Monday, February 21, 2011

Ulysses Readalong - Pride, Humility, and Shock

Before beginning Ulysses, I had this idea that if I really applied myself--took notes, read and reread, researched different commentaries--I would "get" it, all in one go.  Go ahead and have a good laugh at that one.  It took about 20 pages of note taking filled with question upon question to accept that not only do I not have the time for such a detailed reading, but it also was not getting me any nearer to comprehension.  Which was really sad, because during my reading of The Odyssey, I actually took notes on every other page to leave room for what would be my copious Ulysses notes: 

Yeah, I'm pretty nerdy, but I think I'm in good company.

Ulysses, of course, is not so neat and tidy.  It's more of a crazy, chaotic mess.  One that will take more than one reading to make any sense of, and then, I suspect, it will still be a crazy, chaotic mess.

So I threw aside the notebook, shunned any outside commentary, and began to read Ulysses naked.  (Meaning the book, not myself.  Not that Joyce would mind a bit of nudity.  I'm sure he would fully approve of me reading on, say, the toilet or in the bathtub, and then relating all of the details on my blog.)

And then, here comes the shocking thing:  I actually like it!  It's a true Life moment:

What I am most enjoying is the random rhythm of the writing.   I couldn't say exactly what it is, but my brain is entertained by it.  I don't even have to know what he's talking about [sigh of relief].  Something about the combination of short phrases, incomplete thoughts, one-word "sentences", words scrunched together, and playful alliteration all add up to a some sort of drunken party of language.  I've come to look forward especially to phrases that are sort of ticklish:
  • "Croppies lie down" (38).
  • "Oot:  a dullgarbed old man from the curbstone tendered his wares, his mouth opening:  oot" (116).
  • "Lovephiltres.  Paragoric poppysyrup bad for cough"  (104).
  • "Boys are they?  Yes.  Inishturk.  Inishark.  Inishboffin.  At their joggerfry.  Mine.  Slieve Bloom." (70).
Other parts I find just plain gross, even more so than the booger and bathroom situations:
Perched on high stools by the bar, hats shoved back, at the tables calling for more bread no charge, swilling, wolfing gobfuls of sloppy food, their eyes bulging, wiping wetted moustaches. . . A man spitting back on his plate:  halfmasticated gristle:  no teeth to chewchewchew it (215).
And some passages I do find darkly beautiful:
A cloud began to cover the sun wholly slowly wholly.  Grey. Far.
No, not like that.  A barren land, bare waste.  Vulcanic lake, the dead sea:  no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth.  No wind would life those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters.  Brimstone they called it raining down:  the cities of the plain:  Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom.  All dead names.  A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old.  Old now.  It bore the oldest, the first race . . . (73)

There is one statement that actually sunk in a bit--I can at least pretend I understand what he's getting at: 
"Like him was I, these sloping shoulders this gracelessness.  My childhood bends beside me.  Too far for me to lay a hand there once or lightly"  (34).
I have found that I do not like the conversational bits.  I am not offended by the unconventional dashes, I'm just bored by their dialogue.  I'm more comfortable inside Bloom's brain.  Frightening!

I have also been largely ignorant of the many allusions I've heard about.  Of course I can see The Odyssey intertwined into the plot, and a few things that gave me vague Shakespeare vibes, but that's about it. 

So, for now, I'm enjoying the novelty of Joyce's experimentation.  But I am wondering how long it will take for the "novelty" to wear off.  There are many more pages for it to morph into "been there, done that." (I'm behind in my reading, I'm not even sure where I'm--my edition has no chapters.)  But maybe Joyce has more up his.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ulysses Readalong - Page One

I'm already behind on my reading schedule for Ulysses, due to a shortage of reading time combined with the complexity of material--is this really written in my native tongue?  But I will not be vanquished, James!

I have moved beyond the first page, but I thought I would show why my pace is so slow by sharing my notes/thoughts  from just page one.  I'm probably admitting a good portion of ignorance on my part, but I'll just lay it all out:

  • "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan"--stately and plump don't seem to go together.
  • Buck's dressing gown--"sustained gently"  strange choice of words, also kind of oxy-moronic 
  • "Introibo ad altare Dei" --what the heck does this mean, look up online
  • "he peered down"  the stairs but called "up", then tells "Kinch" to come up.  Huh?  Where are these characters positioned.
  • gunrest?  what part of the stairs is this, look up online
  • what's the deal with the blessing, gurgling, shake his head?  Is he being critical of religion?  Is it significant that the mirror and razor were "crossed"?
  • Stephen Dedalus - I think Dedalus was the one who tried to build wings to fly to the sun but burned up, look up online.  Why does Buck call him Kinch?  Look up in dictionary/online.
  • Buck's face long like a horse, hair like an oak.  Untonsured-check dictionary
  • Why does he look in the bowl?  Why does he say "Back to the barracks"?
  • "Christine" Christian?  Ouns-check dictionary.  White corpuscles?????  I'm pretty sure I know what corpuscles are, but check dictionary to clarify.  What would this have to do with him mocking a sermon?
  • Why does he start whistling, and who answers with a whistle?  Why does he stick the word "Chrysostomos" into the paragraph.  Check dictionary or look up online.
Just 932 more pages of this stuff. 

Two general impression I have from the rest that I have read so far are that Buck is an annoying jerk, and I'm really grossed out that he wiped this razor with a dirty snot rag.

Today, thanks to the flu, I have time to read.  One of my ears is plugged up and it's messing with my equilibrium.  Feeling off-balance and reading Joyce should go hand in hand. 

Not that this post is a great selling point, but if you want to join in the fun*, this readalong is hosted by Jill at Fizzy Thoughts.

*For the record, I do honestly find this fun, otherwise I wouldn't be doing it.  Maybe I'm as unhinged as Joyce seems to be.