Reflections on a discarded set of proofs

—Daniel Ferrer, 19 janvier 2007

In the last days of 1921, Joyce sent Darantiere, his Dijon printer, yet another set of corrections on a gathering of proofs for the Messianic episode in « Circe »1. These corrections, mostly additions, represent the last throes of a process of accretion that resulted in the transformation of two lines of dialogue into a 20 page long scene. The general history of the passage is well documented and has been the subject of several studies. But this ultimate set of proofs enjoys a particular, marginal status. As such, it will provide a good vantage point for some general remarks about genetic criticism.

Authority as supplement: plea for a reprieve

Before we consider the corrections themselves, we must take note of a sentence, on top of the first page, which is not included in any edition of Ulysses, although it is written in Joyce’s hand (it is even signed). In spite of its unquestioned authority, it cannot be construed as part of the text. Although they certainly belong to the pre‑text, such sentences do not find their place in tables of variants or synopses of versions. I am referring to the instruction to the printer that can be seen on top of the first page (Illustration 1). Usually, on the ultimate pulling of a gathering of proofs, Joyce writes the conventional formula, « Bon à tirer » (passed for press, literally « good enough to be pulled ») or « bon à tirer avec les corrections » (passed for press providing that the corrections are made). But this time, the situation was different. A few days earlier, Joyce had precisely sent a duplicate of this same gathering with the words « bon à tirer avec les corrections James Joyce », followed by the indispensable countersign of Sylvia Beach, underwriting its passport to textual eternity. He knew, then, that if his own instructions had been carried promptly, this would arrive too late. Darantiere’s patience must not be tried too far. And the self‑imposed dead‑line (his birthday) was drawing very near. So he wrote, almost pleadingly (in his correspondence with the printers of Dubliners he had adopted a very different tone and attitude…): « Corrections supplémentaires si encore possibles James Joyce » (Supplementary corrections if still possible James Joyce).
The institution of the « Bon à tirer » has a great importance for genetic criticism, for it marked historically the simultaneous birth of the modern text and its counterpart, the pre‑text, the authorial working manuscript2. It established a disjunction between the private sphere of creation and the public sphere of the printed text. Here, Joyce’s literal encroachment blurs the sharpness of the divide. It can be taken as a symbol of Joyce’s attempt to subvert this limit 3, as well as all the other limits that constitute textuality, an attempt that will become more and more radical during the twenties and thirties. The stuttering of the author’s official last word upon his text destroys the quasi‑legal fiction of a unified authorial intention. Intention is revealed as a fluctuating, time‑bound transaction between a series of writing events and a series of external constraints.
The desperate effort to keep open the possibilities of writing (« si encore possibles ») and to postpone the closure inherent to the written text, is representative of the Modern predilection for potentialities and processes over the finished work of art. The current development of genetic criticism is undoubtedly part of the same tendency.

Acts of writing

The complex action represented by the sending of this duplicate and the writing of this sentence reminds us that genetic criticism is not only concerned with textual material, but also (or primarily) with actions: speech acts, or rather acts of writing. Instructions, self‑addressed or directed towards amanuenses or printers are the clearest expression of what we could call this « pragmatic layer » of the pre‑text. The simplest set of instructions (the one that is at the basis of traditional philology) is generally not formulated in so many words: « include this » (normally implied by any undeleted sentence) as opposed to « don’t include this » (expressed by an erasure, a crossing out or a deleatur in the margin).
Instructions, however, can be much more ambiguous or much more complex. How are we to understand a circle drawn around a word or a sentence? What are we to make of Joyce’s notorious colour crayons? The Linati and Gorman schemata represent another difficult case: a set of writing instructions converted into reading instructions. A note can be paraphrased as a self‑instruction to « remember this », or rather « remember to use this in a certain context ». But we usually do not know this context, except retrospectively, from its finished state, which is doubly misleading: because the author might have changed his mind and used the note in a completely different place (see above, about the historicity of intention) and if he did not, the context as we know it is necessarily influenced by the insertion of the element from the notes, and we have no way of knowing exactly what it was like at the moment of note taking...
Usually instructions that are not self‑addressed are less ambiguous. But our « Corrections supplémentaires si encore possibles James Joyce » proves that they are not necessarily a simple matter either. How are we to interpret Joyce’s instruction addressed to Madame Raphael to transcribe his illegible notebooks? And what would have been, we wonder, the instructions given by Joyce to James Stephen if he had pursued his idea to entrust him with the completion of Finnegans Wake?

« If he consented to maintain three or four points which I consider essential and I showed him the threads he could finish the design. »4

Should these instructions be miraculously recovered, they would of course be an invaluable help for genetic criticism, but if we were naive enough to believe that they would supersede any other genetic investigation into Finnegans Wake, the vicissitudes of author’s intention that can be observed in the « Circe » documents from which we have started would be sufficient to convince us of the contrary.

