Tag Archives: Stephen Dedalus

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 7, Aeolus – the Dubliners, the Sequel

Gah! Just as as this monster of a book was beginning to make sense, we switch genre’s to this, Episode 7, rife with distracting newspaper headlines and a host of characters I can’t keep track of. For my own part, I don’t really see much connection between the headlines and the text that follows. The affect of the headlines does however (grudgingly I admit) serve the purpose of perhaps making us feel like we are following along with the events of the day as would be reported in the news. Similarly, reading this section relates to modern day reading of news via the internet as our attention is grabbed away by various headlines and then the content of whatever it is we are reading is somewhat lost.

As readers we also get a bit of insight into “work” Bloom, curiously populated by many of the same characters we have already met – Simon Dedalas, Deasy, etc. This episode serves as a real slice of life with this cast of characters dominating more than any one individual. Though we learn more about Bloom’s work as a les glam, precursor to Don Draper, Stephen also re-enters the scene to deliver the letter as promised from Deasy (of Episode 2, if you can remember that far back).

We get a bit more of everything here: Bloom’s “outsider-ness” as he’s ridiculed by kids on the street and the men in the newspaper office; Molly’s reputation as a tart is reinforced as the newspaper men remark upon her in a less than gentlemanly fashion; Stephen’s snobbery as he turns down a job of writing for the paper; and more of the exploration of Ireland as a soon-to-be new nation.

There’s also the near crossing of paths between Stephen and Bloom, which occurs repeatedly. There’s a bit of a theme going on in this Episode that also has to do with the trams and various vehicles moving about Dublin, and this sense of motion sets the theme for this episode which is primarily concerned with showing the activity of a group of Dubliners, I wonder if it’s also alluding slightly to the movement of our two hero’s as they go about their various endeavors and activities on this June 16th.

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Episode 2, Nestor – In which Stephen goes to work.

In this episode, Stephen goes to work.  I was surprised to find he had an occupation, as he previously seemed the type that would be scornful of work, and stooping to accept a paycheck. He is in fact a substitute teacher, and by all appearances, a popular one.  The boys take to him and in particular, after-class one of the more unhappy (read: 1904 nerd) students stays behind for some tutoring, Stephen is reminded of his recently departed mother, and we learn that Stephen has compassion.  This also came as a surprise to me, as up until now Stephen has appeared fairly bored with the examples of humanity before him, and turning his nose up at anything too mundane. Earning money itself becomes a bit of a dirty prospect.

Point in case: Mr. Deasy.

The boys then go out to play and Stephen tracks down his boss — Mr. Deasy, a Protestant, to collect his pay. The boss-man from the North is a chatterbox and he ropes Stephen into both a lengthy conversation on “history” and “economics”,  as well as the task of delivering Deasy’s treatise, a letter to the editor on the important issue of Foot and Mouth disease, to the local paper.

I interpret the exchange as Deasy attempting to give advice or otherwise mentor Stephen, or at the very least, draw him into a debate.  Stephen wants none of it.  Deasy’s theories, particularly the ones of anti-Semitic/anti-woman persuasion, are mildly rejected by Stephen, but largely he’s not muddying his garment in debating anything with Deasy.

This episode contains the book’s most famous line, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” , which I must admit I was pleased to read, as it was something familiar. I found Stephen’s  God is “a shout in the street” more thought provoking, however it was a bit of a throwaway comment for Stephen, as much trying to distract Deasy from his train of thought, or attempting to shock a bit.

The comment led me to think about the nature of this idea that God makes itself present with event, typically violent, and otherwise, is unavailable.  This shout is the only manifestation of God in a novel written at the close of WWI, in a time when the novel was meant to be representative of reality.  Ponderous stuff.

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