Friday, September 10, 2010

Ulysses Chapter by Chapter: The Michael5000 Guide, part II

...the unsurprising sequel to Ulysses Chapter by Chapter: The Michael5000 Guide, part I

Chapter 11

Style: Highly swirly streams of words, cut through with dialog that’s kind of hard to follow. We are entering the turgid heart of Ulysses.

What Happens: “Bloom has dinner with Stephen's uncle Richie Goulding at the Ormond Hotel, while Molly's lover, Blazes Boylan, proceeds to his rendezvous with her. While dining, Bloom watches the seductive barmaids Lydia Douce and Mina Kennedy and listens to the singing of Simon Dedalus and others.”

Stuff I missed: Well, I could tell that Bloom was having dinner, and that the barmaids were hotties. That Bloom had dinner with someone, let alone someone connected to Stephen, I missed. That Blazes Boylan was proceeding to his rendezvous with Molly, I missed. And pretty much anything else, I probably missed that too. Indeed, I found this to be the second most opaque chapter in the book.

Chapter 12

Style: A gruff, fairly straightforward account of conversations in a bar, delivered in first person by an anonymous narrator. But this primary narrative is interrupted every couple of pages by a parodic riff in one or another recognizable kind of exaggeratedly pompous prose style, taking off on a tangent to the conversation at the bar. The tangents all run out of steam after a few paragraphs, and we find ourselves right back at the pub.

What Happens: Bloom goes to a bar where a noisy Irish nationalist is holding court. The nationalist doesn’t like Bloom, who makes weak gestures towards pointing out holes in his worldview, and who is anyway Jewish and the son of an immigrant. At the end of the chapter, Bloom leaves in a hurry after pointing out that Jesus was a Jew; the nationalist throws something at him as he leaves.

Stuff I missed: There is more business about the racehorses in this chapter, which continued to puzzle me. And of course it couldn’t hurt to know more Irish political history. On the whole, though, this is a pretty winning chapter. The tangents are over-the-top and often pretty funny. Plus, Joyce plays with juxtapositions of tone in a playful and startling sort of way. Here’s the last sentence, in which Bloom makes good his escape from the anti-Semite:
And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of fortyfive degrees over Donohoe’s in Little Green street like a shot off a shovel.
Chapter 13

Style: A parody of contemporary women’s lit for the first half; Bloom’s stream-of-consciousness for the second half.

What Happens: Some young women and their little brothers hang out at the beach in the evening. A mysterious man ogles one of the women. There’s a fireworks display. The point of view shifts to that of the man, which turns out to be Bloom. He wanders off thinking about the woman he’d been ogling, and women in general.

Stuff I missed: The parody of contemporary women’s lit. And something that is very obvious, now that I’ve been tipped off, looking back through the chapter: that Bloom is, well, um, masturbating while he ogles. I did think that Joyce laid it on a bit thick when describing the wonderful fireworks….

Chapter 14

Style: Well, hell. Let’s just quote wholesale from the wiki:
This chapter is remarkable for Joyce's wordplay, which seems to recapitulate the entire history of the English language to describe a scene in an obstetrics hospital, from the Carmen Arvale -- Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus -- to something resembling alliterative Anglo-Saxon poetry -- In ward wary the watcher hearing come that man mildhearted eft rising with swire ywimpled to him her gate wide undid. Lo, levin leaping lightens in eyeblink Ireland's westward welkin -- and on through skillful parodies of, among others, Malory, the King James Bible, Bunyan, Pepys, Defoe, Addison and Steele, Sterne, Goldsmith, Junius, Gibbon, Lamb, De Quincey, Landor, Dickens, Newman, Ruskin and Carlyle, before concluding in a haze of nearly incomprehensible slang, bringing to mind American English employed in advertising. Indeed, Joyce organised this chapter as three sections divided into nine total subsections, representing the trimesters and months of gestation.
If you don’t know what’s going on – or at least, if ~I~ don’t know what’s going on – a lot of the chapter seems to be veering towards gibberish.

What Happens: Bloom visits a hospital where an acquaintance is giving birth. He hangs out with the local medical students, including stately, plump Buck Mulligan, who are drinking in what must be the hospital cafeteria; Stephen is part of the crowd too. The medical students are insufferably callous and smug as occasional reports on the woman’s long, difficult labor filter in. Then they head off for more drinking.

