Ulysses Part 1: We needed help

The Three Dancers 1925 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973I’ve read the next two “chapters” (or whatever they are called) in Ulysses, which means I  finished the first part. Whew. This is one weird book.

The second chapter was fairly straightforward – Stephen went to work where he is a teacher, the kids went out to play some sport, he helped some kid with his homework, then he had a conversation with his headmaster and got paid. Then we got to the third chapter where I was like…..WTF.

As an aside, BJ had researched the book and how to read it and came across ‘The New Bloomsday Book’ that is a companion to Ulysses. So we got it. I decided that I was going to try to read each chapter without help and then consult the Bloomsday. So I’ve been reading it after the chapters to see if I was close at understanding them, and I was, kinda sorta.  As they say, best laid plans…

About halfway through chapter 3, I tapped out and read the Bloomsday companion. The challenge with this chapter is that it’s pretty much an internal dialogue from Stephen. On the upside, it made me feel better about my own mental state and internal monologue. (That Dedalus dude has some issues!) Reading the companion for this one really helped. Like BJ’s experience re-reading chapter one after reading the companion, it went much more smoothly.

I know that I have a soft spot for Joyce, but I really do think he is a master craftsman. Much like I feel about Picasso. He had to be a master artist to be able to deconstruct his work enough to pull off cubism. And I think Joyce is the same. He is a master at words and crafting them to tell a story and that’s how he gets to write this book. He had to be able to understand language enough to deconstruct it and cobble it back together. His ability to paint a picture with words, is in my mind, extraordinary. I give you these sentences, as Dedalus is sitting on the beach watching a dog:

The dog ambled about a bank of dwindling sand, trotting, sniffing, on all sides. Looking for something lost in a past life. Suddenly he made off like a bounding hare, ears flung back, chasing the shadow of a lowskimming gull. The man’s shrieked whistle struck his limp ears. He turned, bounded back, came nearer, trotted on twinkling shanks.

I don’t know about you, but I can hear, smell and see what is happening in that scene. You don’t get to pull that off if you are not a master of words.

The ultimate question of the novel becomes, is it worth it? Does the internal monologues, references to greek mythology and the crafty language build something that has meaning and heft to it. Or is it just showy, intellectual rubbish.

Time (and about 600 more pages will tell).



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