WORD SEARCH with Adair Jones

James Joyce and the detritus of reality…

Posted in Rediscovered, Wanderings by Adair Jones on June 29, 2012

“If ‘Ulysses’ isn’t fit to read,” he once said, “life isn’t fit to live.”


Reblogged from The New Yorker:  A CRITIC AT LARGE

Silence, Exile, Punning

James Joyce’s chance encounters.


On a day in May, 1922, in Paris, a medical student named Pierre Mérigot de Treigny was asked by his teacher, Dr. Victor Morax, a well-known ophthalmologist, to attend to a patient who had telephoned complaining about pain from iritis, an inflammation of the eye. The student went to the patient’s apartment, in a residential hotel on the Rue de l’Université. Inside, he found a scene of disarray. Clothes were hanging everywhere; toilet articles were scattered around on chairs and the mantelpiece. A man wearing dark glasses and wrapped in a blanket was squatting in front of a pan that contained the remains of a chicken. A woman was sitting across from him. There was a half-empty bottle of wine next to them on the floor. The man was James Joyce. A few months before, on February 2nd, he had published what some people regarded then, and many people regard now, as the greatest work of prose fiction ever written in the English language.

The woman was Nora Barnacle. She and Joyce were unmarried, and had two teen-age children, Giorgio and Lucia, who were living with them in the two-room apartment. The conditions in which the student discovered them were not typical—Joyce lived in luxury whenever he could afford it, and often when he couldn’t—but the scene was emblematic. Joyce was a nomad. He was born in 1882, in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin, and grew up the oldest of ten surviving children. After he started school, his family changed houses nine times in eleven years, an itinerancy not always undertaken by choice. They sometimes moved, with their shrinking stock of possessions, at night, in order to escape the attention of creditors. They did not leave a forwarding address…

Read more:



In search of grass in literature

Posted in Rediscovered, Wanderings by Adair Jones on May 29, 2011

Grass in literature

There’s an ancient proverb in China: “Plant one bamboo shoot, cut bamboo for the rest of your life.” Bamboo is the largest member of the grass family.



Papyrus sedge was beaten into strips to form the earliest know ‘paper’ for writing. According to Theophrastus (371-287BC), who wrote the earliest known history of plants, papyrus sedge ranged from North Africa to as far away as Syria. Theophrastus’ extensive works were recorded on papyrus scrolls.


Milton speaks of God dressing the naked earth in his vivid re-imagining of the biblical creation story, Paradise Lost:

…when the bare Earth, till then
Desert and bare, unsightly, unadorn’d,
[He] Brought forth the tender Grass, whose verdure clad
Her Universal Face with pleasant green…
(Book VII, 313-316)



In Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (1807), William Wordsworth celebrates ‘splendour in the grass’, by which he refers to the child’s retention of some memory of paradise. This state glorifies children’s existence on earth, something lost to distracted adults.



In Ruth, a novel of seduction by Elizabeth Gaskell (1853), Jemima learns of Ruth’s illicit relationship and the truth surrounding the birth of Ruth’s son: “The diver, leaving the green sward, smooth and known…down in an instant in the horrid depths of the sea, close to some strange, ghastly, lidless-eyed monster, can hardly more feel his blood curdle at the near terror than did Jemima now.” The grassy bank represents safety, innocence; the lidless-eyed monster, the way the 19th Century viewed sex.



The title of Walt Whitman’s celebration of nature and the human body, Leaves of Grass (1855), was intended as a pun. “Leaves” is another word for the pages on which the poem is written, and “grass” was used by publishers of the day to refer to works of insignificance.



Because of blight, drought, grasshopper plagues, debt, and other troubles, Isak Dinesen was forced to sell her coffee farm in Africa. Her lover, Denis Finch-Hatton, was due for a farewell lunch but failed to arrive. She learned later that his plane crashed outside the city of Voi and he was killed. Because she and Finch-Hatton once spent lovely days in the Ngong Hills, Dinesen buried him there among the waving grasses. Later, years after her return to Europe, she heard from friends that a lion and a lioness had been frequently seen sitting on his grave. (Dinesen writes of this episode in her memoir, Out of Africa, first published in 1937.)



