Archive for the ‘Language and Literature’ Category
From the next-to-last chapter, and illuminated by yours truly to augment the obviousness of the joke:
I just finished doing last Sunday’s syndicated New York Times puzzle. I’m pretty proud, because it’s only the 2nd Sunday puzzle I’ve ever finished without having to cheat and Google a single answer.
I’ve done dozens of these now, and it still surprises me how stumped I can get by simple answers, just because of tricky clues.
In this one, 14 across was “Where roots grow.” I immediately got it into my head that it was about plants. Five letter answer…SOILS?
It wasn’t until I had a P in the final spot that I realized: it wasn’t about plants, it was about hair. SCALP.
A good crossword puzzle shows us how we make assumptions, and it challenges us to constantly re-evaluate them. This is a mental skill sorely lacking in our day and age.
Now I’m in the middle of chapter 15 of Ulysses, and while it’s one of the densest, more incomprehensible sections, it’s also one of the funniest yet.
Written as a dramatic script, it’s largely a record of daydreams rather than conscious thoughts. As such, Bloom’s imagination runs freer than before, and the rambling fantasy, plus a growing penchant on Joyce’s part for whimsical puns, makes this chapter a delightful bit of foreshadowing for Finnegans Wake.
Maybe the best part of the chapter so far is the following, where Bloom’s delusions of grandeur–as contrasted with his almost pathetically meek actual self; an Irish Walter Mitty, as it were–find him presiding over a ridiculous bureaucracy. Joyce lists some mundane minutia in gloriously pompous detail (we’ve all seen government events and publications that take themselves this seriously–begging to be mocked), shares some clever wordplay, and even adds a pure joke at the end.
BLOOM My beloved subjects, a new era is about to dawn. I, Bloom, tell you verily it is even now at hand. Yea, on the word of a Bloom, ye shall ere long enter into the golden city which is to be, the new Bloomusalem in the Nova Hibernia of the future. (Thirtytwo workmen, wearing rosettes, from all the counties of Ireland, under the guidance of Derwan the builder, construct the new Bloomusalem. It is a colossal edifice with crystal roof, built in the shape of a huge pork kidney, containing forty thousand rooms. In the course of its extension several buildings and monuments are demolished. Government offices are temporarily transferred to railway sheds. Numerous houses are razed to the ground. The inhabitants are lodged in barrels and boxes, all marked in red with the letters: L. B. Several paupers fill from a ladder. A part of the walls of Dublin, crowded with loyal sightseers, collapses.) THE SIGHTSEERS (dying) Morituri te salutant. (they die) (more…)
Chapter 14 of James Joyce’s Ulysses tells a story of men visiting a hospital for a local woman who’s having a baby. Stylistically, it starts in the vein of the earliest English and gets more modern as the chapter goes on.
By the following point, Joyce tells of the men discussing some intimately sensitive matters far out of their depth, in a faux-Chaucerian vein. The combination of highly serious epic poetry with the crudity of the men’s ignorant pontificating strikes me as pretty funny.
Now let us speak of that fellowship that was there to the intent to be drunken an they might. There was a sort of scholars along either side the board, that is to wit, Dixon yclept junior of saint Mary Merciable’s with other his fellows Lynch and Madden, scholars of medicine, and the franklin that high! Lenehan and one from Alba Longa, one Crotthers, and young Stephen that had mien of a frere that was at head of the board and Costello that men clepen Punch Costello all long of a mastery of him erewhile gested (and of all them, reserved young Stephen, he was the most drunken that demanded still of more mead) and beside the meek sir Leopold. But on young Malachi they waited for that he promised to have come and such as intended to no goodness said how he had broke his avow. And sir Leopold sat with them for he bore fast friendship to sir Simon and to this his son young Stephen and for that his languor becalmed him there after longest wanderings insomuch as they feasted him for that time in the honourablest manner. Ruth red him, love led on with will to wander, loth to leave.
