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.