Monday, January 10, 2011

Ulysses, chapters three and four

In the third chapter, Stephen is walking along the beach.  That's pretty much all the action, but he thinks about all kinds of things, and you get to try and figure out from one sentence to the next, sometimes from one word to the next, what he's thinking about.  The opening words of the chapter:  "Ineluctable modality of the visible."  They're never really precisely explained, although you begin to get some idea of what he's talking about because in the next paragraph he moves on the ineluctable modality of the audible.  He's thinking about perception, how we perceive things, and the unknowable contrast between appearance and reality.  Sometimes it's interesting, sometimes it's not.  He sees two midwives walking along the beach, carrying a sack, which he thinks must contain a stillbirth.  He thinks about his own birth, and his mother, and conception-- the moment of his own conception, and the immaculate conception. There's a long bit about his time in Paris. He sees a dog and its owners.  The dog sniffs a dog carcass that is lying in the surf.  Then he takes a piss and picks his nose.  Honestly, I missed the piss until it was mentioned in the commentaries.  I had to go back through the chapter to find it, and I'm still not entirely sure I've got the right spot.  Here's my best guess:  "In long lassoes from the Cock lake the water flowed full, covering greengoldenly lagoons of sand, rising, flowing."  Could be piss, if you ask me.  The whole thing is like that, and sometimes you can follow it, and sometimes you can't.  But picking his nose is obvious:  "He laid the dry snot picked from his nostril on a ledge of rock, carefully.  For the rest let look who will." 

It's quite lovely sometimes, although you're not entirely sure what he means.  Try this, his thoughts either while he's scribbling poetry on the back of Mr. Deasy's letter, or right after he's finished, I'm not sure which:  "His shadow lay over the rocks as he bent, ending.  Why not endless till the farthest star?  Darkly they are there behind this light, darkness shining in the brightness, delta of Cassiopeia, worlds.  Me sits there with his augur's rod of ash, in borrowed sandals, by day beside a livid sea, unbeheld, in violet night walking beneath a reign of uncouth stars.  I throw this ended shadow from me, manshape ineluctable, call it back.  Endless, would it be mine, form of my form?  Who watches me here?  Who ever anywhere will read these written words?"

Chapter Three ends the part where Stephen is the point-of-view character.  And by the way, Joyce didn't call them chapters, or number them-- that's all been added by commentators.  The only division Joyce made was to divide the whole thing into three parts, and what the commentators call "chapter three" or "episode three" ends the first part.  Chapter four starts part II, and we move on to Leopold Bloom.

While the style continues to be stream-of-consciousness, it's (so far) much easier to follow.  Bloom is fixing breakfast for his wife Molly and his cat.  He's quite sweet about the cat, which (at least for me) makes him an immediately sympathetic character.  When he realizes there is nothing for his own breakfast, he decides to go to the butcher's.  He realizes he doesn't have his key, but he would have to go back into the bedroom and wake up Molly to get it, so he pulls the door mostly shut and goes on to the butcher's.  (a key again!)  He enjoys the warmth of the sun.  He's wearing black for a funeral later in the day, and he notices how much the sun's warmth is magnified by the black clothes.  At the butcher shop, he stands in line behind a woman neighbor, and notices her hips.  He hopes he can walk home behind her and watch her walk.  At home, he fixes his breakfast, takes the mail up to his wife (which includes a letter from Blazes, who--according to the commentary--will become her lover), and brings his own letter from his daughter Milly back down to read while he eats his breakfast.  Then-- there's no way to say this politely, sorry-- he goes out to the outhouse and takes a dump.  The, um, product isn't described in detail, but the process is.  He is happy with his regularity, shall we say.  He reads the paper while he's there, then tears off half of a prize-winning story to wipe.  He checks to make sure that his pants are still clean, since he still has to go to the funeral.

the style in this chapter is quite different.  Bloom thinks in much shorter phrases, that come at you more abruptly.  he thinks about his daughter's ripening sexuality:  "O well: she knows how to mind herself.  But if not?  No, nothing has happened.  Of course it might.  Wait in any case till it does.  A wild piece of goods.  Her slim legs running up the staircase.  Destiny.  Ripening now.  Vain:  very."  Quite a change from Stephen's long abstract thoughts, that twine around from one subject to the next.  with both of them, though, the reading experience is the same.  You understand five or six lines, and then there's five or six (or twenty) lines that are incomprehensible, and then suddenly you pick up the thread again and there's another five or six lines you understand.  I can see why you have to read this several times before you start to get it.

To back up a bit:  this next semester, I'm taking a seminar on Jane Austen and ... wait for it... the History of Feminist Theory.  Sorry about that, because if you follow along here you know you're going to have to live through it with me.  As if I haven't already typed enough about that.  But it's a very small department, and there weren't very many graduate classes being offered next semester.  And given my driving schedule, there really were only those two classes that would work.  But we're supposed to take three courses per semester, which left me in a bit of a dilemma.  So I started poking around looking for something interesting to do for an independent study, and came upon one of the professors I had last year who is working on Ulysses.  I e-mailed him, he agreed, and voila.  But I need to get Ulysses read for the first time before the semester starts so I can be of some use to him.  I'm sure I'll have to read it at least once more before I can even begin to comprehend it, and who knows what else he'll assign me to read.  I'm looking forward to that more than either of the regular classes.

1 comment:

  1. Holy crap! I am SO glad you are deciphering this for me. Gawd, my brain hurts just thinking about it. But, I AM enjoying seeing it this way, very much.