Saturday, June 06, 2009

Ulysses, at speed

I haven't read Ulysses in a couple of years, after several years of reading the novel at least once, sometimes twice annually. Then I got a call a couple weeks back from someone doing publicity for a brand new Irish pub up the road – "Tim Finnegans," of all things, & proudly without an apostrophe – wanting me to come in this coming weekend & give a half-hour "entertaining" talk about things Joycean as part of their grand opening Bloomsday celebration.

Now I view Bloomsday parties about as seriously as J, who's an early modern drama scholar, does the Renaissance Fair. But I've started jotting down my best Joyce jokes, & various "deep" thoughts about this ungainly novel that no doubt 9/10s of the people present haven't made their way thru. (After all, why should they?) Anyone who wants to contribute "entertaining" things I should say is welcome to.*

Unfortunately, my OCD side led me to pick up the novel itself again last week. Tuesday, to be precise: in part to test out a little theory I'd nursed for some time. That is, the last few times I've read Ulysses have been in conjunction with teaching Ulysses, so I've spaced the 18 chapters out over 9 or 10 weeks. But for goodness' sake, I read Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's Uncle Silas in 3 days the other week out of sheer page-turnability: wouldn't it be possible to read Ulysses in the course of a week, without feeling that the novel had entirely taken over one's brain?

At any rate, it's Saturday night & I'm at the very end of "Oxen of the Sun." The early chapters tripped by at the rate of 3 or 4 a sitting; a flying visit to Tennessee over the past couple of days gave me airplane time to read thru a chapter on each leg of the flight (even counting inevitable dozing off). What's ahead is all downhill: "Circe," despite its imposing length, has always been one of my favorites, a very fast & funny gallop, & the 3 chapters of the Nostos section ("Eumaeus," "Ithaca," & "Penelope") are probably my favorite bits of the book. So I expect to have finished Ulysses in just about a week, & comfortably.

Rereading the book reminds me of just how radical it gets in its second half – or rather, beginning with its 11th chapter, "Sirens." Everything that comes before (save perhaps the newspaper headlines of "Aeolus" – which as Michael Groden shows Joyce actually went back & added late in the compositional process) is strictly realistic, a painstaking attempt to chart the internal monologues of his characters. It's only with the "fugal" form of "Sirens," followed by the various stylistic shenanigans of the later chapters, that the novel plunges off the diving board of realism into a kind of heaven of textuality.

*What's really daunting is that my old friend & musical partner OB volunteered us to play a mini-set of Irish tunes after the talk, & my bouzouki fingers are far rustier than my toastmaster skills.

1 comment:

Shannon O'Brien said...

I'm terribly jealous of all the Bloomsday celebrations that have popped up in South Florida now that I no longer live there. I would be @ Tim Finnegans in a heartbeat to hear your entertaining talk on all things Joycean. (And the Irish tunes to follow!)

The closest celebration I've found in these parts is in St. Louis (2.5 hours away). However, I have decided that I'm going to make little business-like cards with some Ulysses information on them, so when I wish folks a Happy Bloomsday, and they ask me what Bloomsday is (assuming they don't already know), I'll hand them a groovy little card. My personal little celebration of JJ.