Category Archives: Ulysses

Ulysses: Read from July 07 to 30, 2013

Ulysses is a big long book with a lot of words and it hurts when you drop it on your toe. Mind you, Ulysses isn’t the first book I’ve dropped on my toe: A King James Bible, my family’s Masonic Bible (which is exactly like the King James version except the word God had been completely edited out), Gravity’s Rainbow (unironically), and The Unbearable Lightness of Being whose sharp corner wounded my little toe. However, aside from Pynchon, I’ve read every book that has fallen on my foot and so I have now moved on from being a person who has not read Ulysses to that rare breed of a bore who has. I now belong to a group that not even Joyce belonged to because, according to my edition’s afterword, once the novel was printed (aside from some very minor errata) he finally gave up and stopped editing (and thus reading) the text all together. I can now claim the company to that special soggy breed of individual who drags their significant other to a day walking tour of Bloom’s Dublin (minus the ocean-side masturbation) and who (aside from the people already from Ireland) are at least happy to be in Ireland.

Speaking of Bloom, he’s the main character and he’s as boring as the people who follow around in his imaginary footsteps and walk right past all the good drinking spots (because Bloom doesn’t drink). All the people in the book who are not boring are all the sort of people in the world who would not ever read Ulysses – Molly (Bloom’s wife), she gets around with every guy in town and doesn’t even wash the sheet stains after, Simon Deadalus, Stephen’s father, who is a real Irish piece of work and makes fun of Bloom every chance he gets, and there is a rat in the cemetery that gnaws away on the corpse of a dead main character, Dignam. To give you an idea of what sort of guy Bloom is, well if you ever find yourself in his company and look up at the sky and wonder aloud why is the sky blue, Bloom will give you the absolute correct scientific principle regarding the scattering of light and nitrogen and the rods and cones in our eyes and … he’ll take all the living fun out of the whole thing, regardless if the question was rhetorical.

But let’s talk about the guy who wrote the book, James Joyce. Joyce is, as we all know, the greatest comedic novelist of all time and Ulysses is his grand comedic masterpiece. See, what Joyce does is he tricks a lot of really pretentious people into thinking that he is actually a genius because he knows a lot of big words and that there seems to be an awful lot of literary, artistic, historical, even mathematical references imbued into every ink stain of a sentence on every page. Those of us who know, however, know better. You see, Joyce cast the widest net possible when framing this uproarious little ditty – he cast it all the way back to ancient Greece (the founding of all western society) and then wrote his book in a western language! Isn’t that hilarious? Oh, you don’t quite see what I’m getting at? Well, it is a touch obscure at first, but bear with me. Since Joyce wrote the book in a western language he was forced to have to use words and phrases and cultural references that, in effect, date back to ancient Greece and thus connect to all of western civilization. No matter what Joyce wrote, it would always have a connection to some other thing in history! Now the trick Joyce uses is that by titling the book ‘Ulysses’ (there is no Ulysses in the book, by the way) he tricks a certain type of person’s brain into thinking that every word he writes is a deliberate reference to some aspect of history, or art, or math, or philosophy, or some such over-education. For example, when he mentions a river (doesn’t matter which one), some egg-headed scholar will add a footnote to the back of the book (and they’ll do it as you’re reading it, which is very annoying and you have to keep shooing these annoying pests away with the promise of some grant money or a recent tenure possibility) saying that what Joyce REALLY means by the river is the stream of consciousness, or the river Styx, or the passage of time – they’ll relate it to anything EXCEPT whatever river Joyce mentions. Basically Joyce gets a lot of stupid-smart people to do all the work for him and all he had to do was give the book a famous Greek name, make the book really long, throw in some Latin, and there-you-have-it! And this has been going on for over 100 years now! Funniest damn thing in the history of literature. Hell, he even says in the book that the priests hold a lot of their power because the congregation doesn’t even speak the Latin the mass is said in! It’s like Joyce is daring us!!

His other great comedy routine is his stated desire to re-invent the novel (and even attempt to give the Irish their masterpiece) but then he just only goes about copying the styles of writing done by other people! In one chapter we get a bunch of newspaper headline, another is a really bad play that goes on for 200 pages and is about nothing at all, another is a series of Socratic questions … goes on and on. He literally does nothing new yet manages to trick a lot of well-meaning people into thinking that copying is actually inventing!

Anyway, you might be wondering if I even liked the book. Well, yes, I did. In fact I loved it, but in that way a mother loves a child that has grown up to be a serial rapist and murderer who is currently serving ten consecutive life sentences in San Quentin – you love them, but it’s not easy and you do it because you sort of can’t help it and because they need you to love them and because you feel like God is making sure you love them or else He’ll send you hell if you give up on them.

