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In which disinterest called for a hiatus – Ulysses Diaries, I

Ulysses Diaries, I

I am concurrently reading Ulysses with Jane Eyre, but since I got so absorbed with the story of the headstrong lady protagonist of the latter, I deprioritized the reading of the former. At least I got myself to episode 5, which is a measly 70 or so pages. I will definitely go back to this after Jane Eyre. I just think that it needs my undivided attention.

So far, it’s not as promising as the people behind Modern Library’s Top 100 Books make it appear. Yes, they hailed this as the No. 1 novel of their list, probably its difficulty being the foremost reason. But yes, let’s still give it the benefit of the doubt, however doubtful one’s comprehension may get.

Note: I am reading this with the blogger of The Misanthropologist.

***

Episode 1, Telemachus:

I’ve been bombarded with too much information by the lengthy introduction that I decided not to finish it and get a start on the novel’s text. I was quite bored, mostly because I am expecting to get bored.

We read about the morning rituals of Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of A Portrait whom I hate with such intensity. He eats breakfast with a cantankerous guy and a guy who annoys him. He thinks about his mother’s recent death. He is asked of his theories on Hamlet. I haven’t read Hamlet.

I’ve only read a digest of Odysseus. Edith Hamilton’s. I barely remember it. Good grief, I think this will be a hard reading.

Episode 2, Nestor:

Here’s a novel that talks of anti-Semitism. Like I care about that. Forgive me, but I just can’t understand why there’s so much hatred toward the Jews. Should I blame myself or should I blame the absence of Jewish culture in this country?

There’s also something about misogyny here. The contrast of Stephen’s thoughts about his mother, and a mother’s love in general, and the schoolmaster’s prejudice against women is presented here. There’s also some talk about history, about teaching and learning, and what else?

About saving money. I think I should start working seriously on that. I have paid my own way. Will I ever be able to say that, especially in this country where reciprocity, or debt of gratitude, is an unshakable virtue?

Episode 3, Proteus:

Gawd. Gawd. I have to admit that I largely depend on the dialogues to understand what’s going on, but with the scarcity of talking in this part, I didn’t get anything. I think I hear something melodious here and there, but I fail to catch what it’s trying to say.

All I know is that Stephen is thinking of random things, looking at random things, and what else? Watching a dog smell the carcass of another dog, contemplating of going to the dentist, picking his nose, and looking at a passing ship.

So far, in the three hours of the novel, Stephen shaves, eats breakfast, goes to work at school, gets his salary from the schoolmaster, visits his uncle, stares off to the sea. This ends the first part of the novel, and there’s nothing promising about it. Novels that deliberately make the text hard to understand just for the sake of being hard to understand do not garner my respect.

Episode 4, Calypso:

I like Leopold Bloom better than Stephen Dedalus. I usually like moody, depressing characters, but reading a difficult book makes me want to see something positive in it. And Bloom acts as that one who would also counterbalance the traits of Stephen.

The opening of Part II is more promising than that of Part I. Perhaps this is due to my hatred for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen is the protagonist there, and I think Ulysses picks up around two to five years after the events of the former novel.

Both Bloom and Stephen are eating breakfast, so I guess it is right to assume that this episode and the first episode occurred at the same time. Instead of the wife preparing the breakfast, Bloom does it all, even the shopping and picking of letters. And oh, I quite cringed at that part about Bloom defecating. Is it necessary to count the number of attempts to get the turd out of your bowels?

Episode 5, Lotus Eaters:

I sort of appreciated that part where Bloom is nursing thoughts of his pen pal while inside the church. That seems to me yet another proof of religion as an opium, either an addictive or mind-numbing substance. Or both. I am not too sure if the church service is for the funeral of poor Dignam. Everyone seems to call him that, and what is so poor about him? Is he literally poor or is he poor because he’s already robbed of his earthly existence?

Another thing that I liked is the flower language, where parts of the letter that Bloom received from his pen pal are replaced with names of flowers. The type of flower that you give someone speaks a lot of your motives, whether intentionally or not. I just don’t know yet what the pressed dried flower, smelling nothing, symbolizes. Probably a relationship that would never prosper?

Bloom and his wife are in a kind of infidelity game. The husband is entertaining an unseen pen pal while the wife is, or was, flirting with her manager of sorts. That I only gathered from the introduction of my edition.

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10 Comments

  1. Ah yes, Ulysses…to read it is an odyssey in itself. You will be pleased to know I was quite satisfied by the end, which came as a surprise since I too found much of the book more work than pleasure. So there’s light on the horizon!

    It is my belief that everyone has a great epiphany while reading this book, that some thing jumps out at you suddenly and makes crystal perfect sense (amidst everything else…). For me that was the very, very end but maybe you will find it elsewhere.

    I see you’re now a follower of Brave Little Books (YAY!), so you may already have noted this, but you might enjoy checking out the video I did on Ulysses…you might very much relate. ;)

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    • Thanks for the encouragement! I find it really daunting. Even my reading buddy is having trouble with it that she even requested for a little postponement. I’ll check out your Ulysses video soon. (I can’t do it now because I’m here at the office, :D)

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    • Haha, don’t postpone! You’ll never go back! (Actually I read it over quite a long time but it can be hard to get back in the zone.)

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  2. I don’t know how a book this obscure or cryptic could be named the best book by any literary group. I’m sure only a handful of people have ever read this – and even less who actually understood most of what Joyce wrote.

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    • He wrote it for the literary critics, and not all of us think like that. At least they did not choose Finnegans Wake, haha.

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    • I doubt it most literary critics even understood this. I bet they just gave up and said, “Ok, this is the best book ever! Let’s leave at that!” hahaha!

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    • They might have read every alluded piece of literature in the novel, and I am not too keen on doing that. I think a novel should be able to stand on its own without having the need to pursue other readings just to understand it.

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