Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part VI


Thoughts on the final three sections of Ulysses.

“Eumaeus”

Much of this section takes place in a cabman’s shelter which seems to be like a late-night pub.  There are shadowy figures and impostors there including the sailor “Murphy.”  Bloom has paternal feelings about Stephen, wanting to strengthen their relationship but also thinks of ways to profit off Stephen’s vocal talent.  According to Harry Blamires in The New Bloomsday Book:

In short, there is no coming together here; no meeting of the minds; only a collision between the socialisitic, materialistic, liberal, twentieth-century mind, pinning its faith to the collective and to the assumed capacity of man to build his own Bloomusalem — and the rebellious guilt-ridden, individualistic inheritor of Christian culture who has lost his illusions along withi his faith. – p. 198

At one point Bloom looks at the newspaper and it is a reflection of many thing that happen in the novel: the horse race won by Throwaway, Dignam’s funeral (Bloom’s name mispelled), and the letter from Mr. Deasy.  The style of writing is deliberately poor as if written sluggishly late at night (much like this blog).  There are also pretentious passages in foreign languages and a mysterious run of numbers that not even Blamires explains.

The conflict between Ireland & England is a topic in the cabman’s shelter with the proprieter rumored to be one of the Invincibles of the Phoenix Park murders.  Bloom keeps to himself that he thinks Ireland benefits from its association with England.  Still he proudly remembers meeting Parnell and recovering the great man’s hat.
(NOTE: This episode takes place in part of Dublin I stayed in 1998).

From inside information extending over a series of years Mr Bloom was rather inclined to poohpooh the suggestion as egregious balderdash for, pending that consummation devoutly to be or not to be wished for, he was fully cognisant of the fact that their neighbours across the channel, unless they were much bigger fools than he took them for, rather concealed their strength than the opposite. It was quite on a par with the quixotic idea in certain quarters that in a hundred million years the coal seam of the sister island would be played out and if, as time went on, that turned out to be how the cat jumped all he could personally say on the matter was that as a host of contingencies, equally relevant to the issue, might occur ere then it was highly advisable in the interim to try to make the most of both countries even though poles apart.

All kinds of Utopian plans were flashing through his (B’s) busy brain, education (the genuine article), literature, journalism, prize titbits, up to date billing, concert tours in English watering resorts packed with hydros and seaside theatres, turning money away, duets in Italian with the accent perfectly true to nature and a quantity of other things, no necessity, of course, to tell the world and his wife from the housetops about it, and a slice of luck. An opening was all was wanted. Because he more than suspected he had his father’s voice to bank his hopes on which it was quite on the cards he had so it would be just as well, by the way no harm, to trail the conversation in the direction of that particular red herring just to.

“Ithaca”

Bloom & Dedalus take cocoa at Bloom’s house.  All of this chapter is written in the form of a catechism with mock scientific/philosophical language.  Thus the part of the book where the reader expects a climax where the two heroes come together is deliberately distanced and obfuscated by a flurry of excess detail.  Much of it reads like this:

What, reduced to their simplest reciprocal form, were Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen’s thoughts about Bloom and about Stephen’s thoughts about Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen?

He thought that he thought that he was a jew whereas he knew that he knew that he knew that he was not.

There are some nice things in this episode nonetheless as Stephen and Bloom compare the Hebrew and Irish languages and then go out for a shared piss in the garden.  Here they look at the stars studying the constellations upon which Bloom reflects with scientific precision.  I can’t help but think of the original Odyseus who would use the stars to navigate as well as see the pantheon of Gods in the constellations.  Despite their failure to truly connect, Bloom & Stephen see something complementary in one another:

What was Stephen’s auditive sensation?

He heard in a profound ancient male unfamiliar melody the accumulation of the past.

What was Bloom’s visual sensation?

To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.

He saw in a quick young male familiar form the predestination of a future.

Bloom, alone, reflects on death, reviews his daily accounts and daydreams of a home in the country and a petit bourgeouis life.  The contents of Bloom’s bookcases and desk are itemized. This includes Bloom’s father’s suicide  note.  He thinks about Molly and Boylan and assumes that Boylan is the latest in numerous affairs, but Bloom himself always is the last:

If he had smiled why would he have smiled?

To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.

Finally, he climbs into bed, head to toe with Molly, kissing her on the bottom and reflecting on the day leaving out some salient details.

