GCWA is interested in exploring the use of past writers’ words, and how such usage may inspire and inform budding authors in a very complex 21st Century.
The aim of “Bonza Books” is to tap reader skills of association and passion in making connections to deep ideas that remarkable minds have explored which might offer simple or complex ways of writing stories.
We live in an ecosystem of many ‘mes’ that allows a great range of inspirational stories to be explored—some straightforward, others verging on the extraordinary.
How then can we make connections?
“Bonza Books” is presented as a reader-walk to arouse curiosity into possible sources of inspiration.
If one day in the life of one man can fuel a story of many thousand words, what might a day in your life inspire?
Perhaps we should ask Gary Ivory, sitting at left chatting with ‘mates’, at Temple Bar, Dublin in 2014. Being in the city of James Joyce, he might even have a copy of Ulysses in his pocket.
Let’s take the challenge and dive into the deep end with Ulysses by James Joyce.
The complexity of Ulysses is dense, but so too is navigating current modes of thinking.
Ulysses (1922), is a novel, and yields, in spite of its special difficulties, the sort of knowledge about us, and about our world than any other authentic novel yields.
However, we must actually get involved at the ground-level in the process of making the story through articulation, association, interpretation, application, curiosity, and play, to experience Ulysses as a novel—one created by James Joyce (Right) and the reader together.
The way in which Joyce orders his words is an enormous study in itself. How we participate depends on each individual. How ‘ingredients’ seep into the mind to be mixed or discarded in the process of coming to know Stephen, Bloom, and the parade of others wandering through the streets of Dublin, is up to the reader.
How much Joyce’s characters resemble us is an open question that he allows us to explore. However, it’s not easy to navigate through Joyce’s technique of epiphanic thinking. In brief, the narrative can be summed up succinctly, as tracing the day in an ordinary man’s life. It’s a recital of things and thoughts that occurred on June 16, 1904, in Dublin. It is autobiographical, allegorical, symbolic, and naturalistic while raising questions that make demands on the reader.
Using the scaffolding of a myth, Joyce creates a modern myth encompassing contemporary artist-poetic observers, Stephen, artists of compassion, Bloom, and artists of passion, Molly, as the heroes. It’s a drama unfolding in these minds to expose values peculiar to the times. The characters in this extraordinary novel only come into focus as three-dimensional people when we adapt to the unusual way Joyce presents them.
By using interior monologue that seems to overlay Stephen, Bloom, and Molly with veils of each other, Joyce creates ambiguity for the reader. This seems confusing at first, but so too is meeting people in real life, where each individual absorbs influences and constantly changes.
No clear picture is presented.
With Stephen, we struggle in a world of self-imposed alienation. He is a poetic artist among Philistines, and is determined to escape from the “race of clodhoppers” and the “nightmare” of history, into realms where he can wear his “Hamlet hat”.
In the early part of the book, Joyce plays with variations and excursions from the monologue method to provide the reader with a reasonably digestible view of the main characters.
The liberal sprinkling of “epiphanies”, such as Stephen’s thought, “Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past” in Chapter 9: Scylla and Charybdis, is a philosophical morsel we can masticate, and which prepares us for the elaboration and extension of Chapter 10: Wandering Rocks. We may not agree with Stephen, or even like him, but we can appreciate his poetic nature and the contraries found therein.
Similarly, we can appreciate these same traits in the arranger of the words who makes it possible for us even to associate with Stephen. Having guided us thus far, Joyce proceeds to enjoy and immerse himself as poet-priest and trickster, in orchestrating the instrumental words, phrases, and parodic styles, until the book seems animated. It appears to be in conflict with its own contraries that work to a hallucinatory crescendo in Chapter 15: Circe.
In contrast to those traits of artistic isolation that cause Stephen to query his very existence and origin, we experience the antithesis of personality type in Bloom. He is a complete man, but a Jew among Gentiles. Whereas Stephen seeks escape from the material world, Bloom embraces it through his interest in material comforts and his effort to be accepted by his fellowmen. He is constantly thwarted.
In Chapter 4: Calypso, “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls”.
But, inside Burton’s restaurant in Chapter 8: Lestrygonians, “his gorge rose”:
Couldn’t eat a morsel here. Fellow sharpening knife and fork, to eat all before him, old chap picking his tootles. Slight spasm, full, chewing the cud. Before and after. Grace after meals. Look on this picture then on that. Scoffing up stew gravy with sopping sippets of bread. Lick it off the plate, man! Get out of this. (p.169)
If we compare the two gastronomic pictures from Calypso and Lestrygonians, we can immediately notice and feel the change in tone. Two types of repulsion are evident in the latter scene. Blooms’ repulsion towards a sacrilege of something he artistically reveres, and his repulsion of his fellowmen because of the mental estrangement.
Further appreciation of this can be aroused if we read the passages aloud. We can notice our attitude change from gentle amusement as we comfortably articulate while watching and listening to Bloom in his kitchen, to a feeling of aggression as we clip the sentences of the later episode and almost spit out the sibilants.
The exactness and significance of the words used by Joyce is seen in the meticulous mental portrait he evokes, and the way in which he signposts the reader to some inner turbulence upsetting the outward neatness of Bloom.
Although Joyce has set up a series of contraries and kin-linking-symbols to throw the two characters into relief, they at no time seem to attain that fusion which we could, and possibly would deem possible. Stephen has his aesthetic “ash sword” in contrast to Bloom’s hygienic “soap”; Stephen dislikes water, while Bloom anticipates his bath; Stephen sensuously “closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells”, while Bloom sensually “felt ever so slowly the hair combed back above his ears”; Stephen’s key is “usurped”, while Bloom’s is misplaced, but both are symbolically connected by the cloud and allusions to Hamlet.
James Joyce presents. Exactly how much knowledge we glean about our world and ourselves depends on how much we reciprocate with the novel.
It’s almost impossible to grasp Ulysses in one simultaneous mental understanding, nor repeat itself on a second reading—or several. It is a kind of hologram of language that builds upon itself from the relatively easy and muted passages of the first nine episodes, to the musical, encyclopedic, and catechismal climax of Circe, and finally the gushing, unpunctuated stream of Molly’s mind in Penelope.
Having briefly met Stephen and Bloom, might anyone like to comment on Molly?
If you haven’t met her yet, pack a lunch and a thermos of coffee, to trek into the bizarre environment of Ulysses.
Wishing you ‘bonza’ reading! Karen Knight-Mudie.