Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There and Back Again

Well, I've been to New Orleans and back this past week or so, and have had a number of chances to read Ulysses while on the go. I haven't gotten very far in, but have made it through the Stephen Dedalus portion of the book, and on to the first Bloom chapter. The difficulty varied from segment to segment; out of the bunch, I was clearest on the action of the second Dedalus and first Bloom chapters. The third Dedalus chapter is a doozy.

I've got some questions & things to look up marked in my notes (for instance, should I know who Kevin Egan is yet?), but for tonight, I'm just writing to let people know I'm back, and I've gotten my feet wet. The water's fine...unless you're a corpse lost at sea whom the entire town is waiting to turn up in a fisherman's net, I suppose.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

My security blanket

Well in anticipation of our journey I had to pull out my most trusted companion on such a trip. My beloved "A" number one bookmark:

I pulled this sucker out of the book I was reading, and deposited it in its rightful place: between the covers of Ulysses. I bought this at a book fair in elementary school in 6th grade. It has taken whatever a teenage boy could throw at it and then some. With my trusty bookmark...well not at my side, but along for the trip. I will not fail! Or just less likely to.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Slow music, please"

A spot of Suzanne Vega the other day, song: Calypso, started me thinking about what sort of music might be appropriate whilst travelling through Ulysses. I know this is a personal thing, I certainly don't like songs with lyrics on in the background while I'm reading, some might not want any music. But I did think, I might like to have some relevant tunes on the rest of the time, to set a mood, to percolate in my subconscious. Moreover, I'm curious as to what the rest of you might fancy.

I'm sorry if I'm too obvious in my selections, which are very Oirish (hey there's no Dexy's at least, although "Dance Stance" lists many Irish writers other than Joyce, and no Cranberries, I think the Good Friday Agreement mandated that "Zombie" and "Linger" be taken out of print, besides they sing about Yeats, not Joyce).

A. Instrumentals
1. Chieftains, "Bonaparte's Retreat" -- This is the first of their albums I bought, and perhaps due to that, my favourite. It's particularly apt for the title track which is a suite of Napoleonic era folk songs. The Martello tower that Buck Mulligan lives in, and shaves atop at the start of the book was built as part of the military defences during that time.
2. Afro-Celt Sound System "Release" -- OK, at worst, there are times when this group sound like the techno-switched-on-classics version of Irish folk. But who am I to judge, you get occasional traditionally keening vocals from S. O'Connor, bless her little suede head.
3. Sharon Shannon "Out of the Gap" -- energetic, unabashed use of an accordion.

B. Songs
1. The Pogues, "If I Should Fall With Grace With God" -- somehow I missed out on their first two albums, but started with this one, Joyce is on the cover, with the band parroting his pose. Rollicking good fun. "Fairytale of New York" is the Christmas classic with the lines "you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, merry Christmas your arse, I pray god it's our last." Was 1987's Christmas no. 1 in Ireland, and no. 2 in the UK. I love that, you probably couldn't get it air play in the US. Here, it's on most contemporary Christmas compilation albums.
2. The Dubliners, "The Dubliner's Dublin" -- the wit and wisdom of traditional Irish folk, from the lot that helped revive the form. Includes Finnegan's Wake and Zoological Gardens, which feature in Joyce's last work, and "Seven Drunken Nights" the prototypical Irish folk joke song.
3. Kate Bush, "The Sensual World" -- Title track quotes and paraphrases Molly Bloom's monologue that closes Ulysses. Not her best album, twee and precious at times, but, kettle/black springs to mind. Could be worse, on her latest she sings Pi to 137 decimal places (highly recommended anyway).
4. Sinéad O'Connor "Sean-Nós Nua" -- Sinéad goes trad, and as she used to busk and do the folkie thing, it's a return to her roots. 'S'OK if you like that sort of thing.
5. Eliza Carthy -- just about anything, she's English folk, but knows how to be contemporary and traditional in the right measures at the right times.

