Tag Archives: Reading Ulysses

Episode 9, Scylla and Charybdis — A Missed Encounter

Congratulations! At this stage of the book, you have passed the half-way mark and are solidly within the SECOND half of this monster.

If you are still with us, you will recall that at the very end of Episode 8, as part of the actual, existing “story” of Ulysses, Bloom ducked into the National Library in order to avoid running into the cursed Blazes Boylan and coming face-to-face with the reality, or soon to be reality, that he is a cuckold.

In Episode 9, the reader may find themselves surprised by the existence of continuity in the text as we return to the National Library, wherein we find Stephen, demonstrating his will to become a Young Artist. The careful reader may remark that the term Artist is a bit loose and/or one can assume a varying definition within the early part of the 20th Century as Stephen goes on to demonstrate his more or less loose ability at being an academic.  The entirety of this section is largely devoted to Stephens’ presentation of a theory related to his reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Now, the actual theory has some relevance on our own story (Ulysses/reading Ulysses) in two ways:

1. According to Stephen’s theory, Shakespeare envisions himself as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, rather than as the hero of the play, young Hamlet. In general, Stephen is at this stage, (and perhaps throughout the book given the recurring appearance of his own father) obsessed with the father-son relationship:

A father, Stephen said, battling against hopelessness, is a necessary evil. …The corpse of John Shakespeare does not walk the night. From hour to hour it rots and rots. He rests, disarmed of fatherhood, having devised that mystical estate upon his son. …Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten. On that mystery and not on the madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe the church is founded and founded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro- and microcosm, upon the void. … Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of any son that any son should love him or he any son?

What the hell are you driving at?

I know. Shut up. Blast you! I have reasons.

This is all of interest to me due to my leanings toward Central Character # 2, Leopold Bloom, who is mostly absent in this section but who fulfills the role of father to Stephen, as we learn he has lost his own son many years earlier. Bloom is therefore haunted by the ghost of his own son, as Stephen is haunted by the ghost of his own father, both coming together in a tidy analogous theory here focused on William Shakespeare, the man.

2. In presenting his theory, this is the first and perhaps only formal time within Ulysses where we see Stephen striving toward his goal of becoming an intellectual.  We have to give him props for this, but at the same time, his theory is refuted at every turn by the collection of assembled scholars. Holes are poked through his theory left and right until Stephen himself admits he does not believe his own theory. He is further trampled upon as one Buck Mulligan enters into the scene to heap additional humiliation upon him, and at the same time remarks disparagingly upon Leopold Bloom (future substitute father), a stranger to Buck and Stephen at this stage, who he saw ogling (observing) the bottom of a statue out in the corridor.  In this way, the repeating themes of Stephen and Bloom sharing in the “outsider” status is brought forth once more (for the 98th time and we’re only half-way through the book!) and the connection between them is reinforced outside of the view of the pure reader.

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Episode 3, Proteus – In which Stephen thinks a lot, while walking along the beach.

Our group’s reading schedule is one-part ad-hoc, two-parts relentless. We meet every two weeks and for now are tackling two Episodes per meeting. Given this, we read Episode 1 on its own, as an introduction to the novel and to each other, and then met for our second discussion (with snacks) to discuss Episode 2 and 3 together.  This turned out to be a good pairing.

Episode 3 is the biggest challenge thus far.  We find Stephen taking a walk along Sandymount Strand. Sentence to sentence the pages jump from thought to idea to sensation and we are stuck inside Stephen’s mind. Not the most  pleasant place to be.

I’ll be the first to say I couldn’t tell anyone what happens in this chapter. This is Joyce at his most experimental, it’s very hard to follow. I imagine English professors every where could use this chapter as an example of stream of consciousness writing. Despite the difficulty though, as a reader I found myself transformed.  Events and narrative go out the window, and I stopped caring about the ability/inability to follow the flow of thought and reference. Instead I found myself entertained by the word-play and the experimentation and challenge to the reader of our expectations of a novel. Of course this is one of the many prime things being accomplished in Ulysses.

Stephen is moody and we are largely stuck amid his shifting mood and thought only occasionally leaving his mind for a glimpse of setting/action:

 

Ay, very like a whale. When one reads these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who once…

The grainy sand had gone from under his feet. His boots trod again a damp crackling mast, razorshells, squeaking pebbles, that on the unnumbered pebbles beats, wood sieved by the shipworm, lost Armada. Unwholesome sandflats waited to suck his treading soles, breathing upward sewage breath. He coasted them, walking warily. A porter-bottle stood up, stogged to its waist, in the cakey sand dough. A sentinel: isle of dreadful thirst.

Stephen moves from questioning the purpose of his own study, self-reflection, reflection on old dead texts, wondering all to what purpose, to considering the ground beneath his feet, until  a bottle stuck  in the sand brings him back to Ireland, his return here, and again the theme of nation.

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