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


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