Russell debt

Æ IOU: two debts to Russell?


 


U
9.48-50: Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.


Part One: Finding formless spiritual essences

 

George Russell's dictum was first enunciated in an article entitled "Art and Literature", which he contributed as A.E. to the first number of the magazine Shanachie. The periodical  also contained a piece by Thomas Goodwin Keohler, who may very well have provided his absent friend Joyce with a copy.


I'm afraid it is easier to define spirituality in literature than in art. But a literary definition may help. Spirituality is the power certain minds have of apprehending formless spiritual essences, of seeing the eternal in the transitory, of relating the particular to the universal, the type to the archetype. While I give this definition, I hope no artist will ever be insane enough to make it the guiding principle of his art. I shudder to think of any conscious attempt in a picture to relate the type to the archetype.

                                                                  Shanachie (1906) vol. 1, p. 108


            As in the case of Elijah it turns out that Joyce created a montage of elements, original or attributed, that constitute the ‘authentic’ language of a real-life character in Ulysses.

 

 

Part Two: Out of how deep a quote does it spring? 

 


In his James Joyce: a student's guide (1978) Matthew Hodgart mentions that:

 

Frank O'Connor told AE in his later years that Joyce had made him say in this chapter, "The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring," to which AE replied, "How clever of Joyce: I might have said something like that." "He said it every day," O'Connor comments. (p. 95)

 

        In view of the following excerpt from an article in the Fortnightly Review it seems very likely that Russell had appropriated William Sharp, like Yeats a member of the Golden Dawn, who wrote under the pen name ‘Fiona MacLeod’ (a well-kept secret until after his death in 1905):


In the Palace of Art are many windows. There is room for the few Celtic minds who wish to look out upon new vistas, to weave a new beauty: but if one of these care to leave his standpoint for another outlook, what matter - since he goes only to another vista - so long as he charm us again with subtle phrase and delicate music? If Mr. Yeats will write a London romance, or if Mr. George Russell will sing the strenuous life of the hour, I will read either with pleasure; for it is not mythological and actual Ireland that interest me in Mr. Yeats' work, nor the spiritual world that interests me in Mr. Russell's work, but Mr. Yeats' interpretation of Irish things, whether mythological or actual, and Mr. Russell's interpretation of spiritual things - and this interpretation being native and of the inmost spirit, it would surely be apparent in whatsoever either wrote, so long as the pulse in the pen beat to the pulse in the mind.


I no longer consider paramountly, concerning a new book, how much of what is excellent is comprised in its pages, or with what skill the web is woven; not even if it is beautiful; but, out of how deep a life does it come.

Fortnightly Review, vol. 71 (1899), January, p. 35

 

        An eighteen-year-old Joyce contributed his "Ibsen's New Drama" to the Fortnightly Review in April 1900. It seems safe to assume that he had a look at earlier numbers before he sent it off.

 

Harald Beck


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