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."


Philip Cartwright said...

There is a lot about history in Ulysses, but also this striking remark: "The opposite of history is love". A key theme in the book, I think.

Shiver said...

I think I haven't read that quote yet. Thanks!

Yes, there's the famous quote: "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake", but also "I fear those big words which make us so unhappy" a couple of pages earlier in the same chapter. I'm sure Stephen means love - amongst other things - by that.

Kalibhakta said...

I really admire you and your #occupyulysses mates. I've taught English for 20 years and I'm just now tackling the tome.

Anybody out there who's reading it, don't feel like a fraud if you're using crib notes... no one feels bad for doing this with the Bible or Shakespeare or even Bram Stoker, so just grab your Bloomsday Book and jump right in!

AllStevie said...

I always related to Stephens reply to Deasy: "A learner rather." after 20 years of teaching I still feel that way!

AllStevie said...

Oh, & there's another joke Stephen thinks of, while he's teaching, & tries to keep it in mind for Mulligan, who will actually get it, as opposed to the kids, who give him dumb stares. Another common teaching scenario.
Another moment I love is the "Iago" comment. It drives me nuts when ppl attribute dialogue to Shakespeare himself. Iago is pure evil, & even when he speaks truth, it's just to mislead & manipulate people. I love that Stephen calls him on it.

dgr-c said...

I think Joyce is playing a joke on all the pedants who simply "teach" as opposed to promoting learning. This includes all those who try to "teach Ulysses" without letting the learners get lost in Joyce's labyrinth of words.

I know that if I get to the end of the labyrinth this time, it will be only because I'm following the echos of those equally lost, not because I'm reading the graffiti and following the arrows scratched on the walls of the maze.