The Porcupine of Authors

Recognise this portrait?

When Constantin Brancusi’s sketch of James Joyce was shown to Joyce’s father, the latter quipped that his son had changed somewhat since he last saw him.

I read this in David Pierce’s outstanding (so far) Reading Joyce, preparation for my summer plan to tackle Ulysses. Pierce’s book is about far more than Ulysses and essential reading to my mind as a Joyce refresher or introduction. Taking inspiration from W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and Janet Malcolm’s Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey, Pierce’s guide introduces itself thus:

Reading Joyce is not for everyone, and nor should it be, but, for those who develop an interest, the habit can be forming and even last a lifetime. . . This book is written to convey something of the pleasure in reading Joyce, and it is informed therefore by a spirit of humour and appreciation. It issues from a belief that the reader new to Joyce needs a certain amount of guidance, but not an excessive amount. I look to the reader, therefore, who appreciates a challenge and who, long after the prompt books have been put down, will continue reading ‘the porcupine of authors’ . . . Indeed, the reader I have in mind is sceptical of reading books with ‘notes’ in the title and is looking for a critical engagement with a writer who is so highly regarded.

Sufficient introduction to lure me in.

Later in the introduction Pierce returns to Brancusi’s sketch:

. . . Brancusi’s spiral is also an epiphany, an epiphany being Joyce’s borrowed term to convey the distinctive character of his collection of stories – the moment, for example when a character or the reader suddenly understands their destiny or the narrative’s destination.

4 thoughts on “The Porcupine of Authors

  1. >Dear Anthony,But I'm on Declan Kiberd's side with regard to the first sentence of the excerpt you posted. Reading Joyce is undoubtedly for everyone who can read. Not all books for all people; however, most readers can read up to and even through _Ulysses_ if they choose to do so. So, I suppose it is merely a matter of what it means to be "for everyone." Not to everyone's taste–that I can buy–but beyond the intelligent reader's grasp–I don't think so.Thanks for posting this. I'm unaware of the book referenced and may have to pick it up.shalom,Steven

  2. >Steven – I have the Declan Kiberd to read at some point. I took Pierce's remark to be a statement of taste rather than ability or intelligence.

  3. >It's funny, I just recently picked up Pierce's book as well (after reading a glowing review of it in the most recent James Joyce Quarterly) and I read it on both legs of a cross-country flight but, although I got through almost half of it in that time, I don't really like the book very much. Reading about Joyce and his books is almost always satisfying but in this case I was a little turned off by how much personal material was included. It really makes the study feel watered down to me and I'm at a point where I want to penetrate deeper and deeper levels of Joyce's art. I think it would be a helpful book for someone new to Joyce and there is some good info about Dublin and many nice pictures, but I'm overall pretty unsatisfied when reading Mr. Pierce's book.At the moment I'm in the middle of Richard M. Kain's "Fabulous Voyager" study of Ulysses from the 1940s and really enjoying it.

  4. >PQ – Apart from reading A Portrait twenty years ago, I am very much a Joyce beginner. It is why the Pierce book was useful and interesting. I can certainly see that, if you have covered the same ground before, it would offer much less.I've just received Hugh Kenner's Flaubert, Joyce and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians and much looking forward to reading it.

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