Saturday, June 15, 2013

Our First Meeting

We met today to discuss the first three chapters of Ulysses. Thirteen people participated altogether, representing four different SLUH departments and five different schools.

Questions we discussed included: Is this a novel? Is this book unbearably pretentious and show-offy? Why begin with Stephen? Is he a tragic hero? A version of Joyce himself? In what ways is this a post-colonial novel? Does the novel's stream-of-consciousness style offer a uniquely vivid portrait of its characters, or is it artificial and false? 

We compared Stephen to Quentin Compson, from Faulkner's Sound and the Fury, and reflected on the ways that Ireland, like Faulkner's South, was a "Christ-haunted" land—but may no longer be so, unlike the American South. 

Those of us who have read the novel in its entirety talked about the differences between Bloom and Stephen, and pondered the implications of Joyce's decision to focus his book primarily on Bloom instead of the alter-ego whose character he had already spent an entire book exploring. We explored the significance of Joyce's setting this novel on the very day of his first romantic interlude with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. 

Having a single discussion about this book at a long table with thirteen people was challenging; we tended to split off into two groups. Sitting in the middle of the table, I was able to jump promiscuously from one to the other. I had a great time and am very much looking forward to the next meeting. 

Thanks, everybody! Feel free to chime in with any other ideas or perspectives you took away from the meeting.

Here are some photos of the discussion, held at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood.

Frank K.


  1. Good stuff, Frank. Much interesting talk about heroes at our end of the table. It does seem that insisting that Stephen isn't a prince like Hamlet or that Bloom lacks regal pedigree like Odysseus and thus that they are technically exluded from the ranks of true heroes misses the point: Calling the book Ulysses and devoting an epic scale work to a mere day in a mundane life might just be an attempt to elevate the ordinary to a greater plane or to re-think and re-shape the ideas of literary hero, epic, and even the novel form, itself. Then again, it might just be ironic, an elaborate prank on the readers, themselves, for taking such things as novels so seriously. Somehow I think Joyce would have approved hosting the discussion in a noisy bar rather than a quiet library conference room or freshly cleaned and painted classroom. However challenging the reading that got us there, I certainly enjoyed the company and conversation today. Thanks!

  2. In the student group discussion on this section (*ahem* Held 2 weeks ago— catch us if you can, Frank & Co.), we reached a consensus that it might not be the book that is "unbearably pretentious and show-offy," but the character Stephen. None of us liked him, and we found him to be very Hamlet-y indeed: brooding away from everyone else, his grand and rambling thoughts akin to Hamlet's speeches, many of which happened when Hamlet was alone (or thought he was alone). And then, "I pace the path above the rocks, in sable silvered, hearing Elsinore's tempting floods." Suicidal, and, no less, in the same way Quentin was suicidal: by drowning. To be or not to be. Elsinore's tempting floods.... It seems almost as though Stephen *wants* to be Hamlet.
    I would agree with Mr. Kavanaugh's analysis (nice to meet you, Mr. Kavanaugh) in regards to excluding Dedalus and Bloom from being heros by nature of their status. Dedalus still feels very tragic.

    Regarding his heroism, I might argue that at this point, Dedalus didn't feel especially courageous to me: he's stuck at a crappy job with a crappy boss and a mooching roommate and he just sort of deals with all of those things. It seems theoretically that he should have all of the power in his relationship with Mulligan. But he does what Mulligan wants. I'm reminded of Stephen's last thought in Chapter One: Usurper; he feels Mulligan has illegitimately robbed him of his power, what with the keys and the money and such.

    Quite interesting to see what you guys talked about. It's a shame that our meetings have so far consisted of about 75% less food and drink per person, looks like you had a jolly good time.