In A Thousand Plateaus (1980), the second part of their work Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari borrow the concept of a thousand plateaus from a Balinese Tantric tradition signifying a non-climactic orgasmic field. They reject hierarchical (or ‘arborescent’) organisation, which is vertical and linear, in favour of ‘rhysomatic’ organisation, which they see as being horizontal and therefore having the possibility for more connections. (I’m not kidding.)



Meanwhile, in a marijuana fog, Grady Tripp, the hero of Michael Chabon’s novel Wonder Boys (1995), broods about love and literature while he does just about everything possible to mess up his life. Getting high on pot, he says, “makes me feel like everything already happened five minutes ago.” Everything, that is, but growing up.


Mark O’Flynn gives us strange, mentally disabled Edgar, who collects dogs. When the dogs find the corpse of a man, Edgar is arrested for the murder. In Grassdogs (2006), the harrowing experience of prison life is contrasted with the wild, and often dangerous, freedom of the Australian landscape.


Rules for Writers: Hilary Mantel

Posted in Fundamentals, Wanderings by Adair Jones on March 21, 2011

1 Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.

2 Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande. Then do what it says, including the tasks you think are impossible. You will particularly hate the advice to write first thing in the morning, but if you can manage it, it might well be the best thing you ever do for yourself. This book is about becoming a writer from the inside out. Many later advice manuals derive from it. You don’t really need any others, though if you want to boost your confidence, “how to” books seldom do any harm. You can kick-start a whole book with some little writing exercise.

3 Write a book you’d like to read. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else? Don’t write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book’s ready.

4 If you have a good story idea, don’t assume it must form a prose narrative. It may work better as a play, a screenplay or a poem. Be flexible.

5 Be aware that anything that appears before “Chapter One” may be skipped. Don’t put your vital clue there.

6 First paragraphs can often be struck out. Are you performing a haka, or just shuffling your feet?

7 Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that’s the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don’t notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they’re trying too hard to instruct the reader.

8 Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.

9 If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.

10 Be ready for anything. Each new story has different demands and may throw up reasons to break these and all other rules. Except number one: you can’t give your soul to literature if you’re thinking about income tax.


From The Guardian.

Rules For Writers: Jonathan Franzen

Posted in Fundamentals, Wanderings by Adair Jones on March 20, 2011

1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

2 Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

3 Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.

4 Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

6 The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto biographical story than “The Meta­morphosis”.

7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.

8 It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10 You have to love before you can be relentless.


From The Guardian.

Rules for Writers: Anne Enright

Posted in Wanderings by Adair Jones on March 20, 2011

1 The first 12 years are the worst.

2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.

6 Try to be accurate about stuff.

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

8 You can also do all that with whiskey.

9 Have fun.

10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.


From The Guardian.

Rules for Writers: Colm Tóibín

Posted in Wanderings by Adair Jones on March 18, 2011

1 Finish everything you start.

2 Get on with it.

3 Stay in your mental pyjamas all day.

4 Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

5 No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working.

6 Work in the morning, a short break for lunch, work in the afternoon and then watch the six o’clock news and then go back to work until bed-time. Before bed, listen to Schubert, preferably some songs.

7 If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.

8 On Saturdays, you can watch an old Bergman film, preferably Persona or Autumn Sonata.

9 No going to London.

10 No going anywhere else either.


From The Guardian.

Rules for Writers: Jeanette Winterson

Posted in Wanderings by Adair Jones on March 16, 2011

1 Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.

2 Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.

3 Love what you do.

4 Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.

5 Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.

6 Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.

7 Take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.

8 Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.

9 Trust your creativity.

10 Enjoy this work!


From The Guardian.

