By: Spencer Ruchti
James Joyce: A Dubliner born, a writer made. So successful that Ulysses is known to many, including myself, as the greatest novel ever written. Joyce’s masterpiece breaks the reality of what is “normal” and “conventional” in any novel setting – it takes the English word and language and it makes a mockery out of it. Suddenly, it was known to the world that anything could be done with language and the novel. Joyce wrote the chapter “Siren” in the form of a fugue, a type of musical composition. If you have no idea what I mean, or how a writer could compose music from language, you’re among millions who ponder at Joyce’s genius. Joyce captured the essence of the human conscience through his zigging-and-zagging “stream-of-consciousness” narration. He broke the form, tore reality. Laughed at what most writers strove for and created a new language.
And Joyce recognized his own genius. He touted it. In his first meeting with renowned poet W.B. Yeats, at the age of 20, Joyce said he was disappointed because Yeats was too old, and Joyce would thus have no influence on his work. He cajoled his family and friends for money, came home a drunken, sometimes abusive mess, and became wrapped up in his own work with rare concern for others; even those who helped him in his struggle to publish were often forgotten after. The man was constantly moving on and on and on, lathering in his own genius until he finally lost sight of humanity. But he was a genius. My God, he was a genius.
Why must genius be privy to loss of proper human morality? Of connection to humankind? The line between insanity and superior intelligence grows thinner and thinner when it comes to the lives of the artists of our age. Which is why the world in which they develop, the art that influences them, the surrounding land and humanity that brings them to awe and tears, is important in deciphering the psychology, the frame of mind a writer grows into like a second skin; what factors, and at what point do madness and genius diverge? Are they two paths of the same branch, or are they opposite ends of the spectrum?
How might one unlock genius?