Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ithaca & Emmaus

My favorite part in Emmaus occurs when Murphy, the sailor, pulls out a knife, which Joyce describes only as "in accordance with his character." This is such hilariously, purposefully bad writing (especially since Murphy's just been introduced...) I want to write a story where the opening is a character, and then he does something "exactly the way you would expect him to."
Ithaca is the logical final analysis and mode of rhetoric for the novel. It answers the question: what if you could watch a scene with all the information? Too much information? What more is left to know?
I'm excited to read Penelope, pretty much the reason why I wanted to read this book is that someone at a Lang Reading Series read the last page ("Yes I will yes," etc) outloud.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Where to begin with this episode... reading it I went through a whole spectrum of reactions, from laughter to disgust to confusion to sorrow to boredom, then back to disgust again. At times the whole hundreds-of-pages-long hallucinogenic thing went by like a blur, weird and opposing images (Bloom is the king of Ireland! Bloom is an emasculated sex slave!) segueing into one another with the slightest, free-associative connection, with the logic of dreams.
It felt like a dream, I can't believe it (if the Cliff Notes are to be trusted) is supposed to be an actual narrative part of their day. It's not just because it's "weird" that it's dreamlike, but because it feels like an explosion of the subconcious, and all the subconcious might have absorbed from the day. Bloom's masochism and desire to be humiliated comes out, as do his fears about Molly, his emotional scars and trauma surrounding Rudy, and his paternal feeling for Stephen that is tied to Rudy. It's also Circe-esque in the way it deals with the terror people hold of being transformed and losing their dignity, and it reminds me of the part in Faust when they go up on that mountain and there are lemurs and witches flying around, in that it's anexplosion of the scary stuff we should have known was lurking below the surface all along.
If Joyce uses different types of rhetoric to encapsulate the experience of one full day in the life of a person, I think he is using a script or play here to approximate the visual and many-voiced nature of dreaming and the subconcious.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Oxen of the Sun

My reaction on reading the first pages of Oxen of the Sun was "What the hell is going on?", and, though this has been somewhat alleviated through reading the annotations and some cliff notes, I still have questions. For one, why are Stephen and his bullshitting pals getting wasted at the National Maternity Hospital? My only guess is that it has something to do with Buck Mulligan being a medical student, but still. That doesn't seem like a very conducive setting for partying.
So, anyway. They get drunk and pun their brains out, with the narration getting sloppier and sloppier as Stephen climbs deeper into the bottle. I'm interested that this chapter is centered around birth and fertility, given that the Hades mention of the conception of Rudy struck me as eerily relevant ("God, I'm dying for it. How life begins"), even if that's too simplistic a juxtaposition to be meaningful (wouldn't Joyce make it harder than that?). I guess the juxtaposition (life, death) is obvious, but what to make of it couldn't be.
The birth occuring off-stage in Oxen of the Sun is Mina Purefoy's delivery, a three-day-long torturous ordeal. There is no illusion of birth (and by extension, life) being beautiful or happy. Rudy was conceived because two dogs fucking in front a jail turned his mother on, leaving her wanting sex so badly she used a colloquialism implying she'd die if she didn't get it. Mina Purefoy must work so long to bring a new life into the world that it leaves her teetering on the brink between life and death herself.
Also, the man with the Mackintosh comes back. He's everywhere once you look for him, apparently both in Dublin and as a reader. Someone who's drunkenly rambling (I guess it's Stephen?) says: "Pardon? See him today at a runefal? Chum o yourn passed in his checks? Lundamassy! Pore picannines!... Did ums blubble bigsplash crytears cos frien Padney was took off in black bag?" Under the hazy of drinking and fun, even death is stupid. Yet, did anyone really care about Dignam? The characterization of the hypocrisy of the funeral is more or less accurate. Birth, in this chapter, is somehow bigger than death.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


They say that all art strives to reach the state of music. This episode is about sound, song, and musicality. The beginning is a series of nonsensical lines that the annotations theorize are a sort of "keyboard on which the fugue will be played," since they repeat in and sort of encapsulate the chapter to come.
Bloom threads through the background of the Siren's song, eating in the dining room of the pub while the men are singing and carrying on around the bar. Odysseus managed to avoid the sirens, too, by shoving wax in his ears. It's hard to see what's so seductive about this song, though, especially since Stephen's dad Simon Dedalus is doing most of the singing.
It's interesting that Joyce is demonstrating how to change his language into music in this episode. If langauge garbles the reality which is life, what does music do to it? How can we express the experience of hearing music in the form of written language? Reading the lyrics of a song you've heard sung will always be different than reading them alone, static on the page. Sirens is more obfuscated, more obscure and abstract than other passages of Ulysses. Set to the tune of music, his writing does not become what critics typically describe as lyrical. It is playful, dada-esque, and haunting. And sometimes silly. "Jog jig jogged stopped. Dandy tan shoe of dandy Boylan socks skyblue clocks came light to earth.... Diddle iddle addle addle oodle oodle. Hiss. Now. Maybe now. Before."

