CULTURE

Joyce, Aristotle and a brace of Irish folk songs presented by an expert

New lecturers burst into song to make a point, but Fran O’Rourke did just that at his recent lecture on Joyce and Aristotle for the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens (IIHSA). In fact, he charmed his audience with an entire brace of songs that appear in Joyce’s work. The music was an integral part of presentation based on the extent and degree of Aristotle’s influence on Joyce – particularly his notions of order, analogy and the relation of art to nature – and the presence in Joyce’s writing of music and song, particularly Irish songs. O’Rourke is currently recording a CD with John Feeley, Ireland’s foremost classical guitarist, of a selection of songs which feature in Joyce’s writings. He has also recorded a CD of songs by Turlough Carolan with the late Derek Bell, formerly of the Dubliners band. A senior lecturer at University College Dublin, O’Rourke has a special interest in ancient philosophy, Neoplatonism, Aquinas and Heidegger. In the past 10 years, he has become what he calls «an amateur aficionado of Joyce.» Much traveled, multilingual and a regular visitor to Athens, where he keeps an apartment, O’Rourke has studied Ancient Greek and loves speaking Modern Greek. He talked to Kathimerini English Edition about Joyce, Aristotle and music. An aficionado You said your interest in Joyce was a hobby that had developed over the last 10 years. I was struck when reading «The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man» by how frequently he refers to Aristotle, and how frequently he draws on the language of scholasticism, the language of Aquinas, the terminology of Aquinas, and because I teach this, I thought it would be helpful as a means of getting across to students, many of whom study English literature and read Joyce. According to Plutarch, poetry opens and awakens the minds of the young to the teachings of philosophy. He said: «Whenever we find anything elegant and useful in the work of poets, we ought to foster and increase it with proof and evidence from the philosophers… since our faith will gain in strength and value whenever the teachings of Pythagoras and Plato agree with what is spoken on the stage or sung with the lyre.» Strabo reports that poetry was for the ancients «a kind of elementary philosophy which introduced one early to life and taught through the enjoyment of character, feeling and action.» So, poetry and philosophy, literature and philosophy, they have their separate methods, but they support one another. Music is obviously a big thing in your life. Yes and no. I regret that I don’t have better training in music. I feel a certain sympathy, a certain equality with Joyce. He took part in a competition, the year after John McCormack won it; McCormack went on to Italy and Joyce had similar aspirations. He sang extremely well and the judge had planned to give him first prize, but Joyce couldn’t sight read so he just threw the music away, walked off the stage and got third place. So I feel a certain sympathy with Joyce since I don’t have formal musical training. What I enjoy about Joyce is that he puts everything into all his writings from philosophy to phrases from traditional songs or nursery rhymes or one of the arias – he knew operas extremely well. While in Paris, he would go to the opera night after night to hear the same singer again and again. What strikes me is how he can bring in everything – whether it’s something from Plato or something from Heraclitus or something from Giordano Bruno, with an ordinary simple ballad, such as «The Croppy Boy.» And he sets that as the link throughout an entire episode of «Ulysses.» In other words, he’s transfusing the very quotidian into a matter of high artistic quality. He is the great artificer who transfuses and transforms everything. Joyce himself was interested in everything. He probably didn’t have an unpublished thought in his life, or an unpublished experience. Everything comes in, even things that he’d heard his father say. His father was a very funny person. There’s that line about Paddy Dignam, whose funeral wake corresponds to the Hades episode in «Ulysses,» and somebody wonders: «Are you sure he’s dead?» Then one of the characters says: «Well, they took the liberty of burying him this morning.» That’s a line he’d heard his father say. There’s a great description in «Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man» of his father, John Stanislaus Joyce: «A medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a storyteller, somebody’s secretary, something in a distillery, a tax gatherer, a bankrupt and at present a praiser of his own past.» Art and nature There was a parallel congeniality in both Joyce and Aristotle, an identical congeniality in them both toward the totality of nature. Joyce was more Aristotelian than he believed. It wasn’t just the theoretical concepts that he was working out – a theoretical solution to some intractable problem in early Greek philosophy – but a loving fascination toward the mundane world which was then the raw material for his art. When Aristotle said that art imitates nature, it isn’t that art has to make a copy of nature, but that the very process of the artifice is to work in a manner which is analogous to the creativity of nature as nature unfolds its marvels. Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens The Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens (IIHSA) was founded in 1995 to to establish a distinctive Irish voice in the study of Greece and its culture from antiquity onward, and to promote mutual understanding of Greek and Irish culture. Under the direction of Professor John Dillon, one of the foremost Plato scholars, the IIHSA has a permanent base in Athens which runs an active cultural program, while developing research and study programs, publications and archaeological work, including excavations in Cephalonia The next lecture is by leading Joyce scholar, David Norris, who will speak on Joyce and Homer on June 1, at the auditorium of the Danish Institute, 14a Chairefontos (Aghia Aikaterinis Square) Plaka, at 8 p.m. IIHSA tel 210.884.8074. asdgfasdfasdgsadfgsdfgsdfghadfgasdfgasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdf