Jousting with Joyce: Ulysses Part I

Posted 8 February, 2011 by Trish in Reading Nook / 11 Comments

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I’m late, I’m late, I can’t believe I’m late. Actually, I have a feeling this month will kind of go that way. With the two snow days last week I’m trying to make up some time at work so that I’m not having to draw from my maternity vacation days (am hoping to take a full 12 weeks off work). Add in some lunch meetings, bad traffic in the morning, and third trimester exhaustion and it’s a recipe for no time. Oh, and I have more Continuing Education courses I need to finish this month. If I disappear, that’s why, but I’ll try to forewarn if it comes down to me taking another break.

Anywho. I DID manage to finish Part I of Ulysses on time for the ever fizzy Softdrink’s Jousting with Joyce readalong. PS–if you haven’t seen her intial post with pointers, she’s got some great links with helpful websites. I really wish I had an annotated copy of the book, but I’ll just have to wait for next time.

So, what happened in Episodes 1-3 of Ulysses?
I have no idea. Ok, here’s what I do know: Stephen Dedalus from one of my most loathed books (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) is back. Imagine my excitement when the opening character Buck Mulligan “Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head” (3). I might have done the same.

Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus have a round of conversation in the tower where they live about annoying people, Stephen’s deceased mother, and this and that (episode 1). They part ways and Stephen heads to school where he is a teacher of young chickadees. Mr. Deasy asks for Stephen’s help publishing a tract he’s written–Mr. Deasy is a very vocal anti-semite (episode 2). Stephen leaves the school and Mr. Deasy to wander among the beach thinking about this and that (episode 3).  PS: The entire book takes place within a day.

So, what the heck did I think of Episodes 1-3 of Ulysses?
I have done a considerable amount of re-reading and I still don’t get it. I actually started by listening to Episode I for free via librivox, but the production was terrible. I can’t remember if I’ve said it here before or not, but it was more like a group of drunken graduate students who got together (with musical instruments!) to read the book aloud.  Yup, if I were in grad school, that would be my idea of fun! (not really, we preferred to watch Bride and Prejudice over and over whilst eating Cherry Dumpcake, but that’s another story). Since then I’ve ditched the recording and just gone with the trusty paper book, pencil, and dictionary.

In short, I’m highly highly intrigued by this book. I know I can’t understand it during this reading and that frustrates me to no end. My process for this one, at least so far, is to read it in very small chunks and re-read and re-read. Look up words, dissect words, mince words, mesh words, ohmygoshjustgraspontojustonethinginthisentirebookplease. Apparently Episode 3, with Stephen mumbling on the beach, is the “kiss of death,” and since I’ve made it this far I feel quite successful. I can see why so many give up on this book–it is so filled with allusions and obscurities that it’s impossible to make sense of from your own store of knowledge. 

Jason wrote a great post about learning to love the Proteus Chapter (Episode 3), which I urge you to check out. He mentions over and over how pretentious this episode (and I would argue this entire three chapter section) reads–and it is. And it’s a huge part of what makes this book [so far] sp difficult to understand. Jason also mentions that because the book  [so far] is so heavy in the stream of consciousness, it’s impossible to fully grasp what is before us because one cannot fully know another person’s mind, which is exactly how reading Ulysses [so far] is.  I keep saying [so far] in hopes that maybe this changes a bit? But from skimming ahead, I don’t think so.

I’d like to take this idea of inner stream of consciousness one step further–Stephen Dedalus is educated and bright and he has ambition to do well and to achieve many things, but he lacks the maturity to fully formulate his thoughts into coherent strands. When one becomes armed with knowledge, sometimes it becomes too easy to string all those pieces of knowledge together into something so big but unfortunately so nebulous. Stephen has grand ideals, but he hasn’t the ability yet to filter through those ideals to present something intelligible. And so what we end up with is a jumble of thoughts that all sound good when separated and dissected from one another, but when put together is complete nonsense. It reminds me of when I was a college student and thought I was so smart and thought that if I used the right words or meshed together enough blah blah blah that I’d have a really smart and intelligent paper or presentation. Unfortunately, though, those who are wiser, more mature, and more experienced with knowledge are able to see right through the muck.  Anyway, large ramble over.

Um, in the end I don’t really know what’s going on, but honestly I don’t really care. I’m mostly just letting the language of Joyce roll over me–sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Some really poetic parts that also don’t necessarily make a lot of sense to me. ;)
(copied from Ulysses, but with my book’s page numbers)

“Woodshadows floated silently by through the morning peace from the stairhead seaward where he gazed. Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast of the dim sea. The twining stresses, two by two. A hand plucking the harpstrings merging their twining chords. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide” (9).

“Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms” (25).

“Would you do what he did? A boat would be near, a lifebuoy. Natürlich, put there for you. Would you or would you not? The man that was drowned nine days ago off Maiden’s rock. They are waiting for him now. The truth, spit it out. I would want to. I would try. I am not a strong swimmer. Water cold soft. When I put my face into it in the basin at Clongowes” (45).

“Darkness is in our souls, do you not think? Flutier. Our souls, shame-wounded by our sins, cling to us yet more, a woman to her lover clinging, the more the more” (48).

Yup, see?  Just gotta go with it…

Catch up with Jill (aka Fizzy Thoughts, aka Softdrink) and the rest of the crew for Part I of Ulysses.
Happy…Tuesday? Yikes!

11 Responses to “Jousting with Joyce: Ulysses Part I”

  1. I don’t think my brain could take it. I’m scared just reading the quotes. Good luck.

    Hilarious story about the librivox though. Your idea of college fun sounds more like mine.

  2. I’ve only made it to one of those quotes you included and I thought “How beautiful! What does it mean, though?” Funny how something can sound good even if you don’t know what it’s saying. I think those are the parts that are going to keep me hanging on, though.

  3. I am in the same boat you are – I’m not understanding much but I’m not actually upset by it. My only problem is that I need a solid chunk of time to delve into this one. I can’t just pick it up for 15 minutes and then move on to something else. I need like an hour to get through an episode (with re-reading and the such not).

  4. Oh good, at least you, Trisha and I are approaching this with the same attitude. I’ve got my analysis and annotated book to help out, but I just scan through them after I complete the reading…I find it too distracting to stop and look everything up!

  5. I am in awe at your tenacity in reading this book. I am not sure that I will ever have the courage to pick it up as I know I won’t “get it” and I always internalize that as “I must be stupid”

    I look forward to reading the rest of your reviews and thoughts on the complex literary work.

  6. I am in awe… not only are you reading this, but you can actually write about it, too! The passages you quoted are strangely beautiful, but I haven’t a clue what they are about, nor do I possess the patience to try and figure it out.

  7. i am strangely excited abt moving on and thru. THX for the advice to read Jason’s piece before ch 3. I am almost done with ch 1…
    Just GO with it!

  8. Wow, very thorough analysis!!! My first instinct was also to wonder what I actually read in Part 1 (Especially episode 3).
    I’m afraid I’d still be on page 1 if I utilized your read and re-read technique. I just had to close my eyes and run… I’m quite nervous at what lies ahead!
    Also, good for you for reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man… I think that book might have been enough to scare me away from this readalong.

  9. *Kristi – I think having really low expectations for how much I’ll understand in Ulysses is helping! ;)

    *Shelley – It reminds me a bit of poetry–sounds good but makes no sense. The writing is really lovely, though! At least there’s that…

    *Trisha – I understand what you mean about the large reading chunks and I’ve been trying for the same although life isn’t really allowing for it lately (the snow here is really cramping my style!). Glad you’re enjoying it too!!

    *Softdrink – Really envying the annotated copy but I’d probably just use it after the reading as well. Even though I might understand it less, this one is leaps and bounds better than Brothers K!

    *Molly – LOL! I generally have the tendancy to feel “I must be stupid” but since this book has gone down in the books as unreadable, I’m just along for the ride! ;)

    *JoAnn – Did I give the impression that I’m patiently trying to figure this one out? Well, maybe with the reading and re-reading and re-reading, but that’s mostly because after three times it still feels like I’m reading a passage for the first time! ;) Still wish you were joining us!

    *Care – YES! Just GO with it! Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to EVER understand this book 100%, so why waste so much brain power? ;)

    *TwoBibliomaniacs – I read A Portrait for required reading in two different lit classes in college–definitely not by choice. I hated it both times, but it feels so different than this book for some reason. And don’t get me wrong–I have NO idea what happened in Ch. 1-3 either. ;)

  10. Hurrah! The stream of c Doesn’t end, but Bloom is MUCH less esoteric at least at thestart :). Reading Ulysses while pregnant … That baby WILL be an odd one! :D

  11. Bride and Prejudice…yes! I’m still impressed you guys are actually going through with this Ulysses thing. Also, that Stephen Dedalus is back *shudder*. I’m enjoying reading all the summaries, but that’s about as far into it as I plan to get!