Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ulysses -- Penelope

I've been in Israel for the past week, so lots of books to post about, but I wanted to round off the postings of Ulysses first.  "Penelope" is Molly Bloom's chapter, and it's the first time we get to see her properly, instead of second-hand, through other characters' viewpoints.

On the one hand, Molly provides us with a lot of details about Bloom.  The one that most stuck out for me this time is that Bloom in fact can't seem to hold down a job.  We've heard about his problems with convincing Wisdom Healy to use more interesting advertising methods, but I'd been assuming that this disagreement stemmed from Bloom's role as a canvasser for the Freeman's Journal, but it's the other way around -- Healy threw him out when Bloom persisted in arguing with Healy about his advertising methods, and that's why Bloom is now canvassing for the Journal.

It's interesting, because of course through the whole novel, the impression we have of Bloom is the hard-working relatively successful man, but through Molly's eyes we see a man who is occasionally too smart for his own good, who would just as soon hang out around the house all day instead of getting out and working.

It also turns out that Bloom's neuroses that are exposed in "Circe" are not entirely buried in his psyche, but come out in his relationship with Molly.  This isn't really a surprise, though.

Lastly, this chapter tells us that Molly has only been unfaithful once, today, even though we know from "Ithaca" that Bloom suspects it has been pretty frequent.  On the other hand, Molly suspects Bloom of infidelity, and we know that, at least today, she's also incorrect.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ulysses -- Ithaca

One sentence that jumped out at me was when Joyce parallels each event in the day to a religious event (the service of St. John, simchat torah, etc).  I think this is so interesting, because it shows that the Odyssey parallels are far from the only lens through which to view Ulysses, and Joyce is here lending his imprimatur to those other lenses.  I think that some analyses focus too much on the parallels to the Odyssey, and those are really only a framework on which Joyce was building this novel.  (He also had an organ, a color, and an art form for each section, but we rarely find in-depth discussions of those).

I would argue that, although those parallels are interesting, there's so much more going on that you can miss the forest for the trees by focusing on this one aspect of the novel's scaffolding.

As to the actual substance of the episode; it's probably the densest episode in the book.  We can deduce Stephen and Bloom's ages, the size of Bloom's muscles, the books in his bookshelf, and so on.  It's almost a case study in throwing so much information at readers that relevant details are subsumed.  For example, Molly has not even tried to hide her dalliance with Boylan, leaving his cigarette stubs out in plain view for Bloom.  This is tremendously important (does she despise Bloom?  is she hoping to get a rise out of him?), but it's given as much emphasis as how old Bloom would be in the year 1933.

And Kenner points out that even in all these details, the items left out are important.  When Bloom tallies up his budget for the day, he leaves out Bella Cohen.

This section also shows Stephen at his worst, I think.  When he and Bloom trade songs, Bloom sings "Hatikva," while Stephen sings an anti-semitic song.  At best Stephen is deliberately obtuse, not realizing that the song would hurt Bloom's feelings.  At worst, Stephen wants to upset Bloom.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ulysses -- Circe and Eumaeus

I'm going to skip over the "Oxen of the Sun" episode, because I find I don't have so much to say about it, except that it's really great, and is probably tied with "Cyclops" for favorite.

With that bit of fanboy gushing out of the way...
This time through Ulysses, I found "Circe" and "Eumaeus" to be the most painful to read/listen to.  "Circe" of course is well-known to be very difficult, but "Eumaeus" is typically considered an easy read.  At the end of Circe, we and Bloom emerge with a sense of triumph.  We readers have conquered a very difficult section of prose, and Bloom has (for now) come to terms with his dead son, his feelings of inadequacy, and so on, and is prepared to move on and extend a helping hand to Stephen.

We readers know that Stephen has been searching for a father-figure, and also that he needs a bit of prodding to put his life on the right path.  Bloom, on the other hand, wants a son and is searching for a connection to someone he can talk to.  Both are outcasts.  Bloom is an intellectual in his way (mostly on the scientific side), while Stephen is an intellectual in a more ivory-tower way, but it seems like they could find some common ground.

Instead, though, we find in "Eumaeus" mis-step after mis-step.  Bloom hears the sailors' Italian and says it's a beautiful language; Stephen tells him they're just haggling over money.  Bloom calls Stephen an orthodox catholic, when he's anything but.  Bloom, trying to find something to talk about, says that Stephen's father is proud of him -- he could hardly pick a worse conversation-starter.  Stephen for his part is drunk, but on top of that is a bit of jerk.

Also, it may just be the narrator of the version I'm listening to, but this time around I really agree with Kenner's suggestion that the voice in "Eumaeus" is Bloom's.  All of his circumlocutions, his infelicities that pop up from time to time in the narrative are brought to the forefront, and we feel a bit embarrassed for him.  Bloom really isn't much of a raconteur, and he tends to wander off the subject, and it's easy to see why others aren't very friendly to him, aside from their anti-semitic tendencies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ulysses -- Nausicaa

Most of the analysis of this section that I've read works from the assumption that the point of view of the first half is Gertie McDowell's, but I don't think so, for a couple of reasons.  Instead, I think the POV is Leopold Bloom's, as he imagines what Gertie might be thinking.  There are a couple of giveaways, I think.

First, Gertie gives us a couple of times reasons why she won't run down the strand with the others.  It's only when she stands up that we realize the real reason is because she's lame.  We come to this realization at the same time as Bloom does, because he's watching her.  Second, she reflects that Bloom looks a bit like a movie star.  Since nobody else in the book seems to find him particularly movie-star-like, I submit that he's projecting that thought onto her; he doesn't just want her to think that he's Jewish-looking, rather, he's dark, handsome, and mysterious.

This is important because Bloom makes Gertie complicit in his own "release," and many commentators talk about the way Joyce combines opposites, with the connection of Gertie to Mary, and at the same time her connection to Bloom's issues.  But I think that the opposition is inside Bloom -- we see how conflicted Bloom is in the "Circe" chapter, after all.

Ulysses -- Cyclops

I finished the "Cyclops" chapter, which, as I mentioned earlier is one of my favorites.

It's almost a perfect balance between Joyce's tomfoolery with language and obscurity.  The parody in "Nausicaa" gets old after a while, while the "Sirens" is hard to understand.  But here, Joyce seemingly effortlessly jumps from Dublin dialect to mock-heroic narration to newspaper reportage, each one as funny as the next.

At the same time, the actual events are simpler to follow than "Oxen of the Sun" (at least for me).  Bloom confronts an anti-semite, utters a stinging blow (verbally, of course), and then retreats with the citizen throwing a can at his retreating cab.  Aside from the humor of the mock-heroism, I think Joyce uses it to show that it can take a measure of heroism to confront evil in our own daily lives.  At first, Bloom endures meekly the taunts of the others, but at the end he comes back in to say "Your God was a Jew like me."

Bloom has been spending some time trying to get money for Paddy Dignam's widow and children, for which he is also roundly mocked and criticized.  I think that his continuing in this thankless task is also a heroic action.

Joyce then elevates Bloom to Elijah-like status (some say Christ-figure, but I think it's worth noting that he's riding on a "chariot", which is a thing associated with Elijah).  We could see this as a mockery of Bloom, but I think that Joyce is ennobling him; Bloom is a hero, even if his foes are not obvious bad guys like the cyclops.