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Ten, Eleven, Twelve

I found episode ten to be in some ways almost filmic as it jumped back and forth among a number of interactions taking place at close proximity to one another. Another way I thought of it was as a giant clockwork, almost as if the gears of one scene turned and rotated it out of view for the next to be hauled into view. The close proximity of the scenes stood out to me; there were many small interactions occurring separately but at times also bumping into and influencing one another. A study of how the various scenes flow would be fascinating, but it’s not something I had time for this week. Reinforcing this idea of the mechanical in this episode are things like the tram, ticking watches, a factory, some powerhouse dynamos, and whatever disc/groove apparatus we see references to a couple of times (a record player?). I always wait until after I’ve read an episode to consult Joyce’s schemata, but I was gratified this week after making note of these mechanical things to see that he had mechanics in mind as he wrote this episode. Maybe this book isn’t entirely beyond my grasp after all.

On page 250 (still in episode ten), we read of young Dignam’s sense of fractured identify (at least that’s the note I took). “That’s me in mourning,” he says, as he turns in the mirror and looks from one side to the other of himself. It’s an act almost of discovery or unexpected self-recognition. This is picked up at a couple of later points in this week’s reading as well. For example, as Bloom sits in a pub on page 280, he thinks of the deaf(ish) waiter named Pat and figures that if you painted a face on the back of his head, he’d be two. This eleventh episode seems to be split between two venues as well. According to Joyce’s schemata, we’re in a concert hall, though it seemed to me like we were in two separate pubs. Perhaps there are different drinking chambers in the concert hall, or maybe Bloom and the single drinking companion in his vicinity are simply far across the room from the more boisterous crowd we hear from. Or maybe Bloom is in a pub and the other people are in the concert hall. At any rate, I was aware of a sense of separateness but proximity. Bloom could hear the others singing, but they were willing enough to speak aloud about him, suggesting either that he couldn’t hear them or that they didn’t think he could. So what we have is a sort of fragmented viewpoint of the area these two groups of men occupy. This episode seems a zoom from multiple angles of a smaller part of town, where the prior episode was a longer shot of a broader set of actions and places. Maybe it’s worth considering that the episode is named for the sirens, who may be said to represent another sort of fracturing (of expectation, perhaps of anticipated identity), in that they sing beautifully but lure men to their deaths.

It’s no surprise that an episode corresponding roughly to Homer’s story of the sirens is full of sound words, among them onomatopoetic sounds, references to music, various sounds in the environment, poetic things like alliteration and assonance and rhyme, and simple phonic word play.

In a comment on a prior post in which I brought up William Gaddis, Judd remarked that Gaddis claimed never to have read Ulysses. Gaddis was obsessed with mechanics and music, with a particular interest in the player piano and what mechanization and reproducibility mean to music (and by extension to art in general; he treats of this by way of forgery in The Recognitions). On the basis of episodes ten and eleven, I have to call bullshit on Gaddis’s claim. A passage from page 278 in my edition reads as if it could have been lifted straight from the head of Gibbs in JR:

Numbers it is. All music when you come to think. Two multiplied by two divided by half is twice one. Vibrations: chords those are. One plus two plus six is seven. Do anything you like with figures juggling. Always find out this equal to that. Symmetry under a cemetery wall. He doesn’t see my mourning. Callous: all for his own gut. Musemathematics. And you think you’re listening to the etherial. But suppose you said it like: Martha, seven times nine minus x is thirtyfive thousand. Fall quite flat. It’s on account of the sounds it is.

Instance he’s playing now. Improvising. Might be what you like, till you hear the words. Want to listen sharp. Hard. Begin all right: then hear chords a bit off: feel lost a bit. In and out of sacks, over barrels, through wirefences, obstacle race. Time makes the tune. Question of mood you’re in. Still always nice to hear. Except scales up and down, girls learning. Two together nextdoor neighbours. Ought to invent dummy pianos for that.

I think episode eleven has probably been my favorite so far (though there’s clearly a lot I don’t understand about even the basic setting), and I wish I had had time to do the second read-through this week. This might be a chapter I come back to at some point.

