June/July Essay: James Joyce’s and Iain Sinclair’s Intertextual Ley Lines, by David Vichnar

This essay comes at an appropriate time. Many of you have recently made journeys home after the Jame Joyce Symposium held during the time of Bloomsday. While June 16 is inarguably one of the most important dates in literary history, just 10 days from there is another moment that draws a minor British poet, the contemporary writer Iain Sinclair and Joyce together.

In his essay, David Vichnar analyzes how Iain Sinclair “updates and upgrades” Joyce’s methods of constructing cities in his fiction. More specifically, Vichnar is interested in Joyce’s and Sinclair’s respective psychogeographies, as defined by Guy Debord, and how both authors treat the urban and extra-urban spaces. Vichnar traces the specific settings in Joyce’s works, from Dubliners to Finnegans Wake, and then looks at Joyce’s own comment equating “the heart of Dublin” with the “heart of the world.” This comparison is open to a variety of interpretations, many of which are covered, and Vichnar uses it as a point to open the discussion to other world cities, and a transition point to Sinclair’s own city, London.

Significant throughout Sinclair’s writing is the idea of “ley lines,” originally theorized by Alfred Watkins in 1921. Watkins experienced a kind of epiphany seeing that many ancient features seemed to be placed along straight lines (his initial line viewed across many places with “ley” in their name, hence the term). As Vichnar writes, “Sinclair creates willed ‘ley lines’ across a chosen area, which generate a wealth of occult materials counterpointed with local realist accounts in his texts.” Vichnar traces these “ley lines” as they relate to several of Sinclair’s texts, ultimately coming to Edge of the Orison. 

That aforementioned date, July 20, is the anniversary of the poet John Clare’s walk in  Helpston, Northamptonshire to find his first true love. Sinclair retraces this walk in Edge of the Orison and discovers a great deal about himself, his wife, as well as connections between John Clare and Lucia Joyce, and James Joyce. In the essay, Vichnar analyzes the development of the travelogue into a much deeper look at memory, ancestry, and place, all interwoven with literary connections.

Venture into David Vichnar’s essay  James Joyce’s and Iain Sinclair’s Intertextual Ley Lines and consider your own journey into the writing of Joyce as well as the prominence of place and particular “hearts of the world” in other novels.

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