Stuff I missed: See “Style,” above. I totally missed the parodies of Junius, De Quincey, and Landor. And everyone else, of course.

Chapter 15

Style: Surrealist stageplay.

What Happens: A bunch of really crazy shit happens, that’s what. This is more than 100 pages of fever-dream hallucination, in which it is not clear who is doing the hallucinating. Bloom is present, sometimes as a heroic figure, sometimes being brutally degraded, sometimes as a woman. Bits of lowbrow humor tossed into the mix as well.

Stuff I missed: That the scene was in any way representational. From what happens afterwards, it’s a reasonable guess that part of the chapter represents, more or less, Stephen’s confused concepts of events taking place around him in a seedy brothel after he has been drugged by stately, plump Buck Mulligan, who is trying to part him from his wages. But it says here that this only comes after a series of several discrete hallucinations, or just alcohol-fuelled fantasies, of Bloom’s. Who can tell?

Chapter 16

Style: Longwinded and circuitous, but bracingly narrative after the thickets of Chapter 15.

What Happens: Bloom gets Stephen out of the brothel and takes him to an all-night coffeeshop to sober him up. They listen to a loudmouth sailor who claims to have had all sorts of unlikely adventures. Bloom invites Stephen home, though it is well after midnight.

Stuff I missed: Probably quite a bit. But at this point, Ulysses enters the home stretch. The going is relatively easy through the last three chapters.

Chapter 17

Style: The Catechism! Questions and answers! It is very readable, and fun, and not coincidentally my favorite chapter. I was happy to learn that it was also Joyce’s favorite chapter.

What Happens: Bloom arrives home with Stephen, but doesn’t have his key, so they have to more or less break in. They have some cocoa. Bloom offers to let Stephen sleep on the couch, but he turns down the offer. Bloom arranges for Stephen to give Molly, his wife, lessons in Italian. The two men share a pee in the back yard, and Stephen heads off.

Stuff I missed: Probably not a lot. This is certainly the least turgid chapter of the whole beast.

Chapter 18

Style: Molly Bloom’s famous long monologue!

What Happens: Molly drifts off to sleep, thinking. But don’t start doing the victory dance just because you’re on the last chapter – it takes her a hell of a long time to nod off. She’s irritated with Bloom, and can tell he’s had some sort of sexual adventure (see Chapter 13) although she assumes incorrectly that he has hooked up with his chippie. She’s also probably a little irritated with herself, although she won’t admit it, for hooking up with her own boy-toy earlier in the evening. Her period starts. She reminisces about her girlhood in Gibraltar. Having been told by Bloom when he came in that he’d hired Stephen to teach her Italian, she fantasizes about getting the young man into the sack. And eventually, she gets to the very lyrical and lovely final two pages or so of the book – but if you are like I was, and know those and only those two pages pretty well, don’t expect the preceding 35 pages to match them for style.

Stuff I missed: I think I got the basics of this one.

And there you have it! Michael5000’s road map to Ulysses!

Whither the Reading List?

I find, to my surprise and delight, that with the completion of Ulysses I have burned through many of the most intimidating titles on The Reading List. That makes me feel like I no longer have any need to pace things, so I randomized the remaining thirty-eight titles and will just read them in that unstructured order.

Next up: Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, which I am well into and can assure you is, if nothing else, rather more accessible than the great modernist masterpiece.

On deck: DeWitt, The Last Samurai.

In the hole: Ball, Bright Earth.

I have no idea what these latter two are about, or who recommended them or why, so it will be black box reading. Which is pretty much what I wanted from a reading list, so it’s all good.

Then, I'll also be reading Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa at the behest of L&TM5K Vice-Dork Jenners. Jenners is -- with all due respect, of course -- one of those froufrou book-clubby bloggers and would have me write nine posts about Musashi on a preordained schedule. This is unlikely to happen -- I run a tight ship, and am not likely to let anything come between my audience and their twice-weekly boring postcards -- but I might tack it on as a Reading List supplemental if it turns out to be interesting.


Jennifer said...

Chapter 14: teh awesome.

So, what was your take on the end of the book? Was Molly masturbating? (I've heard this debated.)

Michael5000 said...

She's a professor of English literature, people, and has the years of specialized training required to call Chapter 14 teh awesome.

And, as should be clear in my discussion of Chapter 13, I'm a little oblivious about people masturbating in my fiction. I didn't get that sense, no, but it's Ulysses! Who knows what's going on!