Spatial and temporal contexts

It is time to return to our proofs and see what happened to the corrections they (conditionally) prescribed.
Strictly speaking, nothing happened, because they arrived too late. Darrantiere had acted diligently on reception of the first « bon à tirer » and returned the unimplemented supplementary batch of proofs. This presents an interesting problem because it puts the corrections in a kind of textual limbo, belonging to a stage which is posterior to the completion of the passage, but anterior to the completion of Ulysses as a whole. The context of this passage called for these corrections, but the end of the book was written in the context of their absence from the passage... The difficulty is made particularly conspicuous by the fact that some of the material was later used in different places. Joyce accepted the impossibility of printing the passage as he wanted it (or as he had wanted it on the twelfth of December 1921) but he was loathe to waste some of the things he had added there. He inserted at least two elements in the part of « Circe » on which he was working when the proofs were returned to him. To make matters more complicated, the transfer (as was to be expected) did not leave these elements intact.
The first and most conspicuous case is the reimplantation (Illustrations 2 and 3) in the last pages of « Circe » of the following failed insertion:

The two passages are not quite identical. Some of the changes are directly related to the new location: this archetypal incarnation of the Irish wild geese, who was adding his own very idiosyncratic voice to the general reprobation of Bloom, is now involved in the confrontation between Stephen and the British soldiers. The anti‑Semitic outburst is thus converted, with the necessary adjustments, into anti‑British ranting. But the modifications are also connected with the temporal (as opposed to the spatial) context. The very fact that the insertion was suspended induced an evolution of the passage. The language of the cosmopolitan exile has become even more international and seems to have moved one step forward towards Finnegans Wake. Michael Groden has shown how Ulysses as a whole is the result of the layering of three different large temporal contexts, corresponding to what he calls the Early, Middle and Last Stages5. Here, we have a chance to observe an interference between two micro‑contexts within the Last Stage. The passage is re‑written in accordance with what is, perhaps, a stylistic evolution, or at the very least a slight change of intention, which has occurred within a few weeks, in the process of writing « Circe ». It is a process of interaction or transaction, for the influence is reciprocal. The new context is modified by the insertion of the element from the earlier context: the end of the chapter acquires, through this insertion, something of the sheer exuberance characteristic of the Messianic episode.
This example raises in an unusual but very acute way the problem of the interpretation of genetic paradigms. Unusual, because we are normally confronted with substitutions of elements in a fixed context (for instance « And as for the Germans » modified as « And as for the Prooshians and Hanoverians »6), while here, it is the inserted element which remains fixed, while the context fluctuates. But the problem remains the same: what is the relation between the two substituted elements. Can we say that « Prooshians and Hanoverians » is equivalent to « Germans »? The substitution implies that the two items belong to the same paradigmatic category, but it also implies that they are not absolutely identical. What do they have in common? In what respect are they different? A local answer is impossible (genetic investigations typically raise multiple questions and provide very few direct solutions). Indications will have to be sought both in the spatial (immediate vicinity and long range structural relationships) and in the temporal context (contemporary substitutions throughout the book and history of that particular passage). Symmetrically, the substitution of contexts around the « Circe » insertion suggests an equivalence between the Irish anti‑British xenophobia and anti‑Semitism. It would not, however, be conclusive if it was not supported by the « Cyclops » episode. It also suggests a parallel between the ordeals of Bloom, excluded as a foreign element even by the arch‑cosmopolitan Don Emile Patrizio Franz Rupert Pope Hennessy, and of Stephen, integrated by force in a community of hatred from which he cannot escape, but the context of the whole book is necessary to specify such a parallel.

Writing events: the text in the mirror of its own development

The importance of the spatio‑temporal context and the notion of writing event appear in a clearer form in the next example. On the following page of the same set of proofs (Archive 26, p. 176), Joyce had wanted to develop a brief reference to Haendel’s Alleluia (Illustration 4). Again, when he found out that the correction had not been made, he recirculated the material in a different context, but the transformation that ensued changed it almost beyond recognition. This time it was reinserted in the Black Mass scene (Illustration 5). What happened then demonstrates in the most graphic way (almost caricatural, one might say) the inertia of the signifier and the dynamics of writing...  Because of the poor quality of the paper on which the proofs were printed, Joyce’s corrections, marked with ink, ran through the page, so that they are clearly readable, in inverted mirror form, on the verso (Illustration 6). This accident, in the immediate context of the Black Mass (traditionally supposed to be celebrated as a literal inversion of the Holy Mass) triggered the following expansion of the scene on the next proofs (Illustration 7):

The published version of the scene looks so integrated that it seems difficult to believe that its elements belong to different strata of writing and that its present form is the result of a series of accidents (late proofs, absorbent paper...). Is it possible, for instance, that Adonai’s Goooooooooood was not meant from the start to be an inverted echo of Dooooooooooog? The documents prove it beyond any doubt, but this does not weaken the prevalence of the relationship established a posteriori between the two elements. It simply forces us to consider that the mirror effect cannot be the sole motivation for the older element and to look for other relationships. Again, no direct answers, but new questions. No simplifying solutions but a complexification of issues.
This amazing case of specular involution is of course quite exceptional, but it is representative of the constant interaction between the internal logic of writing and a flow of events that can be minute occurrences (coming to the end of the line or the page…) or portentous literary, biographical, social or political circumstances. Although their combined impact shapes the text as we know it, neither external events nor internal logic can be directly recovered from its final form: it is the business of genetic criticism to disentangle them, with the help of all the documents it can get, even if these are not « direct linear antecedents ».


1  Gathering #30 according to the Archive numbering. Archive 26, p. 171‑186.

2  See in particular Bernard Cerquiligni,Éloge de la variante. Histoire critique de la philologie, Paris, Seuil, 1989.

3   See D. Ferrer, « Les carnets de Joyce, avant‑textes limites d’une œuvre limite », Genesis n° 3, 1993.

4 Letters I, p. 253.

5  Ulysse  in Progress, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1977.

6  On the « Cyclops » galley proofs. See Archive 19, p. 171.

Pour citer cette page

Daniel Ferrer, «Reflections on a discarded set of proofs», Item [En ligne],
Mis en ligne le: 19 janvier 2007
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Notice bibliographique

« Reflections on a discarded set of proofs » in David Hayman et Sam Slote, eds., Genetic Studies in Joyce : PROBES, Rodopi, 1995, (p. )

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