“Penelope”

This is Molly Bloom’s episode, a long stream-of-consciousness monologue with no punctuation.  Blamires says that it’s written in eight sentences, but I didn’t really see any breaks.  Molly is an earthy and frank woman especially when it comes to sex.  Yet, despite Bloom’s assumptions of her infidelity Boylan is actually her first affair and she only feels driven to it because Bloom has abstained from sex since their son Rudy died ten years earlier:

Im not an old shrivelled hag before my time living with him so cold never embracing me except sometimes when hes asleep the wrong end of me not knowing I suppose who he has any man thatd kiss a womans bottom Id throw my hat at him after that hed kiss anything unnatural where we havent I atom of any kind of expression in us all of us the same 2 lumps of lard before ever Id do that to a man pfooh the dirty brutes the mere thought is enough I kiss the feet of you senorita theres some sense in that didnt he kiss our halldoor yes he did what a madman nobody understands his cracked ideas but me still of course a woman wants to be embraced 20 times a day almost to make her look young no matter by who so long as to be in love or loved by somebody

Yet, Molly is still fond of Bloom and there are many memories of their better times together mixed in with her other reflections on the day past and her life growing up in Gibraltar.  At one point Molly mentions she’d like to collect a book of the eccentric things Bloom says:

if I only could remember the I half of the things and write a book out of it the works of Master Poldy

The book concludes with the famous if ambigous final line where Molly remembers the day Bloom proposed to her.  It’s a positive and joyful finale nonetheless.

Beer Review: Abita Turbodog


Beer: Abita Turbodog
Brewer: Abita Brewing Company
Source:  Draught
Rating: ** (6 of 10)
Comments: A dark ale from Lousiana, Abita Turbodog pours out with a big-bubbled head that quickly vanishes.  The beer has a sweet caramel scent and a slight chocolate porter flavor.  The tastes isn’t that strong though, which makes it a bit disappointing as it is rather bland.

Beer Review: Stella Artois


Beer: Stella Artois
Brewer: Stella Artois
Source:  Draught
Rating: * (5.5 of 10)
Comments: Belgium’s most popular export is light colored and effervescent with a nice fluffy head that quickly vanishes and doesn’t leave behind much lace.  The taste has hints of lemons and smells kind of skunky.  The beer is refreshing and not offensive but not too exciting either.  Okay for a lager, but not a great example of Belgian brewing excellence.

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi


Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) is a memoir about life and Iran and reading English language books by  Azar Nafisi.  My alumni chapter book club selected this book appropriately about a book club Nafisi started to read Western literature with young women she had taught at the university in Tehran.  The book is divided into four sections loosely draping Nafisi’s story over the works of four authors:  Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the works of Henry James (particularly Daisy Miller), and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The first section focuses mainly on the reading group and the conversations therein, while the reamaining three sections are more of a straight-forward memoir.  Nafisi is educated in America (in Oklahoma, no less, which she makes sound like a hotbed of Iranian revolutionaries), returns to teach in Tehran right at the time of the revolution, loses her positions due to her liberal ways, returns to teaching (albeit compromising some of her principles), and then starts the reading group.  Finally, Nafisi departs Iran for good for the United States where she teaches and writes to this day.

This is horribly judgmental of me, especially to say of someone who lived under a totalitarian regime, but I found that Nafisi comes across as whiny, at least in the first chapter.  Marjane Satrapi (who is roughly the age of one of Nafisi’s “girls”) writes much more eloquently about the Iranian Revolution and the oppression of the Islamic regime, especially for women. The discussion of the books and life issues by the women of the reading group is supposed to be central to this work, but I never get the sense of individuality of the women in the group as if they’re only there to fill a role for Nafisi’s thesis. I warmed up to this book in the second section when Nafisi’s class puts the novel The Great Gatsby on trial, a clever way of discussing the book and the clash of cultures of the students in reading it.  Nafisi is at her best when discussing the books and I found her observations quite illuminating.  Especially for Lolita which I read many years ago but didn’t really follow it all to well.  I think Nafisi must be an excellent teacher and her passion for the novels comes across well in this work.  Ultimately this is a pretty good book, especially for its literary sections as well as a glimpse into life in modern Iran.

