Sunday, September 02, 2012

"Slowly I turned"... the pages of Ulysses: (Sundays With The Classics)

I've changed my routine on Sundays With The Classics, a bit: I'm not going to just read the classic on Sunday, to the exclusion of everything else.  Instead, because I've changed up my workout routine so that every weekend will include at least one session on the reclining bike, I'll be reading the classic during that time, and perhaps others -- but at least during that 40-60 minute stretch I'll get some classic reading in.

The reason for that is because, let's face it, sometimes I don't want to read literature.  And if I stick by the rule that I will only read a classic book on Sunday, and nothing else, that makes me either not read at all if I don't feel like being all Ulyssesed that day, or I cheat and feel like I'm breaking my rules.

So that's the new routine: I'll still be posting weekly on how the classic is doing.  Like I am right now, when I'm ruminating on whether anything is ever going to happen in this book.  I go back and forth on that, wondering will anything of importance ever take place, here? and then worrying that perhaps something of importance has taken place and I've missed it because I'm not fully understanding the language.

I was reading Ulysses last night, while I rode my bike, and I did it again today because I was supposed to swim for my workout, but the pool was full of people doing some kind of lessons or something, so I opted to simply bike again and push swimming 'til tomorrow.  So I did 80 minutes or so of reading Ulysses, and here is what happened in that time:

-- Leopold Bloom finished up at his funeral.
-- Leopold Bloom went to a newspaper office.
-- Some guys talked at the newspaper editor's office while Leopold Bloom went off to see if the guy who had him trying to place an ad in the newspaper would do a three-month deal.

That's it.

I've gathered that Bloom has more than one job, or so I think: he taught, in the morning (this is still all one day) but now the guys talking in the office have said he's an ad salesman, or something, and a bunch of time was taken up by Bloom explaining to the typesetter that the ad is to have some keys at the top because it's being placed on behalf of the House Of Keyes, which got mentioned often enough that I wondered if it wasn't some sort of inside joke, like Slowly I Turned... Niagara Falls! or "Sydney Or The Bush," two other things that were on my mind this week.

Here's how that worked:  This week, Charlie Brown got into a fight with a kid that had picked on Sally -- a fight that was so bad that Charlie Brown lost his memory of it, a subject the comic strip glossed over:

But maybe I'm just sensitive to little kids with head injuries right now.

Earlier in the week,  when Charlie Brown had decided that as her older brother, he owed it to Sally to fight the kid, she cheered him on thusly:

That was on my mind all week, but the only times I really concentrated on it were when I really couldn't be looking up what it meant.  So I looked it up today.

Wikipedia says:

Another related term used in Australia is "Sydney or the bush", which equates with such terms as "Hollywood or bust" to mean staking total success or failure on one high-risk event.

But doesn't explain why that expression got started, and cites to the Peanuts strip as its source, so we can assume that it is incorrect.  People: If you don't know something, don't post it as an answer.  Or, to come up with Pagel's Maxim:  A guess is not an answer, even if it turns out to be right.

But the Oxford Dictionary Of Idioms does no better, saying it simply means all or nothing, as an Australian saying.  I knew that, though, so that's not helpful.  I was wondering where it came from: when did Australians decide that their choices would be starkly delineated between Sydney, and the bush?

 Luckily, the "Sydney Folklore Project" is done by people who actually did their homework:

There was a popular saying: 'Sydney or the Bush!' It was offered as almost a dare as if the two were miles apart – and, of course, they were and still are. Viva le difference! Sydney was also known as the city of four S's – Sea, Sin, Sex and Sorrow. There is much folklore surrounding bushies coming down to the 'Big Smoke' and, sadly, many of these trips were an extremely sorrowful story. It's true the cashed-up bush worker was occasionally 'lambed down' in the first or even second outback shanty he ventured into, but, in some ways, this was preferable to the 'lambing down' those who did reach the city often experienced, most of it self-inflicted! The reality is that many the isolated bush worker bolstered his (and sometimes her) routine boredom by thinking of the eventual 'great escape' to Sydney to 'live it up'. Tales were told and retold in the shearing huts, drover's camps and wayside shanties, of how the city 'eats bush people for breakfast' but this only added to their determination to experience for themselves. There are also stories of cityslickers venturing into the bush – an equally scary proposition for many the new chum. 

 Which actually goes to show that the saying has been misinterpreted, if you ask me: it seems that the saying used that way suggests not so much "do or die" as it does a choice between excitement-but-sorrow, or safety-but-boredom -- the bush being safe but boring (no sin, sex, or... sea? Really?) while Sydney is a thrill-a-minute lambing down. 

Whatever that is.

While I was pondering over that and the interpretation of that saying -- which, I note, Sally appears to have used correctly, in that Charlie Brown can go outside and defend his sister, living excitingly but dangerously (Sydney) or stay inside and avoid trouble (the bush)-- I for some reason remembered Slowly I Turned... NIAGARA FALLS:

Which is a skit I remembered from watching The Three Stooges on channel 18 when I was a kid.  I was never a fan of the Stooges, really, but this skit stuck in my mind, for some reason, and that stickyness is probably why Slowly I Turned is not just a Stooges skit but actually an old, often-performed vaudeville routine done by lots of people, dating back to the 1920s or so, and has been used over and over:

Which makes this whole post kind of fit together, because while Peanuts is recycling old Aussie sayings, calling to mind old vaudeville routines that were themselves copies of each other, I am reading a book that supposedly is a retelling of The Odyssey.  Everything old is old again, you could say, and I just did.

Joyce doesn't make it easy to focus on the book; reading it is still work, especially because once I get used to his style, the rambling way the words just spill out in seemingly-incomprehensible order (which I'm actually pretty well-suited to read, after all), he goes and changes his style, switching points of view when Bloom goes out of the picture to try to sell the ad, and also interjecting headings that are obscure at best. 

In the part where Bloom is in the newspaper office, there are periodically all-caps headings that interrupt the story at random (or seemingly random) intervals, and which seem to relate to what's going on only haphazardly, at best.  I thought perhaps they were ads on the walls, or maybe headlines from papers around the office that caught Bloom's eye, and interrupted his thoughts, but they continued even after Bloom left the scene, and so I ended up deciding that they were the omniscient narrator's attempt at headlining the processes that were going on in the story, which, as it turns out, was mostly people telling each other stories: at the funeral, Bloom listens in on a joke, and then his friends fill the time while he's gone by telling each other stories about speeches people made, and two old ladies who climbed a church tower with a bunch of prunes.

At this point, I'm reading Ulysses the way I read poems in high school: just to enjoy the language, with a hope that eventually I will be able to make sense of it.  But there was a pun I approved of, when one of the characters makes up a riddle.  He asks:

What opera is like a railway?

And the answer is The Rose Of Castile.

As in: rows of cast steel.



Andrew Leon said...

I no longer know how I feel about reading the book, but I do approve the Abbott & Costello clip!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I'm really zooming through "The After" right now. It's my deep reading that I intend to finish and review for you :) Good luck with the classics.

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