Friday, June 20, 2014

The Most Dangerous Book

From an article at the Chronicle of Higher Education about The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses:
For Joyce himself, the battle for Ulysses was neither light nor humorous. It was an excruciating ordeal. Moving from Dublin to Trieste to Zurich to Paris, he was utterly dependent on the kindness of strangers to pay his family’s bills. Those bills increased after his daughter, Lucia, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Joyce’s own debilities both impeded and impelled the writing of his book. He persevered despite the agonies of syphilis-induced iritis that left him on the verge of blindness and madness. "Joyce wrote an epic of the human body partly because it was so challenging for him to get beyond his own," notes Birmingham.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ulysses Recovered

This cover of a new edition of Ulysses, designed by Peter Mendelsund, was chosen by the New York Times as one of the best book covers of 2013.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Our Final Meeting

I took this photo of the lovely group of people assembled for today's final meeting.

Today we had our final meeting, hosted by Doc JPK at his 120-year-old manse. It was a delightful occasion. Joining us were representatives from the student group that also read the book over the summer. 

Adam T. said of the book's ending that he got the sense that both Leopold and Molly had come to a new perspective on their marriage, and that each was headed in a better direction. He said that he was glad to have gotten to know them, and glad that he could be happy for them.

Adam's sentiments are related to one of the key ideas I'll take from today's discussion—the notion of Joyce's novel as, ultimately, an illustration of Stephen's belief in "the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man in literature," a point of disagreement between him and Bloom. Though Bloom may not care all that much about literature (beyond his own modest poetic efforts and his passing interest in smut), Ulysses itself becomes an affirmation of Bloom (after all, it ends with Molly saying Yes to him) and his quotidian, human existence.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bill's Notes from Our Third Meeting

Bill G. returns to the four contrasts in these notes that draw partly on issues discussed at our third meeting, held this past Saturday afternoon at Rob H.'s house.

Decay versus Growth

When Bloom buys the kidney from the Jewish butcher, we get introduced to Agendath Netiam, the Jewish dream of growing fruits on plots of desert, blooming the sand of Palestine. In Bloom's name we have indications of Joyce's notion of his hero. When Bloom is not fruitful he is at his most impotent. In his non-sexual relationship with Molly, his epistolary romance with Martha, and his spilling of his seed on the sands of Sandymount Strand, Bloom is not blooming. At these moments Bloom is more a character of decay (decadent) than a chacter of growth. Stephen shares this decadence when he is at his most arid. Stephen's monologue in Chapter 3 occurs while Stephen walks alons the sands from Sandy Cove, the site of the tower to Sandymount. Sand becomes an image of the intellectual aridity that demonstrates Stephen's brilliance and his isolation and lack of blooming.

The Oxen of the Sun develops this topic because it takes place at the maternity hospital and because Joyce uses the chapter to demonstrate the growth (and decay?) of the English language by narrating in developing English.

Romance versus Reality

How can Bloom be a hero like Odysseus?

He can't because he is real, not a mythic romantic hero like Odysseus. Bloom defecates, masturbates, farts. His reality makes him more the hero than any imaginary romance figure. In his best moments—when Bloom defends himself and all outcasts—he earns our admiration as a real hero.

Awareness versus Blindness

When he fantasizes about Gerty, he shows he wishes he were a romantic hero whom someone like Gerty would find interesting. His blindness is a flaw that is all too real, for which of us does not allow ourselves such moments? Bloom, however, elevates himself above the others in the pub whose blindness is less pitiful. Doran's drunkenness, the Citizen's patriotism, Conmee's smugness, the anti-Semitism of almost all the characters blind them in a way that that Joyce mocks rather than pities.

Community vs Isolation

The potential good of the pub dwellers' community decays into an exclusivity that excludes Bloom.

The isolation of Stephen comes from what? His brilliance? His arrogance? Stephen is capable of empathy with the struggling student in his classroom at Deasy's school and some empathy for Dilly in Chapter Five of Portrait. His brilliance is something that the disciples in the library give to him freely.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anchors for Understanding Stephen

Bill G. writes:

When I read the Stephen chapters that are most difficult I rely upon the anchor of the four contrasts that Joyce explores in all of his fiction:  

isolation versus community

Here Stephen finds himself among a community as he does occasionally. Like the little boy in Portrait, he remembers himself as one who moves from the margins of society to a central heroic figure. In Portrait the boy challenges the injustice of being pandied for not having his glasses and ends up on the shoulders of the older boys for taking on the jesuits, particularly Fr. Conmee, the same jesuit who wanders in the next chapter of U. In Ulysses,  Stephen holds forth in the National Library like one of  his parallel selves, Christ teaching in the temple, a metempsychosis that posits Stephen's vision as god-like. Like Stephen, Bloom ,moves about on the margins of his society for various reasons, Mulligan's mockery of Bloom's jewishness is a cause for Bloom's being an outsider. But Bloom's cuckoldry, humility, curiosity and decency are other reasons. When Bloom is observed examining Venus's mesial groove, he becomes fodder for the wit and anti-Semitism of Mulligan and others. Stephen also is elevated above the elders in the library because of his other parallel self, Shakespeare. Bloom shares in this parallel because of his cuckoldry.
Another community is one that transcends time and space--parallax
Molly Bloom and Gertrude, Queen of Denmark and Penelope, Queen of Ithaca--waiting for their men or not to return from war
Stephen's fathers: Simon, Conmee, both of whom Stephen resists and Hamlet who like Stephen is his own father creator and Bloom, Stephen's father-rival to be.

Understanding, Vision versus Ignorance, Blindness

His notion of himself as Shakespeare of he age, the one who in writing Ulysses is writing the epic of his people and as Christ the victim (notions that JJ shares).  Is Bloom a parallel to Stephen because Bloom's marginality and curiosity give him an understanding denied the smug insiders like Conmee, Powers.

Growth versus Decay

In all other instances, Stephen movement among others is followed by a descent that clarifies that any triumphs of the god-like Daedalus end up in the depths of the ocean as Icarus does in Portrait 4, as Gabriel Conroy does when he moves from the carver of the goose and master of ceremonies in The Dead to the cuckolded, humbled Gabriel when he learns of Michael Furey. Does a similar descent occur in Ulysses? Does Simon Dedalus, Stephen blood father, have more bearing on Stephen's future than all the other fathers that Stephen imagines for himself in U?

Romance versus Reality

Joyce and Stephen seek to find in the world of the actual that which exists in the imagination. All things are grist for their mills.  Stephen is an Aristotelian, not a Platonist--or is he?

Photos of Dublin

Bill G. offers some photos of Dublin:

The Anna Livia fountain that once sat near the GPO. Steve Missey is sitting on the edge of the pool. The fountain was so often fouled, it was replaced by the Millennium Spike in 2000.
Davy Byrnes' Moral Pub
Lower Hatch Street
The Liffey at dusk.
Dublin Castle Yard
Buskers on Grafton Street