Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupying Ulysses - Chapter 3: Proteus (Ineluctable modality of the unreadable)

Oh boy! If you get past this chapter, you not only deserve a merit badge (hello @tessde!), you may even be in for the long run. When I read over this chapter (for the third or fourth time now, mind you!), I was absolutely helpless. There were passages or even pages where I had the feeling that I didn't understand a word. Now, after I've talked to friends and gave it the Spark Notes and Shmoop treatment (yep, I confess!), I roughly understand what Stephen's thoughts are all about. Still, this is a tiring chapter. I've checked several annotations concerning only the first paragraph, where Stephen thinks of Aristotle, Bishop Berkeley, and Dante (it's what all of us think about on a beautiful beach, isn't it?), and it took me ages to get through these twelve lines, and I still feel that I haven't come close to grasping them. So what's the problem with this chapter? As Jeri Johnson puts it: "the narrative proceeds through Stephen's interior monologue; thus, what we see depends entirely on what he thinks and this in turn is prompted by what he sees" (in the highly recommended Oxford World's Classics edition from 1998, p. 782). And Stephen's interior monologue goes in all directions: e.g. he visits his aunt (but only in his thoughts), thinks about Mulligan's insults again, and he thinks in German, Italian, and Latin, to make things more fun.

All things considered, this is still a great chapter because it gives you so much insight into the  despite all his headiness  fascinating character that is Stephen. And a lot of James Joyce is in Stephen, as many critics note, so this chapter also gives you insight into the creator of Ulysses. One of the things I admire the most about Ulysses is its narrator's honesty. There are no boundaries in what Joyce describes and what his characters do or think about, which might not be to everyone's taste, but is still important when you think about literary progress. Joyce has opened many doors (and not only toilet doors) for his successors when it comes to what is possible in literature. He has tried something new with each chapter in this novel, just to mess things up a bit more with Finnegans Wake (which I'll try too, just for fun). After all of Stephen and his cerebral celebrations, I can't wait though to finally make the acquaintance of the great literary hero Leopold Bloom and his wonderful down-to-earthness again.

Favourite Shakespeare reference: "So in the moon's midwatches I pace the path above the rocks, in sable silvered, hearing Elsinore's tempting flood." (Is this Stephen thinking about suicide?)

Favourite line: "The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Back to the Classics Challenge 2012

I've never done anything like this before, but there's a first time for everything, so next year I'm going to participate in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 initiated by Sarah Reads Too Much (Book blogger Heather Lindskold invited me to this, check out her awesome blog here: Between the Covers). This means: I'm going to read eight books that are on my reading list anyway (I'll read The Catcher in the Rye for the second time, this time in an uncensored version). Count me in! Here are my choices:

  • Any 19th-century classic: Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens
  • Any 20th-century classic: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  • Classic reread: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  • Classic play: The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
  • Classic mystery/horror/crime fiction: Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
  • Classic romance: Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
  • Classic that has been translated from its original language: La Nausée, by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Classic award winner: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Classic set in a country that I (realistically speaking) will not visit during my lifetime: Bend Sinister, by Vladimir Nabokov
Disclaimer: I usually never manage to read the books I'd like to read in a certain amount of time, and next year is going to be a hectic year, but anyway: This sounds like fun, so I might as well join the challenge.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupying Ulysses - Chapter 2: Nestor (Stephen teaches and is taught)

As I have noted in the previous post, I'm reading Ulysses together with some pals on Twitter (I'm @tomwaitsripoff over there). The reading speed varies greatly between the different participants, but we all have the same basic goal: to get to Molly's final "yes". This is the second stage for me. I hope you're all well on your way. Ride on!

This chapter with its theme of history and teaching resonates strongly with me, as I study History (and English) to become a teacher. There are many passages which make me think about myself and which remind me of situations in my own life, which is important for any book that aims to be more than pure entertainment. For example, Deasy's remark to Stephen: "You were not born to be a teacher, I think", reminded me of someone who told me, five minutes after we had met: "You don't strike me as a teacher." (I had told him what I was studying.) I found this as intrusive and inappropriate as I find Deasy in his haughtiness towards Stephen. And I'm sure every reader will know a person like Deasy in real life. Although the novel was written almost one hundred years ago, there is a sense of topicality in some of the topics Ulysses treats, e.g. Deasy's remarks about the importance of saving up money strike a peculiar chord in times of worldwide protests against capitalism. Here, Deasy embodies capitalism, which Stephen seems to despise (note: Deasy puts money in his savingsbox while Stephen puts it, carelessly, into his trouser pocket, much like myself).

