Π O’s 24 Hours: Ulysses in Fitzroy

By | 1 December 2009
Every life is many days, day after day.
We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers,
ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives,
widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.
- James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922: p 273

Both Joyce's and Π O's treatment of the body imbues their respective epics with humanity, a quality that could be one of the defining features of the epic as a form. Neither epic constructs a traditional hero, which means that all characters can be portrayed as equally necessary. While Bloom (and, to a lesser extent, Stephen Dedalus) and Π O are heroic candidates, the narrative detail of each epic is filtered through their point of view, meaning their role is essentially passive. Their only actions–observing, imagining and communicating–are not traditionally heroic. Yet, in epics so thoroughly concerned with modes of communication, the value of keen observation and the sound and presentation of language, these passive actions do gain their own style of heroism. Johns-Putra has said, ‘If Bloom's imagination is what makes him heroic, this is no active heroism for it is imagination heroicised for its own sake. It is no wonder, then, that, as much as the text may be read as a heroicisation of Bloom, it is also a heroicisation of Joyce.' (2006: 165). In a scene in the Brothel section of Ulysses, Virag sings to Bloom: ‘I'm a tiny tiny thing / Ever flying in the spring/ Round and round a ringaring. / Long ago I was a king, / Now I do this kind of thing / On the wing, on the wing! / Bing!' (Joyce, 1922: 633). The response to this riddling song could be the unconventionally heroic narrators of Ulysses and 24 Hours. Long ago, the hero was a king, but now he is a fly on the wall, a wanderer, an observer.

If Joyce and Π O are heroicising themselves in their epics, it is not in a Romantic sense of writer as aesthetic hero–they are not suggesting that they are filled with sublime inspiration. Joyce makes fun of the notion of author as aesthetic hero in Ulysses, comparing fruitarians to ‘those literary ethereal people … Dreamy, cloudy, symbolistic. Esthetes they are. I wouldn't be surprised if it was that kind of food you see produces the like waves of the brain the poetical. For example one of those policemen sweating Irish stew into their shirts; you couldn't squeeze a line of poetry out of him. Don't know what poetry is even. Must be in a certain mood' (Joyce, 1922: 210),. By suggesting that one's diet affects one's ability to write poetry, he reduces artistic heroism to the result of a bodily necessity. To finish producing an epic–with its scale, audacious digression, wealth of content and ambitious diction–a writer, arguably, needs to heroicise himself or herself to a degree. That Π O wrote that he was brilliant and fantastic in his ‘Ego Poems' and that Joyce has Stephen Dedalus (commonly viewed as his alter-ego) say, ‘A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery' (Joyce, 1922: 243) suggests their heroic self-belief, particularly when exercising their own skepticism toward literature.

There are more parallels between Ulysses and 24 Hours. Both contain characters who dismiss Shakespeare as a madman. In Ulysses, ‘Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance,' (Joyce, 1922: 320) and in 24 Hours: ‘Poets! / They're not all there mate! / I'm telling ya! / Tell me ‘one' that's normal! / Which one's ‘normal'? / Was Shakespeare normal? -No- / He was around tha ‘twist' (mate)' (Π O, 1996: 668). These references reveal Joyce's and π.O.'s shared sympathy for the man in Brunswick St (be it in Dublin or Fitzroy) who isn't literate but can tell a story. ‘The human voice, two tiny silky cords. Wonderful, more than all the others' (Joyce, 1922: 357), Bloom says of the ‘Sirens' in the pub. Joyce and Π O would probably agree on this assessment of the human voice, not necessarily the singing voice, but the phrases used in everyday conversation and the internal voice of everyday thought.