It’s also the most positive book about humanity ever written. Joyce connects every aspect of our humble, daily lives and shows us how epic and rich even one, simple life can be. The novel even ends with the most positive word in English “yes” because Joyce is saying that no life is too unimportant, too small, no person is too marginalized or morally bankrupt, or sleazy, or noble, to not not deserve respect. No other book does this – no other book connects our own ordinary lives to that of Homer, or 5000 years of history, art, culture, religion – all of it, we’re a part and product of everything that came before and life is brief and we should be grateful for it. That’s why it’s a 5-star book because it doesn’t just say life is precious – he proves it. It’s like nothing ever written. Yet it’s a tough book to love, it’s difficult, it’s obtuse, it’s obscure, it will make you want to throw it across the room out of frustration and confusion, it wont make any sense half the time, it will challenge every nerve ending in your brain – but that’s why it’s worth it. Life is difficult and this book is difficult. Life isn’t a Nicholas Sparks, life-affirming, tell us what we want to hear sort of thing – life is Ulysses. The book is for everyone, and it’s for nobody, too. I don’t know who I’d ever recommend the book too because you just gotta find your own way to and through it. I will say that it’s worth all the pain, like giving birth to an fitful child.

96% done with Ulysses

I like Molly. Not as a person, but as a character. If she was a real person I’d avoid her like the plague, but she’s possibly the best character in the book.

She’s a good match for Bloom, too. They couldn’t be any more different but they seem to have a comfort between them – even if it isn’t strictly ‘love’.

And she’s full of her self, and vain, and observant, and horny, and interesting, and fun.

Very fun

92% done with Ulysses

Molly sure gets around (as does Leo) but the reveal is not very artful. We learn it via this odd interrogation in Bloom’s mind. I’d rather learn it from Molly herself.

I like the pissing contest passage- that was cute.

‘The heaventree of the stars hung with the humid nightblue fruit’ (Pleiades, reminds me of) vs. ‘The apathy of the stars’. Heroes born under stars.

How come he never answers ‘I don’t know?’

87% done with Ulysses

It’s chapter 17 and we’re going through an interrogation, or maybe it’s a debriefing?

Throwing my own pretentious hat into the ring: there are two Blake allusions that the footnotes don’t pick up on: Bloom talks about Molly doing calligraphy and recalls the chemical corrosives used in the process, and a little later he alludes to the universe in a grain of sand.

Maybe Blake is the interrogator? He should be.

83% done with Ulysses

This was an odd chapter (but aren’t they all?) – there was an awkwardness to it, as if everything was over described and haltingly unsure of itself.

I liked this one because it mirrored Bloom’s uneasy relationship with Stephen. I love how Bloom has that mix of fatherly compassion and a desire to be an intellectual equal (but coming up short with his morose friend).

This is as far as Joyce should push the art.

80% done with Ulysses

I like how all of a sudden Bloom is sort of unsure of himself now that he’s in Stephen’s company at the bar. I also like that Stephen doesn’t seem to really like Bloom at all. It would have felt disingenuous had they become fast friends or something.

The sea stories with the old sailor were fun – almost like really being in that bar and seeing his tattoos and the knife.

Nice too that Joyce is back to form


76% done with Ulysses

Let’s just celebrate getting through that damn play and getting back to the book.

I’d like to imagine that Sam Sheppard on his quiet days off from being a hero has slowly been whittling down Joyce’s play to something more manageable. I can picture him with a pair of scissors and a glass of whiskey on the table as he cuts out the word ‘Stephen’, ‘punched’, and ‘drunken’, pastes them into his journal and drinks.

72% done with Ulysses

And this play is STILL going on and on and on.


I did like the bit Bello and discovering Bloom has been dressing up in women’s clothes a few times in his life. The little perv.

But 130 pages into a 200 page ‘play’ (in a 700 page book) is fucking ridiculous to learn one new thing about the main characters. Joyce needs to take the advice of ‘The Hoof’ and:

“Smell my hot goathide.”


67% done with Ulysses

Arg, this is some fucking murder, this fucking ‘play’, the fevered dream of nonsense. If I had been Joyce’s editor I would have crammed the whole book up his arse sideways.

Oh, I ‘get’ it, alright, we all ‘get’ it, but it’s uninteresting, over-long, and isn’t speaking to anyone – it’s a lot more words little different than the Latin he makes fun of in the church used to ‘dazzle’ the soft minded.

