We’re three chapters into our readalong of Ulysses, and I’ve come to following conclusion:
Joyce was a genius. Or whacked.
I can’t really decide.
Let me explain. Ulysses is full of allusions. The whole thing is modeled after Homer’s Odyssey, but it seems like every word, every character, every line of dialogue, is meant to evoke some meaning or memory. The thought of someone coming up with this beast of a book just boggles my mind.
On the other hand, there are moments when the book is also practically incomprehensible (ahem…chapter 3).
So. Genius. Whacked. Genius. Whacked. Which is it?
And that’s where my thoughts stand at the moment. Now, let’s chat a bit about what’s happening. This is where, if you’re going to ever read this (although judging by the comments on prior posts, I’m guessing that’s not many of you), you’ll want to leave.
In Chapter 1, Telemachus, we meet (or, if we ever read The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (which I haven’t), we’re re-introduced to) Stephen Dedalus. Stephen is our young hero, the counterpart to Odysseus’s son Telemachus. He lives with Buck Mulligan, an obnoxious medical student who likes to party and bullies Stephen into lending him money and paying the rent. Like Telemachus, Stephen needs to learn how to stand up for himself. And like Telemachus, he’s saddled with moochers.
In Chapter 2, Nestor, Stephen heads off to work, teaching history to young boys at a small, private school. It doesn’t take much time…he teaches for an hour, and then meets with the headmaster to collect his wages. The headmaster goes off on a few tangents that are meant to evoke Irish history and remind us of Nestor, Telemachus’s first stop in his search for papa Odysseus (I know this only because I’m consulting Stuart Gilbert’s analysis James Joyce’s Ulysses).
Chapter 3, Proteus, is a long, rambling monologue. Stephen walks to the sea. Along the way he stops to visit his uncle Richie. At least, I think he does. It may have just been imagined. It’s hard to tell when there’s no actual dialogue. In fact, it was hard to know what Stephen was thinking for most of this chapter. Mostly what I remember is that there were things mentioned in other languages, there was a dog, and there was the sea. This is the chapter that makes a good case for Joyce being whacked. I offer you this proof:
Come. I thirst. Clouding over. No black clouds anywhere, are there? Thunderstorm. Allbright he falls, proud lightning of the intellect, Lucifer, dico, qui nescit occasum. No. My cockle hat and staff and his my sandal shoon. Where? To evening lands. Evening will find itself. (page 50)
Yeah. Chapter 3 was pretty much one great WTF.
So that brings us to the end of the Telemachus, the first book in Ulysses. Besides my genius-whacked debate, the thing that really stood out for me was the sea. It’s everywhere. Even Buck had to talk about it:
God, he said quietly. Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton. Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks. I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother. Come and look. (page 5)
epi oinopa ponton = the wine-dark sea, which was a phrase Homer used often in the Odyssey
thalatta = the Sea
See what I mean? Sorry. Bad pun. I’ll stop now, with this final observation: how did people read this book before Google?!?
If you’re reading along with us, and you’ve written a post about the first week’s adventures, please leave a link so we can visit and commiserate!