Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part III


“Scylla and Charybdis”

This episode is thematically near and dear to my heart.  Set in the National Library of Ireland (which I’ve also failed to visit) it features literary debate on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, plus stuff about fathers and navigating between two extremes.  And it’s often satirical and funny.

–Bosh! Stephen said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

Portals of discovery opened to let in the quaker librarian, softcreakfooted, bald, eared and assiduous.

I like this passage both for Stephen Dedalus’ naive understanding of genius and how it transitions to the entry of the librarian.  I think I should rename this blog “Portals of Discovery.”  Then there’s this nice ribald pun: “If others have their will Ann hath a way.”

Then there’s this passage that takes a jibe at John Millington Synge: “The tramper Synge is looking for you, he said, to murder you. He heard you pissed on his halldoor in Glasthule. He’s out in pampooties to murder you.”  I like it because it reminds me I had a cat named Pampootie when I was  child.

And then there’s this: “He laughed to free his mind from his mind’s bondage.”  Heavy, man, heavy.

*****

“The Wandering Rocks”

Holy cow!  19 different citizens of the city of Dublin perambulate its labryinthian streets and have there own thoughts and actions monitored.  If this book couldn’t get any more obtuse.  I do feel a spark of pride that I immediately knew that the “dreadful catastrophe in New York” was the General Slocum disaster.  It’s amazing how much history is connected to this one date, 16 June 1904. By a nice coincidence there’s a mention of my last DailyLit book, The Woman in White.

Back to the General Slocum disaster, here’s the money quote from Tom Kernan:

I smiled at him. AMERICA, I said quietly, just like that. WHAT IS IT? THE SWEEPINGS OF EVERY COUNTRY INCLUDING OUR OWN. ISN’T THAT TRUE? That’s a fact

Buck Mulligan claims that Stephen Dedalus will write something in ten years, not at all coincidentally the same year Joyce would publish his first book The Dubliners.   By the way, why did all the college professors make us read The Dubliners and nothing else by Joyce?  I probably would have understood this better in a classroom setting.

*****

“The Sirens”

Music rules over this episode.  Music in lyrics, music in speech, music in writing.  Musical instruments and words that are synonyms for musical instruments are everywhere.

A duodene of birdnotes chirruped bright treble answer under sensitive hands. Brightly the keys, all twinkling, linked, all harpsichording, called to a voice to sing the strain of dewy morn, of youth, of love’s leavetaking, life’s, love’s morn.

That’s poetry that is.  I really feel like I’m starting to get it here.  I see the characters and places.  I feel the rhythms.   Good golly, Ulysses is making sense!  Of course I draw upon my experience in music pubs with attractive barmaids.

There’s this humorous bit about math and music too:

Numbers it is. All music when you come to think. Two multiplied by two divided by half is twice one. Vibrations: chords those are. One plus two plus six is seven. Do anything you like with figures juggling. Always find out this equal to that. Symmetry under a cemetery wall. He doesn’t see my mourning. Callous: all for his own gut. Musemathematics

An mp3 of “The Croppy Boy” sets the mood.

The end of this episodes tests the fallacy that classic literature cannot be crude and funny as Bloom breaks wind while reading the final words of Roger Emmet.  Once again there’s music in it, which reminds me of the old ditty:

Beans, beans, the magical fruit.
The more you eat, the more you toot.
The more you toot, the better you feel.
So eat your beans with every meal!


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