Rules for Writers: Margaret Atwood

Posted in Wanderings by Adair Jones on March 15, 2011

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6 Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9 Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10 Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.



From The Guardian.

Rules for Writers: Joyce Carol Oates

Posted in Wanderings by Adair Jones on March 13, 2011

1 Don’t try to anticipate an “ideal reader” – there may be one, but he/she is reading someone else.

2 Don’t try to anticipate an “ideal reader” – except for yourself perhaps, sometime in the future.

3 Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!

4 Unless you are writing something very avant-garde – all gnarled, snarled and “obscure” – be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.

5 Unless you are writing something very post-modernist – self-conscious, self-reflexive and “provocative” – be alert for possibilities of using plain familiar words in place of polysyllabic “big” words.

6 Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

7 Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst.


From The Guardian.

In search of monsters in literature

Posted in Musings..., Rediscovered, Wanderings by Adair Jones on February 6, 2011

In search of monsters in literature

The monsters that appear on this list are significant to Western culture, influencing our childhood nightmares, standing in for social ills and sexual anxieties, representing the wayward creative process, and lending to our understanding of the dark side of human nature.  Through the human process of splitting off what we fear and projecting it onto something in the outside world, we are momentarily relieved.  However, once unleashed, the monster is no longer easily suppressed, takes on a life of its own, becomes uncontrollable and, therefore, all the  more powerful.


The Chimera

The Illiad, Homer, 8th century BC

Homer describes the chimera as “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire”.  Over centuries, it has come to mean “any vain, foolish, or incongruous fancy, or creature of the imagination”.




Metamorphoses, Ovid, 1st century

…She was very lovely once, the hope of many
An envoius suitor, and of all her beauties
Her hair was most beautiful–at least I heard so
From one who claimed he had seen her.  One day Neptune
Found her and raped her, in Minerva’s temple,
And the goddess turned away, and hid her eyes
Behind her shield, and, punishing the outrage
As it deserved, she changed her hair to serpents,
And even now, to frighten evildoers,
She carries on her breastplate metal vipers
To serve as awful warning of her vengeance.
(Rolfe Humphries translation, Book 4, 792-803)



Seven-headed beast

Book of Revelation of St John the Divine, around 95 AD

1. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. (Revelation 12:3)

2. And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. (Revelation 13:1, 2)

3. So he carried me away in the spirit unto the Wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. (Revelation 17:3)

What any of this might mean has been subject to centuries of wild speculation and made to serve political, religious and ideological purposes.




Beowulf, author unknown, early 8th century

Grendel spends his time terrorizing the people of Denmark, devouring thirty or more men at a time, until a Swedish hero named Beowulf take it upon himself to test his strength against him.  In the spirit of Anglo-Saxon epic poetry, Beowulf defeats the monster through cunning and ability.

All too often, when one monster is conquered, another arises to take its place. Grendel’s more fearsome mother arrives for revenge.  Beowulf fights and, after a protracted battle in a swamp, kills her too.




Othello, William Shakespeare, 1603

Iago is no supernatural monster, but one more insidious.  He is perhaps the first literary example of what we’ve come to identify as the ‘socio-path’, in other words, the enemy among us.  Throughout the play, Iago manipulates the emotions, insecurities, and behaviours of the characters to his own purposes, bringing tragedy to all.



Dr Frankenstein’s creation

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, 1818

Inspired by a dream, Mary Shelley’s story has come to represent the dangers of scientific ambition and intellectual hubris.  But it’s impossible to read Shelley’s story without acknowledging her early experience of pregnancy and stillbirth.  In a diary entry for March 19, 1915, the 17-year old Shelley records the loss of her first baby, a little girl: “Dream that my little baby came to life again, that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby.” An experience not far from Victor Frankenstein’s expressed desire: “I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.”