Episode twelve was largely uninteresting to me. I read it in a hurry and may have missed a bunch as a result. Formally there’s some interesting stuff going on in terms of narrative framing and the overlapping of voice. We have a set of colloquial conversational voices alternating with a sort of lofty, mythologizing, epic voice that seems often to retell in epic terms what has just been told us via conversation. Sometimes it’s funny. Other times it’s just kind of irritating logorrhea.

As time constraints this week and what seemed a very long chunk of sometimes dense reading resulted in my giving this week’s reading pretty short shrift, I await with great eagerness the insights my fellow bloggers will provide.

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  1. crazymonk
    August 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I found 10 to be one of the most accessible episodes so far, perhaps because the technique used there is one that I feel like I’ve seen in several later works. (e.g., I’m thinking of the counterfeit money sequence in The Recognitions, and the way the minor characters sometimes interact in Infinite Jest — and like my first reading of IJ, I’m beginning to struggle with keeping track of all the minor characters.) 11 was also fun to read, especially once I realized that the first two pages were sort of an overture of the sounds to be encountered in the episode, and I enjoyed flipping back to it as I progressed through the episode. (BTW, I think the concert hall is just another room in the Ormond Hotel that is adjacent to the pub.)

    I’m partially with you on 12: I didn’t get much out of the interjected parodies, perhaps because most of the styles Joyce was skewering are ones that are mostly obscure to me. (I don’t read run-of-the-mill 19th century literature, and he wasn’t mocking Melville, Tolstoy, or even Dickens.) (Aside: The list-making sections of this chapter seems to me something that has been picked up by Pynchon especially.) However, I found the exchange between the citizen and Bloom between the parodies to be satisfying, in the sense that we haven’t seen much of how Bloom’s foreign background is considered by his fellow citizens.

  2. August 2, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    The interesting thing about mocking styles and the absence of the Victorian style (if indeed it’s absent) is that the note I jotted after reading the first paragraph or two of episode 13 last night was that it read just exactly like a Victorian novel’s opening. I haven’t read far enough yet to decide whether he’s parodying to skewer or not. Or maybe I’m just wrong across the board. I very definitely lack confidence in reading this book.

  3. Leroy
    August 2, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Ten and eleven are among my favorite chapters.

    In ten, Joyce steps back from the subjective style of the rest of the work to give us the closest thing to an objective, photographic view of events, helping to remind us just how different from the normal narrative Ulysses is overall. I think it also gives us a condensed look at a number of coincidences that occur in a brief period as a goad to make us watch out for the hundreds of other coincidences that occur on a larger scale throughout the work.

    The opening of eleven is very much like what the best classical composers do in their large works. Mahler’s 9th symphony opens with fragments that condense and foretell the entire piece. This chapter does the same thing, and uses the repetition of these themes to make both music and poetry out of his prose. If you don’t know the aria that Simon sings in this chapter, I really recommend listening to it. It helps in understanding Bloom’s mood as the scene progresses. (The original German title is “Ach so fromm”, but it is frequently recorded in Italian as “M’appari tutt’amor”.)

    I didn’t care much for twelve the first couple of times I read it, but I’ve come to like it more over time. I find the mock-heroic interjections a lot of fun, and, like The Citizen, they are a reminder of the importance of Irish culture and history to the story. This chapter also reinforces the many misunderstandings in Ulysses with the way Bloom gets literally assaulted over a misapprehension about the race that he’s not ever made aware of.

  4. Hunter Felt
    August 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    The trick into Chapter 12, “Cyclops”, is to imagine the Citizen and the narrator as xenophobic/ignorant Tea Party members (respectively) and that the digressions are parodies of the whitewashed myths, FoxNews style misinformation, and smalltown newspaper gossip that fuel this narrow mindset.

    Most of “Ulysses” is Joyce praising and mythologizing Dublin, but in this chapter, he reminds us of the types of attitudes and beliefs that forced him to leave his home country and never return.

