Reading after Bloomsday

So Bloomsday passed and it was wonderful. I really enjoyed reading and following everyone's updates yesterday. Unlike the insanely awesome o who read the whole of Ulysses yesterday, I only got up to section 7. I did enjoy it, though, and I like the system of writing down some quick thoughts after I read an episode, so I'm going to continue my reading today (and probably tomorrow as well) and update this post as I go. I suppose it's no longer a readalong, but I find that keeping track of my progress this way is nice. I want to write a review for Ulysses after I'm done, so I can cross it off the Classics Club list as well. So, without further ado: 

Episode VII: Aeolus

I remember this section being awfully confusing. This time around I had better luck with it, mostly because it occurred to me that I should ignore the newspaper headlines that break up the text. Without them, this piece is not at all different from the funeral episode that precedes it. Still, the text moved awfully fast and there were a lot of characters and conversations to keep track of. You know those stock exchange sequences in movies? When everyone is yelling at the same time and you can barely follow? It was a little like that, except that people were yelling lines from Shakespeare and obscure jokes. Still, if Joyce based this on the chaos of howling winds, then it makes perfect sense. I felt it was useless to even read the notes for all the references.

Favorite quote: 
We were always loyal to lost causes, the professor said. Success for us is the death of the intellect and of the imagination. We were never loyal to the successful. We serve them. I teach the blatant Latin language. I speak the tongue of a race the acme of whose mentality is the maxim: time is money. Material domination. DOMINUS! Lord! Where is the spirituality? Lord Jesus? Lord Salisbury? A sofa in a westend club. But the Greek!
I love this. It's the perfect subtle satire.

Favorite character: 

I very much sympathized with Stephen when he thinks "Dublin. I have much, much to learn.", mostly because I felt the same. But my favorite character in this section was Leopold. I enjoy his perspective, find it much easier to follow and he's so aww-worthy when he thinks of Molly. It was very interesting to see the difference in the way Stephen and Bloom are treated at the newspaper HQ. They belong to different worlds. 

Episode VIII: Lestrygonians 

This is my favorite section so far and it also contains my favorite line from Ulysses (I very much doubt anything will be able to surpass it). I feel the need to talk about why this section touched me. So in this section we get Leopold's stream of consciousness as he leaves the newspaper quarters, strolls through Dublin, goes to lunch and then ends up at the library. As he does so, he is constantly thinking of Molly. He knows that Blazes Boylan, her manager, will visit her during the day and he suspects she is/will be cheating on him with Boylan. His thoughts constantly return to that through the narrative and every time he decides there is nothing he can do; he cannot stop this. And every time these thoughts are mixed with his own desire for Molly. Watch their succession:
Useless to go back. Had to be. Tell me all. (...) A warm human plumpness settled down on his brain. His brain yielded. Perfume of embraces all him assailed. With hungered flesh obscurely, he mutely craved to adore.
I remember reading that Joyce worked a lot on that last sentence to make it perfect. I don't even find it good. But this is the first hint, an anticipation of much more powerful paragraphs to follow. Here's the next one, with Bloom eating and someone asking him about his wife's career.
Isn’t Blazes Boylan mixed up in it?

A warm shock of air heat of mustard hanched on Mr Bloom’s heart. He raised his eyes and met the stare of a bilious clock. Two. Pub clock five minutes fast. Time going on. Hands moving. Two. Not yet.

His midriff yearned then upward, sank within him, yearned more longly, longingly.
"A warm shock of air heat of mustard hanched on Mr Bloom's heart." That to me says more than all the mute obscure craves. And then comes the high point of this, my favorite passage from this book. Bloom is eating, contemplating exotic foods and then this happens:
Stuck on the pane two flies buzzed, stuck.

Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion’s head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you’ll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman’s breasts full in her blouse of nun’s veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.

Me. And me now.

Stuck, the flies buzzed.
I don't even know where to start with this. With the Proustian episode of memory-inducing wine, caught so beautifully in one sentence: "Touched his sense moistened remembered"? With the lovemaking scene at Howth Head, which is the same scene that Molly remembers at the end, in her famous soliloquy? With how episode is framed by those damn flies, which make me feel SO sorry for Leopold? Or with the perfect line, "Me. And me now"? (Who hasn't felt like that at times?) This is why I said that Joyce can keep together gross details, dirty humor, sex while writing about as deep a feeling as any other writer. I felt this passage like a punch.

Episode IX: Scylla and Charybdis

This was another one of those episodes that I remembered were horribly HARD to follow the first time I read the book and that provided me with a pleasant surprise this time around. This is turning into an experience that's all about me and my progress as a reader. (Yay for narcissism!) I know a lot more stuff than I did the first time I tackled this book, and part of that stuff I know because of this book. So I didn't get completely lost during Stephen's conversation about Shakespeare. (Which is not to say I didn't still need the notes.) I'm still trying to figure out the importance of this conversation for the novel as a whole. I suppose it contributes to the larger father theme, but I confess that this theme never actually clicked into place for me, not entirely. Also, bah, is there anyone who would actually pick Aristotle over Plato? Stephen, you suck.

