A Portrait of the Mexican Artist: Elizondo and Joyce

Conference paper read at the North American James Joyce conference in Buffalo, NY:

A Portrait of a Mexican Artist: Elizondo and Joyce

Brian L. Price – Wake Forest University

When Salvador Elizondo’s Teoría del infierno [Theory of Hell] appeared in bookstores, Mexican readers found, set against an unattractive rose matte background, the well-known photo of Joyce that typically adorns the cover of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. At first glance, this is an odd choice because Joyce only appears twice in the book: once explicitly in Elizondo’s brief yet insightful treatise on Ulysses and again implicitly in the next text, entitled “The First Page of Finnegans Wake.”[1] But what strikes me about the choice of this cover photo is that Elizondo places Joyce front and center in the presentation of his work. The gesture is simultaneously homage and appropriation. And the appropriated image is significant: he chooses the artist as a young man. Within Elizondo’s conception of art, Joyce plays a central role and is appropriated over and over as a literary object that promotes a specific vision of art.[2] Thus in this article, I will only deal with Joyce obliquely as a literary object that is used in the formation and promotion of another author’s literary project. Specifically I argue, as does David Damrosh in his book on world literature, that reading foreign authors consists of “an elliptical refraction of national literatures” and a process of translation wherein writing gains in import while, at the same time, it does not construct “a set canon of texts but a mode of reading.” Thus weltliterature becomes “a form of detached engagement with worlds beyond our own place and time” (281). It is precisely this concept of engagement that I want to apply to Elizondo’s reading of Joyce. I read Elizondo’s artistic development as a threefold interaction beginning with his early discovery of Joyce and emulation of Stephen’s aesthetics, his later critical engagement of Ulysses, and his exegetic translation of the first page of Finnegans Wake. Doing so will allow us then to make some broader comments about Joyce’s influence in Mexico and, hopefully, open a new line of inquiry into Elizondo’s work.

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