Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Oh, death, and grief, and sorrow, and murder." (Sundays With The Classics)

And it's even actually on a Sunday!

I'm sitting in a hallway in my house outside of a bathroom where Mr F is sitting, for reasons that require a longer post that would be completely unrelated to Ulysses to explain.  So I won't, today, get distracted by that.

But as I am sitting here, I read Ulysses for 20 more minutes, my weird compulsion to keep reading this rather stultifying book continuing to drive me on.

In today's installment, the discussion over Shakespeare ended -- finally -- with Dedalus wrapping up a speech on how Shakespeare is really every character he wrote, as we all are, a wrap-up that begins with this mystifying quote:

He found in the world without as actual what was in his world within as possible.

I puzzled over that a long time, because I'm not sure it makes sense but I have the feeling that it makes sense, or ought to.

It seems meaningful, doesn't it?  So I tried to parse it:

...the world without is where he found as actual what was in his world within as possible?

So what he thought was possible in his mind, he found actually existed in the world?

That's the best I can do, but it seems to fit because at that point the discussion group was also comparing Shakespeare's world-creating abilities to God's:

The playwright who wrote the folio of this world and wrote it badly (He gave us light first and the sun two days later), the lord of things as they are whom the most Roman of catholics call dio boia, hangman god, is doubtless all in all in all of us, ostler and butcher, and would be bawd and cuckold too but that in the economic of heaven, foretold by Hamlet, there are no more marriages, glorified man, an androgynous angel, being a wife unto himself.

Which neatly wraps up the theme of the end of the Shakespeare dialogue (we are all every character that we meet) with a little blasphemy (God ain't so great) and continues Joyce's theme that I noted in an earlier installment of this: that everything ends up with death, even speeches about Shakespeare ending in Heaven, as foretold by Hamlet, who dies.

After Dedalus finishes that, the guys joke about how it could be reprinted in Buck Mulligan's magazine for a guinea, and then the viewpoint shifts to Father Conmee, who walks along the street having left the group, thinking pleasant thoughts about God and how neat it is that God put peat into bogs so that people could harvest it and burn it (Really!) before this happens:

Father Conmee began to walk along the North Strand road and was saluted by Mr William Gallagher who stood in the doorway of his shop.  Father Conmee saluted Mr William Gallagher and perceived the odours that came from baconflitches and ample cools of butter.  He passed Grogan's the Tobacconist against which newsboards leaned and told of a dreadful catastrophe in New York.  In America those things were continually happening.  Unfortunate people to die like that, unprepared.

So even a simple walk along the street begins with pleasant odors of food and tobacco and ends with a "dreadful catastrophe" where people die unprepared and (presumably, this being a Catholic priest thinking this) go to Hell because they didn't get forgiven in time.

In case there is any doubt that I am 100% right, the walk the continues with Father Conmee passing some lounging men and then he passes "H.J. O'Neill's funeral establishment," says hello to the constable and sees, in a butcher's window, "pig's puddings, white and black and red, lie neatly curled in tubes."

I stopped reading with Father Conmee riding a streetcar and looking at a woman yawning and somehow beginning to think about how all the colored people of the world ("the souls of the black and brown and yellow men") would die "when their last hour came like a thief in the night" and how they would "all be lost, a waste, if one might say."

He got all that from a woman yawning on a streetcar.

What Joyce, or maybe Father Conmee, needed, I think, was a banjo.  Remember, Steve Martin said it's impossible to be sad with a banjo playing.



So I think I have hit on the theme of this book, with its constantly-switching viewpoints that are never clearly demarcated: Joyce does that, I think, because he is making the point that we are every character we think we meet, projecting our own images of ourselves and others onto those others -- and that every character we meet (including us, who is them) is doomed to die.


20 comments:

Andrew Leon said...

And this is why I need to sell a million books, so that I can take, like, a month just to sit around and read things like this which I will never get to as things stand at the moment.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

That's really deep. I have one of Steve Martin's banjo songs; it's surprisingly good. That dude is a real renaissance man: acting, writing, playing the banjo...

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Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

I didn't know Steve Martin could play the banjo.

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