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Purity of essence

May 10, 2012 10 comments

I wanted to thank everyone who read along and added helpful and even curious comments both here and on my blog.  While I like to be a purist about reading, I realize that it’s kind of foolish to think you can read certain texts in a vacuum.

I am able to come full circle with a comment about Ulysses.  My co-worker decided that he was finally going to read Ulysses (it feels good to write that).  He is doing it with no outside help (he doesn’t even want me to tell him what’s going on, so I didn’t even tell him about our discussion here).  And it’s amazing hearing what he takes from it and also what he simply doesn’t pick up on.

He didn’t seem to have a basic understanding of the set up of the book–that it is a day in the life of Dublin.  And I can see that if you don’t know that Sandymount strand is in Dublin, it might not be readily apparent that that’s where the book is set (at least right away).  Without such basic knowledge, though, I wondered if it was even possible to understand what was happening in the book.  [Mind you, I had literally no idea what Gravity's Rainbow was about either].  I had a college course about Ulysses (complete with Ulysses Annotated, so I knew a lot of what was going on in the background.  Of course, when he talks to me about Ulysses, I want to tell him about all the various things that each section symbolizes, or why things are done the way they are.  But I’m holding my tongue to keep his purity in tact.

Having said that, he is picking up on a lot of stuff and is getting a lot of the story.  And it’s always fun to hear him come in with a new insight to what he read that morning.  But I wonder if it would be more enjoyable if he “knew” more.

And now with the insights that I’ve been getting here, I wonder if Gravity’s Rainbow would have been more interesting if I knew the connections I’ve been reading about here.   I would say yes, very probably.  Like my co-worker, I didn’t want any spoilers (that’s why I didn’t read Weisenberger, as I understand spoilers–if that is even possibly with GR–were present, heck, unavoidable.  But I’ll bet knowing more about what the Kabbalah stuff meant would have made some of these sections more interesting.

So, Joyce threw everything he could about Dublin (and some of the world around him) into Ulysses.  And Pynchon seems to have thrown into Gravity’s Rainbow everything he knew about the World circa 1945, with a bit of 70s politics thrown in as well.  And it’s obvious he did his homework.  I never would have guessed that so much of the stuff he talks about was real–can you really fit a light bulb into a kazoo?  And without Wikipedia cheat sheets I wouldn’t have appreciated nearly as much.  Of course, I read the Wikipedia stuff after i read the section, when I was skimming it for things to post about, so i was able to keep some of my purity in tact.

I guess the point is that no one can ever hope to know as much as an author about a subject.  Either because  the author lived it or because the author did more research than you have, or even because it is simply his or her perspective on events.  In the case of Gravity’s Rainbow, I may not have understood everything that happened in the book, but holy cow did I learn a lot more than I ever knew about WWII, conspiracy theories and paranoia.

On another note, I had hoped to post something here every week, but I learned that bosses really don’t appreciate employees writing blog posts on company time (spoiled sports).  So I’m sorry I couldn’t help keep the discussion going regularly.  But at the same time I also found myself almost literally speechless about what  to talk about.  Aside from some serious WTF questions, this book had me kind of stymied for insights.  Well, not insights per say, but coherent insights.

I’m appreciative of the book for making me think so much (and making me think such crazy things) and I appreciate you all for helping me focus my thoughts.

I feel like I would perhaps like to read this book again (although not anytime soon). But since I just learned that V. has some of the same charcaters in it, perhaps i should go back and read that one first.  I wish that GR was available as an audiobook!  That would be interesting in terms of narrator as well.

Speaking of insights, here’s an interesting review of the book from The New York Times.  Holy spoiler alert about Gottfried!  But there are some interesting cultural insights (since it was written in 1973), that we might not pick up on in 2012.  I believe there’s a few errors, too.  It’s also fascinating to see such a lengthy book review in a newspaper!

So, what’s next everyone, JR?  [I actually wrote this post before Daryl submitted his survey.  JR was kind of a joke, but I'm delighted that it was an option!]

Tangentially, I was wondering if there was any kind of acknowledged list of difficult books out there?  I mean, right now it seems like Infinite Zombies is a major resource for such a list. There are a few resources that I’ve seen online, although most of them are just people’s personal lists of tough books.  Given the world’s penchant for making lists, I’m surprised no one with any authority has created The Top 20 Hardest Novels.  I’m pretentious enough to think that I have most of them in my house (whether I have read them or not).  But I always wonder if I missed one.

