What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Joyce's Commonplace

The caption under the illustration for Louis Menand’s “Silence, Exile, Punning” (The New Yorker, July 2, 2012) is inaccurate and misleading. It says: “The detritus of reality is the material of Joyce’s fiction.” Detritus? In his piece, Menand doesn’t use the word “detritus.” He says, “the materials of Joyce’s fiction are found objects, ‘the reality of experience,’ as Stephen puts it at the end of A Portrait of the Artist.” Richard Ellmann, in his brilliant James Joyce (1959), states, “The initial and determining act of judgment in his work is the justification of the commonplace.” He further says, “Joyce’s discovery, so humanistic that he would have been embarrassed to disclose it out of context, was that the ordinary is the extraordinary.” Joyce’s materials were humble, but they weren’t trash. 

Credit: The above portrait of James Joyce is by Delphine Lebourgeois; it appears in The New Yorker, July 2, 2012, as an illustration for Louis Menand's "Silence, Exile, Punning."

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