Favorite quotes:

This was the chapter for favorite one-liners:

"He laughed to free his mind from his mind's bondage."

"A father is a necessary evil."

"A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella."

And also, this:
Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.

Stuff to follow up on: 
  • Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis (having gone through a Hamlet obsession really helped with this chapter. I suppose it would have been better if I had read this as well. And a bunch of other stuff, but I doubt I'll actually read everything that's mentioned here, so this will have to do.)
  • Mallarm√©, Hamlet et Fortinbras, Hamlet ou le distrait
  • Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, I love this guy's Contes Cruels, and maybe it's time to give his plays a try at all.
  • Goether, Wilhelm Meister
  • Maeterlinck, La sagesse et la destin√©e. Because OMG, he says this and I want to read more: "If Socrates leave his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend."
  • Oscar Wilde, Intentions
 .
Episode X: The Wandering Rocks 

I got a little distracted by some other books and stopped reading Ulysses for a couple of days. (It is a constant problem with me. It will say on my tombstone, "Here lies Claudia. She would have been a great [insert awesome profession here] and [insert personal relationship here], but she got distracted".) Anyway, this episode was like a puzzle waiting to be pieced together. It was, like Aeolus, an episode that I imagined as a movie sequence, with close-ups of a bunch of characters whose trajectories intersect in the end. Not my favorite thing to read, but interesting, I guess.

Favorite quote: 
Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.

So yes, this is said against Stephen and his theories about Shakespeare from the previous episode. It is, however, a great line :)

Favorite character: 

Stephen's sister, Dilly. After their mother's death, Stephen's sisters had to make ends meet on their own. Their father is helpless and Stephen, for all his whining about conscience, is above helping them. It might interfere with his navel-gazing, you see. Despite this, we get a glimpse at Dilly wanting to learn things, using some of the (little) money her father gave her to buy a French primer. Stephen got an education and left home. In this chapter a priest intervenes so that Dignam's son can get a free education. It just highlights the difference in opportunities between girls and boys and makes me want to give Dilly a hug.

Episode XI: Sirens 

Joyce starts to play with language here. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this chapter. It was one of those times when I got what's happening and why, but I was not convinced by it. Take for example, the beginning, the two pages of random quotes from the chapter that's to follow. It works on two levels. First, within the music theme that's heavy in this chapter. It's like you're listening to the first motifs in a symphony (or perhaps just to the warm up?). Secondly, it's like a parody of those novels that have mottos at the beginning of each chapter (I'm looking at you, George Eliot). You can't possibly get those mottos without returning to them after you've read the chapter. In the same way, you can't get the first two pages of this chapter without having read it in its entirety. It's smart. And the language games are pretty. At the same time, meh.

Episode XII: Cyclops 

I loved this episode. Joyce excels at portraying the mixture between narrow-mindedness, bigotry and chauvinism that is nationalism. The people assembled at the bar, but especially the Citizen, are the Cyclops. They are one-eyed in that they can't see beyond their biased worldview. And that worldview includes: glorification of their own country (here, Ireland), demonizing other countries (here, England), mistrust of foreigners, xenophobia, racism (catch the moment where they read of a lynching in America and rejoice), ignorance and general paranoia. And all this for a myth built by the 19th century through texts much like the ones Joyce imitates here. Nations are an illusion, but the only person who sees that here is Bloom. Bloom, who is the voice of reason throughout (or perhaps not reason, but just empathy and basic human decency) and finally stands up for himself at the end, when the underlying hatred of the group turns to real violence.

At the beginning of this chapter I was wondering if it wasn't too much to ask of a reader to follow all the references to Irish history and to topics that would have been the fodder of newspapers in 1904. It's probably still an issue, but I no longer think of that. Because this slightly surreal conversation right here, with its ignorant pride and bigotry? I know it. I've seen it play out, except that the names of the countries involved and the minorities demonized were different. Well done, Joyce, I'll remember this episode when you foist more unreadable stuff on me.

Favorite quotes: 
–Persecution, says he, all the history of the world is full of it. Perpetuating national hatred among nations.
–But do you know what a nation means? says John Wyse.
–Yes, says Bloom.
–What is it? says John Wyse.
–A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.
–By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that’s so I’m a nation for I’m living in the same place for the past five years.
After what I said above, it stands to reason that I'd like this fragment. It continues with Bloom claiming he's Irish because he was born in Ireland and the Citizen spitting to the side in reply. And that's the problem. It's not only that nations are an illusion, but they are not even a helpful one. They are an illusion that allows people to persecute other people. I'm not surprised that this book was written during World War I.

Continued here.

2 comments:

  1. I love your comments on Scylla and Charybdis... because I didn't get it at all! Let alone enough to work out that Stephen sucks :) Its interesting to read the reactions of someone reading Ulysses for a second time because I imagine you pick up much more.

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    1. Oh, Stephen doesn't suck 'objectively', just in my worldview b/c I dislike Aristotle (and had to read him in school). I wouldn't go out for a drink with an Aristotle fan is what I'm saying :D

      I'm very happy that I decided to read this a second time. I didn't have the fondest memory of it, because it was such a challenge the first time, but this reading experience proved much better.

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