An English teacher’s humble contribution to geek culture.
An English teacher’s humble contribution to geek culture.
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) Continue reading
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. Continue reading
As I recently finished reading a survey of Joyce’s writings, it occurred to me that each of his four majors works could be compared to the four major acts of Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, in order.
A critical care for presenting a realistic story gives us the first stage of the work. The inhabitants of this place are frustrated and stunted. The Kubrickian monolith is equivalent to the Joycean epiphany. Ironically, where the epiphanies of Joyce only instigate paralysis, the monoliths of 2001 catalyze a quantum leap in evolution.
= A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Here we see a truly new style (or, at least, a recent style perfected)–Joyce’s stream of consciousness and Kubrick’s special effects ballet. Each work is a seamless, totally integrated work of ambitious art, where every facet contributes to the whole united message. Each work, thematically and in its plot, is about man moving onward and upward.
Last summer, the LDS Church sponsored a short story contest; entries were supposed to be about pioneers and had to be under, I think, 500 words. I had an idea and quickly threw together the draft below. However, I never revised it properly, and the deadline passed. I forgot about it entirely until tonight, as I’ve been sorting through old documents on my hard drive.
This is more of a rough outline than a story. Obviously, I wanted to draw a parallel between pioneers trekking across the desert and Odysseus struggling back home after war. I also had to throw in a reference to Joyce’s take on the epic. I count eight good references to The Odyssey, just in a few short paragraphs–not too shabby.
Actually, I think the idea has some merit, and the analogy is pretty clever. Sadly, even if I fleshed it out, the story itself would have huge problems in reconciling the analogy with historical accuracy, as is probably evident from the snippet I drew up. And the writing’s pretty clunky, even for me. Still, it’s cute enough to post here. Enjoy!
I even called the protagonist “Ulysses Mann.” Geez, John Bunyan’s symbols are more subtle than mine…
16 June 1848
May the most holy Spirit of the Lord our God be with me as I endeavor to chronicle my journeys, both spiritual and temporal, and preserve in the memories of all posterity those choice events that have brought me nearer to my fellow kindred saints, brethren, and our Father.
He set down the pen, not reviewing the opening words of this new journal so much as reflecting on all that they implied. Ulysses Mann had emigrated west with a company of saints after having consecrated ten years to the service of the Church—two missions, constructing the Nauvoo temple, and other assignments from the Apostles that had kept him exhausted and in danger but, worst of all, away from his wife and son.
When he had returned to Nauvoo from a mission to Canada he found that his family had already left for the Salt Lake Valley with one of the first companies, their finances growing smaller in his absence and their best opportunity to safely travel being as soon as they could possibly go. The long-expected reunion was delayed. The sealing of his family in the temple just four years before had kept him strong during the hardships of his work, and it sustained him through the journey across the land to join his people and his family in their new home.
His travels across the dust-dark desert had been arduous, trying him and testing him, but he found that his exodus prepared him to be a better man upon his settling back home. With his company of handcarts and walkers, he had faced numerous temptations: other travelers who invited him to abandon his journey and stay with them in their hedonistic frontier settlements, the loose women there who made it far too clear that they noticed he was without his wife and would welcome his adulterous companionship, and the outright savages who attacked their group in the night, assailing them with violence and terror.
But he had made it back to his wife and son, who was now a young man in his own right, and they were ready to settle in and enjoy the rest of their lives together in this harsh new land, made a pleasant paradise by their blessed coming together.
The Lord had other plans, though. In mortality, it seemed, there would be no permanent respite from trial and trouble. The prophet had called him to take his family and establish a settlement, to aid other travelers and to defend the territory from any who would seek to take the land they’d tilled and wrestled out from under them. No such interlopers would be tolerated.
Ulysses had already staked out an area for the buildings and had designated it Fort New Ithaca. He had presented his plans to his wife and she had heartily assented to support him in their calling together, saying again and again, yes.
My own sentimental interpretation:
The first movement of Dvorak’s Symphony no. 7 overwhelms us with its cosmic panoply of extremes. It quickly sprints towards a sharp peak, only to reveal a range of ever-higher peaks beyond: the road map for this survey of the universe. In less than eleven minutes, this movement cycles through a series of several scenes, each one a pairing of a quiet interlude with the climax towards which it grows: a humbling, noble declaration of grandeur. The rippling waves of those stunning climaxes barely have time to fade, receding into faint little whispers of echoes, quaint reminders of the episode just passed, before they begin defying the law of entropy and sprouting again into the first steps in a chain reaction that will lead to yet another supernova.
It would be hard to imagine a better summary of the sublime passion experienced throughout a human life.
The second movement takes those meek, unassuming interludes from the first movement and develops them, amplifying them and giving them their due attention, teaching us that this, too, is a worthy aspect of life, and one worth celebrating. For a quarter of the entire composition, we are invited to meditate on the lazy and mundane days we take for granted at the time. This movement is the sound of Candide working in his garden. But this is no mere peaceful reverie, for even here there are suggestive clues that remind us that, even if we do become comfortable during these easy times, they won’t last forever. Drama will appear again soon.
Movement three, however, takes this tour of life in a different direction. Continue reading
The infancy of the electronic age has been accompanied by instant and ubiquitous prognosticating about the inevitable advent of online art. What I wonder is this: when will the first great work of literature first appear online? When scholars and schools of the future look back on the 21st century and study our contribution to the canon, will the early works of earthshattering, breathtaking prose have been things that appeared self-published online, or in an e-zine, or even, dare I wonder, on a blog?
When will a generation of writers break new ground in marrying the form of the medium to its content as, say, Dickens did with his serialized works, or Cervantes did when he wrote a second part to Don Quixote responding to unauthorized “sequels,” or Joyce did by integrating news headlines into Ulysses? What will it look like when someone starts finding the perfect marriage of the World Wide Web’s visual layout and the untapped abilities of text that it might uncover? When will we see a powerful vision of HTML and prosody commingled? Will it be a cheap novelty at first? Will it be scorned–or ignored–by the establishment, only to be appreciated by our grandchildren?
Is it already out there? Or will it somehow never be? No, sooner or later, the Great American Blog will surface. (Perhaps the Great American Text Message? Or even the Great American Tweet? OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
I’ve seen some wonderful writing online, but nothing that wouldn’t work just as well, or even better, on the printed page. I don’t know exactly what I’m wishing for, but it’s more than just text in a fancy font or with some jazzy animation or backgrounds. I guess that’s the thing about watershed events: you just can’t predict them until some genius has actually done it. If you could, then it would already be done.
So I’ll continue to wade through the Slough of Des-blog, seeking a great new work of literary achievement. Until then, I can always read Shakespeare.