Seeing Stars

Presenting Joyce, Beach
This is the hyperreality of my brain. I share this for the good of science. And as an apology for what might make me look like a bad listener from time to time.

This afternoon, Mikey was sitting on the couch with his laptop, planning his UAlberta term next fall with one eye to toward educational depth and the other toward having time for lunch.

"I think I'm going to take something about galaxies," he said. "Stars. Maybe take an astronomy course."

Out of the flow of his words, what extracted itself was the word "stars." Originally, I wrote that sentence in the active voice; that is, Out of the flow of his words, I somehow extracted the word "stars." 
But then I delete-keyed over that version, landing in the passive, because I can't really say I had set out to segment the word "stars" in any meaningful way.

How that worked, I don't know, but I suppose the word had been circling in another part of my brain for a few days.

First edition, back then
"Sylvia Beach, you star!  You great and generous planet. You took on something no one else would touch."

That's what Frank Delaney said in a Re: Joyce podcast delivered to mark the 126th birthday earlier this month of Sylvia Beach. She was the American extpatriate who lived in Paris between the wars. She founded the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. When no one else would, when courts in America banned it, she published James Joyce's Ulysses. 

It is how Delaney says the word stars. He makes it impossible to hear it as you would  hear and then forget about the star in "Hollywood star" or in an "NHL superstar," or in any of the other flimsy uses that turn it into a trap door that splinters at the slightest weight. He makes it stick.

Listen to it by clicking here and scrolling down to Episode 144-A: Who is Sylvia?  It's at the 13:54 mark, but, of course, its effect is best experienced by donating 13:53 of your time before it hits you with its brilliance. What a gift to be able to pack so much meaning into the pronunciation of a four-letter word.

But, why star? Why is it not only pronounced perfectly, stretched out to a loving width, invested with movement, but why is it somehow the perfect word to my ears?

My imagination has changed many times over the course of my life, but one instance was learning, maybe it was in Carl Sagan's Cosmos, that the starlight I see now happened light years ago. And that opened up the marvel that the past is all around us, that past is present, a sense I have wrestled with whenever feeling courageous enough to read Eliot's Four Quartets.

My edition, tonight
To me, what Delaney is saying is that Sylvia Beach's decision to publish Joyce's work, when around it was the black of censorship and fear and loathing, was an enlightened act. And just as fragile as bold. But these lonely decisions are messengers that shoot forth and they find who they find when they do, sometimes by accident, sometimes by the guidance of others, sometimes years or centuries later.

Sylvia Beach's star found Shelagh McAnally who studied Joyce in university. And one day in 1987, close to this time of year (which would have been Beach's 100th birthday), Shelagh spent $14.95 and her downtown Edmonton lunch hour that day to buy a young Glenn Kubish the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Ulysses. It was the student edition, "With a new Preface by Richard Elmann."

And it still is.


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