JAMES JOYCE VS COMMON

by on Jan.18, 2011

OR ON THE MYSTIC TECHNOLOGY OF THE RECENTLY ANTIQUE

If my Pollyanna post-New Year’s naivete is intact in the next few weeks, then you should be seeing posts from me soon about Chinese narratology, the Giffords shooting, and the Medieval era. In the meantime, I would like to bring to your attention the little known fact that in 2004 hip hop artist Common attempted to place a rotary phone call to God–or to quote his metaphysical flow: “Tried to call, or at least beep the Lord, but didn’t have a touch-tone.”

One pauses to ask a battery of banal and literal questions. What would such a phone service look like? Is the phone bill outrageous? When it counts night and weekends, does heaven have a separate time zone? Is the Heavenly Father more of a text person or a phone person? It just so happens that this telecommunications infrastructure had already been envisioned by James Joyce, who writes in an early chapter of Ulysses: “The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought.” Harry Blamires glosses this as follows:

Opening his eyes, [Stephen] sees two midwives coming down the steps from Leahy’s Terrace. One of them, Florence, widow of Patrick MacCabe, carries a bag. Stephen pictures its contents–‘a misbirth with a trailing navel-cord, hushed in ruddy wool’. Hence he reflects on the network of navel-cords linking all humanity together, back to Eve. (So monks show themselves bound together in linked membership of the mystical Body by their girdles.) The network is like a telephone system linking all men to the central exchange, the navel-less bellof of Eve. Stephen fancifully asks to be put through to Eve, ringing Edenville ‘Aleph, alpha; nought, nought, one’.

All of which leads to the inevitable question: Joyce and Common both place a call to God. WHO WILL GET THERE FIRST?

POST SCRIPT

1. I believe that in Dorothy Sayers’s notes to Dante’s Inferno, she describes the ghosts of Ulysses and others as less like characters than like floating telephones that levitate down to Virgil and Dante, activate and orate, and then shut off and recede back into the infernal distance.

2. Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL, which I wrote about here, presents a necromantic television on which one can see the souls of hell.

3. “Gaze in your omphalos”–is this the etymology of that clichéd pejorative of difficult literature: navel-gazing?

4. This post is indebted to poet and visual artist Youmna Chlala.

4 comments for this entry:
  1. hhc

    and was the protestant reformation the switch from operator switchboards to direct lines?

  2. Aaron Apps

    Quick Correction: The Blackstar song is from 1998 not 2004.

  3. Aaron Apps

    Quick Correction: the Blackstar track is from 1998 not 2004.

  4. Michael Peverett

    The phonecall to Kafka’s Castle would fit nicely in here…