Monday, August 29, 2005

ULYSSES and the electric chair

You sit in the chair. The gizmo on the left provides the chair seat with a 20 minute rhythmic electric shock to massage your prostate.

The electricity also sharpens the mind. I actually understood most of the two pages I read of ULYSSES when I was on that chair.

Reading ULYSSES in Singapore

I'm coming to an age where I'd better start worrying about my prostate before my prostate starts to worry me.

So I'm in Singapore for the proctologist's finger. Traveling with ULYSSES to give me comfort. I even read a paragraph while on the bed for the doctor -- nothing like a dash of ULYSSES to keep one's mind off the probing digit -- but I really don't feel like sharing that photo with you.

Instead, here's one taken by a beer garden. I'm letting the Indian gods on the temple wall read over my shoulder.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Taphephobia, Exploding Coffins, and ULYSSES

Still at Dignam's funeral with Bloom and friends. Reading this scene is as long as actually attending a funeral. Bloom has morbid thoughts. Among them, the horror of one being buried alive.

The fear of being buried alive is taphephobia. That's a word to remember. "Oh, you taphephobe, you!"

I, too, fear being buried alive. That's why in my will I've added an item to have a copy of ULYSSES put in my coffin, along with long-lasting flashlight. Should I wake up in my grave, then I will have something to read until I do die.

Most corpses in the morgue here in Bali are pumped full of formaldehyde prior to burial. Since formaldehyde boils at 115 degrees F, things can get interesting if the deceased is buried in a sealed casket in this hot climate. There's been at least one instance where such a casket exploded prior to burial in the cemetery. Body parts everywhere. The atmosphere among the assembled mourners changed rather abruptly.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Marion, Milly, Martha, Molly and Meaning

As of 11 am on this fine Dublin day, these are the women in Leopold Bloom’s life: Marion his wife. Milly his daughter. Martha his lover and perhaps a prostitute. And Molly, whose first mention puzzled me. Yet another M? Took me a while to figure out this is another name for Marion. I think.

Which brings me to meaning. Joyce pretty much lets you sink or swim. Bloom’s thoughts ramble along in random association. To understand requires much mental effort. I am pleased when I do. What isn’t understandable I put aside hoping some clarification will come later. The trouble is, I never know whether I don’t understand because I’m not trying hard enough (or have forgotten something, which leads to much re-reading) or because, in fact, it is not understandable (either yet or forever). This vexes.

Clearly Joyce isn’t writing for the reader. He’s more interested in residing within a character’s head and presenting that character’s thoughts. There’s a paradox here, though. Because Joyce, in gazing at Bloom’s passing stream of thought, must also create that stream in order to gaze upon it, and he can only create it by gazing at *his* own stream of consciousness, which he must in turn create for the character Bloom.

It’s nothing I don’t do myself when I create a character, I guess; still, I get dizzy thinking about it.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The weather in Dublin today...

...isn't real good.

The report from Weather Underground: Scattered clouds. 17 C/ 64F. Wind 13 mph. Humidity 100 percent.

I guess that means it's raining?

In ULYSSES, the weather starts out fair, but it's raining by ten.

One of my correspondents assures me that Dublin does have fine weather, but I guess if I were to go to Dublin, I wouldn't count on getting a tan.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

pictures of Franzen the Author and Franzen after reading ULYSSES

That's his author photo on the right.

That's him after reading ULYSSES.

See what reading ULYSSES can do to you?

Bowel movements in early 20th century literature

I don’t know if bowel movements are a significant theme in early 20th century literature, but certainly Joyce’s description of Leopold Bloom pinching off one (hope it’s not too big bring on piles again. No, just right…it was something quick and neat) marks a scatological high moment in heavy-duty literary lit.

Bloom wipes himself with a prize short story he is reading in the paper.

I wonder when toilet paper was invented.

Best, though, is plain old water, as is common here in Indonesia. Paper leaves a residual smear.* My knees can’t take the necessary squatting position, though. So a bidet comes in handy.

*Studies show that each swimmer in a public pool deposits something like .1 grams of fecal matter in the water (this doesn’t include contribution made by infants). True! You can look it up.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Holy cow and gizzards! (Or, I'd like a splash of urine on my grilled kidneys, please)

I'm into part II, with Leopold Bloom. This is strong stuff: "Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine."

Do grilled mutton kidneys really taste like that?

I'm noticing how Bloom's interior monolog is different than Dedalus's. Different characterization altogether. I'm starting to have a grudging admiration for Joyce in this regard. I mean, after all, no author can accurately portray with words a person's inner thoughts.

