Step 3c: Choosing Which

the Black Mass Communion

My dependable annotation widget is the rollover. This is not a technical blog, but I will say that it is difficult not to run cursors over rollovers, while web surfing. In this case, it’s marked with a gray underline (like a pencil stroke). If you pause your cursor over it, then your cursor changes and a box of notes instantly appears, on the Mass Communion and what Mulligan does to it.

What stops my reading enjoyment in Ulysses is the Latin. I, having been raised Southern Baptist, come from a culture that views Vulgate Latin as slightly sinister. Naturally, I don’t know more than what I needed for my SATs.  I would not know its application here, in a Mass, in a parody of a Mass, in Mulligan’s version of a Black Mass.

the Fearful Citation

I make that my first citation, and I make it count. I add some explication to “Kinch”–such an odd name. I pause there, and add a note to give its origins. then on to “fearful Jesuit”. These are first examples of the double-edged, but illuminating, puns for which Ulysses is famous. However, because we do not know the culture, we do not get the puns.

I’ve resisted including Delaney’s helpful comment that “kinch” is also slang for the child of a convict, but I’ll continue to consider it. An especially “cutting” epithet. There we go. I say, four. At the end of the last paragraph is an allusion to the Trojan Horse. This becomes obvious once it’s pointed out–and once we get to know Mulligan.

I say, We have enough.  We can know about the Martello Tower and see it well enough to imagine Buck and Stephen interacting there.  We are introduced to Buck and Stephen largely through their actions.  It is clear that Buck is loud and offensive, and that Stephen is and will be reflective.

We learn enough about their interactions through the notes that we have a sense that the whole chapter will continue just like this.  It does.  I have often wondered how Joyce/Stephen could put up with such demeaning remarks.  But I did once, in college.  Intellectual contact, more than emotional comfort, can mean so much to a young man.

However, this “treasure hunt” can be no fun, if we figure that we have to have ALL the eggs.  I hope I’m being helpful here. I say, be an editor. Select your notes carefully, and you decide how much is needed. In a later post, I will show that, sometimes, a great deal more is needed.  However, necessarily, we need to get through interior monologue first.

In conclusion, I have given you one hyperlink and four citations to help you find your way through the first half page.  Three to five sounds about right.  Given that we now know:

  •  a little background in the Latin of Communion,
  • a little Dublin slang to describe Stephen and his nickname,
  • an introduction to the puns in the book,
  • an quick and cunning allusion to the Trojan Horse, to describe Buck,
  • and the text itself (my notes mean nothing without the full text)

We can surmise that:

  • Buck and Stephen live in a Martello Tower, which is not nearly as impressive as it sounds.
  • Buck Mulligan is irreverant beyond all bounds, insulting, deceptive, and possibly narcissitic,
  • Stephen is very introspective, does not forget an insult.  He’s quick and intelligent, and possibly educated by the Jesuits.  Might he be as narcissitic himself?  We may come to know his thoughts.
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Step 3b: Paring down to the Essentials

My MarkUp

At left, just the markings, I believe, the average American reader–me– might need.  In the hierarchy of citations, what you would want most to know most, in your first time through this chapter, is the following:

  • where the characters are located (supplied by the hyperlink to the Web site),
  • who they are (Buck makes his presence known.  He calls up to Kinch, whom we figure is Stephen/Kinch),
  • what they are doing (we need to learn that Buck is parodying Mass and needling Stephen; Stephen watches him with displeasure),
  • how they feel about one another (we can see that they view each other with contempt, though Stephen’s metaphor of the Trojan Horse is much subtler than Buck’s insults).

There is just a heck of a lot else.  The lines which draw a blank can become bewildering very fast if we try to understand everything.  I believe, from my experience fording one stream after another on a rainy hike in the Smoky Mountains, that too many options for crossing a stream only distract us from ever crossing well.  My one attempt at multi-tasking left a scar under my chin.  I am asking you frankly to ignore the other rocks and logs until you’re safely across.  Then, and only then, you can point to that nice big fat log up the stream and how we could have cross there.  And I’ll agree, but not before you’ve crossed once.

