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.


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