Thursday, September 8, 2011

Checking in on Ulysses

Photo courtesy of Laurie | Liquid Paper on Flickr
One of the useful elements of Kindle books is that it can measure your progress in percentage.  How depressing is it that three very long chapters later, I have only progressed another 5%?  I should quit looking.  It is slow going for sure. 

I'll divide my random thoughts by chapters!  At this point I have just finished reading Nausicaa.  I am also now pronouncing Ulysses as "YOU-liss-ease" in my head, thanks to the podcast I mentioned before.

I am certainly glad I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man prior to reading Ulysses, although I wish I'd read them closer together.  I'm also wishing I'd read Dubliners first too, as some of the minor characters in Ulysses are from those short stories.  While their backgrounds may not be crucial to understanding the main story in Ulysses, I feel like Joyce is working on the assumption that the reader at least is familiar with them.  Most of the time I am blissfully ignorant until one of the companion books schools me on what I missed.  I downloaded the public domain version and will probably read it after reading Ulysses, just to fill out the story a bit.  Reader beware!  If you've always wanted to read Ulysses, read everything else Joyce ever wrote first.  You might even want to tackle his letters, if you can find them, since apparently they are the inspiration for the letters Bloom himself writes!

Chapter 10: The Wandering Rocks
This is the chapter that I last wrote about, at only about 1/3 of the way in.  It spirals through a bunch of characters, and is supposed to feel like waves swirling around and crashing into rocks, maybe dangerous, maybe harmless, and I think Joyce succeeds here.

Chapter 11: Sirens
Bloom goes back into a bar, and we follow him on an afternoon shopping trip.  I think the whole chapter is pretty ironic because he is obsessing over his wife's lover AS HE IS BUYING STATIONARY TO WRITE TO HIS LETTER WRITING MISTRESS.  Whatever.  At the same time, I'm fond of the chapters that jump us into Bloom's head.

Chapter 12: Cyclops
I had to reference the companion books to understand this one, for sure.  There is an unnamed person "Citizen" who has a very staunch opinion about issues of homeland and nation, and clearly does not think Bloom should consider himself first and foremost "Irish."  I remember earlier discussions of the loss of the Irish language within Ulysses, and even in the time of the novel many of these concepts are starting to be popularly viewed as archaic.

The part that I really paid attention to was the discussion of love.  Bloom explains love as being the "opposite of hatred," and the citizen mocks him for his concept of "universal love," which starts in on a whole discussion of the many versions of love.  Some of it makes me think of Martin Luther King Jr., but perhaps Ulysses and King just share the same source material.

And then is this little sentence - "Off he pops like greased lightning."  I was in the car when I heard this, and I had a lyrical kneejerk response and shouted "Grease lightning, go grease lightning."  Completely irrelevant to anything, but I thought you might enjoy how my mind wanders as I listen to an audio book.

Chapter 13: Nausicaa
My original intent was to say I really enjoyed this chapter, that it felt like a break from the political/economic/religious commentary of some of the other chapters, but then all the critics disparage it and say Joyce intentionally wrote it like a fluffy womens magazine.  Hmm.  Maybe I like womens magazines.  It was refreshing to hear from a woman's perspective, as Joyce tends to stick inside of male heads.  Gerta is charming, in how she is focused on her ribbons, but can still tell the power that she has.

The language in this chapter, and in how Joyce can capture a moment within the moment, is so much better in audio than it would be read in print.  I dare you to try reading it in print without wanting to hear it out loud.  It is much more evident what is going on when you hear the section about the fireworks read aloud.  I was... surprised at how far Joyce took it.  Bloom is a little bit of a creeper, actually (I feel more compassionate toward him than that... we know from earlier chapters that he and his wife have not been intimate since their son died).  I wonder if anyone was bothered in the historical reading of Ulysses by the synchronous imagery of Gerta giving Bloom a peek and the Catholic ecstatic visions.

This chapter also includes some moments of misogyny that really stuck out.  The most memorable is when Bloom is ruminating about drunk husbands:
"Husband rolling in drunk, stink of pub off him like a polecat. Have that in your nose in the dark, whiff of stale boose.  Then ask in the morning: was I drunk last night? Bad policy however to fault the husband. Chickens come home to roost. They stick by one another like glue. Maybe the women's fault. ... Always see a fellow's weak point in his wife."
 Right, wives.  If your husband is out boozing, you must be the weak link!  Ha.

After Gerta leaves, Bloom is spent, also emotionally.  He starts reflecting back on the early days of romance between he and Molly:
"So it returns. Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home."
 A fitting conclusion to the Nausicaa chapter, really.  I've peeked ahead and the next chapter is epic in length and coverage, but is the last one sitting in between the infamous Circe and my experience, so I'm going to get right on that!

1 comment:

  1. That percentage read feature on kindle - I really wish I could turn it off. It discourages me!


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