Ulysses by James Joyce, Part 4

by Paul Mathers

Preparations for my wife’s birthday party and a subsequent chest cold have dramatically slowed my progress. I expected this to be a thing I read in January but it looks like it’s going to be a thing I read for 2/12ths of 2014.

This next section, again, put me in mind of Whitman. Sort of an “I Hear Dublin Singing” section. The priest makes his way through town and we are treated to a number of vignettes of the Dublin denizens. We like the priest because the priest likes the people. He likes “cheerful decorum,” a lovely reflection of the belief in a God of grace and order. The priest runs across a constable, each nod at the other on their lonely beats. We see the Dedalus kids scouting out food, a one-legged mad sailor beggar who I couldn’t help but cast in my head as Tom Waits, men watching women, bitter foreigners, barflys. I think my favorite, or at least one of Joyce’s wonderful language plays was the gentleman who has caught a cold and periodically punctuates his conversation with “Chow!” Around the second or third time it hits you that Joyce is recording the sound of the sneeze, much like he describes how the pigeons “roocoocooed.”

One image that recurs in this section had me thinking of Gatsby (that other “greatest novel in the English language”) and how keenly aware these two 1920s books were of billboard advertising. At once modern and archaic, these men were on the cusp of that one thing that we are now entirely soaked in. And they had the good sense to make it a symbol of their time.

Bloom makes only a passing appearance in this section. We see that his sensuality also extends to his literary taste. Again, do we choose to see this as a man dazzled by the deep headiness of all things lusty, or just kind of a creepy lech?

The high point of this section was, for me, Buck Mulligan. He is full of life and I want to be more like him. He and Haines are talking about a number of things including Stephen’s recent brilliant Shakespeare rant (to which Haines replies “Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.” I might do well to make that a plaque to post over my front door), and Mulligan’s theory on why the Irish have no concept of Hell.

A procession of titled nobles seems to pass in a section that reads like what I always thought this whole book would read like:

“Warbling. Ah, lure! Alluring.

Martha! Come!

Clapclop. Clipclap. Clappyclap.

Goodgod henev erheard inall.

Deaf bald Pat brought pad knife took up.

A moonlight nightcall: far: far.”

This goes on for about a page or two and then we are in a barroom scene with Simon Dedalus, Poldy Bloom, et al. They flirt with the women. They sing beautifully (and I was reminded of the Sirens). We reenter the stream of Bloom’s consciousness and he thinks on what he is experiencing, returning often to the concept of death, no doubt due to the manner in which he started his day.

I peeked ahead and, in the section to come, I would be surprised of someone doesn’t get a spear jammed into their eye.

More soon.

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