first century he tried to do something about it. One of his projects was to construct, elaborate and describe a model of himself as a poem self-transmigrated from a mortal body with ink-stained living fingers to an immortal mechanism: a prosody fabricating itself to carry out the work of eternity.
But Yeats also had a more practical project in mind. That one wasn’t an original poem; at the time, it was current in such other texts as the lyric of Irving Berlin’s song “The Monkey Doodle-Doo.” Its key word there, however, was not gold but gland, and that G-word wasn’t a bejeweled utterance gleaming in the air but a soft, flesh-muffled sense inside the body, warmed with the blood of mortal life and comical and shameful as life is comical and shameful. The joke is on you, sings gland’s song there through a mouthful of meat. I am going to give out on you no matter what, and so you are going to die.
In Ulysses, gland takes on the comically anti-transcendental form of a pork kidney in a Zionist butcher shop. But Yeats’s gland was delivered to him on what he conceived of as an altar, even if the altar happened to be an operating table in a zoo filled with funny animals. At the end of this note you’ll find the animal joke’s sacerdotal history, with medical illustrations.
And now, a century post-surgery, the air over the island of Oahu is filled with the descendants of escaped cage birds. This one, a Java finch, lives with her family in the shadow under my eaves. But my eaves also shelter a Photoshop workshop, and Photoshop has joined with the feather-warmed bird to bring a simulacrum of light to bear on her image.
And see: gland has become jeweled artifice, and a beak has become an artwork claiming for its rigid boniness the fleshly attribute of smiling human happiness.
Walking along the beach at the end of the Proteus episode, Stephen sees “Moving through the air high spars of a threemaster, her sails brailed up on the crosstrees, homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship” (3.503-05). That night, in Eumaeus, Stephen and Bloom meet one of the threemaster’s sailors, unsilent able-bodied seaman D. B. Murphy, who tells them, “We come up this morning eleven o’clock. The threemaster Rosevean from Bridgwater with bricks” (16.450-51).
In “Ulysses” Annotated, 3.504-05, Don Gifford notes that the “Shipping News” from the Freeman’s Journal for June 16, 1904, identifies Rosevean as a schooner, adds some information about the port of Bridgwater and its brick industry, and glosses the religious sense of “crosstrees.” In Conversations with Joyce (1934), Frank Budgen elicits a more detailed gloss from Joyce himself:
I stopped at the door as I was about to leave.
“You know, Joyce,” I said, “when Stephen sees that three-masted schooner’s sails brailed up to her crosstrees.”
“Yes,” he said. “What about it?”
“Only this. I sailed on schooners of that sort once and the only word we ever used for the spars to which the sails are bent was ‘yards.’ ‘Crosstrees’ were the lighter spars fixed near the lower masthead. Their function was to give purchase to the topmost standing rigging.”
Joyce thought for a moment.
“Thank you for pointing it out,” he said. “There’s no sort of criticism I more value than that. But the word ‘crosstrees’ is essential. It comes in later on and I can’t change it. After all, a yard is also a crosstree for the onlooking landlubber.”
And crosstree does recur in the pattern in that episode where Stephen discusses Shakespeare with some Dublin scholars. “Who, put upon by his fiends, stripped and whipped, was nailed like bat to barndoor, starved on crosstree.”
(“James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’: A Casebook,” ed. Derek Attridge [Oxford University Press, 2004], p. 262)
In the Constantin Brancusi archive at the Centre Pompidou, the image linked here is captioned “Erik Satie, John Quinn, Brancusi et Henri-Pierre Roché, golf de Fontainebleau” and dated September 25, 1923.
Satie and Brancusi are the composer and the sculptor. History has decided on their behalf that they need no further introduction. Differing from each other as to hat and beard, they partake differently of their culture, but they occupy the hat-and-beard part of it in common. A century afterward, you too can know what they were doing with their hatted and bearded selves outside the image, and what that meant then and means now. There’s no need to ask permission; the request was made and granted before you were born.
But unless you’re a specialist, Quinn will need to be introduced. A lawyer who hated his work but made it useful to some modernist artists whose work he loved, he lives on in history honorably but secondarily, only as an annotation. Speaking not Quinn’s language but history’s, Quinn’s specialist footnote will say to us, “Quinn was one of the patrons who made James Joyce’s language possible.” It’s an explanation not worth trying to understand unless you already know James Joyce’s language.
And the tall man on the right? To the extent that Henri-Pierre Roché, 1879-1959, may be known outside France, he will be probably be known as the author of Jules etJim, ostensibly a novel with a title seen at speed as a historically famous movie’s credits roll. But in its pages offscreen, Jules et Jim is less a fiction than a fairy-autobiography: an aesthetic construction about the more or less actual Roché, the more or less actual German writer Franz Hessel, and the woman they both loved.
By contrast, the words embedded in this dust jacket demonstrate that their own tale (subtitled “The Woman who Loved Jules and Jim”) isn’t a story of a more or less actual Helen Hessel (“Helen, die Frau”) but instead a story of a Helen-image projected optically onto a screen. According to that story, the words Jules und Jim printed on their paper are only indices referring statically to a picture seeming to move.
But of course the moving picture has a soundtrack vocabulary, and a vocabulary is a multiplex always undergoing changes of the words through which it means. Franz Hessel’s parents were Jews who converted to Lutheranism, but that change reversed itself when the time came for their son to die in a Vichy concentration camp. Conversely, you and I probably wouldn’t be reading about Henri-Pierre Roché now if François Truffaut hadn’t happened to supplement our language in consequence of picking up a copy of Jules et Jim in a second-hand bookstore (Mary Blume, “The Secret Lives of Jules and Jim,” New York Times 25 April 2003, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/25/style/IHT-the-secret-lives-of-jules-and-jim.html). And history can’t do a thing about any of that beyond turning up the lights in the archive, more or less at random.
But at least Photoshop is good about sliding the dimmers. So may I ask you to move to the bright side of the room for a moment and look with me at this Photoshop-renewed picture of a sex athlete standing head and shoulders above Erik Satie and Constantin Brancusi? In the image, he is in his own moment once again, and the story about the image is that when it’s annotated with words it seems to have been, just a moment ago, moving. The sense of movement will be an optical illusion, but while it lasts its Once upon a time words reverse themselves and seem to say what they once did say. Above us, once more, towers Henri-Pierre Roché in the knickered mode of 1923, and for him and for us the illusion is a word seeming to mean Now.
Note, July 21, 2022: The golf game is discussed on page 165 of Hugh Eakin’s just published Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America (Crown, 2022).
Just before dawn on June 17, 1904, home at last at 7 Eccles Street, Leopold Bloom thinks forward in time to an ideal Ithaca. Made ampler by the rich knowledge gained on June 16, the log of his adventures will now include these further chapters.
Simultaneously, in James Joyce’s Trieste, a ship named for the city of Bloom is setting forth. It already exists in a state of snapshot photography. From now on, as long as English or Greek is spoken, setting forth on the tide for Flowerville will always be what happens on the Adriatic coast of time.