Favorite Passages

In class, we were discussing the concept of the villain in the novel.  I had mentioned that Humbert was a villain because he lacked curiousity about other poeple and their lives, even about the person he loved most, Lolita.  Humbert, like most dictators, was interested only in his own vision of other people.  He had created the Lolita he desired, and would not budge from that image.  I reminded them of Humbert’s statement that he wished to stop time and keep Lolita forever on “an islnd of entranced time,” a task undertaken only by Gods and poets. – p. 48-49

The worst crime committed by totalitarian mind-sets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. – p. 76

This respect for others, empathy, lies at the heart of the novel.  It is the quality that links Austen to Flaubert and James to Nabakov and Bellow.  This, I believe, is how the villain in modern fiction is born: a creature without compassion, without empathy.  The personalized version of good and evil usurps and individualizes the more archetypal concepts, such as courage or heroism, that shaped the epic or romance.  A hero becomes one who safeguards his or her individual integrity at almost any cost. – p. 224

Authors: Nafisi, Azar.
Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books / Azar Nafisi.
Edition: 1st ed.
Published: New York : Random House, c2003.
Description: 347 p. ; 22 cm.

Book Review: Founding Faith by Steven Waldman


Founding Faith (2008) by Steven Waldman examines claims made in today’s “culture wars” regarding the religious beliefs and intentions of America’s Founding Fathers.  Did the Founding Fathers create the United States as a Christian nation with religion a core value in government as today’s Christian conservatives claim?  Or were the Founding Fathers really Deists and secular humanists who set up a solid wall between church and state as liberal commentators believe?  Both sides cherry pick quotes to back up their arguments and in a sense both are correct.  And both are wrong.

Waldman conducts an illuminating historical survey of the so-called Founding Fathers and their views on church and state. Waldman focuses on five particular leaders of the Revolutionary and early Federal era: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.  Turns out that the Founding Fathers didn’t agree with one another and like many of us their views changed over the course of their lives.  All of them were spiritual and to a certain extent Christian (although none of them to the strict standards of today’s Christian evangelicals) and believed religion was important to the morality of a society.  All believed that religious freedom from government was a boon to religion and worked to protect religious expression.

Sometimes what they prohibited for the Federal government was acceptable for state governments.   Politics also played a role in that a strict seperationist like Madison would have to <gasp> make accomodations in legaslation to appeal a wider political spectrum even when it went against his political ideas.  Turns out that what the Founding Fathers said about religion and government was often deliberately vague because they hadn’t figured it out themselves.  What may matter more to us today is what we believe about church and state and not expecting to find cut & dry answers in the words of the Founding Fathers.

I really enjoyed this book and found it a good analysis of complex and nuanced issues.  It’s great that Waldman can go beyond myth-busting and side-taking to create a great historical and biographical work of religious issues in our nation.

Recommended reading to go with this book: The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

Favorite Passages

Careening through Adam’s contradictor writings on religion, we are reminded that just because the man was great does not mean he was coherent.  He thought Christianity perfect, except for many of its most important teachings.  He loved his Puritan ancestors except for their core beliefs.  He hated religions’ tendency to squelch rational though but admired its effectiveness at instilling morality.  The Founding Fathers were brilliant but, like all mortals, changed over time, and Adams in particular had no shyness about expressing his views in certain terms, even as he was still figuring them out.  Some of Adam’s views, however, only seem contradictory when seen through the prism of our current beliefs.  His contempt for hypocritical clergy was not a sign of secularism; his belief in an omnipotent God was not a sign of evangelism.  It’s just the way militant Unitarians were back then. – p. 38

Was Washington a “good Christian”?  By the defintion of Christianity offered by contemporary liberal Christians, he would pass muster.  He believed in God, attended church, endorsed the golden rule, and valued the behavioral benefits of religion.  More conservative Christians, however, generally believe that being a good Christian means accepting Jesus Christ as personal savior and the Bible as God’s revelation.  By those standards — those of twenty-first-century conservative evangelical Christianity — Washington was not a Christian.  – p. 59-60

This idea — that freedom comes from God — was the foundation for a new American conception of rights.  If rights resulted from a social compact — a practical way of allowing for mutual survival — then they certainly could by altered by the majority when it seemed practical or convenient.  If they came from God, however, they were immutable and inviolate, whether you were in the majority or not.  This had particularly important implications for wrestling with how to define and protect religious liberty.  Toleration assumed that the state was generously choosing to do the tolerating.  As Thomas Paine put it later, “Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it.  Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of witholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it.” A God-given right is something quite different. – p. 92-93