These voices, though forced to stand still, are free from the fetters of correct spelling and grammar. Both Joyce and Π O treat orthodox forms of writing–newspaper articles, advertisements and literature–with suspicion. Joyce allows this to slip in: ‘What is home without / Plumtree's Potted Meat? / Incomplete. / With it an abode of bliss' (91), but only as a realistic element of Bloom's stream of consciousness. Meanwhile, after satirising a news report of a Fitzroy crime wave, Π O is unable to resist injecting it with his own, more passionate voice: ‘Det-Sgt (Name / Witheld) told Reporters / that as part of their TRAINING / Officers were required, by the department / to FIRE a MINIMUM / of 132 shots! / “I think / that it's fair enough to say / that / if you haven't HIT / what you were AIMING AT / by THEN / you've got / problems!” / The Inquiry is continueing…………………!' (Π O, 1996: 426). In 24 Hours, unorthodox punctuation, capitalising and spelling signals a sincerity and truth; accuracy suggests literary inhibition. ‘Howw yoo speling/ ‘Pichka maa'tra'?!' A bloke asks Π O, on discovering that he's a poet. ‘Guess! i say. /……………..Make it up! I…do. / What's tha use / of ‘learning' (then)?, he sez' (Π O, 1996: 488). Exactly, the audience might respond. If communication does not rely on these rules, then why keep them? Another instance of this opinion occurs in Carlo's remarkably apt analogy between chess and spelling: ‘there's no such thing / as an ‘Un-beatable' / player: (a.) (a.) No! No such animal! / It's like, / being able to ‘spell' all the words / in the English / language: 100%! / Can't be done! / 70. 75 porsen' (o'rayt)! / Bu' … n-owun huntret porsen'.' (Π O, 1996: 327). Considering the variables of chess and the constant growth and movement of language, this is a sensible point. Joyce demonstrates a comparable view of correct spelling in this satirical excerpt from the Newspaper chapter: ‘It is amusing to view the unpar one ar alleled embarra two ars is it? double ess ment of a harassed pedlar while gauging au the symmetry of a peeled pear under a cemetery wall. Silly, isn't it? Cemetery put in of course on account of the symmetry.' (Joyce, 1922: 154).

Both writers realise that ‘Everything speaks in its own way' (Joyce, 1922: 154), unshackled from rules, and each would prefer that a voice occurred organically, like Stephen Dedalus' walking rhythm: ‘Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching. No, agallop: deline the mare' (Joyce, 1922: 46). Compare this to the intuitive meter of Π O's observations as he walks through the suburb: ‘On the window / of an old-shop that's been / boarded-up a long time, someone's / written (using their / finger): HELLO OUT THERE / – TOM IS HUNGRY!' (Π O, 1996: 9). The finger-writing in this example is the sort of voice Π O prefers (to the pretentious, conscious poetry of, say, Dedalus; despite their shared walking rhythm, the two are dissimilar poets) because it is direct and truthful. In 24 Hours, there are several poems by characters who have written to express emotion. George, who is due in court the next day, leaves poems on Π O's table, the best of which, according to Π O, was:

‘Wy'
Wy am i angree
all the time
is it God
is it the Gaverment
is it my family
is it my friends
is it the sistem
is it the wars
is it the hunger
is it the Wold
is it me
can you teel me
wy am i angree
all the time.

(Π O, 1996: 467)

Although this poem is written, it is not in a ‘literate' voice. It is in George's speaking voice and contains no unnecessary, literary flourishes. While Π O's narrative voice contains the occasional flourish–such as, ‘Tone stands-Up / pulls-out a plastic bag from / under his crotch, /……………and throws it on the Table. / [The whole room / balloons-Out like it's been hit / by a Tornado]! / The girl on the couch sits Up! / Her ‘heart' starts / ‘pounding' like it made of ‘wind'! / (((She wants some)))!!!' (Π O, 1996: 540),with its heavy, but perfect, similes– these flourishes are more observational than literary. If it is possible to distinguish between what is being observed and how the observation is recorded, then Π O's priority is the former. The same is true of Bloom: when he is writing in the sand on the Sandymount Strand beach, Bloom only gets as far as ‘I … / AM. A.' before thinking: ‘No room. Let it go.' (Joyce, 1922: 498). While Joyce allows his anti-hero's observations to be rich and varied in thought, he does not let the man express himself in writing.

This loyalty to the spoken or thought voice, and this attempt to outdo the limitations of the written or literary voice, are marks of Joyce's and Π O's respect for the oral tradition of the epic. This respect, combined with scale, quality of digression, treatment of heroism as anti-heroism, treatment of history and time, and humanity, makes both Ulysses and 24 Hours strong examples of modernist and contemporary epic forms.

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