I have long been convinced that Dublin, where I have spent most of my life, is the center of the known universe, and I doubt if anything will change my mind about it at this stage. It is a profoundly meaningful city, a city that sinks its clammy feelers into the depths of consciousness, so that, perhaps thousands of miles away, one wakes in the night with a strange, nostalgic sense of being called to from far away.
But perhaps everyone feels that way about his native city. I don't know -- I am not everyone. But then again, perhaps I am. Joyce certainly regarded the city he celebrated for all time as a type of every city: Dublin was an embodiment of the universal or archetypal city which all cities in their way embody. And indeed to walk across the vast sandy stretch to the south of Dublin , to watch the eternal merging of the river with the sea, over which the clouds bank in the unending process of replenishing the stream, is to catch a glimpse of the multitudinous interconnections of things, the relationship between the city and the archetype city; the mesh of symbols which we call, for want of a better description, the world. It is to be strangely lost and yet strangely at home, as if this city which obtrudes slightly into the realm of dreams were, indeed, reassuring one that that realm is reality, and that "reality" is a dream.
I will confess something to you. There is a dream-Dublin which I occasionally inhabit, existing at some tangent to the "real." I use quotations marks, for in many ways my nocturnal city is more real than the everyday, visible one. True, whole roads and areas have been torn apart, mixed together, and in some cases annihilated altogether. But the difference is that the Dublin of my dreams has a quality of meaningm of which the diurnal one is lacking.
I am going down a road. I have been going down this road for thousands of years. I am trying to find the source. The road looks across the sea, across Dublin Bay, fed by the Liffey, to Howth Head. This road is the most meaningful road there is or can be. The stretch of sea between me and Howth is charged with meaning, epic, primal.
Joyce used the Liffey (in Irish it is spelt Life, one example among many of interlinguistic mystical correspondences) as a paradigm of the eternal recurrence of all things.The river returns inevitably to its utimate source, its "feary father" the sea, and as it does so "Finnegans Wake" ends and in fact begins, because the last sentence of the book runs into the first: "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."
I think that what I am searching for in my recurrent dream is in fact "Eve and Adams." Oh, not the name of a church, which I think it is. I am looking for my human origin, my genesis. For it occurred to me recently that the road I dream about so obsessively is the road on which I was born. Well, not exactly. I was born in a hospital. But for the first year and a half of my life I must have often looked across that stretch of sea to Howth Head, on walks with my mother to and from the house where we lived.
It was prelinguistic. That epic view of sea and distant hill, unfinitized by the limitations of language, remained with me in its glory and primeval meaning, in the depths of consciousness, to emerge in dreams. Joyce's river, musing to herself on the threshold of meeting her ultimate origin, the sea, thinks of the sky from which she has come: "My great blue bedroom, the air so quiet, scarce a cloud. In peace and silence. I could have stayed up there for always only. It something fails us. First we feel. Then we fall." Surely the fall of man, so obviously meant here, has something to do with language: the effort to describe, embody, enchain the infinite? "How small it's all!" muses the river. "And me letting on to meself always."
And we letting on to ourselves, always: that the world is finite, adequately describable in terms of quantity, extension, number, colour. The measuring rod that distorts, destroys, what it attempts to measure.
And I think what it is about Dublin that so haunts me is that, in some strange way, it has partially escaped a dreadful legacy of banality bequeathed to the West by a combination of the merchant ethic, scientific materialism and the deification of work. The glory of this city is that, in some way, whether through strength or weakness, the walls of triteness, bondage, self-deception, have been less strongly built than elsewhere. And that is why, to one lost in the jungles of London or New York, its memory is so dear. And so piteous.