In this chapter, we get more glimpses of Stephen's minds and thoughts, and they are quite confusing still. Without using annotations, it is hardly decipherable what Stephen is on about. It would help to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as some notes state, so I will probably do so soon, too. (For me, Ulysses basically means heaping up reading material, which I will never be able to read anyway.)

I've started reading The Odyssey now, as a friend noted that this would increase the fun of reading Ulysses (for me, it still is fun to read it), and the thing that attracted my attention immediately is that Homer uses recurring adjectives or descriptions for characters (e.g. Athene is the "bright-eyed" goddess). I'll pay attention to adjectives in connection to characters in the rest of Ulysses much more closely. There is a striking example in this chapter, which shows Stephen's so far almost non-existent humour: after his conversation with Deasy, Stephen thinks about how "Mulligan will dub me a new name: the bullockbefriending bard", referring to the bullock Deasy. I'm quite sure that Joyce was fascinated by adjectives in The Odyssey, and played around with them in all of Ulysses (I also quite like Mulligan's expression "jejune jesuit" addressing Stephen).

Up next will be the notorious Proteus chapter featuring a huge amount of stream-of-consciousness, if I remember correctly.

Favourite line: "But for her the race of the world would have trampled him under foot, a squashed boneless snail."

Favourite Shakespeare reference: "But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.
--Iago, Stephen murmured."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Occupying Ulysses - Chapter 1: Telemachus

I'm participating in the @1book140 Twitter book club, and this month, some of the members have started their attempt to finally finish the juggernaut of a novel that is Ulysses. I've tried before but failed miserably every time before reaching the middle. So the decision to read it with book lovers in an online group was very welcome indeed. We decided against a strict schedule, everyone will just try to waddle through this gargantuan work, and whoever gets to the end will be celebrated with virtual fireworks or some such thing. I'll try to read a couple of pages a day (I'll read it out because of the wonderful English (or Irish?) of Joyce which surely is meant to be heard). After each chapter, I'll write a messy blog post about it, to put my mind in order.

So, once again, I've read Telemachus, the first chapter about "stately, plump" Buck Mulligan, who is mocking everyone and everything, and Stephen Dedalus, who is passively brooding about his mother's death and his "friend" Mulligan's offences, unable to speak his mind. Although Bloom is the main protagonist of the novel, we don't get to see him until chapter 4, so for now, the spotlight is on Stephen, who is the protagonist in Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I should have read, because a lot of Ulysses is based on this novel. We are in the mind of Stephen for much of the first three chapters, which is one of the major difficulties of Ulysses. The stream-of-consciousness passages are still the most mysterious and tricky ones, sometimes only containing one word ("Chrysostomos"; "Usurper"). The narrator's voice, however, is quite straight-forward and sober – at least in this chapter. Granted, there are some fancy words (I like "blithe"), but compared to later chapters, this one is fairly easy, although it gets more difficult in the end, once they are out of the Martello Tower.

What I especially like about Ulysses is the multitude of references (that's what I like about Gilmore Girls, too), particularly Hamlet and The Odyssey. Joyce can seem like a showoff at times, and he can be terribly self-indulgent, but at least in this chapter, he uses the references economically and wisely. His Hamlet references, for instance, put an emphasis on the similarity of the play with the novel, e.g. Hamlet's mourning for his father is echoed by Stephen's mourning for his mother; the Martello Tower calls to mind the platform on Elsinore Castle at the beginning of Hamlet.

So, should one read Ulysses with annotations? Well, I've tried it before, and never succeeded, so I guess this time, I'll just read as much as possible without annotations, and get back to certain passages to look things up. If things are over my head, that'll be fine, I just want to finally make it through the novel finally. I think the Occupy Ulysses has started nicely, let's hope we'll make our way to the final "yes".

Favourite line: "He proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father."