Consultation No.2: With James Joyce

We were very excited to, through the magic of imagination, talk with James Joyce about his writing, how he climbed down from the rarefied atmosphere of a classical education to wallow in the morass of humanity, as he put it over the telephone during our first contact with him for this talk. We were able immediately to divine that he didn’t suffer fools, so we tiptoed cautiously into his life and writing.


GFB: We understand that you were something for a rebellious student. (He held his cane between his legs as he considered the comment.)

JJ: Naughty, rather. Hardly rebellious. We would have bloody well felt the headmaster’s cane across our bums had we been outright rebellious.

GFB: There’s a difference, then.

JJ: Of course. We boys had no vision necessary for rebellion. We were simply feeling our oats, as you might have it, expressing without an objective, you see?

GFB: Yes, I think so, although I’ve never thought about the difference between the two as significant.


JJ: Such ability to discriminate is the difference between a cultured intellect and robust ignorance. One of the few benefits we gained from our approach to learning at the time.

GFB: I see. So let me skip ahead and ask you, when was it that you first came to view literature as a vehicle for personal rebellion?

JJ: What? Are you daft? I never came to view such a thing. I assume – or shall I – that you’ve read my Dubliners stories? (He began to twirl his cane, as if agitated.)

GFB: Sure have. As have almost every secondary school student of my era.

JJ: (Here, he relaxed and offered a weak smile.) And there you’ve struck the correct note. My era is different from yours, yours will be from the subsequent one. It’s the persistence of social habits that drives later generations mad. And so we writers challenge modes of thinking in what we put to the page.  If we didn’t, and later generations saw much change in attitudes, habits, and education, then our children’s children would go mad. That’s the trouble with religion, as I see it.

GFB: Trying to fit old ways of thinking into new social circumstances?

JJ: Quite so. We of dawning generations must feel something, and were we to stick with the tried and true, we would be known only for our madness.

GFB: Certainly no writer wishes that.

JJ: It’s a human trait to need something to believe in, and when the gods of our beliefs decay and turn to dust, we become caricatures of human beings. There’s no life in us, then.

GFB: Thank you so much, Mr. Joyce, for your insights. You have indeed been a giant in twentieth century literature.

JJ: Balderdash! The times compel us to do what small things we do. Were we not to accept our lot, what would come of us? Of our world?


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Consultation 1: With Victor Hugo




Note: Since I’ve gone out on a limb and blamed my boredom with (particularly) current American fiction on a sense of ennui on the part of the authors, this post begins a series of imaginary interviews with authors who did manage to pin down the passion of their time and commit that passion to characterization and story. I had planned to deal exclusively with American authors and their works, but I thought, Who better to start with than Victor Hugo and his monumental work, Les Miserables?


GF: Monsieur Hugo…

VH: Please call me Victor, won’t you? It’s not often that someone calls me out from this temporary state of blissful abandon to answer to the future. Or Vic. Either way.

GF: All right, Vic…

VH: Second thought, let’s make it Victor.

GF: Victor, I thought of you immediately for this project, because you come from passionate people, you lived in a passionate era, and you wrote perhaps the most passionate book in the history of European novels.

VH: (A long pause) Yes, I see what you mean. I suppose I wouldn’t have put that way, but you’re quite right. The richness of the novel, the personages who inhabit these works of art are all built on an undercurrent of passion.

GF: Please go with that if you will.

VH: Of course. All passion is built on love, you see? Amour. Even when you despise the actions of the landed elite, something in you is crying out with love, not just for the downtrodden, but for the elite themselves.

GF: How so? With the elite, I mean.

VH: But don’t you see? Love and hate always coexist, but love is always the stronger. Love isn’t always as showy, as demonstrative as hate and its flaming fireballs. Quite simply it endures. Take for example, my opus, Les Miz, as the philistines among you call it, in which I have my countrymen take down our monarchy and its wicked domination of the poor.

GF: I understand you watched it happen as you wrote about it.

VH: (Winking and smiling) So they say. Quite journalistic, don’t you think?

