Ulysses: Sadness and Portals of Discovery

Woke up with the blahs this morning, but still, here I am…

Another cloudy sunrise but the sun made quick work of it!

I had an immense amount of time to myself this weekend, and spent a considerable amount of it reading Ulysses. I’m starting to think maybe James Joyce was a little bit crazy when he wrote this. Crazy genius!

How do I describe it? It’s like watching one of those artsy movies where you’re not all that sure what the plot is. The imagery is so good that you feel compelled to keep watching, all the while catching glimpses of beauty, pain, and joy.

I’ll admit that it is time consuming. So many rambling words. Where are you going Mr. Bloom? And how do you get anything done with all that running through your mind?! I’ll tell you a secret though: I think I like this book because it’s familiar. “If you could read my mind, love…” I sang that in my head as I wrote it.

A lot of what I’m reading doesn’t make much sense because I don’t know all the references, but I’m catching some, and others are easy to look up in a moment’s internet search. I found this gem of a website called The Joyce Project when I searched for a reference to “Home Rule” and the rising sun emblem. This paragraph from their About the Project page sums up what I’ve been trying to say:

“Ulysses, which incorporates so many different kinds of content, has always threatened to exceed the knowledge base of its readers and to overwhelm the reading process. The literary allusions alone seem to demand that shelves of other books lie open next to the novel, and other sorts of reference compound the problem exponentially. Must one walk the streets of Dublin to find order in the protagonists’ meanderings? Experience the spectacle of a Catholic priest approaching the altar to understand what Mulligan means by Introibo ad altare Dei? Know Mozart’s Don Giovanni to relate La ci darem la mano to the Blooms’ marital drama, and have Victorian music-hall tunes floating through one’s head to appreciate the phrase Woodman, Spare That Tree? The answer to thousands of such questions is Yes.”

I think I’ll keep this page open while I’m reading to help me out a bit. It has the whole book written out with links to help the reader get the context. Honestly, I’m one of those readers that skims through content that doesn’t make sense to me. The words are entertaining to read, even if I don’t understand why they are there, but sometimes I do want to “get it.” A HUGE thanks you to all the people that put this resource together.

So, if you don’t always get exactly what you’re reading, why do you read it, Michelle?

I’m not an academic reader. I have no training in classic literature. I read what I like, with an awareness of what some would call a classic work, but I don’t usually go in knowing its background and context. I read for pleasure and look for my own insights. I know full well there is more to know about a book, but I leave that for the academics.

To me, there is no “bad book” really, only books I don’t enjoy. There are books that don’t speak to me personally, so I leave them on the shelf for someone else.

I’m enjoying Ulysses immensely, and I’m not all that sure why. The language is poetic, even if I’m not sure what he’s talking about, that’s true. But I think it’s the bits that jump out at me and make me feel something that I like most about it. I feel like I’m inside Mr. Bloom’s mind. The other characters make me laugh, but Mr. Bloom… he feels so sad in his wanderings.

“I was happier then. Or was that I? Or am I now I? Twenty-eight I was. She twenty-three when we left Lombard street west something changed. Could never like it again after Rudy. Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand. Would you go back to then? Just beginning then. Would you?”

This felt so sad… looking back. We all do this, don’t we, after a traumatic event? We sigh and move on, hopefully, looking for joy to return, but we can’t go back to that place. It might ruin the memory.

And then there’s that “Or was that I? Or am I now I?” Reminds me of the Buddhist idea, “There is no I. It’s imaginary.” I, or ego, is what we believe is us fundamentally, but if we look inside, get right down to the tiny details, what part is actually “I?” What piece of you could you lose and not be you anymore?

Not just events, but time changes us. I’ve said to a friend from my past (thanks Facebook, insert unsure emoji), I am not that person anymore. If you haven’t been here evolving with me, you don’t know me, even if you knew me well back then. So, who am I, really?

Yeah, that’s my mood this morning.

Then there are the parts that make me laugh. His constant thoughts about women he sees on the street. The disgust he feels walking into a dirty pub. And this:

“That it be and hereby is resolutely resolved. All who are in favour say ay, Lenehan announced. The contrary no. I declare it carried. To which particular boosing shed? … My casting vote is: Mooney’s!

He led the way admonishing:

We will sternly refuse to partake of strong waters, will we not? Yes, we will not. By no manner of means.”

These guys… always looking for a good time, or a way to chase away their persistent blues. That would be me, something we have in common. I’m not much of a drinker, but I do like my whiskey. Just a drop is good for me, maybe two on a bad day. Sometimes I fantasize about a pub like the ones I read about in books and see in movies. A public place to go and see if anyone is there to pass the time with. Even better if it had a small library. Maybe meet a person to two to talk about books with. …sigh…

I’ll leave you with this today:

“The world believes that Shakespeare made a mistake, he said, and got out of it as quickly and as best he could.

Bosh! Stephen said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”

Intelligent people learn from their mistakes.

This weekend I learned something about myself. It may sound strange, but I am starting to think that my serotonin levels are directly related to my vocal cords. I can be quiet, and I’m happy to do so for some time, but at some point I reach a critical low and must replenish my supply. I search for someone to talk to and always start with a complaint. Once I feel like my partner in conversation is receptive, I turn it around again and lay into the positive; what I heard, did, learned. Then I start to ask questions. The happiness returns.

Luckily, my husband is a wiz at this dance. I wish I could record it all in real time. I wonder what it looks like from the outside of my mind. The best I can do is journal and reflect.

If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on James Joyce’s Ulysses, go back to my first post. At the bottom of that post, you’ll find links to all my commentary.

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