Reading for Bloomsday

Bloomsday is here and I'm up at an ungodly hour to start reading. (YMMV as to what "ungodly" means.) I will be reading Ulysses throughout the day, tweeting lines of the book as I go for the Tweeting Ulysses event and checking in with the people in the Bloomsday Readalong hosted by o from Délaissé.

This post will be updated with my progress as I go. I haven't decided yet if I'm aiming to finish the whole book today. I've already read Ulysses once, so, on one hand, I could push myself to reread it in its entirety in one day. On the other hand, I also feel like taking a detour to explore some of Joyce's references, particularly the literary ones. So I might stop to read some Yeats along the way, or I could just make a list of all the references and keep it as reading material for next week. We'll see.

Check back here for my progress in a couple of hours. And now... here we go.  Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead....

Episode I: Telemachus

This flew by easier than I expected. I remember the effort it took me to follow the dialogue the first time around. It's like you're dropped in the middle of a real life conversation that you have to do your best to follow. Even though I had read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and was familiar with some of the historical background, my best was not good enough and I spent a lot of time going "Huh? WHAT are they talking about now?" I also remember reading the word "Chrysostomos," looking it up and thinking that if I'm supposed to get all that just from a character opening his mouth, then I'm screwed. This time, though, I felt I was on top of it and that I could actually follow what everyone was saying and why they were saying it. I said hello to Chrysostomos, my old buddy. It was a good start and it's making me feel hopeful about the rest. :)

Favorite quote: 
Stephen, an elbow rested on the jagged granite, leaned his palm against his brow and gazed at the fraying edge of his shiny black coat-sleeve. Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart. Silently, in a dream she had come to him after her death, her wasted body within its loose brown graveclothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood, her breath, that had bent upon him, mute, reproachful, a faint odour of wetted ashes. Across the threadbare cuffedge he saw the sea hailed as a great sweet mother by the wellfed voice beside him. The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting.
I love how the undercurrent of Stephen's grief and guilt over his mother's death comes to the surface here. Joyce has this way of succinctly describing emotions that gives me the shivers. "Pain, that was not yet the pain of love" might be the best description of the mix of feelings after someone one's death I've ever read.

Favorite character: 

Buck Mulligan. I can't help it. I just sympathize with Mercutio-like characters. (And isn't Mulligan more Mercutio to Stephen's Romeo than he is a fake-Horatio to Stephen's Hamlet, as people describe him?) I know he's vulgar, I know he's irreverent and I know he treats Stephen badly. I get why he's in the story. But, at the same time, The Ballad of Joking Jesus is funny. And I like people that don't take themselves seriously. I wouldn't mind reading more of Buck Mulligan.

Stuff to follow up on:

I want to read some of the things that were referenced here. (I'm reading an annotated edition, and I try  to keep up with the notes as well, though I constantly forget to check them as I fool myself that I get what's happening I read ahead. Oh well.) Since making plans for what to read next is my favorite activity (much surpassing reading itself), here's my list:

  • Swinburne, The Triumph of Time (I love how they constantly call him Algy.) 
  • Yeats, Cathleen ni Houlihan
  • Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism & Culture and Anarchy (I've decided I'm going to try to read these for A Victorian Celebration.)

Episode II: Nestor 

Stephen teaching a history class. Some images that I loved (A pier is a disappointed bridge? That's actually quite brilliant, no matter what Mulligan would say.) This wasn't particularly hard to follow, even though Stephen started musing about history and the possible and Aristotle and all that jazz. (I wish I could say that, as a Philosophy major, I knew what he was talking about. But...yeah.) Still feeling good about myself, though.

Favorite quote: 
Like him was I, these sloping shoulders, this gracelessness. My childhood bends beside me. Too far for me to lay a hand there once or lightly. Mine is far and his secret as our eyes. Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants, willing to be dethroned.
Another example of Joyce capturing emotions in a striking way. Stephen is tutoring an ugly boy and thinking of how someone (i.e. his mother) must love the boy even though he's so ugly. From there he starts thinking about his own childhood. Do you see a pattern here? Most of my favorite passages from Ulysses are like this - easy to understand and easy to relate to (bonus if they make me think of my childhood).

Favorite character: 

After confessing my appreciation for Buck Mulligan, you thought I'd say I liked the old anti-Semitic misogynistic teacher, didn't you? No, I like Stephen here. What was interesting was that all the people so far are immersed in culture in one way or another. They can spout endless quotes. Parts of their conversation are just citing Shakespeare/various Irish poets. But at the same time, it's clear that not all of them are the real thing. Mr. Deasy (the guy who hates Jews and women) quotes Iago to bolster his point, because it's Shakespeare, you know? It makes one like Stephen, who at least knows what he's talking/dreaming about.

Stuff to follow up on: 
  • Blake, A Vision of the Last Judgment & The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
  • Milton, Lycidas

Episode III: Proteus 

Ah, there it is. The feeling that the book moves faster than your mind. I actually have a theory about what's happening here, and in Modernism in general. (Yes, that's one snotty sentence.) In this chapter Stephen keeps repeating two German words: "Nacheinander" (one after another) and "Nebeneinander" (side by side). The ever-helpful notes told me that these terms were used by Lessing to distinguish between things you can present in writing and things you can present in the visual arts. The subject of poetry (and, generally, written stuff) is always a sequence of events, one after another, while the subject of a painting is a conglomerate of objects that are there at the same time, side by side, and you, as a viewer, can take your time in noticing them.