GF: Sure was.

VH: Permit me to preemptively reply to your next comment. You were going to say you Yanks have problems with novels that are -ah – too instructive, shall we say.
GF: Yes.

VH: But this is where your country’s overarching lack of subtlety comes into play. It was the characters, my friend, the characters! They and they alone gave my story its passion. The revolution was merely a backdrop.

GF: But your characters rampaged. They destroyed, they murdered.

VH: Ah, yes, they did. For love of France, for one another, for the simple human freedoms denied them. Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Without love each stood alone against an oppressive regime. With it, they were France.

GF: All right, I suppose I can concede your point. But you can’t do ghastly things and call it love.

VH:  Yes, yes. But love is at the basis of it, you see? Regardless of its distortions.



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Wars of the Annunaki, by Chris Hardy – Part 2


My last post on this book, written halfway though the reading posed a lot of questions, some prescient, some unwarranted, some remaining unanswered. First let me set the stage for Professor Hardy’s project here:

  • She has examined texts of both Sumerian language and the later Akadian tongue favored in ancient Babylonia against multiple translations of the book of Genesis, most likely first written in an antiquated version of Hebrew.
  • The story goes beyond Adam and Eve’s alleged fall from grace to include the story of Abraham and his nephew Lot and the destruction of five major cities, including Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • She leans rather heavily on the instructions of semantics, particularly in discriminating informational passages from moral ones (here meaning how moral phrases either confirm or distort the actual historical events as written and passed down  for centuries.)

And so how do translations of Sumerian and Akadian tablets diverge from the much later versions of these events as written in Hebrew? Without reproducing Hardy’s tale altogether, Eve and Adam grew beyond simple vassal status to the so-called gods (the Annunaki) to gain self-reflection and -determination, which threatened the status of the gods. This instead of being tempted by Satan to commit evil – a much later distortion of the Sumerian/Akadian writings on this subject.

And the story of Lot in the later texts, when examined through the lenses of semantics and logic, bears little representation of a real life situation. First, in the oldest texts, the primary “god” Enlil, sought to destroy all of humanity because he considered humanity a failed experiment (with some weight given to the idea that human self-determination threatened his status and enraged him personally.) Depictions of the Annunaki in these texts awarded them no cause for concern over the moral questions later Hebrew texts used as a rationale for destroying this embryonic civilization. A war of the kings ensued, fully documented on some thousands of translated tablets. Enlil, victorious, now had the elbow room to destroy humanity from Palestine to western India. Geologic and archaeological investigations throughout this area found radioactive skeleton fragments and vitrified rock, indicating the possibility of weaponry from the gods with the potency of our modern nuclear bombs, rockets, etc. A simple example of later versions of Lot’s story’s questionable events: If God told Lot’s family not to look back, because if they did, they’d be turned to salt, then who looked back to note the nature of Sarah’s demise? How was this possible, anyway? Was this person also turned to salt? Or was this simply an assumption of her death because she fell behind and disappeared? The Sumerian texts claim she fell far behind and was vaporized in the weaponry explosions.

The story here is one of this poor, huddled mass of humans, including Adam and Eve, as pawns in an epic conflict between Enlil and another of the Annunaki, Enki, who had in fact done the DNA tinkering that gave humanity the possibility of accelerated evolution. Enki, perceiving humanity’s possibilities as a race, sought to preserve them, while Enlil sought to destroy what he considered a failed experiment.

Seen in this light, if there be a thread of truth through the Sumerian and Akadian texts and their subsequent translations, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Enki archetype, whomever might personify the archetype, for preserving a fragile, new race of creatures. This despite the paradox of war and destruction no doubt built into human DNA along with its preservation and protection.

My rating: 16 of 20 stars


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Reading Makes You Smarter?


There’s been a lot said and written in past years – particularly since the advent of tweets, blog posts, and e-mail – about the value of snippet reading. It’s a great way to amass information, they say.