Not quite Gottfied

The final word belongs to Slothrop (and others): oboy.

Ulysses in Five Minutes

This just in from the makers of UlyssesSeen.

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UlyssesSeen Pledge Drive

If you played along for the Ulysses read a few months ago, you’ll likely be familiar with the UlyssesSeen project. The project not only provided an extremely useful way of digesting the first episode of Joyce’s book but also made big news in the Apple world when Apple asked that the iPad version be modified to remove pictures of nudity. Although Throwaway Horse (the company formed to produce the comic) initially worked to provide censored images for the iPad, the matter garnered enough press that Apple backed down and allowed the original work to be used. The artist behind the project, Rob Berry, was kind enough to post here a few times.

Boiling the book down to frames in a graphic format takes loads of work and time, but the folks putting the resource together are seeking to raise some money that will help accelerate production. The site through which they’re soliciting funds is a pledge site; if the pledge goal isn’t met, the project dies and no money changes hands. If the goal is met, Throwaway Horse can pay the bills for a few months and production ramps up. They’re at some 67% of the goal now, with a month-and-a-half yet to go.

If you’ve got a few bucks to spare and would like to see this neat project move forward, you can pledge here.

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Ulysses Audio Book 13-15

September 13, 2010 1 comment

As with last week, just in case anyone is following along, I did a quick post about the Ulysses audio book (Episodes 13-15).

I’m delighted that I’m picking up so many details that I missed the first time though.  Although I’m not sure if it really changes my opinion of the book, it shows that there were even more carefully thought out details than I first realized.

It’s here.

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Ulysses Audio Book (Episodes 1-12)

September 6, 2010 3 comments

Hi Ulyssesians.  I know the read is technically over, but after finishing the book, I wanted to give it a go on audio book.  I’m about half way done with the disc set.  You can see my post about it here.

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Would’ve, Should’ve, Couldn’t

September 2, 2010 3 comments

Hello:

It’s me again: Judd. Maybe you remember me from a month or two ago, when we started talking about Ulysses. I had a lot to say, for minute there, and was really looking forward to all the stuff I would say about the second half of the book: you know, when it really gets good. But then, out of nowhere (or rather not unexpectedly) life caught up with me, and the whole blogging thing got pushed to the back-burner in favor of things I was either getting paid for or graded on. You know how that goes. But I’ve been enjoying reading the other posts on here. Daryl, I’m sorry the book wasn’t your cup of tea, but I’m glad you made it through. I hope you’ll give it another look sometime: it only gets better. And it has the richest body of criticism of any work of literature: there’s lots of smart stuff to read out there. Start with Hugh Kenner.

Anyway, I wanted to put in a final post, now that we’re done and September is here and I’m really getting busy in earnest, about the things I would have written about, had I world enough and time. So here they are:

BLOOM: Obviously Ulysses is a difficult book, and a masterpiece of style and allusion.  But I think what people forget sometimes is that at bottom it is an incredibly humane portrait of a very relatable human being. I love Bloom. He walks around, thinks about stuff, gets hungry, eats, checks girls out as they walk down the street or sit on the beach, gets frustrated and disgusted by the people around him, worries, and tries to do the right thing. But more than that, I’m incredibly moved by Bloom, because he’s just so sad. I think that’s why “Lestrygonians” is among my favorite episodes, and one I would have liked to have written about in more length. It is to Bloom what “Proteus” is to Stephen: the chapter where we are most immersed in a character’s head, with minimal intrusion (ok, there’s more intrusion here than in “Proteus,” but we’re still getting a pretty good look at Bloom’s thoughts). He’s hungry, looking for a nice place to eat lunch, and trying to avoid thinking about that which he doesn’t want to acknowledge. So he thinks about a lot of other stuff, but the bad thoughts keep coming back. Here are a few of my favorite bits:

Never know anything about it. Waste of time. Gasballs spinning about, crossing each other, passing. Same old dingdong always. Gas: then solid: then world: then cold: then dead shell drifting around, frozen rock, like that pineapple rock. The moon. Must be a new moon out, she said. I believe there is. (8.581-5)

I don’t know what to call this, maybe an astronomical version of the pathetic fallacy, but certainly Bloom allows his sadness to color his view of the grand scheme of things (truly grand, like, universal) in a really moving way. (We have a bit of a reversal of this in “Ithaca,” 17. 2012-23.)

