Thursday, August 7, 2008

Flooding the Stream of Consciousness

Is it just me, or is the third chapter of Ulysses nigh-incomprehensible? Maybe it's just that the mind tends to wander when reading about someone as his mind wanders. Or heck, maybe Joyce intended it to be read four times before its secrets begin to become clear. Because I have to admit, three times isn't quite cutting it.

So here's what I think happens in this segment: Stephen Dedalus walks on the beach. At first he thinks about going to his Aunt Sara's house, but he gets lost in thought and wonders past it. Then he thinks about his lunch appointment, and how headmaster Deasy warned him not to spend all of his money. He doesn't seem to be happy with that option, either, although I can't quite be sure. But he isn't looking forward to going home to his tower apartment tonight.

He gets lost in thought about his time in France, hanging out with his friend Kevin Egan and drinking absinthe. The green fairy had its fangs in him, yes it did. But his stay was cut short by a telegram telling him to come home, because his mother was dying. He probably bears some guilt over that--both for not being there for his mother and for resenting her for cutting his trip short. Either way he turns, guilt. Ah, the Irish.

Along the way, Stephen discovers a dead dog's carcass, and later a live dog comes down the beach and inspects the dead one. As Stephen muses on this, it made me recall lyrics from Dan Bern's song, "Rolling Away":

I wish that I could be a dog for a day
To know what he thinks and what he feels
Does he think about Life?
Does he think about God?
Or just about his next meal, like us?

Stephen seems to aspire to be live a fuller life than he is living, being more literary than he is. For a while, he was reading two pages of seven books every night. It was an ambitious plan to be well-read, but completely impatient.

(Is that any different that what I'm doing with this blog, struggling through this book? I'm not certain that the ability to say "I've read it" is a worthwhile pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow,* but expending effort to read something is flexing muscles I haven't used in a while, so I suppose that is its own kind of reward. But I've never been one for exercise for its own sake.)

As he walks, Stephen takes headmaster Deasy's letter and writes something on the bottom of it and stuffs it back into his pocket. Maybe we'll learn what he's written, or maybe we won't. And maybe we've already been told in such an oblique way that I haven't picked up on it after three readings.

I'm also curious as to whether the corpse of the drowned man is pulled onto a boat at the end of a chapter, or if Stephen is just imagining it happening.

And, at the end, the icing on the cake moment: Stephen picks his nose and leaves a booger on a rock. It's tough to read this passage without a profound sense of gratitude toward Mr. Joyce for letting us witness this moment. (He also takes a leak.)