But let me work the other side of the fence for a moment. Yes, those snippets will allow you to be a walking encyclopedia. But will grabbing headlines, dashing off tweets or speed reading e-mails enable you and your end users to use make use of such information? Better, will this gulping down of information make you smarter? Or by inference, more valuable to your nation, your community, your family, your place of work?

Here’s a blog post to help you think this through.

Note, near the end on the Guardian post the comment on reading literary fiction.


But why would literary fiction engage your latent intelligence so well? That’s a subject to be dealt with in depth on another day. But my short answer is that literary fiction presents you with conflicts that are all too human without providing solutions to those conflicts. This enables readers to consider possible resolutions from each reader’s experience and level of understanding. In other words, in a complex era of human development, there are no easy answers; each person must arrive at such understandings as if truth were relative. Perhaps in some future time we’ll  have the ability to see such complexity as a unified whole, and literary fiction will, I feel sure, lead us there.


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Dangerous But Beautiful


If you’re a writer, has your writing seemed milk-toasty at times? Or if you’re a reader, has a book disappointed because it is, well, milk-toasty?

Then if you have access to the January/February issue of Poets&Writers, Jan/Feb 2016, turn to Tom Spanbauer’s essay, Dangerous Writing. I’ll leave it to you to discover from his essay what dangerous writing is. But there’s a rather unsubtle hint in a paragraph on the third column of page 41.

Basic to Dangerous Writing is the belief that by going on this journey from blood to bone, by laying out hard truths, through our own intelligence, intuition, and ability we will make a personal discovery of reality. The discovery will be something that is ancient, but because it is we who have been on the front lines, this discovered reality is truly personal—completely fresh and new.


This is the reality of literature, I believe—it takes ancient truths and spins them out in the context of the time and the author. This has been the truth of literature, more particularly of our modern, secular literature than of any writing throughout the ages.

But what does this mean? What does it say to humanity?

We live in a superficial age. This bouncing about on the surface of life allows us to hide behind style, posturing, the confidence of knowing too little, especially about ourselves. But by participating  in Spanbauer’s delving, we discover, first, something enduring about ourselves, not just as a storyteller but as a human being. Then we discover how that personal something finds its place in the human condition as a whole.

It may frighten, dear writer, and it may hurt peeling away those superficial confidences, but think of the story you are deep within. Think of its value to your readers. In that light, it’s not dangerous at all, is it?


As a postscript, I had to dig deep to write a story as provocative as the one advertised on page 134 of this edition of P&W, “We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.” If you haven’t read it, take a chance with it. I believe it is at least one version of our time. If you have read it, please let your reading friends know about this book. Thanks.

Poverty and Violence


Literature is rarely taught or even thought of as a socio-political device, but it often is, has been since Homer. The best writers are the best, most legitimate observers of society, and Cormac McCarthy has been the best of both in recent years of these United States. In his novel, Child of God (click for a previous review), he grapples with the consequences of generations of abject Southern poverty, a poverty from which there seems no escape. As these generations of the poor wear on, violence becomes the overwhelming consequence, the only escape from servile humiliation.

What’s the answer to such lives? McCarthy, correctly, doesn’t say; that’s not the novelist’s responsibility. His responsibility is only to pose the problem.

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Find Truth, Tell It



With today’s media having been gobbled up by bottom-line-must-be-in-the black types, it’s hard for the book game to cultivate writers, and so we must do it ourselves. As I implied in this early post, writers have always found it hard to comment on their various societies, their foibles, their fledgling promise. We feel the pressure of politics, religion, and customs, aspects that support creaking social structures and deter us from looking at the unvarnished truths of our world. But this we must do; the power of the written word endures while politicians, preachers, and purveyors of the status quo wither and turn to dust. We writers and the fruits of our labors are the closest thing to immortality available in this evanescent world.

So be strong, writers. Don’t be swayed by the temporary comforts of politics, of religion and custom. Tell the truth, as you see it. Even though we’re mere chroniclers, our dedication to Truth, as Plato would have termed it, will outlast them all.


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