When is a Line just a Line?

Ulysses is jam packed with mysteries, all of which can seem worth illuminating.  Why would one want to, like some ancient monk at candle, to go through the drudgery of including every thing ever written?  It may happen in our digital age.  A .pdf or similar format can hold a great deal gracefully.

I hope it never happens that way.  A “citationer” is only as useful as he or she is fresh for the task.  If this is digging in the mud, the reader feels its endlessness.  We are not gods for attempting to be all encompassing.  Our efforts are only less likely to be read.

Moreover, we need to pick and choose carefully.  I say, we need to “wrestle” carefully.  I want to include all that functions as a jacket lain on a mud puddle.  I do not want to attempt to lay a jacket on every possible mud puddle.  Let’s take a famous example.

In chapter 1, Stephen works himself up to broaching his private hurt to Mulligan, who is an thoughtless SOB.  As Stephen rolls back to Mulligan past remark after Stephen’s mother had just died, Mulligan says, “I can’t remember anything.  I remember only ideas and sensations.”  Harmless line.  It’s hardly a worth noticing to a modern reader, I would think.

In truth, the line gets as much attention as just about anything in chapter 1.  This brings up a famous philosophical and literary debate stemming at least back to Immanual Kant or somebody.  The argument goes that we can never know objects objectively.  We can only carry away “ideas and sensations”.  So what?

Well, I troubled over this for weeks.  It’s interesting but it’s not a stumbling block.  Finally, and only just finally, I found a reference of how Nietzsche:  “There is no reality in things apart from their experiences”.  Now, this is interesting and much more sinister.  Mulligan is claiming that he is separate from any culpability because there is no reality.  And we all know that experiences are open to interpretation.  Mulligan can claim a very long philosophical lineage as his defense.

Now that I better understand this highly compressed argument, I find it is still not worth a rollover.  However, this is the greatness of the novel.  Lines stick in the head and they beg to be explored.  By the way, I don’t think you can use Nietzsche to explain away Locke, much less Mulligan.

At other passages, I still hesitate.  The word “Omphalos”—so interesting, so pregnant with meaning–, or navel—not so much so–, is mentioned twice outside of chapter 1.  The word itself is less important, to me, that the thought of Stephen’s navel connecting by through all mothers back to Eve.  However, to Stephen, this may be a problem of heritage (chained to Ireland) than a solution.

Omphalos and all else

In Ulysses Annotated, much is given over to the dense paragraph of interior monologue on page 19.  Pope Marcellus and the major heresies are mentioned.  It is tempting to unfold each for inspection.  But I find that only Arius and Sabellius appear to be important to Stephen.  To the novel, Arius’ consubstantiality is the constantly recurring theme.

Perhaps someone else will take my text and weave all these threads together.  Stephen’s thoughts are so rapid that I cannot pull every fleeting moment in line.

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When is a line more than a line?

Ideas and Sensations

Ulysses is jam packed with mysteries, all of which can seem worth illuminating.  Why would one want to, like some ancient monk at candle, to go through the drudgery of including every thing ever written?    But, the experience is perhaps more approapriately expressed with a Pavlovian need  to check every tree, bush, in order to store it all in dog memory.  We hold the leash.  It may happen in our digital age.  A .pdf or similar format can hold a great deal gracefully.  We must train our dogs to ignore all this rubbish close by and bound for the prey in open space.

A “citationer” is only as useful as he or she is fresh for the task.  If this is digging in the mud, the reader feels its endlessness.  We are not gods for attempting to be all encompassing.  Our efforts are only less likely to be read.  I have read thoroughly annotated editions.  All that impressed me was the wide, wide gulf between myself and the text.

Moreover, we need to pick our citations carefully.  I say, we need to “wrestle” carefully.  I want to include all that functions as a jacket lain on a mud puddle at its smallest level or as a linear park (I’m thinking of NYC’s).  I do not want to attempt to lay a jacket on every possible mud puddle.  Let’s take a famous example.

In chapter 1, Stephen works himself up to broaching his private hurt to Mulligan, who is an thoughtless SOB.  As Stephen rolls back to Mulligan past remark after Stephen’s mother had just died, Mulligan says, “I can’t remember anything.  I remember only ideas and sensations.”  Harmless line.  It’s hardly a worth noticing to a modern reader.

In truth, the line gets as much attention as just about anything in chapter 1.  This brings up a famous philosophical and literary debate on the philosophical .  The argument goes that we can never know objects objectively.  We can only carry away “ideas and sensations”.  So what?

