Eugene Jolas was the American responsible for publishing in his journal transition, slowly and in small segments, what would become James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in 1940. While the Wake was slowly being published, much of the circle around Joyce were already seeing advanced copies of the drafts (which would be much modified over the next 15 years, becoming increasingly complex).
They published a book of criticism of the work that had not yet been published that is now a classic, although scarcely anyone has heard of it: Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. This remarkable work, really a pre-Wake, is well worth digging in to if you are into James Joyce and especially if you are into the Wake.
Clearly the Wake is an acquired taste. A casual inspection reveals it to appear to be nothing but utter nonsense incapable of being read by any human being. However, there was a method to the madness, and this is actually a highly complex work with very little fluff and nonsense about it. People are still piecing together the crossword puzzle today.
Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress contains essays by Samuel Beckett, Marcel Brion, Robert Sage, William Carlos Williams, Frank Budgen, Stuart Gilbert, Eugene Jolas, Robert McAlmon, Thomas McGreevy, Elliot Paul, John Rodker, and Victor Llona.
Most of these fine men of letters are buried in memory today, and only Williams and especially Beckett are still well-known and widely read.
By the way, if you are into Beckett, you really need to check out Joyce. A look at Beckett’s little known first novel just published recently reveals that at least at the start of his career, Beckett was very heavily influenced by Joyce. That first novel is almost too Joycean, an imitation or near-imitation.
Beckett would later branch out in his own direction pursuing what was later known as John Barth’s literature of exhaustion or simply the utter reduction of all of life to the coffee grounds of utter minimalist negation and nihilism.
As Joyce expanded literature the novel to its furthest possible dimensions, Beckett squeezed literature in the opposite direction, towards sheer barren minimalism.
So you see, Beckett and Joyce were doing the same ting but in different directions, one expanding literature to its universal extension and the other crunching all of it into the tiniest, weakest and most pathetic proton of nothingness.
Eugene Jolas is another great writer lost to the mists of time, though if you go to the West Bank of the Seine and dream yourself to the edge of the last Great War, you may still catch a whiff of his former presence in a cafe or two. If you find him, say hello to the wisps of Henry Miller, Djuna Barnes, Anais Nin, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett and Jean Paul Sartre. They may still be astir.
Jolas was a fine writer. Check out this fantastic little forgotten gem titled Vertigralist Pamphlet. This piece can be found in another buried treasure, Spearhead: 10 Years’ Experimental Writing in America, edited by James Laughlin by New Directions Press, the Dalkey Archive of its time.
The contributors alone are a gallery of greats, some forgotten, others remembered: Anaïs Nin, James Laughlin, Delmore Schwartz, Oscar Williams, Paul Goodman, Parker Tyler, Robert Lowry, José García Villa, Djuna Barnes, and Marianne Moore. Presently Moore, Schwartz, Nin, Goodman, and Barnes are still well known.
The book includes an excerpt of Djuna Barnes’ great novel Nightwood from 1938. This remarkable novel is one of the greatest books of the 20th Century. It makes it onto many Top 100 Novels of the Century lists.
Jolas’ short work has also been reprinted here in Eugene Jolas: Critical Writings, 1924-1951, published only several years ago in 2009 by Northwestern University Press. As casual glimpse through that work on Google Books shows that much if not all of the work is about on the same level as this rare metal below.
Here is a page flapping in the wind from an excerpt of the work, merely the last page but fine enough for a lingering taste like an expensive wine.
by Eugene Jolas
We may be passing through an inner mutation which, eventually, will give us the capacity for a new vision, the third eye, the zenith vision, the gift of peering into eternity, which will permit us to comprehend the idea of Psychic Time, the multi-dimensional stratification of Time, cosmic Time.
This will probably be the human being foreshadowed by the great scientist and visionary, C. G. Fechner, in his astonishing book, Zend-Avesta: the man who will participate in the collective consciousness, with the “world-soul”.
This eternal principle can no longer be found in the creative arts today.
I am convinced, however, that the creative instinct should be identical with the instinct of ascension. The arts are analogous to existential mysticism and, as such, should once more become conjuration, a mantic means of liberation or exorcism.
Their role should be to emancipate the human being from the obsession of fear in the world of matter.
They should mirror the expansion of consciousness in a migration to higher space, to the supernatural, to “the divine dark”.
For this a cosmic expression and form, a planetary imagination, are needed:
The cloud glass city.
The skyscraper-cathedral of New York.
Monumental sculptures as ritualistic symbols of a communal celestial aspiration.
Polyphonic music as hymnic expression, pan-rhythmic liberation, the chorus mysticus. Synthesis of the terrestial and the celestial emotion. The human being participating in a seraphic chant. This music to be executed not only in concert-halls, but diffused in the open, or in gigantic buildings that are adequate to its architectonic universalism.
Absolute painting giving the colour-vision of the bridge between the finite and the infinite.
Poetry taken in the universal sense of Dichtung, or the sacred logos.
A new art of the word in a constant interweaving of lyric and epic expression.
Invention of new languages to voice the inter-linguistic sense of unio mystica.
The word as rune, as liturgy, as a hymnic eulogy, as incantation.
The phantasmatic metaphor.
All the arts interpenetrating in the mutation from the frontier-world of the three-dimensional consciousness to the experience of a multidensional, frontierless cosmos.
All the arts, combining past, present and future, building the new myth of the heightened creative life.