The Meaning of Life, Untold

The ending scene of the last story in the Dubliners, by James Joyce, happens when a middle-aged schoolteacher looks out the windows of his house at a dinner party, and watches the falling snow. Somehow our boy Joyce took the simple and created a profound, spiritual event out of it.

The guy looking out the window is James Joyce, if he had stayed in Ireland, or wherever he’s from, and not gone out to help lead the Lost Soldiers. For him, staying in Ireland meant getting a potbelly, grading papers for mediocre students in a mediocre town, and existing in a “lesser” existence. By “lesser” we mean that he didn’t fulfill his destiny of writing books that no one understands; taking the easy road out, coasting through life and not challenging himself. The pot belly, duh, doesn’t really sound like the “real” James Joyce, does it? But what he’s saying is, the potbelly Joyce is the real Joyce, just in a different universe. It’s just as real, as evidenced by the realness of the moment pot belly looks outside and reflects on the snow. That moment exists, because we read the story, and we know what really happened to James Joyce, and it’s very clear that the person in the story is an alternate version of a middle-aged James Joyce.

But what gets me really twisted off about the story, is that he wrote it when he was only 20 or so. He wrote a bunch of short stories, and BAM, they’re published, and that was it. He wrote a story about his alternate future self, and if you can let yourself go there, he created a different reality. In the future. It’s weird, right?

In another book, The Beach, there’s a scene where the guy is laying on the beach talking to the girl, and he gets all metaphysical and alternate-universe. He basically postulates that if the universe is infinite (it’s not), then there are an infinite number of possibilities of existence, which means that there are an infinite number of “Earths” out there, with the exact same history. Except in some worlds, this tree is over 3 inches to the left, and that tree is over 3 inches to the right. But there’s an infinite number of possibilities, so that means an infinite number of histories, an infinite number of versions of yourself, and an infinite number of histories on an Earth where you never exist. Once you throw “infinite” into the equation, there’s basically nothing stopping you. At first, I loved the concept, but after a while, I began to think it was just a shallow literary device, a moment of feigned deepness in an adventure story. It’s a nice piece of fluff, for sure.

And the question remains, does any of it matter, anyway? If James Joyce never lived, then he wouldn’t have written his books, so pot-belly James Joyce wouldn’t have lived, we wouldn’t have read about the falling snow, so who the fuck cares. But in The Beach’s version, all the different worlds exist, with and without James Joyce, so it’s not like the universe is “missing out” on James Joyce, because he does in fact exist and he wrote all those stories (in addition to others that we haven’t read because he wrote them in a different universe).

And the age factor does it to me again. Joyce wrote the stories when he was 20. By the time he was 20 years old, Joyce had a very serious grip on life, the world and his “destiny.” To be writing shit like that at that age doesn’t just happen by accident. Either he was born with the natural talent to be able to just create things with words, or he worked really really hard growing up. I would imagine that both play a factor in the classic nature vs. nurture battle.

So anyway, there you have it, my Friday POS. I never saw the Beach movie with Leo, so I can’t comment on his philosophizing and what not. Peace out.

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3 Responses to “The Meaning of Life, Untold”


  1. 1 Leo April 11, 2008 at 7:37 am

    I was very buff in that movie–no pot belly. Thanks for thinking of me.

  2. 2 James April 12, 2008 at 11:59 am

    trippy shit is the proper tag.

  3. 3 twitch April 14, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Very nice to see some new blogs. I’m rich bitches!


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