26 September 2010

"Pander to their Gomorrahan vices."

This latest section of Ulysses was written like the script of a play, in dialog with acting instructions and scenery descriptions. It ran from page 422 to page 593 of my ancient Random House hardcover, by far the longest episode, but also the easiest to read. It certainly wasn't any easier to understand than the rest of the book, but it was once again engaging and intriguing. A drunk Stephen Dedalus takes off for the red-light district of the city and winds up in a brothel. Leopold Bloom, protectively, hurries off to keep an eye on him. The episode ends with Stephen getting punched out by a soldier and Bloom intervening with the local cops to avoid an arrest for a public disturbance. In the middle of it all, Bloom goes on trial and faces his entire lifetime of fears, neuroses, and hang-ups in a series of interrogations in front of various hostile audiences. He even sees a vision of his dead son Rudy immediately after rescuing Stephen. The whole crazy, hallucinatory adventure is something of a critique of society's sexual mores. The immoral behavior Bloom is chastised for is nothing more than the natural impulses of the body and the free-running fantasy of the mind. He's helpless to defend himself, as any of us would be against arbitrary and hypocritical standards imposed by narrow-minded, fearful people. Bloom becomes something of a mirror for all of us to examine how we would be seen by others if they knew our innermost thoughts and feelings. No one wants that, of course, the very idea makes us squeamish, and Bloom's ordeal is indeed unsettling. He survives and carries on, not triumphantly, but doggedly, enduring his humiliations without rage or despair. Joyce assembles a little of everything into these narratives--history, language, politics, social satire, music, theology, evolution, melodrama, and the base instincts of everyday people. It's like you are riding on a sea of the collective unconscious and picking up and examining the flotsam. I hope my barely-adequate grasp of this extraordinary book does it some justice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mark, I am glad you are reading ULYSSES so I don't feel the obligation to do so again. I am really interested in your analyses; Joyce is nothing if not obscure and oblique and brilliant. This blog was, I thought, a very insightful discussion and helped me; and I thought your sentence, 'It's like you are riding on a sea of the collective unconscious and picking up and examining the flotsam,' was very fine. Thanks. N.