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.