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.