Thus, many conservatives have it backward.  In effect, the conservative accomodationists say that while Congress cannot set up an official state religion, anything else is fair game, since nothing else is prohibited.  Madision wanted us to think of it the other way around: Just because Congress is explicitly forbidden from doing one thing (establishing a national religion), that doesn’t mean that everything else is acceptable.  Madison wanted the opposite assumption — that any actions no mentioned and specifically sanctioned are prohibited.  This concept doesn’t apply just to restrictions on religion but to help for religion, too.  If Congress wasn’t explicitly granted power to aid religion, then it cannot.  Congress is not allowed to interfere, restrict, establish, discourage, or encourage religion.  In Madison’s mind, Congress had one simple assignment when it came to religion: Stay away.  – p. 154

Madison’s most important isnight was that it would lead to a distrust of religion.  It would be assumed, Madison suggested, that the invocation of religion by a politician was, well, political.  He and his Baptist allies would be mystified by the assumption that being pro-seperation means being anti-God.  How on earth does it follow that if you treasure religion, you’d want government touching it?  Church and state, when married, bring out the worst in each other, Madison would say.  If God is powerful, he does not need the support of the Treasury.

Indeed, to equate support for religion in the public square with love God is not only an insult to those God-fearing people on the other side of the debate, but also expresses a profound lack of confidence in God and a disconcerting shallowness of personal faith. – p. 201.

Authors: Waldman, Steven.
Title: Founding faith : providence, politics, and the birth of religious freedom in America / Steven Waldman.
Edition: 1st ed.
Published: New York : Random House, c2008.
Description: xvi, 277 p. ; 25 cm.

Beer Review: Southern Tier Raspberry Porter


Beer: Raspberry Porter
Brewer: Southern Tier Brewing Company
Source:  Draught
Rating: * (5.9 of 10)
Comments:  As the name implies this is a raspberry beer, the aroma and taste are overwhelming.  There’s also a chocolaty flavor  under the raspberry.  And it’s a porter that pours out in a rosy copper-black.  I like raspberry, I like chocolate, and I like porter so this beer gets point for all those things.  On the other hand though, it fails to go beyond the novelty to approach a complex, satisfying beer.

Beer Review: Boddington’s Pub Ale


Beer: Boddington’s Pub Ale
Brewer:  InBev
Source:  Draught
Rating: ** (6.3 of 10)
Comments: A golden bubbly beer with a thick creamy head. I detected a scent of melon and despite being a bitter this beer tasted malty and mellow.  In fact, I thought it tasted rather like a lager  instead of an ale.  The head sustains while drinking, leaving a lot of lacing on the glass.  Not bad.  Very smooth if not too exciting.

Time Begins … and I almost missed it


One of the best observed … but not official … national holidays occurred this week, and I almost neglected to write about it.  I refer of course to my annual post waxing rhapsodic about Opening Day in Major League Baseball.  It’s a day of hope and possibility, and since my two favorite teams won yesterday and today, hope flourishes.  Since rain delayed Opening Day at Fenway until today I can also be excused for my delay.

I’m not one for hot stove league discussion, and Spring Training barely excites me, so opening day kind of snuck up on me.  I do feel ashamed that I didn’t watch a single of the World Baseball Classic because I really enjoyed the premiere edition of that international competition back in 2006.  I guess there are many things that kept me away from making dates with MLB TV on my computer.  But not any more.  I expect that my teams will be in the playoffs this fall and I will watch how they get there over the next months.

Here are my 2009 season predictions or as they should be more properly termed, wild guesses.  One need only look at my 2008 predictions to see that my magic ball is broken.  I only was correct for two of the division champions (although two other teams I picked made it in as wild card winners) and I confidently stated that the Detroit Tigers would be World Series Champions.  If only.

NL EAST NL CENTRAL NL WEST
New York Chicago Los Angeles
Philadelphia (WC) Milwaukee San Francisco
Florida Cincinnati Colorado
Atlanta St. Louis Arizona
Washington Houston San Diego
* Pittsburgh
AL EAST AL CENTRAL AL WEST
Boston Minnesota Los Angeles of Anaheim
Tampa Bay (WC) Cleveland Oakland
New York Chicago Texas
Toronto Detroit Seattle
Baltimore Kansas City

NL Division Series:  Cubs defeat Phillies, Mets defeat Los Angeles

AL Division Series: Angels defeat Rays, Red Sox defeat Twins

NL Championship Series: Mets defeat Cubs

AL Championship Series: Angels defeat Red Sox

World Series:  Mets defeat Angels

Play Ball!

Previously: