Archive for February 23rd, 2009

Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, Part II

I’ve read three more episodes and with lots of help The Bloomsday Book: A Guide through Ulysses by Harry Blamires, Paigerella’s podcast, and (shamefully) SparkNotes, I’m coming to appreciate the ways in which Joyce combines the mundanity of ordinary activity with scatterred memories and words (both spoke and thought) that take on many meanings.

“Hades” includes a journey to the famed Glasnevin Cemetery.  Why did I never go there on my travels in Dublin?  Oh yeah, it’s because it’s way the heck in the north of the city.  Probably explains why Bloom and his companions have such a long carriage ride.

Passages from “Hades” that stand out are all about death, death, death, but it’s a beautiful death at least.  Check this out:

Coffin now. Got here before us, dead as he is. Horse looking round at it with his plume skeowways. Dull eye: collar tight on his neck, pressing on a bloodvessel or something. Do they know what they cart out here every day? Must be twenty or thirty funerals every day. Then Mount Jerome for the protestants. Funerals all over the world everywhere every minute. Shovelling them under by the cartload doublequick. Thousands every hour. Too many in the world

And,

Your heart perhaps but what price the fellow in the six feet by two with his toes to the daisies? No touching that. Seat of the affections. Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day it gets bunged up: and there you are. Lots of them lying around here: lungs, hearts, livers. Old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead. That last day idea. Knocking them all up out of their graves. Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. Get up! Last day! Then every fellow mousing around for his liver and his lights and the rest of his traps. Find damn all of himself that morning. Pennyweight of powder in a skull. Twelve grammes one pennyweight. Troy measure.

*****

“Aeolus” is a harder episode for me to follow.  Set in a newsroom there’s a lot of men bellowing hot air as well as Bloom being rebuffed, both of which harken back to Odysseus and Aeolus, the god of the winds.   I know this only from reading The Bloomsday Book by Blamires.  Then there’s a whole section about Irish submission to British Empire by way of the story of Moses, St. Augustine and a speech from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.  Quite impressive, although I wish I’d been able to pick up on that myself.

One prominent thing in this episode that I did pick up on is Nelson’s Pillar, which is prominent in Dublin today due to it’s absence.  It was destroyed by a bomb in 1966.  Appropriately in Ulysses it is a symbol of submission to a “defective and immoral power” (Blamires, 54) as it is a “statue of a onehandeled adulterer.” Today on the site of Nelson’s Pillar stands the tall, needle-like Spire of Dublin.  A nearby statue of James Joyce looks right at the Spire.  I wonder what he’d make of it all?

*****

“Lestrygonians” – the island of giant cannibals.

As he set foot on O’Connell bridge a puffball of smoke plumed up from the parapet. Brewery barge with export stout. England. Sea air sours it, I heard. Be interesting some day get a pass through Hancock to see the brewery. Regular world in itself. Vats of porter wonderful. Rats get in too. Drink themselves bloated as big as a collie floating. Dead drunk on the porter. Drink till they puke again like christians. Imagine drinking that! Rats: vats. Well, of course, if we knew all the things.

Once on this very same bridge I saw a petite, curly-haired blond woman break out into a song and dance rendition of Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever.”  This passages seems somehow appropriate to that.

This episode focuses on food, and digestion which leads Bloom to ponder similarities with sex, labor and birth.  From The Bloomsday Book I learned that even the writing style in this episode is perstaltic I found this thought interesting: “How can you own water really? It’s always flowing in a stream, never the same, which in the stream of life we trace. Because life is a stream.”

Bloom is totally grossed-out by men chomping down their luncheon at a restaurant and goes to “a moral pub” for a nice vegetarian meal and wine instead.  A man after my own heart except that I don’t look at flies and think of happy times early in my marriage.

Some more resources that help clarify Ulysses for me:

  • Two schema that list the titles, symbols, organs, colors, techniques et al for all the episodes are on Wikipedia: Linati and Gilbert.  It’s amazing how Joyce mapped everything out and tied it all together.
  • James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Photo Tour of Dublin shows what sites mention in Ulysses look like today (or at least in 2004).  Very interesting for creating a mental picture.  I’d like to also find a map tracing the actual routes Bloom and Dedalus take through Dublin on that day.
  • Two websites discuss Music in Ulysses: James Joyce Music and a University of Iowa course page.

Book Review: Facing the Lion by Joseph Lekuton

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna (2003) by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton is a memoir written by a man who grew up in a nomadic herding community living in the traditional ways in Kenya.  By fate he becomes the child who gets to go to the local mission school and finds that he likes education and eventually dedicates his life to reconciling these two different lifestyles.  There are a lot of fascinating episodes including a chapter on a ceremony where he and several other young men are circumcised.  Lekuton is excellent at describing the signifigance of this ceremony to him and his culture in a way that gets a reader like me past an initial revulsion.

The book also offers many details of Maasai life like a pinching man who keeps the children in line, the way cows are cared for and valued, and the roles of men and women in society.  Lekuton’s school life is equally detailed with humorous episodes about him playing soccer before the President of Kenya and going to America for the first time to study at (brrr) St. Lawrence University.  At the time Lekuton published this book he was teaching at school in Virginia and spending the rest of the year with his tribe in Kenya.  As of 2007, Lekuton is serving in the Kenyan Parliament.

I first learned about this book from an Unshelved comic.  It is written with children in mind but definitely entertaining and informative for an adult as well.

The author mentions two charitable organizations he supports at the end of the book: Nomadic Kenyan Children’s Educational Fund and Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition.

Facing the lion : growing up Maasai on the African savanna / by Joseph Lekuton and Herman J. Viola.
Publisher: Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, 2003.
ISBN: 0792251253 (Hard Cover)
Description: 127 p., [4] col. leaves of plates : col. ill., col. map ; 22 cm.

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