NB Ulyssesian academics who have stumbled in here by chance might want to look away now or risk tearing their hair out.
So how's it going Team Ulysses?
Are you all still there?
Please don't worry if you're behind, ahead, haven't started, don't want to...this is for pleasure not pain, but I can report that I've been really good, haven't cut the ropes and climbed on ahead, just stuck with the first chapter for this month and ended up reading that three times now.
If I carry on like this I'll end the year being able say 'yes well actually I've read Ulysses three times' but we'll see.
I read over and again to give myself a bit of a grounding while the going was good, like digging in the foundations for when things get tough and the air gets a bit thin, which I have no doubt it will.
I'm also sticking to my pledge not to bring in anything other than Declan Kiberd's Ulysses and Us for guidance, so it's me and the words and that's it. I've no plans to cheat either and filch ideas from elsewhere and pretend I've had a brainwave, what I share will be my initial naive thoughts and if Declan or anyone else has had a hand in it I'll say so.
For anyone who might find it helpful, and my thanks to Faber for this, you can download the first chapter of Declan Kiberd's book here.
That said, I have ordered a book by Frank Delaney which looks interesting and relevant for me, James Joyce's Odyssey.
I've never been to Dublin and I wanted a book that gave me a Ulyssesian feel for the city because already I'm getting that sense of place and country from this first chapter and I feel as if I'm half blindfolded and missing sights and sounds along the way that I definitely don't want to miss.
It took me three readings to pick up the significance of the Martello Tower setting and not suprisingly, given my Tudor deficits, Irish history doesn't come high up my list of competencies either. Whilst I sense much reference to an Irish past and, what Declan Kiberd describes as the absolute penetration of a colonial power, I'm not as conversant with the intricate details as I should be, only with the fall-out in my own lifetime, but I'm sure that will change.
Declan Kiberd has already pointed out that whilst England was staging a Great Exhibition in 1851 and proclaiming herself the pinnacle of scientific and industrial achievement, the people of Ireland were dying of starvation on the streets.
It's a sobering thought and one the rather haughty Haines clearly understates,
'We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly. It seems history is to blame'.
Placing the book in its historical context has felt important to me too because nor had I really appreciated that, as James Joyce was writing Ulysses, a world system was busy collapsing in Europe and Joyce was writing a book for the new order that would surely replace it,
' he would explore modes of teaching and learning which answer the emotional and intellectual needs of ordinary people in search of a wiser way of life.'
But in a way that's all extraneous, because what I am enjoying are the
words and the flow and this sense of a single day, chosen because
nothing great happened on June 16th 1904, nothing could detract from
Stephen's life on that day.
How much easier to do that in 1904.
It made me think how it is virtually impossible to have a day like that now unless I make a conscious effort to ignore all media intrusions, no news, no papers, no radio, no sneaking a look at the headlines at the top of my computer task bar.
Just the discovery that we've lost soldiers in Afghanistan invades my day with a background of sadness and affects it in a way that I can't possibly avoid.
There is mention of the Jesuits and I'm getting little whispers of a Gerard Manley Hopkins-like prose at times too, he did a lot of treading and wreaking as I recall and often just a line of Joyce's would be enough.
'Seaspawn and seawrack...to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells'
me thinking about Hopkins's inscape and instress, all studied at school
and so long ago it's lost in the mists of essays for which I got B -
and 'fair attempt.' I was far too callow to appreciate it all, that has
come with the years, but I do still have my annotated copy from the
sixth form with a couple of those terrible essays tucked inside.
These words of Joyce felt completely Hopkins-esque.
'Woodshadows floated silently by through the morning peace from the stairhead seaward where he gazed. Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast of the din sea. The twining stresses two by two. A hand plucking the harpstrings, two by two. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.'
Joyce was at great pains to slow down the skimming speed reader, troubled by the fact that words were read at a far greater speed than the speed of oral delivery and Declan Kiberd makes a wonderful analogy with the flaneur whose
'languid gait on the boulevards was an attempt to decelerate the modern world, by reducing quick walking to a slow crawl.'
being a Ulyssesian literary flaneur and loving the stroll and it makes
me think that we are probably all seeing different things as we walk
and gaze around which makes this quite exciting. To James Joyce the
'ordinary' reader mattered and I can only imagine how dismayed he may
have felt to see his book taken hostage by the academy and perhaps how
pleased he might have been to see the masses storming the ramparts and
So Ulysses is like reading the inner ramblings of a mind or as Ruth over at Crafty People says, listening to her talking.
"I’m really enjoying the stream of consciousness of this book. The thoughts of the protagonists wander in much the same way that mine do. However, I’ve not yet mastered the trick of keeping my mouth shut and many of my thoughts just come flowing out sweeping unwary bystanders in their path. Those who know me just switch off but the uninitiated have been known to feel faint at the torrent of seemingly disconnected words and ideas rushing in their direction."
Ruth is a dear friend and won't mind me saying that she is indeed like a walking talking version of Ulysses and
spending a day with her is not as she thinks about stopping up my ears
but enjoying the listening. Ruth's creative stream of consciousness
whilst strolling through Liberty's of London should be preserved for
There is an acknowledgment that many readers give up their reading of Ulysses at this point, about sixty pages in struggling with the impending density, but I'm feeling really up for whatever comes next, as Declan so comfortingly reassures,
' Joyce is laughing at the pitiful pretentiousness of the youth he once was. Nobody could understand all that Stephen says or thinks. Nobody could take all of his ideas with utter seriousness.'
In that vein I've been walking round saying
'well, it's the ineluctable modality of the visual...I'd have thought that was obvious.'
My mother always argued that a university degree was training for nothing and who knows whether she'd absorbed that from James Joyce or not, but she could have done because as Declan Kiberd elaborates, Stephen's over interpretation of events, his shyness, his bouts of arrogance all point to the fact that
'a college arts degree may unfit you for the world.'
seemed to expand and fit into the space waiting for it when I did it in my forties, but I doubt I would
have taken so much life experience into it or gained as much from it if
I'd done it in my late teens.
So that's me and with all that in mind I'm now really excited about moving onto Camp Two, how about you?
We'll bivouac here for the next month so please add comments whenever you want to, I can't wait to hear your thoughts and we'll reconvene on August 16th and see what we find when we get there.