Jul 5, 2016

Good writing: About a dog --- James Joyce


We've started reading Ulysses, and we're not disappointed. Yes, sure, there's a problem with the tome in that there's a problem with literature anyhow, especially the literate sort: the writing coasts on the associative skills of the reader, and them skills tend to diminish with space-time. Hundred years later, us never having been to Ireland---or to Dublin, where the "plot" is set, mercilessly---not sharing much of Joyce's classical education, there's a lot of stuff we don't dig. Thousand years down the road, it'll be worse. But we are learning. We've begun to steal already ("in the shell of his hands" has made it into the penultimate chapter of This Is Heaven). And we feel assured; Joyce---hundred times better than us, of course---uses roughly the same observational distance to his characters that we keep when engaging them in a dialogue. 

Good writing. Here, from the first part, Episode III (Proteus), about a dog: 

A woman and a man. I see her skirties. Pinned up, I bet. 

Their dog ambled about a bank of dwindling sand, trotting, sniffing on all sides. Looking for something lost in a past life. Suddenly he made off like a bounding hare, ears flung back, chasing the shadow of a lowskimming gull. The man's shrieked whistle struck his limp ears. He turned, bounded back, came nearer, trotted on twinkling shanks. On a field tenney a buck, trippant, proper, unattired. At the lacefringe of the tide he halted with stiff forehoofs, seawardpointed ears. His snout lifted barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse. They serpented towards his feet, curling, unfurling many crests, every ninth, breaking, plashing, from far, from farther out, waves and waves.


Cocklepickers. They waded a little way in the water and, stooping, soused their bags and, lifting them again, waded out. The dog yelped running to them, reared up and pawed them, dropping on all fours, again reared up at them with mute bearish fawning. Unheeded he kept by them as they came towards the drier sand, a rag of wolf's tongue redpanting from his jaws. His speckled body ambled ahead of them and then looped off at a calf's gallop. The carcass lay on his path. He stopped, sniffed, stalked round it, brother, nosing closer, went round it, sniffling rapidly like a dog all over the dead dog's bedraggled fell. Dogskull, dogniff, eyes on the ground, moves to one great goal. Ah, poor dogsbody! Here lies poor dogsbody's body.

"Tatters! Out of that, you mongrel!"

The cry brought him skulking back to his master and a blunt bootless kick sent him unscathed across a spit of sand, crouched in flight. He slunk back in a curve. Doesn't see me. Along by the edge of the mole he lolloped, dawdled, smelt a rock and from under a cocked hindleg pissed against it. He trotted forward and, lifting again his hindleg, pissed quick short at an unsmelt rock. The simple pleasures of the poor. His hindpaws then scattered the sand; then his forepaws dabbled and delved. Something he buried there, his grandmother. He rooted in the sand, dabbling, delving and stopped to listen to the air, scraped up the sand again with a fury of his claws, soon ceasing, a pard, a panther, got in spousebreach, vulturing the dead.