And then a bit later the most beautiful, simultaneously sexy and sad, thing I think I’ve ever read, which I’m going to go ahead and quote in spite of its length:

Stuck on the pane two flies buzzed, stuck.

Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgandy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion’s head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you’ll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman’s breasts full in her blouse of nun’s veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.

Me. And me now.

Stuck, the flies buzzed.

Were three words ever more devastating than that “And me now”? If so, I’d like to know. (We get this same scene again at the very end of the book, of course, in a far more famous passage. But I like this one.) At any rate, we’ll return to Bloom’s head later, in “Sirens” and “Nausicaa,” but by then the narrative has gone in more experimental directions. This is the chapter when we’re most with Bloom, at least for my money.

OXEN: I’m working on a longer piece, for a different audience, on the narrative voice(s) in the “Oxen of the Sun” episode. It’s a hard one, for sure, the one that pissed me off the most the first time I read this book (and the second), but it’s a chapter that rewards close attention. There are so many voices blending: the authors being parodied, the characters, the “narrator”; I think Joyce is having a lot of fun pulling the carpet out from under us. When I have something a little more developed (someday soon I hope) maybe I will put a bit of it up here, if people are still interested. In the meantime, if you want to read about narrative voice in Joyce, I strongly recommend John-Paul Riquelme, Teller and Tale in Joyce’s Fiction (Johns Hopkins, 1983).

ADAPTATION: Can you believe this novel has been filmed? Twice? Plus turned into a Broadway show? I just watched the 1967 version: it was pretty good, for trying to do the impossible.

Anyway, those are just a few things I wanted to mention. I’m sure there were others, but this post is starting to get pretty long. It was fun hanging out with you guys: let’s do it again sometime. I hope to be less busy next summer. But then, hope springs eternal, right?

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Being Young and Being Old

I don’t have much too say specifically about the final episode of Ulysses. I’ve learned by now just to let myself be carried along in the stream of Joyce’s prose, so I bumped along as usual this week. Some things were funny and some were very nicely rendered. The closing cascade of memories/thoughts/emotions was lovely. Maybe it’s too cute to suggest that Molly undergoes a metempsychotic sort of change over the course of the episode, morphing from something of a shrill malcontent to someone who by the end has a bit of a heart.

The books I like the most are the ones that leave me sort of stunned at the end because of how well-wrought they are, or how dazzling. Ulysses falls short for me in this department. It’s clearly the work of a really smart guy who has a keen ability to make you inhabit the head of the characters he writes. But the thing is that I already inhabit my own head. My head isn’t quite the carnival that has set up tents in Bloom’s head, but the thought patterns Joyce captures are familiar to me. I suppose I’m ok with familiar, though. Part of what resonates so strongly with me in David Foster Wallace’s brief interviews, for example, is that some of them represent not quite the whole exact truth about ways I’ve felt or things I’ve thought, but neither are they so terribly close to outright parody. It’s the harrowing familiarity and honesty in that work that appeals to me. So much of Ulysses captured the formal or structural familiarity of how people think but had very little familiarity to me in terms of subject matter or personal feeling. It’s not a book I could relate to in any way, and that surely colored my enjoyment of it.

I guess I feel about this book more or less the way I feel about Pynchon’s books. They’re kind of like nasty medicine. I don’t much enjoy them going down, but they’re probably good for me.  I don’t know if I’ll ever reread this one. I’ve tried off and on for over a decade; ask me again in another decade. I’m pretty sure I’ll never attempt Finnegan’s Wake.

I suppose I should do something besides trash-talk the book, though, so I’ll toss out something half-baked and cross my fingers that the more learned and enthusiastic among us can add to or subtract from it in the comments.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I believe Joyce rewrote to serve as a sort of preface to Ulysses, is explicitly about being young. Ulysses, then, is a book about being old, or maybe — since its two most distinctive voices are closer to middle-age — about what happens to you as you begin to grow old. I started to type out a bunch of sort of flimsy evidence in support of this statement, but it began to feel a little high-school term-paperish, so I’ll let the statement stand more or less on its own now, and we can take it up in the comments.

I won’t say that I enjoyed Ulysses a whole heck of a lot, but I am glad to have read it, and reading along with others has, as ever to date, made the experience richer for me. Thanks to those who wrote blog posts or comments, and many thanks to Judd for starting us off; it wouldn’t have happened without him.