Reading this explanation, I thought it fit Joyce unexpectedly well. To me it looks like what Joyce is doing here is precisely putting things side by side. Instead of getting the normal sequence of events, you get an image of everything the characters remember about their lives and about history. Everything they ever learned or lived is there simultaneously, mixed with the present. This is not a narrative in the traditional sense, this is more like a painting. It's an effort to say everything at once. And that's also why one can't take it all in immediately.

Don't mind my rambling, it was something I was struggling to put into words about Faulkner and why his sentences are so long, so I'm happy that I found these terms to describe it :)

Favorite quote: 
Before him the gunwale of a boat, sunk in sand. UN COCHE ENSABLE Louis Veuillot called Gautier’s prose. These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here. 
This section was so full of references and associations triggered by words. And then this, that works so well as a description for it. I have a huge soft spot for Modernism and for its troubled relationship with the cultural baggage it inherited.

Stuff to follow up on:
  • okay, this might be insanity, but I want to read Lessing's Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry. It might not say what I thought it said, and my off-the-cuff theory about Modernism might not stand, but it's worth a shot. 
  • Ibsen, Brand

Episode IV: Calypso

We get to meet Leopold and Molly Bloom. They're normal people, so seeing the world through their eyes is not as challenging as seeing the world through the eyes of Stephen, who can't go two minutes without thinking of Aristotle. At my first reading, I actually had more trouble following Leopold's thoughts, though. The problem is that, unlike with Stephen's snobbish references, there is no way you can trace all the biographical elements here without reading the book to its end and piecing it all together. At least this time around I knew Molly was born in Gibraltar, so Leopold randomly thinking of that place didn't throw me off. Oh yes, and Joyce following Leopold to the toilet still amuses me.

Favorite quote:
Grey horror seared his flesh. Folding the page into his pocket he turned into Eccles street, hurrying homeward. Cold oils slid along his veins, chilling his blood: age crusting him with a salt cloak. Well, I am here now. Yes, I am here now. Morning mouth bad images. Got up wrong side of the bed. Must begin again those Sandow’s exercises. On the hands down. Blotchy brown brick houses. Number eighty still unlet. Why is that? Valuation is only twenty-eight. Towers, Battersby, North, MacArthur: parlour windows plastered with bills. Plasters on a sore eye. To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. Be near her ample bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes.

I like this because of the last sentences, but I had to include it all because the last sentences didn't make sense without the rest. And what I like about those last sentences is how neatly they mirror the last sentences of the book, from Molly's soliloquy.

Favorite character: 

None. I feel a sort of pity and tenderness towards both Leopold and Molly, but I don't really like Molly so far, and seeing women through the eyes of Leopold got jarring pretty fast. He's a bit of a creep.

Episode V: Lotus-Eaters 

Not much to say about this one. I enjoyed it to a surprising degree and it flew by. I suppose I could talk about Leopold's pen mistress or about his funny comments about the church, but the truth is that I just want to keep reading and see how far this enthusiasm for the stream of consciousness technique carries me :)

Stuff to follow up on: 

I want to read something about Maud Gonne. I had no idea who she was before reading the notes, but she sounds like a pretty interesting person. She wrote an autobiography (The Autobiography of Maud Gonne: A Servant of the Queen), but I'm not sure I'd enjoy it.

Episode VI: Hades

I enjoyed this episode much like I did the one before it. I think this sort of technique, registering all the associations Bloom makes in a very succinct manner, is the one I like best. Bloom goes to a funeral, his way intersects with Stephen's for the first time and we get to meet the mysterious Man in the Macintosh! I confess I didn't give this guy a second thought the first time I read Ulysses. There was A LOT of mysterious stuff going on in this book, so I couldn't really tell which parts were really mysterious and which parts were just me being dumb. (The jury is still out on that one.)  Then I read Nabokov's lectures on Ulysses and he was all about the Man in the Macintosh and how this character appears throughout Ulysses and no one knows who he is. Nabokov's theory was that the Man in the Macintosh was Joyce himself pulling a cameo à la Hitchcock. I like the theory that Joyce just wanted to screw with us and our expectations :)

Favorite quote: 
Condole with her. Your terrible loss. I hope you’ll soon follow him. For Hindu widows only. She would marry another. Him? No. Yet who knows after. Widowhood not the thing since the old queen died. Drawn on a guncarriage. Victoria and Albert. Frogmore memorial mourning. But in the end she put a few violets in her bonnet. Vain in her heart of hearts. All for a shadow. Consort not even a king. Her son was the substance. Something new to hope for not like the past she wanted back, waiting. It never comes. One must go first: alone, under the ground: and lie no more in her warm bed.
Leopold musing about Queen Victoria. On one hand condemning her for her mourning, on the other condemning her for vanity. She can't win. It also amused me how terrible he is when he thinks of stuff with which to console Dingnam's widow. "I hope you’ll soon follow him. For Hindu widows only." (I sort of imagine this as a piece of dialogue in Seinfeld :)

Time for a break. I'm getting tired. Continued here.


  1. Good luck, whatever way you go sounds like you have a fun day ahead :)

  2. I love how you're filling in this post with your favorite quotes and such, as you go! Reading this for a second time? That's awesome! Very best wishes for Bloomsday! :-D

  3. Congratulations on your drive to reread Ulysses! I'll be following your post to also check the other references Joyce makes!

  4. I've just finished these first six sections as well, and have been surprised at how much I followed. Or do I just think that? Hopefully that will continue!

  5. Thanks, everyone! And, Lindsey, I was surprised too that I was able to follow so much of it. It was far more difficult the last time around (but then the fact that I was 18 or so might have contributed to that as well). I know the next section, Aeolus, was pretty awful, so I'm curious how it will go now :)