In Search of Joyce

The WordAwesome Moments

Drifting down Broadway, I think of you. The philosopher Roland Barthes argued that the author is dead in his work and that the reader doesn’t need to know him. But this is not true, at least not for you.

To be honest, I know my contemplation on Broadway right now is just a continuation of what I thought about last night at my desk. I was looking at photographs of you on Google: pictures from different ages, with or without a hat, with or without an eye patch, with or without that weary look in your eyes.

—what are you looking for?— my friend asked.

In truth, I did not know. The only thing I felt sure about was that it was not adoration. Not the adoration beautiful young Fitzgerald and Hemingway aroused in me. It was something one could not surmise simply by saying, “Finally, you reveal your teenage girl’s heart.”

Truth be told, I was seeking an answer to an ineffable question.

What was I looking for in you? This question occurred to me two years ago, the first day I read your work. I leafed through pages without knowing the story. It was the words that were enthralling. They were not at all chosen or arranged to tell a story. They were natural, yet elaborate, as if you had spilled silver and diamonds fragments over your page. They shone, telling their own story.

Then I felt the frailty of this metaphor, as these words were not fancy as flying jewels at all. They were quiet as water drops. As they were combined into pages of narration, the droplets became a spring stream. When the stream flowed through the pages, my heart underwent a catharsis, touched and cleansed by the stream; when it crashed on the hard stones of the plot, I could never predict how much energy this soothing, silent stream could release. The word droplets carried each other, detouring and defusing. Divergent thoughts and images were undercurrents in a spring, stirring and interfering with one another unceasingly, unrestrained by meaning or function, shining without limitation.

I was never told where to focus or what to look for, as if you were guiding me from an invisible corner. Even without knowing what your narrators were saying, when I took a break from reading and closed my eyes, I could smell the air mixing with Irish alcohol. At that moment I knew I heard you. Not the narrator experiencing the story, but you staging the words.

Last night in front of my computer, when I was looking at your face in the photos, I tried to imagine what kind of person you must be, with so much brilliance and energy bursting from your slender body. Yet I could see nothing from your photos. Different from Poe’s grave and gloomy eyes, or Wilde’s romantic and coiled hair, your face was rational and composed, hardly reflecting a single sign of where your intense and emotional words must have come from.

Now I ramble into the Strand bookstore on Broadway, thinking about you.

—excuse me. do you have a recording of James Joyce reading his work?”

—if we had one, it must be displayed somewhere. so, I don’t think we have any record of Joyce, at least not any more.

—thank you.

In a mildly morose mood, I leave the bookstore without much struggle in my head. So is that the end? Maybe. Intention, the set “plot,” is not always a wise track to follow as you have revealed. That question still hangs in my mind. Who were you? What were you like as a person? Where did your brilliance and your fantastic ideas come from? What kind of agony did you suffer — what kinds of irrational joy inspired you? What am I looking for in you?

I will not try to answer in this way, this time. I cannot connect with you through your photos. I cannot access the subtle nuance in your voice. As to what will happen in the future, I cannot tell. Maybe one day I will go to Dublin, to Paris, to Zurich, to see what you saw, to feel the origins of your potency. But now I see only your words. As I step out of the bookstore and onto Broadway, I feel myself walk over the imaginary crevice of your physical image. At the same time, my soul joins your soul, guiding my ceaseless curiosity of your captivating words.

Muyun Zhou is eighteen and a senior student in Beijing. She loves exploring different cultures, especially their art and literature, and is editor-in-chief for her school magazine. Reading, fashion, and skiing are her greatest passions.

Like what you're reading?

Sign up for the KidSpirit newsletter!

Let's make sure you'll get the best content for you:

Thanks for Signing Up!

You'll receive the next issue of our newsletter in your inbox