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.

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

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.