C. Miscellaneous
Firesign Theater "How Can You Be In Two Places At Once, When You're Not Anywhere At All" -- The comedy troupe that often dabble in surreal asides and Joycean puns and references, end one of their most phantasmagorical sketches with Molly Bloom's monologue (oh, that thing again, maybe you should avoid these 'til after the book, don't want to give anything away). Yeh, and that's Nick Danger on the flip-side.

Well, that's enough to be getting on with, at any rate. Now what else should I pack onto that MP3 CD?.....

On Your Marks, Get ....


Monday, April 21, 2008

Got yer book?

I finally was able to step out during lunch and buy my copy of Ulysses: The Vintage International paperback of the 1961 text. Given all the vacation prep and othersuch I have to do, I probably won't crack the thing until my flight to New Orleans on Wednesday. But this drowsy early-a.m. traveler will soon be taking that first step.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The "Difficult" Third Book

A lot of people are put off reading so-called difficult literary works. I won't argue the toss, but Ulysses certainly is in this category by reputation, how true this is, we shall see. From my first few attempts on the cliff face of this day in Dublin, the first few episodes are a breeze, and then the language thickens (not quite Noam Chomsky density, but enough to thin my resolve and have me glancing over at some unread Stephen King). I thought I'd tote out a list of techniques that I find help when dealing with this sort of thing.

1. Treat your reading as a physical task. You are going to get comfortable and read for a certain amount of time.

At Uni I took a marvellous course called Madness in Literature taught by the lamentably deceased Paul Korshin (to give you an idea of what he was like, in one lesson he posed as a waiter in a restaurant that Kafka partially owned, and reasonably refused to supply anything that was on the menu). He had us read Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which is told in a series of never ending run-on sentences. You could go for pages without hitting a period, if a paragraph ended, you'd hold a small party. If you lost your place, it wouldn't be easy to retrace your steps there (just ponder the semiotics of that process my droogs). Korshin suggested we read as much as we liked in a sitting, but then mark the place you stop, actually mark it. Now, I come from a Hebraic tradition where books are considered semi-sacred, I get ill when someone cracks the spine of a paperback, the idea of defacing a book intentionally is sort of upsetting, but I could concede the point here.

Now, I'm hoping we don't have to resort to this sort of tactic with Ulysses. What I liked about the idea, however, is the sense that when we read, we traverse the text as we read. That there is a physical element, a journey over the small spaces of fonts, leading, tracking and page turning. I'm not suggesting it's an Olympic event, but it is a task, not just an eye-brain process.

2. Don't get bogged down.

There's a few of us here already that did English Majors. A pitfall of this negligible training is that we want to understand all the bits, we want to drown our reading in a flood of exegesis. We want to mine the meaning of the text and subtext. We want to know what the author was having for lunch whilst working out his known biographical foibles as he wrote that sentence.

Much will be unfamiliar here. This is a novel written about another country over a century ago, whose author had an immensely encyclopaedic knowledge. This will abound with colloquialisms and idiomatic, cultural, geographical and historical references, not to mention Joyce's paralleling of the Odyssey etc. etc. There will be Greek and Christian imagery. There will be Latin.

My suggestion is, short of complete incomprehensibility, don't stop reading, let some of the prose wash over you, even if you're not sure what some of the bits mean, or how it hangs together. Don't keep stopping to find out what exact method Guinness used to brew stout in 1904, or if the Sandymount tram really did intersect Grafton street. I was slightly worried when the academic shitstorm over definitive text came up because it's another dead end to travel down.

If there's something that really stands out, wait until you get to a good stopping point, go back and then hash it out, perhaps with the use of web resources and their flimsy provenance. Or make use of the semi-brain trust of this blog.

3. Don't rush.

One of my high school teachers suggested a sort of daredevil approach to reading Ulysses. It takes place in a day, so try reading it in a day. While this made a lot of sense to me, and appealed to my literary pretentiousness (of which more confession another time) in the same way that bungie jumping naked or extreme ironing appeals to danger junkies.

I probably could have managed this twenty five years ago, but there's not enough time in the day, or enough caffeine in the universe for me to consider doing this now. It's not like one of those parties where you get your mates together and sing the whole of Sweeney Todd.