Well, I troubled over this for weeks.  It’s interesting, but it’s not a stumbling block.  Finally, and only just finally, I found a reference of how Nietzsche:  “There is no reality in things apart from their experiences”.  I do not know whether there is a connection between Locke and Nietzsche.  However, this is interesting and much more sinister.  In this light, I understand that Mulligan is claiming that he is separate from any culpability because there is no reality.  And we all know that experiences are open to interpretation.  Mulligan can claim a very long philosophical lineage as his defense, in order to avoid his culpability.

Now that I better understand this highly compressed argument, I find it may, one day, to be worth a rollover.  This is the greatness of the novel.  Lines stick in the head and they beg to be explored.

At other passages, I still hesitate.  The word “Omphalos”—so interesting, so pregnant with meaning–, or navel—not so much so–, is mentioned only twice outside of chapter 1.  The word itself is less important, to me, that the thought of Stephen’s navel connecting through all mothers back to Eve.  However, to Stephen, this may be a problem of heritage (chained to Ireland) than a solution.

In Ulysses Annotated, much is given over to the dense paragraph of interior monologue on page 19.  Pope Marcellus and the major heresies are mentioned.  It is tempting to unfold each for inspection.  But I find that only Arius and Sabellius appear to be important to Stephen.  To the novel, Arius’ consubstantiality is the constantly recurring theme.

Perhaps someone else will take my text and weave all these threads together.  Stephen’s thoughts are so rapid that I cannot pull every fleeting moment in line

Who Goes with Fergus? . . .

Mulligan idly sings a few lines of ‘Who Goes with Fergus?’ This sets Stephen careening.

It was a song from Yeats’ play The Countess Cathleen. The countess sells her soul that her people might not starve.   The song is sung to comfort her.

Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

by W. B. Yeats

Along with Bloom’s recalling the sentimental favorite “Love’s Old Sweet Song” and the ad jingle for Plum’s Potted Meat (think Spam!) run throughout Ulysses.  They are magical.

How beautiful.  How appropriate for touching off a scene of mourning.  Stephen internally moves among many sections of it.  “Love’s bitter mystery”.  I know the song only from the youTube video above.  It is what we think of when we hear Irish bagpipes and penny whistles.

This poem is essential because it evokes, in Stephen, a very stirring internal scene of deep mourning for his mother.  For practical purposes, Joyce has assumed that all Irish readers would know this poem, and that the evocation might work for them smoothly.  Most Americans are ready to throw the book out by this very same  time, claiming grave irreconcilable cultural differences.

In those few dozen lines that start and end this scene, I count eight or more curiosities that I would need explaining, and most of those are in Stephen’s internal monologue.

I started underlining some of the text and adding comments that would appear as rollovers.  In chapter 1, Ulysses adds his internal monlogues gently, I feel.  But without descriptions of where we’re at or who these folks are, I’m lost.  It’s been a long time.  The first seven or eight time I drove through hell for leather.  Now I want to feel what makes chapter 1 great.

Since our ancient hunter-gatherer heritage relied on narrative to make their puny captures seem grand (“and that was the mammoth that got away”) and their brutish lives grander, we cannot easily walk without that structure.  I was walking around saying “Narrative is the longline of our lives” without any real idea what I was saying.

Then, it hit me, Narrative truly is that longline for approaching Ulysses, no matter what anyone tells you.  As you as you lose that longline, you are lost.

There is much straightforward narrative in chapter 1–probably all the way to Scilla & Charybdis and Wandering Rocks.  The advantages of digital media is that I can gray out large, large sections of text.  There was not the equivalent years ago.

So, I set the highlight tool to a nice dark gray that would fit Stephen’s mood, but that would still leave his interior monologue visible.  All else was gravy.  I, if I ever teach Joyce, can now ask my students to READ THE NARRATIVE once through–the longline..  Let us then discuss.  Then let’s read once again–this time reading the grayed out stuff that intrigues us.

One can easily summarize the narrative part of the text.  I quickly marked up all chapters up to Scylla & Charybdis.  Past that–there be monsters.  Calypso, Bloom’s first appearance, is downright hilariously brief.  It could take the fear out of any student to read only his making breakfast and his walking and back from the butcher’s.

We’ve gotta strategy going.  I still need to annotate, but I recognize that not everything needs explansion, even for a Protestant and Unitarian American like myself, who can no longer read a word of Latin–and who has never heard the Vulgate Mass.

Not every odd reference needs explaining.  Some do.  As I pumped through the pages, I was starting to feel viscerally not only the deep depression of Stephen but also the blasphemy of Malachi.  Honestly, Buck was making me squemish.  I had never felt that before.