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“Contemporary” Catechism

August 27, 2010 2 comments

The other day I read a diverting—if argumentationally (Joyce isn’t the only one who can make up words) lightweight—piece by Annie Dillard called “Contemporary Prose Styles,” in which Dillard plays Linnaeus and classifies “contemporary” prose styles (the article is as old as I am) as either “fancy” (or “fine”) or “plain.” She kind of claims that fancier styles are better suited to modernist projects, and that plainer styles are preferable to contemporary readers for their ostensive presentation of the world as it is rather than as a writer arranges it. Those both strike me as naive, or at least unreflective, positions, but Dillard doesn’t seem wholly attached to them anyway, since she goes on to say that basically all writers work somewhere in between the two poles. Which is fine by me, since I don’t even intend to criticize the piece (more); I bring it up for its relevance to our reading of Ulysses.

Dillard marshals Joyce as one of her exemplars of the fancier styles: “I think fine writing in fictional prose comes into its own only with the modernists: first with James, and with Proust, Faulkner, Beckett, Woolf, Kafka, and the lavish Joyce of the novels.” I think she’s right to mention Ulysses and Finnegans Wake—I assume those are “the novels”—as pyrotechnic displays of writing. In at least some respects, that seems to be the point of some of what we’ve been reading these past few weeks. Can we talk about “Oxen of the Sun”?

But what’s interesting to me is when Dillard turns her attention to the plainer styles. She gives a broad characterization that leaped to mind throughout my reading of “Ithaca”:

This prose is not an end in itself, but a means. It is, then, a useful prose. Each writer of course uses it in a different way. Borges uses it straightforwardly, and as invisibly as he can, to think, to handle bare ideas with control[.] … Robbe-Grillet uses it coldly and dryly, to alienate, to describe, and to lend his descriptions the illusion of scientific accuracy. His prose is a perceptual tool[.] … Hemingway uses it as a ten-foot pole, to distance himself from events; he also uses it as chopsticks, to handle strong emotions without, in theory, becoming sticky: “On the other hand his father had the finest pair of eyes he had ever seen and Nick had loved him very much and for a long time.” (At its worst, this flatness may be ludicrous. Hemingway once wrote, and discarded, the sentence, “Paris is a nice town.”)

Writers like Flaubert, Chekhov, Turgenev, Sherwood Anderson, Anthony Powell, and Wright Morris use this prose for many purposes: not only to control emotion, but also to build an imaginative world whose parts seem solidly actual and lighted, and to name the multiple aspects of experience one by one, with distance, and also with tenderness and respect.

This is “Ithaca.” For all its earthiness and democratic range of subject matter, Ulysses retains a peculiar fastidiousness about its characters’ emotions. (At least so far; I don’t remember whether “Penelope” blows this out of the water.) Maybe I’m just not catching what I’m reading—a definite possibility—but to my mind the book mostly lets its characters feel what they feel without, I don’t know, intruding too much. It gives us their thoughts verbatim, but most of the emotional weight is left to us to register on our own. As the final homecoming, the episode when Bloom at last returns to the privacy of hearth and bed, “Ithaca” is the pinnacle of this reserve.

The somewhat detached tone also accomplishes the other goals Dillard names at the end there, creating a fully realized portrait not just of Dublin in 1904 but of the entire universe and all its contingent particularities that make possible this day for this man in this city. Daryl covers many of the fields this episode brings into play; what I love is how comprehensively it establishes what is the case in this world. It runs up the scale to intergalactic space and down to the corresponding space within the atom. It discourses on both physical and metaphysical principles. And it sets a willed positivity against “the apathy of the stars” (17.2226). A few months ago, I went on about Moby-Dick being about everything; I think Ulysses is similarly encyclopedic, but with an entirely different effect. What we see in “Ithaca” is how a regular old day—nothing any more remarkable about it than about any other day—necessarily includes in it everything else that exists. Every moment is entirely conditioned by everything before it (and this is heading toward the kind of understanding of reality that science was also heading toward at the time of Ulysses; Heisenberg published his uncertainty principle in 1927), every day is the sum of all previous days.

And then we follow Bloom into sleep, with Darkinbad the Brightdayler, to recharge the everyman for his next everyday.

