Friday, August 27, 2010

Ulysses Chapter by Chapter: The Michael5000 Guide, part I

With notes on some of the stuff that went over my head provided by the Wiki.

Chapter 1

Style: A more or less straightforward narrative. If you are wondering if Ulysses is for you, the first chapter is a fairly welcoming introduction, but getting through it doesn’t guarantee you’ll find the rest of the book smooth sailing.

What Happens: We meet Stephen Dedalus, who lives in an obsolete naval tower with the charismatic but manipulative Buck Mulligan. They eat breakfast and have an argument.

Stuff I missed: That we’re supposed to think of Steve not only as a guy who thinks a lot about Hamlet, but kind of as a Hamlet in his own right. He’s Telemachus from the Odyssey, AND he’s Hamlet from Hamlet.

Chapter 2

Style: Dialogue, interspersed with Stephen’s thoughts.

What Happens: Stephen teaches a history class, poorly. Afterwards, he talks with his boss, a terrible blowhard who wants him to get a letter to the editor published by his friends in the newspapers.

Stuff I missed: Nothing big, apparently.

Chapter 3

Style: Stream of Consciousness -- Stephen Dedalus. This is where things start to get a bit challenging. [This is as far as I got twenty years ago, in my first attempt at Ulysses.] Stephen is “all in his head,” as they say, and his train of thought is constantly careening off on abstract tangents, many or most of which are pretty opaque. He thinks things like this:
They came down the steps from Leahy’s terrace prudently, Frauenzim-
mer : and down the shelving shore flabbily their splayed feet sinking in the
silted sand. Like me, like Algy, coming down to our mighty mother. Number
one swung lourdily her midwife’s bag, the other’s gamp poked in the beach.
From the liberties, out for the day. Mrs Florence Mac Cabe, relict of the late
Patk MacCabe, deeply lamented, of Bride Street. One of her sisterhood lugged
me squealing into life. Creation from nothing. What has she in the bag? A
misbirth with a trailing navelcord, hushed in ruddy wool. The cords of all
link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will
you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to
Edenville. Aleph, alpha : nought, nought, one.
Now, it so happens that I actually understand this passage, but that’s only because it’s broken down nicely in the superb David Lodge book The Art of Fiction. (To wit: Stephen sees two midwifes coming down to the beach – “our mighty mother” is the ocean – and daydreams with dark humor about one of them carrying a stillborn fetus in her back, which gets him thinking about umbilical cords connecting everyone back to Eve and thus God through their mothers, so maybe he could use that cord to make a phone call to God.) So yeah, Stephen Dedalus! There’s only fourteen pages of this chapter, but they are quite dense.

What Happens: Stephen hangs out on the beach.

Stuff I missed: Probably almost everything.

Chapter 4

Style: Stream of Consciousness -- Leopold Bloom. Bloom is a much more straightforward thinker than Stephen. Either Joyce came closest to getting the stream of consciousness right with Bloom, or Bloom just happens to be the character I think most like. Either way, it’s his relatively simple, concrete chains and cul-de-sacs of thought that seem most like “real” thinking -- ie., my own – to me. Chapter 4 is one of my favorites.

What Happens: Bloom makes breakfast. He ducks out to buy a kidney, brings his wife the morning mail and breakfast in bed, reads a letter from his daughter away at camp, and goes out to poop in the outhouse.

Stuff I missed: It’s interesting – I didn’t really MISS anything per se, but as I glance back over the chapter now, I see that almost every line has new resonance. Like I said in the original review, Ulysses might be a book that you have to read more than once to really get the most of.

Chapter 5

Style: More Stream of Consciousness, Leopold Bloom Style. There’s not a dramatic shift between Chapters 4 and 5. As Bloom moves out of the simple routines and associations of home into the city, though, his thoughts become wider ranging and a little more difficult to follow.

What Happens: Bloom picks up a letter from a mistress at the post office. He chats with a friend He reads the letter, tears it up, then ducks into a Catholic church and hangs out through the service. He buys soap. Then he meets another acquaintance, then heads out to a public bath.

Stuff I missed: Bloom is Jewish, so the whole bit in the Catholic church confused me mightily. Then, towards the end of the chapter, he apparently gives a guy “a racing tip for the horse Throwaway.” Stuff about horse racing kept cropping up for the rest of the book, always confusing me like anything.

Chapter 6

Style: Yet More Stream of Consciousness, Leopold Bloom Style, with a fair amount of dialogue and even – gasp! -- exposition.

What Happens: Bloom rides in a procession to the funeral of a friend. Here, as whenever he's in public for the rest of the book, he endures a continuous low-key heckling for being Jewish and kind of eccentric.

Stuff I missed: No more than in any other chapter.

Chapter 7

Style: The Headlines. It is dialogue-heavy, and broken into chunks by old-style newspaper headlines. This seems like it should be a hoot, but I actually find it a bit impenetrable. [This is as far as I got ten years ago, in my second attempt at Ulysses.]

What Happens: Bloom attempts to do some business at a newspaper office. Stephen also shows up at the office to deliver his employer’s letter to the editor.

Stuff I missed: Quite a lot, I think. There are suddenly a lot of characters, and it is hard to keep track of who’s who, who’s talking, and what they are talking about – if I’m not mistaken, a lot of the conversation is about things specific to the time and place.

Chapter 8

Style: Centered on Bloom’s stream of consciousness, but occasionally peeling away from him.

What Happens: Bloom gets hungry and has lunch in a nice pub after ducking into and right back out of a grubbier place. After he leaves, the men in the pub badmouth him behind his back.

Stuff I missed: At the end of the chapter, Bloom sees a man on the street and goes into a panic. I had no idea why.

Chapter 9

Style: Mostly dialog, which becomes increasingly abstracted and surreal as the chapter goes on.

What Happens: Stephen and some other brainy types talk about Shakespeare. Stephen airily outlines a theory that Shakespeare’s work is all informed by Anne Hathaway’s (ie. Mrs. Shakespeare’s) supposed infidelities. Buck Mulligan slouches about making dirty jokes. As he's leaving, Stephen passes by Bloom without realizing it.

Stuff I missed: Probably quite a bit, but I think I got the gist of it.

Chapter 10

Style: Vignettes!

What happens: Various secondary characters wander around Dublin, having minor adventures and encountering each other. There are apparently nineteen of these little scenes, and many little episodes are described from several different points of view. This is all kind of fun and, by Ulysses standards, told in very straightforward prose.

Stuff I missed: It didn’t strike me at the time, but neither Bloom nor Steven appear in this chapter.

Part II will cover Chapters 11 - 18. If you are using this to write a term paper, please send me twenty dollars.


UnwiseOwl said...

Yep, I'm definitely not ready for this yet. I think I'll be leaving Joyce to the professionals for at least the next few years.

Is it actually enjoyable, Michael, or are you just reading it for the sake of it?

Elaine said...

I'm not ready to read this, either. I'm only 63; this means I can't waste time on books that won't add to my enormous store of wisdom (cough, cough) or at least make me glad I have read them. (Just finished _Guns, Germs, and Steel,_ now starting _Birdology._)

The Calico Cat said...

twenty bucks - you're cheap!