Bertha Antoinette Mason

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847

While many see Jane Eyre as a Victorian rags to riches tale, it’s actually something much more psychologically rich. Charlotte Bronte works through her ambivalence about the roles forced on women in mid-nineteenth century England. There is the experience of Bertha Antoinette, the madwoman in the attic, who is officially married to the Byronic hero, Mr Rochester.  She is demonised for her Creole origins, her sensuality, her other-ness.  On the surface of the story, Bertha is the novel’s monster; but when considered more deeply, it is her loss of  name, family, culture, and country that sets the course for her madness.  It is Mr Rochester who has taken this identity away from her—the exact thing he hopes to do to poor, plain, sensible Jane Eyre.  She resists where Bertha has succumbed.

When Rochester rushes into his flaming house to save Bertha, who has set the fire, it is his first act of authentic heroism, something that transforms him from ‘Byronic hero’ to actual hero.  He is injured, partially blinded, made disfigured—the inner monster appearing now on the exterior.  In death, Bertha is freed at last from her role as monster.  And Jane is now free to return to Thornfield in such a way as to retain her identity and independence and to marry Rochester as an equal partner.



Mr Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886

Mr Hyde is another type of interior monster.  While Mr Rochester is a kind of social construct—the preeminent male, the spoiled son, the Byronic hero as celebrated in novels—Mr Hyde reflects the war between good and evil each of us must wage within our own hearts. Are we to  be just and honorable, possessed of integrity?  Or are we to succumb to baser instincts?

The good Dr Jekyll develops an antidote to protect from his evil side, but it gradually loses its power to quell the monster within.  In one final moment of sanity, the good Dr Jekyll commits suicide.



Dracula, Bram Stoker, 1897

With all the recent fascination with vampires, much has been made of  the connection with vampires and anxiety about sex. While today’s watered-down representations of vampires focus on resistance, abstinence, and control of animal instincts, not to mention the deep-seated paternalism shown towards females, Stoker’s novel exhibits a more universal anxiety about sex.

The hero Jonathon Harker is simultaneously terrified by and stricken with desire for three vampire women who try to suck his blood and hold him captive.  At the same time, Dracula bites and ritually penetrates Harker’s fiancee’s friend Lucy, turning her from a pure, Vicorian lady into a creature of ‘voluptuous wantonness’.



Big Brother

1984, George Orwell,  1949

Written in the middle of the most violent century on record and at the onset of the Cold War, 1984 warns of totalitarian governments, invisible systems of control, and the intrusion of technology in everyday life.



The Beast, Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies, William Golding, 1954

A group of  boys are shipwrecked on an island believed to be inhabited by a ‘beast’. They leave this beast a pig’s head as an offering, which soon swarms with flies. Around this time, one of the group finds a dead parachutist hanging from a tree. The pig’s head and the dead parachutist conflate in the minds of the increasingly superstitious boys.  A primal dance leads to the murder of the one boy who recognises that ‘the beast’ is actually their own creation, fear made external.



Bob McCorkle

My Life as a Fake, Peter Carey, 2003

In a parallel to the Ern Malley affair, the second-rate poet, Christopher Chubb, in frustration at continuous rejections, creates the character of Bob McCorkle, complete with a birth certificate and a portrait cobbled together from other photographs.  He also fabricates a long poem, ‘ The Darkening Ecliptic’, a mosaic of  bits of prose and verse.  He sends it off to David Weiss the editor of a poetry magazine Personae. There is a furore over the poem’s ‘brilliance’, but because of some of the material, Weiss is put on trial for obscenity. As the trial progresses, it’s interrupted by a man claiming to be the real Bob McCorkle. Knowing the character of Bob McCorkle is a fiction, Chubb assumes this man is a lunatic who has assumed the McCorkle persona for some unknown, and probably insane, reason.

This new Bob McCorkle is the equivalent of the Frankenstein monster, wreaking revenge on society once he’s unleashed. He becomes Chubb’s tormentor, seeking to flesh out the remainder of his reality at Chubb’s expense. As his creator, McCorkle feels that Chubb must provide everything necessary for his existence and even steals facets of Chubb’s life from him.