But sir Leopold was passing grave maugre his word by cause he still had pity of the terrorcausing shrieking of shrill women in their labour and as he was minded of his good lady Marion that had borne him an only manchild which on his eleventh day on live had died and no man of art could save so dark is destiny. And she was wondrous stricken of heart for that evil hap and for his burial did him on a fair corselet of lamb’s wool, the flower of the flock, lest he might perish utterly and lie akeled (for it was then about the midst of the winter) and now sir Leopold that had of his body no manchild for an heir looked upon him his friend’s son and was shut up in sorrow for his forepassed happiness and as sad as he was that him failed a son of such gentle courage (for all accounted him of real parts) so grieved he also in no less measure for young Stephen for that he lived riotously with those wastrels and murdered his goods with whores.
Which means just what you think it does: Stephen was easy. Alas.
I’ve been reading the complete works of Joyce in chronological order this year. One thing I notice is that as Joyce’s career went on, he got funnier. The early work is thoroughly sober to the point of dour torture–I never realized how unlikable Stephen Dedalus really is.
But by Ulysses, Joyce was in true comic master form. Consider episode 12, which randomly cuts away from its main narrative dozens of times for short bits of tangential parody of various literary forms. So, basically, it’s Family Guy.
I thought this farce of a story–especially the faux-medieval high romance in the second half–was funny:
The last farewell was affecting in the extreme. From the belfries far and near the funereal deathbell tolled unceasingly while all around the gloomy precincts rolled the ominous warning of a hundred muffled drums punctuated by the hollow booming of pieces of ordnance. The deafening claps of thunder and the dazzling flashes of lightning which lit up the ghastly scene testified that the artillery of heaven had lent its supernatural pomp to the already gruesome spectacle. A torrential rain poured down from the floodgates of the angry heavens upon the bared heads of the assembled multitude which numbered at the lowest computation five hundred thousand persons. (more…)
“Most runners run not because they want to live longer but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life, and for me, for writing as well.”
–Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (ch. 4)
Some stray thoughts as I was reading:
“There were too many brilliant amateurs, and the changed economic conditions had made the old system obsolete.” ch. 10. After superior alien saviors come to Earth and create a paradise, humanity uses its free time to get awesome at everything, thus the changed economy. Are we seeing something similar now with blog reporting and YouTube videos? I think we are.
I love prescient science fiction predictions, but Clarke says that humanity’s vastly increased leisure has the dystopian result of us starting to watch TV for up to…wait for it…3 hours a day! This was written in the 50′s. Isn’t that cute?
“In this galaxy of ours,” murmured Karellen, “there are eighty-seven thousand million suns. Even that figure gives only a faint idea of the immensity of space. In challenging it, you would be like ants attempting to label and classify all the grains of sand in all the desserts of the world.” ch. 14. This is why I love good sci-fi. It intelligently inculcates a healthy, humble reverence for the universe.
It was the end of civilization, the end of all that men had striven for since the beginning of time. In the space of a few days, humanity had lost its future, for the heart of any race is destroyed, and its will to survive is utterly broken, when its children are taken from it. ch. 19. Alas, Clarke’s generation never could have imagined that civilization would voluntarily extinguish itself through epidemic demographic decline, and would celebrate it all the way to the collective nursing home. Like his naive TV watching warning, reality turned out far scarier than he prophesied. It’s always sad when tragic speculation turns out to be, if anything, too optimistic.
Last weekend, I attended the national convention of AP teachers at the Venetian here in Las Vegas. It should tell you something about the quality of most of the sessions that the best part of the weekend by far was finding a rare book seller.
During lunch, I wandered upstairs to the Venetian’s famous Grand Canal Shops, where my wife and I rode the gondolas and were serenaded the day we got married. It’s a pretty upscale mall, and great for window shopping.
But a new place caught my eye. Signs around the mall advertised a collection of Revolutionary War documents on display. Couldn’t pass that up!
Bauman Rare Books did indeed have about a dozen such items in a glass case: a copy of Common Sense from 1776, a 1st and a 2nd edition of The Federalist Papers, and some personal and official correspondence from the likes of Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin. The store also features a fascinating copy of the Declaration of Independence from the mid-19th century.
I was in love before I even walked in the store, though: in a window by the door was a collection of several Hemingway first editions, loving labeled and priced at what turned out to be average for the store, several thousand dollars. I should have picked up a few spare copies. Want me to grab a few for you, too?