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Leopold Bloom -- Alfred Molina (slighty younger)
Stephen Dedalus -- Paul Bettany (but less blond)
Molly Bloom -- Kate Winslet (slightly older)

Monday, March 24, 2008


I was struck in this episode by the visceral description of the messy eaters in the pub. Referencing the man-eating cyclops of the Laestrygonian episode in the Odyssey, the men cram food in their mouths and disgust Bloom with their own corporeal humanity. For someone as earthy as Bloom, a messy eater is still disgusting. This everyday trial on his happiness shows Bloom facing the sort of modern challenges that beset the modern epic hero. In the modern world, you might not have to deal with cyclopes, but you do have to watch: "A diner, knife and fork upright, elbows on the table, ready for a second helping stared towards the foodlift across his stained square of newspaper. Other chap telling him something with his mouth full."

I was interested by the idea that Joyce's concern with language is that it separates us from reality. What would our reality be without language? Are our thoughts made of language, anyway? How often do we walk along making long, complex sentences in our heads, and how often do our thoughts take on an unreadable, untranscribe-able character? I would argue that often we do making sentences, albeit rambling, ungrammatical ones, similar to certain sections of Ulysses. It's the more whimsical, sculpted passages of Bloom's thoughts that I find totally unrealistic (like the "Darling tulip with you manflower..." thing, see below). So if our thoughts ARE able to be approximated as language, does that mean our thoughts are separating us from reality (since they're made of language, language-esque)? Or if our thoughts aren't able to be approximated as language, why has Joyce devoted this novel to these streaming internal worlds, instead of, like the ancient epic or the majority of novels, depicting an external world with only moments of the character's internal views?

Monday, March 10, 2008


I think it's basically a rule that every epic hero has to visit the underworld while alive and come back. At least, Odysseus does it in the Odyssey, so Bloom will do it here. When Odysseus goes down to Hades, he runs into a lot of old friends, and finds out what happened to some of them when they all sailed away from Troy (he hears the story of Agamemmnon's death, etc.). In the Odyssey, Hades is both the netherworld and a sort of chance to catch up on gossip, and a way to see famous people (Hercules is down there, even though he's immortal in a sense). This is going on in Ulysses, too: Bloom knows people buried in the cemetery and on the way there sees Stephen Dedalus and Blazes Boylan, the funeral-goers gossip and seem to sort of network with the caretaker (Hades), and they talk about Parnell, who is buried there but there's a rumor he actually lives on (sort of like Hercules' immortality).

One difference is that one of the key events in Odysseus' visit to Hades is that he encounters Elpenor, a crewmember, who begs Odysseus to give him a proper burial. It turns out that when you actually get down to hell, funeral rites are very important. Conversely, in the Hades episode, Bloom cannot stop thinking of the arbitrariness of the rites surrounding Dignam's death. "It's all the same," Bloom thinks about the relative shabbiness of Dignam's funeral. This is a rare moment of anti-materialism for Bloom. But he also calls coffins "a waste of wood," which is not so antimaterial as it is practical and businesslike to the last.

Bloom thinks of the parts of his life that involve birth, sex, and death. We get the scene of his son's conception: Bloom and Molly watch two dogs having sex in front of a jailhouse wall and she says "Give us a touch, Poldy. God, I'm dying for it." "How life begins," thinks Bloom. Even the phrasing that someone can be "dying for" sex is curious. He wonders about the caretaker's wife (if the caretaker is Hades, she would be Persephone, which fits with Bloom's idea that she might be a young girl who is fascinated with some romantic notion of death: "It might thrill her first. Courting death...")

We also learn in this episode that Bloom's father killed himself in a hotel, and that Bloom is going to travel there on the anniversary of the death. Bloom mocks the concept of birth and death days when he sees someone putting flowers on a statue to honor the day its subject died: "Many happy returns." Bloom, when he stops to think about it, is depressed by the inevitability of death and sees no solace in the arbitrariness of religion or rites. Just like Odysseus' visit to the underworld functions in the Odyssey, this visit to the graveyard reminds the hero that the paths of glory lead but to the grave.