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Pro-

When I started reading “Ithaca,” I flipped forward after just a couple of pages because I feared that all of the 70+ pages in this batch would follow the question/answer format that opened the episode. I may have groaned audibly when I saw that they would. It was a cute trick, I thought, but who needed 70 pages of it? Who needed 20 pages of it? But as I read on, a neat thing happened that has happened several (though by no means all) times for me in this book: However unsettling the form of the episode was at the beginning, I internalized it somehow and found a way to read past the form, or maybe to embrace it. What had at first seemed an obstacle or a cutesy-pie trick turned into maybe a sort of prism through which to read the content of the episode. I wound up liking this episode very much, and for all my gnashing of teeth at the beginning of it, I was sad to see it end. Of course, it did end rather sadly.

As for what the episode’s structure actually is, or what it is doing, I wasn’t entirely sure until I cheated (as always, after my reading) by looking at the Linati schemata, which suggests that what we’re dealing with here is a (or the?) catechism. Well I’m not Catholic and don’t know much about Catholicism, so while I knew that there was a thing called the catechism, I didn’t really know what it was. So the form of “Ithaca” seemed to me to be like something out of a school room. In fact, Stephen’s fairly rapid-fire questioning of his students in the Nestor episode seems to anticipate the form of this episode, and I took “Ithaca” to be a sort of dialectic (perhaps almost Socratic) lesson formally.

I also found the word “prolusion” rattling around in my head as I read. A prolusion is a preliminary exercise, sort of a hallmark of old-fashioned education, and the prolusions I’m most familiar with are Milton’s. They’re explanatory or argumentative, often quite humorous pieces of oratory spoken before an audience. Several of the answers to the questions posed in this episode struck me as somewhat prolusive. That there are a couple of references to Milton’s “Lycidas” later in the episode kept the prolusion idea in my mind, though I don’t quite mean to posit that Joyce is making reference to Milton’s prolusions. Still, it’s an association that colored my reading. (By the way, if you want to feel really bad about your formal schooling, go look up Milton’s essay “Of Education.”)

In any case, there’s something distinctly lesson-like in this episode. And as I read, I made note of a number of particular fields of study that came up, sometimes with actual brief lessons in the fields (other times merely loaded language). The really obvious ones:

  • geometry
  • physics
  • chemistry
  • civil engineering
  • thermodynamics
  • accounting
  • the paranormal
  • composition
  • numerology
  • comparative literature
  • music
  • astronomy
  • religion
  • linguistics
  • navigation

Bloom has taken a filial interest in Stephen, and so an episode in which a father figure bereft of his own son talks at length with a son-figure (who in the source matter is bereft of his father) may as well be written in a didactic form (“Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue…”). Of course, despite the form, many of the answers are not in fact aimed at Stephen. Certainly the ones after Stephen leaves aren’t.

With Stephen gone, Bloom begins to think about his own station in life. At around page 702, I began to notice a pronounced emphasis on progress and progression (there’s an outlier way back on page 650, with the progression of dates and the “progressive extension of the field of individual development and experience”). First there’s mention of a geometrical progression. Then there are several references to widening of scope (sometimes couched in terms like “what else?”). Maybe it’s an equivocation, but the questioner asks on 707 about consideration of progressive melancholia. A couple of pages later, we’re given successive (progressive? maybe regressive?) modes and examples of poverty. Late in the episode, Bloom considers the progression of men who’ve (he imagines?) cuckolded him; this progression is mentioned more or less alongside parallel lines running to infinity, and the series of men is said to be repeated into infinity. The book is a progression in time. Bloom is on a progression toward sleep. The episode ends by asking “where?” and giving no answer.

The last in my little progression of pro- words that I latched onto in this episode is “prothalamion,” the fancy-pants name for the wedding song genre of poetry. Spenser’s “Prothalamion” is probably the most famous example. These poems are often full of bowers and nymphs and flowers and rivers and repose. How sad the end of “Ithaca” is, as Bloom’s bed and settling into thereof are described as follows:

With circumspection, as invariably when entering an abode (his own or not his own): with solicitude… prudently, as entering a lair or ambush of lust or adder: lightly, the less to disturb: reverently, the bed of conception and of birth, of consummation of marriage and of breach of marriage, of sleep and of death.

