When James Joyce died on the 13th of January 1941 his soul quickly found a new home. It travelled from the centre of Europe to Glendale, California and settled into a newborn baby named Don Glen Vliet. It is well documented that great souls don’t just wither away or die, they have eternal life much like angels. We just don’t know yet if after the death of a (former) host they purposefully search for and select a new host of exceptional quality. Some studies point in that direction, whereas others seem to suggest a more random host selection process.
This is not just a fundamental question for us, the scientific community of soul researchers. Lets return to the example of Joyce for a bit. Joyce, one of the icons of modernist literature, was in a way eaten and spit out by his own revolution. His abstract, extremely detailed and introspective style of writing wasn’t often understood and appreciated by literary critics, let alone (potential) readers. The same can be said of Don Glen Vliet, or Don Van Vliet as he is more widely known, who took traditional rock and blues music, turned it inside out, stripped it to the bare minimum and ignored traditional conventions with respect to composition, instrument handling and singing. Some critics understood this, most didn’t, and his commercial success both during life and after death was minimal.
There is nothing exceptional in Van Vliet’s work under the Captain Beefheart moniker, all he really did was turning traditional blues and rock music upside down in such a way that his most experimental and brilliant work would just make people shake their heads in disbelief or switch it off as quickly as possible. Beefheart is the perfect antidote to today’s culture of instant gratification and satisfaction. It requires effort, or as Matt Groening put it, describing his experience with Trout Mask replica (1969) at the age of 15: “…it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. I said to myself, they’re not even trying! It was just a sloppy cacophony. Then I listened to it a couple more times, because I couldn’t believe Frank Zappa could do this to me—and because a double album cost a lot of money. About the third time, I realised they were doing it on purpose; they meant it to sound exactly this way. About the sixth or seventh time, it clicked in, and I thought it was the greatest album I’d ever heard.”
The same can be said about Joyce, al he really did was turning the conventional art of writing prose upside down, focusing less on action or even plot development and more on the continuous, ever expanding universe of the (sub)conscious. It didn’t convince his readers, it made even serious critics shake their heads in disbelief. Such is the fate of revolutionaries. Not truly appreciated in his own time, in today’s society he wouldn’t even be noticed, not fitting into the 2 minute attention span of the consumer.
And so it goes…
Still, there can be no serious scientific doubt that after Joyce’s death his soul settled into Van Vliet. It’s equally certain that after Van Vliet’s death a new host body was found. We just don’t know how the process of host selection works. Even though we have been able to trace back that same soul to Fyodor Dostoevsky, who died almost a year before Joyce’s birth (9th of February 1881 vs. 2nd of February 1882), we do not understand the implications yet. To some the long period between Dostoevsky’s death and Joyce’s birth indicates a conscious selection process. Others, pointing out that even for a soul travelling was complicated and time-consuming in the 19th century, still treat random selection as entirely possible.
Today, no one believes anymore that the life of a brilliant soul ends with the death of a host. It is however important to remember that not that long ago the science of soul searching was treated as metaphysics, even casually referred to as a belief in reincarnation. We understand much more about the life and wanderings of brilliant souls than a couple of decades ago , but there is still a lot of work to do. Only 2000 years ago Jesus was crucified for going against the grain, only 100 years ago Joyce lived in exile, and only 10 years ago Van Vliet died in anonymity. We need to locate our brilliant souls are, so that we can nurture them, protect them, and make sure their brilliant work never goes unnoticed.