James Joyce the man, as observed by his interviewer in Paris 1922

James Joyce portrait by Djuna Barnes, 1922

I stumbled across this rare and uplifting James Joyce interview, as signposted by Maria Popova over on the wonderful Brain Pickings on St Patrick’s Day, this week.

Writers of a certain era, before the mass-marketisation of journalism, are destined to be judged almost exclusively by their published works, so we can be hugely grateful that Djuna Barnes not only had the inclination to record Joyce through the medium of [21st century speak alert] the “longform interview”, but that she also found a willing editor/platform combination in Frank Crowninshield and Vanity Fair .

Barnes, who in the words of Popova was writing literary journalism decades before the great Gay Talese pioneered it, provides an exceptional portrait – in words and pictures – of Joyce in 1922, soon afterthe publication of Ulysses.

Barnes got to know Joyce over the course of four months in Paris, during which they “talked of death, of rats, of horses, of the sea; languages, climates and offerings. Of artists and of Ireland.”

And in the space of a few minutes through her omniscient eyes and omnipotent prose we find ourselves closer to a picture of Joyce the man than any in-depth reading of his work can provide – right down to the typically Irish beard-redness.

On Ulysses:

The pity is, the public will demand and find a moral in my book — or worse, they may take it in some more serious way, and on the honor of a gentleman, there is not one single serious line in it.

They are all there, the great talkers, them and the things they forgot. In Ulysses I have recorded, simultaneously, what a man says, sees, thinks, and what such seeing, thinking, saying does to what you Freudians call the subconscious.

On saintly superstition:

“Once he was reading out of the book of saints (he is never without it) and muttering to himself that this particular day’s saint was “a devil of a fellow for bringing on the rain, and we wanting to go for a stroll.”

And perhaps the most concise and telling artist’s manifesto of them all:

I will not serve that which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church; and I will try to express myself in my art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use: silence, exile, and cunning.

You can read the Brain Pickings piece here

Find Interviews by Djuna Barnes on Amazon here