  5. Hunter Felt
    August 2, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    The trick into Chapter 12, “Cyclops”, is to imagine the Citizen and the narrator as xenophobic/ignorant Tea Party members (respectively) and that the digressions are parodies of the whitewashed myths, FoxNews style
    misinformation, and smalltown newspaper gossip that fuel this narrow mindset.

    Most of “Ulysses” is Joyce praising and mythologizing Dublin, but in this chapter, he reminds us of the types of attitudes and beliefs that forced him to leave his home country and never return.

  6. Hunter Felt
    August 2, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    The trick with Cyclops, chapter 12, is to read it like the Citizen and the narrator are Tea Party members, closeminded and xenophonic and blindly patriotic, and that the digressions are parodies of the historical myths, local news, and distorted propaganda that fuel these views.

    Joyce spends much of “Ulysses” with a very positive view on his homeland, but this chapter shows the conditions that forced Joyce into exile.

    • Ernie
      August 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm

      The fact that this sort of completely irrelevant, blatantly biased, nonsense goes unchallenged gives me pause. I guess I should give points to the poster for not pulling out the ever witty “tea bagger” epithet since i know that requires considerable restraint in some circles but …

  7. Hunter Felt
    August 2, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Ack! Sorry for the reposts, WordPress hates my Blackberry.

  8. Stevie
    August 3, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    It’s funny how different people can be; I’ve always loved Cyclops & found it really accessible (maybe I’ve spent too much time in old man bars?) but Sirens has always been problematic for me. I think it’s because I’m kind of ignorant when it comes to music, especially Joyce’s kind of music. I can’t grasp musical concepts, really. For the record, Bloom & Richie are in the restaurant of the Ormond Hotel which is adjacent to the bar, so they can hear the Simon crowd but can’t see them. I’m not sure I would have realized that on my own if I hadn’t been told, so kudos to you! The device in Wandering Rocks is meant to tell the audience at a vaudeville show which turn is on. Clive Hart has done an amazing analysis of WR, walking around Dublin with a stopwatch, imitating the one legged sailor, etc. He finds all kinds of groovy correllations.
    I feel chapter 10 is a real turning point in the book. It just gets more & more experimental from there. Can’t wait till we get to Oxen of the Sun

    • Leroy
      August 6, 2010 at 1:25 am

      I think the reason I disliked Cyclops the first time was due to how much I had come to like Bloom by that point. When he was treated so badly by everyone, it really bothered me, perhaps because of personal experience with various kinds of prejudice. In subsequent readings, I could maintain more emotional distance and started to appreciate the other things that episode had to offer.

  9. August 3, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Stevie, thanks for the clarifications. I liked ten quite a bit — it was in a way simultaneously the most and least disorienting episode so far, for it was something of a merry-go-round to read but was couched in a familiar style — but sirens really kind of sang to me (I know it’s lame to put it that way). I don’t know much about music either (and I didn’t pick up on the opening as an overture, which idea I was very glad to read in the comments), but there must be something to the way Joyce put this one together. I respond more viscerally to music than to other art, though I can’t explain why; perhaps Joyce has tapped something here.

    I just finished reading Oxen and have much to cogitate on.

  10. Ezekiel Crago
    August 6, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    My favorite part of the Siren episode is the joke with which Joyce ends it. Bloom makes music with his digestive tract. I giggle every time I read it.

  11. August 8, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I’m with Stevie – I loved the changes in tone and register in 12. This in particular practically made me laugh out loud:

    And lo, as they quaffed their cup of joy, a godlike messenger came swiftly in, radiant as the eye of heaven, a comely youth, and behind him there passed an elder of noble gait and countenance, bearing the sacred scrolls of law, and with him his lady wife, a dame of peerless lineage, fairest of her race.
    […]
    And begob what was it only that bloody old pantaloon Denis Breen in his bath slippers with two bloody big books tucked under his oxter and the wife hotfoot after him, unfortunate wretched woman trotting like a poodle.

  12. Stevie
    August 8, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Little fun touches in Cyclops: repetition of “I,” Bloom’s stogie, & Bloom constantly repeating “don’t you see?” No, they don’t!
    Honorable mention: “I’m the alligator.”

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