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."

No comments: