Tuesday, January 08, 2013

If I had known what Goethe said about wishes, I'd have been a more prolific wisher as a kid. (Sundays With The Classics)

I was again just this close, which is very close, to stopping reading Ulysses again.

I do Sundays with the Classics now every five days, or I am supposed to, anyway: every five days a little reminder pops up on my Kindle to read the classics, and I am supposed to on that day spend at least 20 minutes reading the latest classic.

The fact that I have to make it a reminder, and put a minimum  time on it, shows why I am close to quitting; it's a chore, and I didn't want to read Ulysses.  Truth be told, I don't really want to read The Odyssey anymore, either, but every time I think about quitting and going on to something else it feels wrong.  It feels like quitting, which I don't like to do.

I have quit on books before, most memorably (in my mind) the awful book by David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest,which I bought because he had just died and I had gone to the bookstore, back when I used to go to bookstores, and was in the market for a new book.  So I bought Infinite Jest because people said it was brilliant, and about 70 pages into it, twice, I gave up.  I finally threw the book out because it was so awful, and I didn't want it sitting around, making me feel angry that I'd blown $17 on it and gotten ripped off.

That was at a time when we didn't have much money, either; we were on a budget, and $17 was a lot of money (still is) and I especially resented that I'd thrown that money away on such a godawful book.  If David Foster Wallace had come and punched me in the face and taken my money, the experience would have been more enjoyable.

So I don't know what it is that keeps me hanging in there with Ulysses when I've given up on Umberto Eco (The Name Of The Rose [Is "Boredom McDullington"]), Stieg Larssen (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo [and Overly Long Introduction That Bored Me]), Thomas Pynchon (Mason & Dixon [& No Thank You]) and even Tolkien (The Silmarillion [Which is Elvish For I Don't Care]), and others?

I don't know.

I was supposed to actually read this installment on January 2, and I put it off until today, when I sat down to read it for 20 minutes and made it through about 17 minutes before I gave up, partially a product of the book and partially a product of people talking to me, boys needing to play swing and other factors.  Our house, at noon on a Saturday, is not conducive to reading.

Anyway, I think I got a little lost from last time.  The guys are continuing their discussion of Shakespeare, but whereas I had thought that Bloom had been walking around and had ducked into the library to avoid someone and then the scene had shifted back to the bar he'd left where Dedalus and others were sitting around riffing on Shakespeare, what I think now happened is that Bloom ducked into a discussion of Shakespeare in the library, because at various times a "quaker librarian" is not putting into the discussion, and I have no idea where Bloom is, whether he's there or not, and most of the time I'm not sure who's even talking.

Near the end of today's installment, some guy named Buck Mulligan comes in, and interrupts the discussion and calls Shakespeare "that guy who wrote like Synge," and I have no idea what that meant; I thought Synge was a writer, but then at the very end of the installment, where I gave up, Mulligan says to someone named Stephen -- and I don't know who Stephen is, either -- that "The tramper Synge is looking for you... to murder you.  He heard you pissed on his halldoor in Glasthule. He's out in pampooties to murder you."

Which raised all kinds of questions, including but not limited to:

1.  Who is Synge?

2.  What are pampooties?

So I search engined it, and found an book of annotations about Ulysses that says that Synge was a poet, and that on Yeats' advice he published a play.  The reference to Synge being like Shakespeare was a joke around Dublin about how Yeats had compared Synge to Aeschylus, which makes me really wonder about something, and that something is this:  Back in the 1900s or so when Joyce was writing this and/or living, were people really sitting around comparing writers to Aeschylus, and then joking about that comparison by comparing others to Shakespeare? Because that is some serious intellectual heft.  Try that at work.  Next time someone sends you an email, reply back that they "write like Aescshylus," and put that little winkyface


in there.

Then you'll be left alone at lunch.

Aeschylus, who I remembered knowing about but didn't know what I once knew about him or why I remembered him, is apparently one of three playwrights from ancient Greece whose plays are still available to be performed or read.  The so-called "Father of Tragedy," his chief contribution is said to have been to expand the number of characters in a play to allow them to interact with each other, rather than merely interacting with the chorus.

He wrote the play Agamemnon, which I think I read in college.  But I don't recall whether I read it or read about it.

Pampooties are moccasins, the implication being that Synge has "gone native," i.e., he is a savage and will in fact kill Stephen, maybe? It's hard for me to tell if Buck Mulligan is joking or not and whether this is a continuation of the references to various literary people, like maybe Buck Mulligan is joking that if Synge were there he would kill Stephen for something because Stephen is harming Synge's reputation or something?

It's all very confusing.  I found myself mostly looking for phrases I liked, as Joyce is probably best read as a poem whose meaning is less important than the way the words feel and sound.  Here are those phrases:

Yogibogeybox in Dawson chambers.  One reference said this is to reflect the thoughts of a character-- Stephen, apparently we're in his mind -- whirling around, the words getting jumbled as he thinks about the various intellectual arguments they are having.

Aristotle's experiment: One or two?  This seems to make a reference to something Aristotle said about how if you hold an object between crossed fingers it appears to be two objects.  Aristotle thought it might have something to do with the fact that it touches our fingers twice.  I tried it and it didn't work but maybe that's because I have a lazy eye.

 (Linus is not 100% accurate.  I had eyepatches and surgery and glasses and today my vision in my right eye is 20/400, meaning I see at 20 feet what most people see from 400 feet away.)

Nookshotten:  This word just pops up out of nowhere.  It seems to mean full of angles or corners, so it's probably another "This is what this guy is thinking about that" word.

And my favorite:

Here he ponders things that were not: what Caesar would have lived to do had he believed the soothsayer; what might have been: possibilities of the possible as possible: things not known: what name Achilles bore when he lived among women.

I just like the way that all sounds.  Possibilities of the possible as possible.

It's probably because of phrases like that, in part, that I keep muddering through this book.  That and that it is so revered, giving up on it feels more like a defeat than giving up on lesser books.  And the fact is that it's making me think, and learn, and imagine.  Which brings me to the last quote:

"There's a saying of Goethe's which Mr Magee likes to quote.  Beware of what you wish for in youth because you will get it in middle life."

If Goethe was right, that means I am going to have to explain to Sweetie why Samantha Fox is coming to live with us.


NOTE: This post was originally written on Saturday.  By not posting it 'til today, I have put off my next Classics reading for five more days.


PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I think authors like Joyce and Pynchon are enjoyed better in smaller doses, which is why I read shorter works of theirs: Dubliners and Crying of Lot 49 respectively.

Andrew Leon said...

Does that mean Carrie Fisher is coming to live with me?

I have sometimes wanted to read Wallace, but... BUT! Evidently, he was an egotistical ass somewhat in the vein of Russel Crowe (he who said of himself that he was not just the greatest living actor but the greatest actor who has ever lived (and have you seen how terrible he is in Les Mis?)), and that makes me NOT want to read anything by him. Except some people seem to agree with him that he's the greatest writer ever. And, of course, others think he's writing is complete and total crap. So the questions is, "Do I want to try that kool-aid or not?" Which is rather like the question I have about Joyce except that I have read something by Joyce before, and I didn't find it especially likable. Of course, I was 17, so it's hard to know if I was correct about it at that age. I mean, at 17, I thought Piers Anthony was brilliant, and we all know how that turned out.

Liz said...

I'm of the opinion that reading should not be work. Life is much too short to fill it up with more stuff we don't want to do. (We have enough of those kinds of obligations, don't ya think?)

Briane P said...

Liz: that is exactly my philosophy. But something in me won't let me quit on this. It's like when I see a big hill and want to see if I can jog up it. (The answer is "No, I cannot.")

Andrew: I find myself without an opinion on Russell Crowe. Weird. I should feel one way or the other about him, shouldn't I? But: nothing. A blank.

PT: I agree, a little. I wonder why so much of "classic" literature has to be inaccessible. It's not like I'm completely stupid. Or... is it?

Andrew Leon said...

My initial opinion of him was just that he was overrated because of Gladiator (which was way overrated), but after he made his statement (which was fairly recent) about being the best actor ever, my opinion of him plummeted. He's mediocre at best.

Rusty Webb said...

Well then, I must be tired. I read every word and once I got done I realized I had no idea what I could possibly say on the topic of today's post. That happens to me a lot actually. I either really don't feel like I have anything to add, or I want to, but it would take me too long to type it out on my phone. I'm not on my phone now, but I am tired.

So, what was I saying?

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