I might have to eat my words of the previous post. Lightly sauteed in urine.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"He laid the dry snot picked from his nostril on a page of ULYSSES, carefully."

I’m not the most widely read person, although wider than some, but no matter how widely I read, I doubt I’d come across anything written in a semblance of English that is as obscure as the closing section of Part I, which is mostly Stephen Dedalus’s interior monologue.

I was forewarned of course.

What effort is required to understand this?

I suppose first all I’d have to read Joyce’s other novels in which Dedalus is a character. Some of the opaque references might become clear.

Next, I’d have to study culture and customs, European and Irish, of the early 20th century to understand those sorts of references.

Third, I’d have to study whatever it was Joyce studied for his education – classical literature and philosophy no doubt among his ace topics – and also learn various foreign languages.

Fourth, I’d have to immerse myself in a long program of reading and studying poetry, which I admit one of my weak points when it comes to things literary.

And oh, I’d have to be a Catholic for a good while, preferably back in my formative youth (or so I gather from Dedalus’s struggle with it).

Where would this take me in understanding this section? I suspect not far. At any rate, it’s far more effort than I have years left to my life.

And the truth of it, as I see it, Joyce is a cheat here. This isn’t Dedalus, or Joyce as Dedalus. This is 100 percent Joyce, playing with language (and it’s brilliant, okay), pretending to give us Dedalus’s thoughts, but what sane person, even the most poetic or literary, ever thinks like this? Talk about authorial intrusion!

Of course, if Joyce was the first author to give such a riotous interpretation of a character’s thought processes, then Joyce was a genius. But if *I* try to do it, my editor gives it the red pencil.

Best sentence of the section is also the most understandable: “He laid the dry snot picked from his nostril on a ledge of rock, carefully.” Oh, juvenile me! (Or, channeling Joyce, Oh, jejune twitsoulled tweetsome Dickie Bird moi.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

ULYSSES and PARADISE LOST and squeezing a gallstone

In high school I was called on to read aloud from HAMLET to the class. After I finished, the teacher asked me what I thought of what I’d just read. “I’m sorry,” I said earnestly, “I wasn’t listening.”

So it is with Stephen Dedalus’s interior monologue that closes section 1. This is where my daily quota becomes a necessary grind to get through the novel. I have vowed to read every word of this novel in sequence, and to do so in this section I’ve been forced to reading the text out loud, but I really wasn’t listening most of the time. Matter of fact, I have read this section at least twice, trying to milk as much understanding out of it as possible. (I believe a squeezed gallstone would have produced more insight.)

I will have more to say later, but for now, let me turn to Milton’s PARADISE LOST, which I am currently reading for research. This was required reading in college, but being a science major I scoffed at things literary, especially old literary things, so I resorted to Cliff Notes.

But man, it’s damn good! And I got to thinking, why am I enjoying this so much and not ULYSSES? The answer in part is that Joyce seems ultimately to be writing for himself and Milton is writing for his readers. Not to mention that Satan makes a hell of a more interesting character than wimpy Dedalus.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Some interesting facts about ULYSSES

1. ULYSSES has been translated into several languages, including English.

2. During President Reagan’s first inauguration, the Bible he swore upon was actually a copy of ULYSSES cleverly disguised and put in place by Russian spies. This insidious plot to ruin American not only failed but backfired. Many scholars say the decline of the Soviet Union began at this moment.

3. In Venice, California, there is a cult of witches and sorcerers who use ULYSSES exclusively to fashion their spells, curses, and blessings.

4. If you stacked all the copies of ULYSSES ever printed, it was probably more trouble than it was worth.

5. A copy of ULYSSES once took the lives of several American soldiers in WW II. A German corporal, reading ULYSSES in the latrine, got so impatient with it he tossed it over the side. The book collided with a grenade that the American ambushers had just thrown. The live grenade fell back among the sneaking Yanks and killed three of the five.

6. The National Security Administration uses the original text of ULYSSES as the standard for encryption/decryption protocols.

7. NASA recorded ULYSSES on tape for their Space Shuttle astronauts to listen to as a sleeping aid.

8. If James Joyce were alive today, he’d be the world’s oldest man.

9. The General Theory of Relativity, which relates mass to the curving of spacetime, states that if a person is near a copy of ULYSSES, he or she will not age as fast. That is why you will see copies of ULYSSES in the offices of many plastic surgeons.

10. I only know of 9 interesting facts. Perhaps you know others.