where he has just finished reading a letter from St. Jerome asking his advice on a theological matter. St. Augustine has scarcely taken up his quill to reply when light floods his study and a miraculous voice reveals to him that St. Jerome is dead.
It might be entertaining to speculate on the relevance of the scene to what I’ve been discussing – pointing out, perhaps, the futility of the reasoned answer St. Augustine is preparing in the face of the unforeseen and overwhelming truth. But let’s not. We have a still more entertaining object to contemplate.
In the middle of the floor to the left of the saint’s desk, a little Maltese dog sits bolt upright. He is bathed with celestial light, to which he pays no attention as he stares at his master in an attitude of absolute expectation, as alert in his immobility as was my little fullback in her agile skipping. He is as unconcerned by the momentous event now occurring as he is by literary theory. His attitude might be translated as the human question, What next?
Translation and the Oulipo: The Case of the Persevering Maltese
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Mr. Joyce’s liberties with English are essentially unlike Shakespeare’s. Shakespeare’s were not the product of a desire to “develop his medium to the fullest,” but of a pressure of something to be conveyed.
“To be responsible for the happiness of the Universe,” as W.H. Auden points out, “is not a sinecure.” Equally, the apocalyptic-epiphanic mode in fiction is not for minor talents. It should be clear that the more superbly an author throws away the crutches of verisimilitude, the more heavily he must lean on his own style and wit. Experimental novels may have a habit of looking easy (certainly easier to write than to read), but their failure-rate is alarmingly high–approaching, I sometimes fear, 100 per cent.