We learn that Bloom and Molly haven’t had sex in over a decade. He gives her what seems to me to be a tender kiss on the bottom and answers her questions about his day. The best I can tell from the descriptions, they lie in bed in something like a V shape. He’s weary, having seen the world in a day (so to speak, and somewhat fancifully to link the story with its nominal source material) and come home to find himself horned. What’s next? Where are they going? Forward? Pro-? This is surely a different scene, a different mood, than the mood that provoked Molly to ask him for a little touch early in the book (and that a distant memory), than the mood that provoked the old acrostic Valentine’s Day poem:

Poets oft have sung in rhyme
Of Music sweet their praise divine.
Let them hymn it nine times nine.
Dearer far than song or wine,
You are mine. The world is mine.

Poor Poldy. Not a word of it seems to be true.

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WTF?

I came very close this week to writing a post whose text was only something like “I have nothing to say.” Circe challenged my stamina, and as it bore on and on without apparent aim, I began to feel like I was the butt of a practical joke. I won’t quite say I skimmed the last half or so of the episode, but I can’t say I did a whole lot better than skimming. I’m reading without a guide and frankly don’t know that I would have gotten through this week’s reading and a guide both (I’ve been chasing Ulysses with some rather more palatable Flannery O’Connor instead). So I don’t really have much coherent to say. I suppose that’s fitting. A few scattered observations follow, though.

I find a way to see Thomas Hardy everywhere. On page 469, we find a passage from Bloom about the suffering poor and (I guess) the privileged classes. In it, he uses the phrase “casting dice” and the word “purblind.” Hardy’s poem “Hap” (which oddly is the Hardy I always manage to see in other works) uses forms of each of these words and bemoans the lack of meaning in suffering. It also includes the distinctive word “unblooms” (!).

Gender is an obvious preoccupation of this episode. From the first time I read the name Virag in a prior episode, I thought of the archetype called the Virago (basically an Amazon), who makes a late, brief, named appearance in Circe. Bloom crosses the aisle and is (ill-) treated as a woman and referred to with feminine pronouns. He has a very deep vagina. The Bella we first hear from also changes genders and takes on the masculine name Bello. It’d be interesting to see what a feminist reading of this episode would be, especially given Bloom’s frankly sort of predatory activities earlier in the book. I wonder also if cross-dressing in Elizabethan theater was on Joyce’s mind and whether or not it was something he was playing with here.

As viewpoints and genders meld and swirl together in Circe, it’s pretty tempting (and probably not all wrong) to think of metempsychosis, or at least of the physical equivalent transmogrification, which is of course central to Homer’s story of Circe (along with temptation and decadence).

Is this episode a rewrite or adaptation of some play that I ought to be recognizing? There are echoes of all kinds of things (not least of all earlier bits of Ulysses), but I wasn’t able in my frustrated and sometimes careless reading to find any correspondence to a play I knew. I half suspect it’s a rewrite of Hamlet that I’m too dim to have picked up on.

There’s an interesting moment on 548 in which Bloom and Stephen do some age reconciliation. Bloom got a scar when he was sixteen, 22 years prior. Stephen is 22 now. I felt for a moment almost as if Bloom and Stephen somehow spectrally occupied the same space in a way, almost in the way you discover one day that you have become your parents. The episode winds down with a sort of tender fatherly moment between Bloom and Stephen and ends with the crushing appearance of little Rudy as — like Stephen — a sort of scholar (he’s reading something in what I assume is Hebrew, so not exactly beach reading), another sort of joint occupancy of familial role.

I often found myself thinking that Pynchon owed something to Joyce. I think of Slothrop following Red down the toilet for his harmonica, for example, and of the coprophilia and other kink so prevalent in Gravity’s Rainbow. I think of the songs and what I can only describe as set pieces, of which there are many in Circe (how Rob is going to illustrate this one I can’t imagine).

Last, WTF is this episode? It obviously isn’t actually happening, though some parts of it seem as if they could be. I began to think of it as a dream, but it seemed to me that if it was a dream from Bloom’s perspective, he had at times access to things I didn’t think he’d have access to (e.g. Stephen’s memories of his mother). The Linati schemata, which I always refer to after my reading (the closest thing to a guide for me, I guess) suggest that the episode may be a hallucination, but the same limitations that apply to dreams would apply to a hallucination, I think. Maybe it’s a group hallucination, or a meandering walk through a series of overlapping hallucinations taking place as patrons at the brothel become increasingly incapacitated on whatever they’re consuming and peppered with interjections of real events. Other thoughts? Anybody in the know wish to provide enlightenment?

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