Amazon.com, a website I make some effort to avoid, has the most incredible feature. In some ways, it’s a postmodern, computer-generated book review and synopsis. In another sense, it’s chaos theory composing refrigerator magnet poetry. All in all, it’s the most startling, apt, and incisive list of words that come in alphabetical order. Ladies and gentlemen: “concordance.”
I will only briefly explain the concept before allowing the constructions to display their own majesty. “Concordance” is defined by Microsoft Word as “n. 1. similarity or agreement between two or more things 2) an index of words, for example, of all the words contained in a single work, or in the combined works of an author, or in any body or bank of text, arranged in alphabetical order.” One draws the conclusion: of course. Concordance, it would seem, is the bottom principle of both physics and metaphysics; do not forget to mention that it is also arbitrary and neurotic.
A more lucid definition might also explain that a concordance is not meant to signify meaning-it’s a statistical measure, a piece of neutral data. Yet the strangely human relevance a concordance bears to its host text is undeniable, once viewed. As James Marcus once said of Ulysses,”it is also compulsively readable… as long as you’re willing to be buffeted, tickled, challenged, and (occasionally) vexed.” His advice could not hold more true. I present for you now:
The Concordance of Ulysses
again always arms asked away behind bit black bloom call came come course day dedalus door down ever eyes face father fellow first get girl give go god going good got hand hat head heart high himself house joe john know last left let life little long look lord love man men might mother mr mulligan must name new night now old own place poor put right round saw say see sir something stephen still street take tell thing think though thought three time told took two voice want water went white wife without woman words world years yes young
And the imposing, nuclear-white ending-a list of barely plausible finitude! The circularity of this concordance, embodied by the explosive “again”s and “yes”es, evokes not only Joyce’s habitual, almost compulsive circularity, but a particular passage that in many ways has come to define the apocalyptic hilarity of Joyce’s later and more important writing:
(1st page, at the Wake’s reemerging terminus)
“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”
(last page, at the book’s distant greeting)
“A way a lone a last a loved a long the”
Dangerously, the concordance not only understands the book-it subsumes it. They reverse roles, and the full text becomes an explanation, a spinning-out of implications buried in its own index. This is only dangerous, however, in that it presents the possibility of something wondrous and new.
The concordance chants: “bloom call came come course day”.
The mind sharpens it to a razor point: “Bloom call came; come course day.” It is Molly’s gentle nagging (one hears her, leaning voluptuously out a window), followed by a breathtakingly simple sunrise.
The concordance, Joyce’s fertile estrangement from God: “look lord, love men.”
The concordance; profound meditations on bonds between people and books in an era of dead faith, transformed without hesitation back into a brow quivering with self-amusement: “though thought three time, told took two voice. Want water.”
And then, ineluctably, Molly’s eruptive, repressed sexuality in the concordance-and the book’s-heaving final breaths:
wife without woman! Words, world, years, YES!-young…