Portrait of the Artist – Round 3 : Page 9

March 21st, 2008

“Do you want to talk about it?” Llewellyn inquires softly. She has been sitting patiently, while I absorb the implications of a lifetime.

“Well-it’s just that,” I stumble, trying to distill my impressions into inadequate verbal code. “Okay, it’s like this-if you’d ever asked me who I felt to be the greatest English-language novelist during the first half of the last century, I’d have told you, without hesitation, Joyce. He represents the quantum leap in form and structure in fiction, every bit as much as Einstein forever changed the way physicists think about their work. Yet I’ve always profoundly disagreed with him about his theory of literary art.”

Llewellyn is wearing her therapist’s mask. “You know, I read Portrait of the Artist probably ten years ago, as an undergrad. I can’t really say I remember his ideas on the subject clearly, if I ever did really understand. Perhaps you could describe the conflict.”

I inhale. Lecture time. “For one thing, I’ve always objected to his veneration of Aristotle and Aquinas. Heavyweight minds, certainly; but wrongheaded. In a philosophy-paper kind of way, they could just about equally share the blame for Western civilization’s ongoing rape-and-pillage approach to other cultures. And some of their thinking was quite absurd. Aristotle ‘proved’ the impossibility of the atom, showing quite clearly that there could never, logically, be a point beyond which matter could not be divided and retain it’s basic character. He also provided an excellent case for slavery and the subjugation of women. Aquinas ‘deduced’ the existence of a Christian god from the widespread success of Christianity; for how could it have taken over the ‘whole world’ otherwise?” I shake my head. “Nitwits.”

“Furthermore, I’ve never really understood what Joyce meant by his contention that Art should be ‘static, not kinetic’. As I’ve been made to understand this vacuity, the duty of the writer is to abstract his judgments from his work. To be a landscape painter with words. To reflect through the mosaic life itself. Not settle personal scores.”

“Well, when I read this, I was enraged! It immediately sounded all wrong, narrow. Were Huxley, Orwell, mere propagandists? The whole point of literature, I’d always felt, was to move you. If I had a novel political or religious view, I owed it to both myself and the reader to make the idea available. Not through rhetoric but technique. If I were clever enough, you’d never know you’d been changed, but there’s no finer and more delicate art than counter-propaganda. It’s why I write. Yet to James Joyce, I am a desecration.”

Llewellyn nods sympathetically. “This must be confusing for you.”

I find to my surprise she’s mistaken. “No, actually, things are clearer now. I’ve always felt a bit of terror in opposing the notions of a much greater writer. What did I fancy I knew that he didn’t? Now I just know Joyce-or, rather, I in the incarnation of James Joyce-was wrong. Victim of Jesuit propaganda. There can be no such thing as static literature, because selection of subject matter represents a kinetic decision in the production of art! By choosing what you write about, at the minimum, you are manipulating your audience! He was as guilty as anyone. How could you read Portrait and not be moved against the Catholic Church?”

“That’s a fairly common phenomenon,” Llewellyn says, nodding. “People who discover that they’d been famous figures find frequent points of similarity-underlying personality traits and life-struggle themes-but as often harbor a strong distaste for the previous incarnation’s major premises.” She smiles. “It’s a symptom of growth. I happen to know the reincarnation of Karl Marx, as it happens, and she feels the same way. Now she’s working on a spiritually-based social philosophy called ‘Tribal Collectivism’. A hippie chick. Used to go out with Crazy Bear, in fact, and he’s the earliest recorded reference we have. Sonofabitch is in the Bible. Numbers. Look it up.”

“Crazy Bear? In the Bible? Who was he, Moses?”

Llewellyn laughs. “No, and it’s a good thing he didn’t hear you say that. No, on the contrary, our friend was a little-known insurrectionist named Korah. Led an uprising against Moses and Aaron in the desert, said they were incompetent, any moron could have moved the Hebrews past the Sinai peninsula in a few weeks. According to the Bible, he and all his supporters, their families and livestock, were swallowed alive by the earth, which opened at God’s word to obliterate them. Of course, that’s not how C.B. tells it.”

I’m curious. “What’s his side?”

She shrugs. “It was a straight political execution. God had nothing to do with it. Moses had studied Atlantean magic as a prince in Egypt, which is the same place he got the idea for monotheism. The peasants honored as many gods as the market would bear, but the Pharaohs and their offspring worshipped the Sun, just like their ancestors from the Island. Moses had an Atlantean power rod, a crystal-tipped copper tube device for channeling TK. He used it to bury them alive. That’s also, of course, how he split the Red Sea.”

“How about you?” I ask, realizing she’s never peeped a word about her own transmigration. “Who have you been?”

“No one important, I’m afraid. Midwife and witch. Shaman. In every life I’ve recovered, I’ve been some kind of healer.”

“That seems very important.”

“It doesn’t get you into the history books, that’s for sure. Except occasionally as a statistic. I’m fairly sure I was burned at least once, during the Inquisition. It’s a recurring nightmare.”

Something’s been nagging at me. “You said ‘we.’ ‘He’s the earliest recorded reference we have.’ Who’s ‘we’?”

She hesitates. “A group. We compare notes on reincarnation.” She doesn’t elaborate and I decide not to pursue it. Why force her to lie to me?

“Thank you,” I swear I hear her say, though her lips don’t move. Then, most definitely aloud, “Why don’t we get you back into a trance, see what else we can come up with? You seem especially tuned in today.” She raises the volume on the music a notch. I close my eyes and ride the wave of time away from the shore.

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