There are a few moments in chapter 1, where we feel–or ought to feel–Stephen’s mourning for his mother.  Exhibit one is Malachi’s singing lines from “Who Goes with Fergus?”  This triggers a sweet and sad and finally frightening fugue state in Stephen’s.  It is most definitely worth the time to place any important explication pop-outs and comments that can unobtrusively lead one down Stephen’s personal Hades.  And if I miss some good lines, so be it.

I think I’ve done well for a draft.  Rather than going straight on to do the same, I would like to gray down the interior monologue in each chapter.  Narrative is the clothesline.  We blindly follow that and attempt to describe and feel with all our scenses.  If blinded as you are, your whole body draws through the experience of the what’s hanging there.  Bedsheets, pillowcases, and Victoria’s Secret stuff . . .  How did that get in there?

Lingerie aside, I believe that any teacher must condition the student for plummeting those depths with Stephen.  I don’t believe in just a citation somewhere else to “Who Goes with Fergus?”.  I give the whole sad song, with some information about the play.  How beautiful, how sad.  You know why Stephen would sink like a stone.  But he doesn’t, because of the thoughtlessly cruel Malachai.  I would cite every line of Stephen’s in exchange for long stretches of Malachai being a bozo.

Step 6: 17 Volunteers Needed. Inquire Within.

To make these narratives clearer, I’ve marked them up pretty well and have added many rollovers to the first chapter.  You could now encapsulate the narratives of chs. 1 & 4, or 3 & 6 down to a couple of paragraphs.  You could read the narratives of each in just a few minutes, checking on pop-ups when you needed.  You could maybe see some structure on your return.

If you’re a student, you might like that idea.  If you’re a professor or other experienced reader, you might not.  To everyone I would say, I’m not working against anyone.  I’ve had a thing for Ulysses for over thirty years.  I had a brilliant professor.  I gutted my way through Ulysses seven times in a row in one semester, along with everything else to read.  I’m fortunate.  I got to glimpse some real beauty–and some epiphenies too!

So, why should I strain so that you don’t have to?  Several reasons.  For now, I would respond that I want you to experience more quickly what I had to do several twenty mile marches for.  I know that you’ll more quickly read on in Joyce if you can see that, beneath you, are jewels, and not IEDs.

In the “cloud” passage above, I’ve provided a very necessary piece of information, the poem of the song.  I believe that this poem was, at one time, on the hearts and tongues of many Dubliners in 1904.  Now, I know who wrote the lyrics.  I’m a huge fan of Yeats.  The poem is barely, barely in my heart.  I can’t find the music anywhere, even on YouTube or Amazon or anywhere else.  Did Cherish the Ladies ever record it? Or Fergus and Geronimo?  In any case, there.  You and I and the rest of the Joyce readers are just a little closer.

At left is an inexplicable passage earlier in ch. 1.  To some, Stephen is listening and reflecting confusingly on some acquaintance he and Mulligan both know–something about “de-pantsing”  So, why is that big?

It’s big because these few lines are practically everything. that happens later.  You can quickly discover that “omphalos” is “navel”.  However, this belly-button of a theme rides mighty heavily all the way to the crucial Sclla and Charibdis chapter, and then beyond.  A whole dialectical discuss ride on this “navel”

I have oulined what is dropped very casually right here.  In Joyce, nothing has a single meaning.  I don’t expect anyone to ride this totally alone.  How many can slow ones mind down to–I must say–less than the rate of Stephen’s.  By torch, we aspire to cavernous sights.

Step 5: Miscellaneous

Lot Going on in this Page

I had an English professor long ago.  He taught Advanced Composition.  He believed that any pile of whatever could be broken down into:

  • This
  • That
  • The Other Thing
  • And Miscellaneous

We students got a great laugh out of that.  Of course, as long as there’s a miscellaneous pile, then everything–no matter what–will fit nicely into our dichotomies.

When all else Fails . . .

The interesting part was that this professor could not see the humor in his theory of categories.  He took it quite seriously.  And, so have I, ever since.   After all, why waste time on neat Categories.   Anything can be neatly categorized, as long as we have “Miscellaneous”.

Miscellaneous here is that so very much happens on page six–and in passing that I wonder whether ANY reader can keep up.  Forgetting even the Dublin slang of the day, we must parse:

  • “It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked looking-glass of a servant.”

  • “Kinch, if you and I could only work together we might do something for the island. Hellenise it.”

  • Cranly’s arm. His arm.

  • the de-pantsing imagining.

  • Something about a deaf gardener with Matthew Arnold’s face.

  • And, miscellaneously, “To ourselves … new paganism … omphalos.”

And I’ve left out a lot.  This may be the most densely commented page from ch. 1.  And yet, it all is alluded to in passing.