Houses of Decay

The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.  – H.P. Lovecraft

James Joyce had a penchant for nesting obscure references in his writing that are indecipherable to nearly anyone who isn’t James Joyce (have you noticed?). There’s something appealingly stubborn about this style of writing – the writer communicating to their reader, “Look, I’m not going to throw you a branch. Either learn how to swim or enjoy drowning.” If you do learn to swim, though, there are rewards. Tucked into Stephen’s inner monologue in “Proteus” is a passage, obscure at first (naturally), that reveals the story of a Christian mystic, a W. B. Yeats short story and an obstinate young Artist:

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Decoding Dedalus: Omphalos

Daedalus in Ulysses was Joyce himself, so he was terrible. Joyce was so damn romantic and intellectual about him. He’d made Bloom up. Bloom was wonderful. – Ernest Hemingway, “On Writing”

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a paragraph of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the second episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 37 -38 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “They came down the steps…” and ends “…clotted hinderparts.” 

They came down the steps from Leahy’s terrace prudently, Frauenzimmer: and down the shelving shore flabbily, their splayed feet sinking in the silted sand.

Who are they?

One “unhelpful” thing that pops up regularly in Stephen’s stream of conscious is unattributed pronouns. Joyce has enough faith in us, the readers, to figure out who “they” might be. I suppose we should be flattered. In this case, the “they” are “frauenzimmer” descending to Sandymount Strand. Here’s another thing Stephen likes to do – answer a question he posed himself in a foreign language. In German, “frauenzimmer” means either “lady of fashion” or a “nitwit, drab, sloven or wench.” I’m guessing, based on the description that  follows, Joyce intended to conjure the latter image in your mind. Leahy’s Terrace is a street in Sandymount that is no longer near the sea due to development in the area that included extending the shoreline.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, Aristotle, Sandymount Strand, Dublin, Ireland

Decoding Dedalus: Ineluctable Modalities

The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended. An esthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space. – Stephen Dedalus, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a paragraph of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the second episode of Ulysses. It appears on page 37 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Ineluctable modality of the visible” and ends “world without end,” roughly the first five paragraphs of the episode.

So begins my attempt to translate “Proteus” into plain English and offer analysis. Hopefully this doesn’t turn me (any more) insane.

There are two ways to tackle these first five paragraphs, which are important paragraphs indeed. They seem to be some of the most quoted lines in “Proteus,” though I suspect that may be because that’s when many of us stopped reading. Or it’s just the right amount to quote to make it seem like you read the rest. Kidding, kidding. These first five set the stage for Stephen’s increasingly meandering musings as the episode progresses. They’re also a prime example of Joycean stream of conscious. However, they are as shifty as the sand and tides on Sandymount Strand and slippery as a Greek god eluding capture.

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Ulysses & The Odyssey: Proteus

This episode contains practically no action. Nothing happens…. – Stuart Gilbert, on “Proteus”

Part of an occasional series on the Homeric parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The Odyssey: Book 4

Telemachus and co. find their way to the home of Menelaus, the jilted husband of Helen of the Troy, the “face that launched a thousand ships” and started the Trojan War. Menelaus tells Telemachus about his travails returning home from the war. He found himself becalmed on the Egyptian isle of Pharos, home to the sea god Proteus, who was upset that Menelaus had failed to honor him with proper sacrifices. Eidothea, Proteus’ daughter, reveals to Menelaus that Proteus can answer his questions, but only if he can restrain the sea god. However, Proteus is a shapeshifter, and Menelaus must restrain the god as he changes from beast to plant to water to fire. Menelaus succeeds, and Proteus tells him where to find Odysseus. Menelaus passes this information on to Telemachus. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Penelope realizes Telemachus is gone and doesn’t take it well.

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