4. Don't listen to me, what the fuck do I know.

This is the best advice I can give anyone. For at least the first third of the book, you'll be wondering why I even bothered writing this. As the book progresses, Joyce pushes his stylistic experimentation further and further, some of these suggestions may come in handy. I'm sure you're all much cleverer than me anyway, I didn't even have a blog until about 3 years ago.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Step 1: Begin Gathering Equipment & Provisions

I got to Borders today and picked up the current Random House/Vintage printing of the 1961 edition. Now I just need to lay in a good supply of Guinness and the inner organs of beasts and fowls.

Well, perhaps just the Guinness.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wrapping Up

Just curious... what books are you wrapping up before beginning Ulysses? I'm chugging through Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume, a goofball epic about immortality, scents, and beets. For some reason I've never read it, even though I once owned a copy (now misplaced) that I bought on Royal Street in New Orleans, the same street a perfume shop featured in the story is situated on.

Is there anything you're bringing to a close at the foot of the mountain?


Friday, April 11, 2008

The Line Number of the Beast

Greg brings up an interesting point in the comments of the last post: It might make references easier if we're all reading the same edition. One paperback edition I've found -- the Gabler edition -- has every 10 lines unobtrusively numbered. (You can see them on Amazon's "Search Inside" feature.) It might make references even easier.

Other editions might have other good points. Any thoughts?


Thursday, April 10, 2008


I am motivated by two things: Curiosity and Drink.

Actually, there are many more things, among them reading. I dig reading, and don't do nearly enough of it. And much of what I do is comic books, gun articles and other ephemera.

But then there's Joyce's Ulysses. I know very little about it, to be honest, except that it's experimental, it's daunting, it's one of the most important works of 20th century literature, and there's a yearly party around the world that aficionados throw pretty much everywhere. It's the Kilmanjaro of literature -- one of the highest peaks in the world, and unlike Everest, it stands alone.

And we're going to climb it, you and I.

In the next few weeks, I'd like to organize an intrepid group of explorers to work together and climb this mountain. It doesn't matter if you've never read it before -- or anything else by Joyce, for that matter. It doesn't matter if you have read it before. An experienced climber or two on this journey would be nothing bet an asset. All that matters is a willingness to read the book, and a willingness to write about it.

You don't have to be smart, and you don't have to be prepared. (I haven't even bought my copy yet.) You certainly don't have to be smarter than the book. I hear this thing is a whopper, and sooner or later, it'll try to clobber all of us. But working together, we can reach the summit. Sure, some of us will freeze to death. Someone always does. (We'll call him "Icy Joe.") But most of us will get there, and we'll be richer for the experience.

I don't have a complicated plan for this. I just want to read the thing, and talk about it with people who are also reading it. It's a book club. And since scheduling is the downfall of any vast get-together of adults (well, scheduling and heroin), I think it's best to do this online. So:

  • Anyone who wants to participate should let me know. I'll set it up so that they can post on Ulysses the Blog. (I'll need your email address... you can send it to grimmbeau at optonline dot net, and I'll send you an invitation to post.)
  • We'll start reading in a couple of weeks. I'm in the middle of a book, and chances are, you are too.
  • Participants should post on the blog whenever they want. Got something to say? Say it. It doesn't matter if it's a big thought or a small one. Trivial can be lively. And comment on each other's posts. Comments will be open to blog members and guests.
  • Read at your own rate. I'd like every post tagged with both the poster's name and the chapter (Wikipedia says they're called episodes) of the book the post concerns. That way, people might be able to avoid spoilers.

Hopefully, some of us will be able to get together and celebrate Bloomsday (the anniversary of the day the action of Ulysses takes place on). It's June 16th, a Monday this year, so it's not ideal, drinking-wise. But with enough advance notice, we might be able to hoist a few. Or whatever it is people do on Bloomsday -- but I'm planning on doing it at least partially in the bag.

Like I said, Curiosity and Drink. And reading, good company, and climbing mountains.

Who's with me?