Wednesday, November 4, 2009

274. Ulysses - James Joyce

History: This novel was first serialized in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on February 2, 1922, in Paris. Joyce divided Ulysses into eighteen chapters or "episodes".
At first glance much of the book may appear unstructured and chaotic; Joyce once said that he had "put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant",
Plot: Every episode of Ulysses has a theme, technique, and correspondences between its characters and those of the Odyssey. In The Telemachiad, we get a picture of Stephen as he has matured since the end of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The first three chapters introduce would-be writer Stephen Dedalus, familiar to Joyce readers from his earlier novel. On the morning of 16 June 1904, Stephen leaves the disused watchtower he shares with "stately, plump Buck Mulligan", vowing never to return.
After teaching at a nearby school he talks to an aging anti-semetic professor who gives him a letter to deliver to the offices of a Dublin newspaper.
He then goes for a long walk on the beach that gives him plenty of time to ponder his literary aspirations and dead mother fixation. Stephen's mother died and he is wracked with guilt over her death, because he would not kneel and pray.
In "Proteus" we also get our first really daring stylistic chapter, and begin to get a sense of the intense stream-of-consciousness and stylistic play that will come to dominate the book. He finds his way to Sandymount Strand and mopes around for some time, mulling various philosophical concepts, his family, his life as a student in Paris, and again, his mother's death. As Stephen reminisces and ponders, he lies down among some rocks, watches a couple and a dog, writes some poetry ideas, picks his nose, and urinates behind a rock.
"Calypso" is our first peek into the mind of Jewish advertising salesman Leopold Bloom. We also get a feeling for the Blooms' troubled marriage, which will come to underlie much of the book's plot. Leopold Bloom buys a kidney, then returns home to 7 Eccles Street and has it for breakfast. He then defecates. Upstairs Molly, his unfaithful opera singer wife, waits for him to leave so she can entertain her lover.
There are a number of different conflicts that arise in The Wanderings of Ulysses as Bloom attends a funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery, his symbolic encounter with death mirroring Odysseus's descent into Hades.
It's lunchtime, so Bloom stops at Davy Byrne's "moral pub" for a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy. He then pays a call to the National Library where he overhears Stephen sounding off about Shakespeare.
Stephen presents his Hamlet argument, and Bloom speaks out against prejudice and shortsighted Irish nationalism. Stephen has a vision of his dead mother, knocks over Bella Cohen's chandelier with his ashplant (cane) and screams Non Serviam before running out of the brothel and getting in a fight with an English constable. Bloom has an argument with a pub bore whose blinkered anti-Semitism mirrors Homer's one-eyed Cyclops.
Stephen and Bloom meet at last in a maternity hospital in a chapter whose structure is meant to represent both the nine months of pregnancy and the birth of the English language.
In terms of our understanding of the characters, "Circe" is also a climax because we approach something like full disclosure.
Stephen and Bloom have been united, and it is here that they begin to get along and have a long discussion in Bloom's kitchen before he shows Stephen out. It is after 2am and for both of them, it is clear that the action of their day has passed and that things are now winding down.
Review: Some depict this novel as a hoax on the literary world, I don't think so. It is a groundbreaking novel, with stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and highly experimental prose—full of puns, parodies, and allusions—as well as its rich characterizations and broad humour, have made the book perhaps the most highly regarded novel in the Modernist pantheon. That he has a message there can be no doubt. He seeks to tell the world of the people that he has encountered in the forty years of sentient existence; to describe their conduct and speech and to analyze their motives, and to relate the effect the "world," sordid, turbulent, disorderly, with mephitic atmosphere engendered by alcohol and the dominant ecclesiasticism of his country, had upon him, an emotional Celt, an egocentric genius, whose chief diversion and keenest pleasure is self-analysis and whose lifelong important occupation has been keeping a notebook in which has been recorded incident encountered and speech heard with photographic accuracy and Boswellian fidelity. Mr. Joyce is an alert, keen-witted, brilliant man who has made it a lifelong habit to jot down every thought that he has had, whether he is depressed or exalted, despairing or hopeful, hungry or satiated, and likewise to put down what he has seen or heard others do or say. It is not unlikely that every thought that Mr. Joyce has had, every experience he has ever encountered, every person he has ever met, one might almost say everything he has ever read in sacred or profane literature, is to be encountered in the obscurities and in the frankness of "Ulysses." If personality is the sum total of all one's experiences, all one's thoughts and emotions, inhibitions and liberations, acquisitions and inheritances, then it may be truthfully said "Ulysses" comes nearer to being the perfect revelation of a personality than any book in existence.
Opening Line: "Stately, plump, Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed."
Closing Line: "...I put my arms around him and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes and I said yes I will Yes."
Quotes: "Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves".
"I hate that in women no wonder they treat us they way they do we are a dreadful lot of bitches I suppose its all the troubles we have makes us so snappy".
Rating: Excellent.

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