I love the following story.  Custer, as a young lieutenant, was watching two generals argue over how deep a stream was–and therefore how it would be crossed.  Custer had had enough.  He mounted his horse and rode to the middle of the stream.  “It’s about this deep, Sirs”.  Custer was good with a line, and bad with Indians.

Therefore, I sympathize.  How can I provide you with enough lilypads in the stream?  As I  struggled through my first few time, I would capture handfuls of explication from professors in my college career.    I looked forward to becoming an “adult” and reading Ulysses at a leisurely pace.  Har-har.

Biblioklept’s How to Read James Joyce’s Ulysses (and Why You Should Avoid “How-to” Guides Like This One) makes for funny and informative reading.  I don’t always agree with the author.  However, he/she make a great argument for roughing it, like an author in a National Geographic article.

I do love Biblioklept’s assessment of Ulysses Annotated, because such a critique will never be heeded.  I myself do not find it to be “dour” reading.  The book is impervious to criticism.  The worst I can say is that it would make for distracted reading.  That’s where I come in, as the annotations filter, the guy who tells you where the stones are in the stream.

Nabakov’s famous line on forgetting about looking for parallels with Homer is just that–one of Nabakov’s many, many famous lines.  I often believe that he found teaching literature to be a needling business.  I believe he felt that any good line he could launch at his students would corral them.  And now he’s dead and famous.  So, we believe him, right?

However, the French have Proust in all his volumes, and still they believe in le mot juste.   So, let’s see what’s necessary.

Step 3: Citations & Rollovers

the First Half-Page of Telemachus

(I will be discussing digital citations using ROLLOVERS as a commenting tool in the .pdf format.  Just place your cursor over the word “ROLLOVERS” above to see attached comment).

At left is the beginning of Ulysses.  It looks pretty harmless.  It’s less than 175 words.  However, even Frank Delaney in his weekly blogs spent–I believe–three sessions just on this half page.   Note, no interior monologue yet, and this half page reads in a fairly straightforward manner.  In fact, many readers might figure that, from the first three pages, that this can’t be much of a fuss.  But you don’t know getting weak at the knees yet.

The Full MarkUp

At left, now, are all the possible annotation markings that I can dig out of Ulysses Annotated (yellow) and a few more from myself and other sources (green).  Gifford probably has included these also.  I just have not found them.  The full count is, at this time, fifteen.  This divides out as approximately one point of explication every ten words, and we haven’t even gotten started.  Far too many to be comforting.  I’ve just re-listened to Frank Delaney’s three or four podcasts for Re: Joyce.  I find these to be so rich and so engaging that I have to resist temptation and not add these, which would bring the total possibly up to 30.  The name Stephen Dedalus is, itself, so rich with meaning that digging out all the meaning that is easily available could stop the book cold.

I will not include the reference Delaney ascribes to Book IX of Homer:  “There is a land called Crete in the midst of the wine-dark sea, a fair land and a rich, begirt with water, and therein are many men innumerable”.  This is the home of Dedalus, a land compared to Ireland as Dedalus’ flight is comparable to Joyce’s own flight.  It also gives meaning to the repeated phrase “on the wine-dark sea”.  I have to stop somewhere, even though Delaney viewpoint as a Dubliner and novelist is trenchant in describing the personalities behind the characters of Ulysses.

When there are too many lilypads, they are not lilypads.  They are potholes.  You may notice the three underlines that mark the rollovers of information that I think are important.  I say that, instead of 30, you need three.

We know that the background information in the one hyperlink.  You, the new reader, wish to proceed through the text at something approaching your normal rate of speed.  If you are prone to be like many readers of Ulysses, you will find the many, many foggy points to be tiring and you will be done reading around the beginning of chapter 3.  Just look at the Full MarkUp above.  I will tell you, I believe you only need three or, optionally, four.  Later on, as you learn to live with and love Ulysses, you will delight in its densities of meaning.