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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