Location Location Location

The artist and ultra-allusive High Modernist Welsh poet David Jones wrote that “of all artists ever, James Joyce was the most dependent on the particular, on place, site, locality.” I’m quoting from an essay in the December 1950 “Dublin Review,” that was reprinted in Jones’s 1959 essay collection Epoch and Artist:

“For the Joycean achievement, his medium had to be English, because that language is the lingua franca of today. (Cf. Bismarck’s awareness, eighty years ago, of the all-determining fact that New York spoke English.) But if the medium had to be English the cultural and mythological content had to be European, and West European, at that; which means that nothing less than a proper understanding of the Catholic mind would serve; including both an understanding of the dogmatic and scholastic modes of thought, together with an inward understanding of a traditional popular, rooted, vulgar, Catholic practice, sufficiently linked with the life of a land, of a specific countryside, and thus with the pre-Christian and immemorial thought-patterns of a genuine ‘folk.’ And all this again linked with, encroached upon, and largely corrupted by, a modern industrial slum-culture and a saloon-bar folk-lore; for preference that of a seaport and again for preference in a locality influenced to some measure both actually and traditionally by the New World beyond ‘Brendan’s herring pool.’ Again, for preference, with a Celtic hinterland, because the Celtic deposits incorporated pre-Celtic ones and these together underlie the Germanic-Latin fusion and this whole amalgam is the West…”

This exercise of proving that Joyce had to be from Dublin continues for another paragraph or so, and feels perverse. How close is Jones here to committing some kind of fallacy of geographical determinism?

In a similar spirit, one might demonstrate the inevitability of V. S. Naipaul being from Trinidad, a place “not strictly of South America, and not strictly of the Caribbean,” as Naipaul remarked in his Nobel Lecture, hence providing unique points of imaginative access to each of those regions. That most Trinidadians are of African origin gave Naipaul a starting point for writing about Africa. Being from a family of poor brahmins, generations removed from India, gave him a unique perspective on India, and that some of Trinidad’s Indians are Muslims may have been useful when writing about the Muslim world. That Naipaul was from a former plantation society helped make his book about the U.S. South illuminating, and so on. But when he was a struggling writer in 1950s London, who foresaw that origins in Trinidad might be of any use for becoming a world writer?

For writers, one’s background is part of the puzzle one has to work on solving.
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