Train wreck

60% done with Ulysses

Where chapter 13 is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve ever experienced, chapter 14 is the most tedious and exasperating.

Kubrick, in 2001, used the music of Ligeti for multiple purposes: as an alien atmosphere, tense uncertainty, and also the birth and struggle of life. And thank god film was invented because what Joyce tries to do so ponderously in ch. 14 Kubrick pulls off 40 years later.

51% done with Ulysses

As chapter 12 wore on I started to get the impression that Joyce could be a bit of a shite-ass hipster. He goes on so long making a ‘literary mockery’ of the drunks and their gossiping of Bloom, that I began to wonder if Joyce felt that simple minded people were all idiots to be mocked.

I think he went a little too far in this chapter.

13 is off back to form, however. Man, can Joyce write!

45% done with Ulysses

– Can you believe it. Dan reading that book of thick and haughty Irish wit? My Gob, he’s full of the stuff, isn’t he now?

Dan H, signingportentousbusyfootedearlyrigingoverreader address the social community once again for his nightly ritual of lording over his underneathers with a lookee here at what I’ve been a-reading, ya illiterate bastards.

– kick the shite out of him, I will.

40% done with Ulysses

Sound and fragments and thoughts resonating around and around the sound of Bloom and deaf Pat the waiter waiting and listening and the piano tinkling and Simon singing and gold and bronze drinking and laughing a greasyeyed Bloom – who’d marry that?!

And Molly and Martha and silly Milly who has no talent for scales and tuning forks whose sound resound around the dying rats gnawing underground.

Tough chapter.

36% done with Ulysses

This is the part of the P.T. Anderson film where we get a sort of montage where the camera sweeps back and forth through Dublin and pokes in and out of the various lives and characters. THe whole scene is held together with the dark shape of Bloom popping up here and there, the H.E.L.Y.’S men, the blind man, the cripple, and the well-dressed priest.

I’m surprised Mr. Deadlus is poor.

Judgmental they all are.

32% done with Ulysses

9’s theme: immortality and father envy

Knowing a bit about Shakespeare was helpful for this chapter – not really because of the allusions (it helps) but to keep up with who they are comparing to whom- especially Ann.

At least Stephen admits he doesn’t believe his own nonsense. His theory of Hamlet silly – just like a lot of academic musings on this very novel.

Immortality is hard; out of your control.

28% done with Ulysses

Today’s theme: food and vision.

I feel like I already know Mr. Bloom better than any other person in fiction, non-fiction, or even real life.

I also settled on what I think those trams are all about: they’re like a transport system for the not yet born and the recently deceased.

Pins, broken hearts, 15, kidneys, things that are solid, questions, and everything has a story if you listen closely.

23% done with Ulysses

Chapter 7 is kind of a tough nut to crack. I should have paid closer attention at first to ‘Keyes’ being the key.

The whole chapter is about language and about how to use it to confound, mystify, mislead, misinform, and lie. Each section devolves into an ever more outrageous headline title that sounds great and says nothing.

Joyce is tap-dancing for us, and it’s splendid – though a slog too.

19% done with Ulysses

I love how Bloom is always trying to think of ways things can be done better. He spends half the time at the funeral thinking of better ways to deal with the dead bodies.

I wonder if that’s because he’s always been like that or because the death of his son has turned him into someone always trying to make things right?

He’s kind of a shulb, too but also kindly and likable.

15% done with Ulysses

Bloom is MUCH easier to keep track of than Stephen. Bloom isn’t cryptic – he’s quite a regular guy and I love how he’s always going on about hoping to look up a lady’s skirt!

Joyce’s method of connecting ideas is beautiful to watch unfold. We go from the ritual of the toilet, to the church – from the mystery of the church to the chemist.

And still death lingers everywhere.

10% done with Ulysses

Stephen is a thinker, but he doesn’t ask questions like Bloom does. Stephen is surrounded by death and the image of a dog – cerebrus in a way. Bloom, the cat and he feeds off of death at the butcher. Both think about sex – a lot, but Stephen is more immature about it. Jews too, Jews keep coming up – a lost tribe? The Irish as lost a lost tribe? And green = death. Snotgreen, the bile, the cats eyes. Ireland is green.

5% done with Ulysses

Aside from the moist emerald green snapshots I’ve seen of Ireland, I’ve no real idea what the island actually looks like. Odd then that I can see what Joyce is writing about: the tower, the dead body not yet found at sea, the classroom and the kids clambering over the chairs.

Stephen is morose, no wonder he surrounds himself with such comic friends, he has no humor in him it seems.

And death everywhere. Sad.