Kelly and Dermot deconstruct the nightmare of history shared by the Irish and the Jews alike. We further explore the intricacies of Mr. Deasy’s bigotry and what it tells us about what life was like in 1900’s Dublin. Other topics covered include one possible source of Joyce’s hatred of Gogarty, the correlation of antisemitism and nationalism and the legend of the Wandering Jew and its influence on Ulysses.
Per vias rectas! Mr. Deasy’s origins – revealed! Kelly and Dermot dive into Joyce’s real life acquaintances and experiences that inspired the gruff headmaster Mr. Deasy in Ulysses‘ second episode, “Nestor.” Topics covered include why Mr. Deasy is so concerned about foot and mouth disease, the relative rebelliousness of voting in favor of the Union and why Mr. Deasy seems to be unaware of his own history, even though he’s so proud of it.
It follows that the soul is analogous to the hand; for as the hand is a tool of tools, so the mind is the form of forms and sense the form of sensible things. – Aristotle, De Anima
I am absolutely indebted to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the book Allwisest Stagyrite: Joyce’s Quotations from Aristotle by University College Dublin professor Fran O’Rourke for the contents of this essay.
In keeping with Catholic tradition, I must open this post with a confession of guilt: I’ve avoided writing about Aristotle as much as possible on this blog because I really don’t understand him. I’ve been laboring away the last few months fully aware that I purposely skipped over the following sweet, juicy chunks of philosophy on page 25 of “Nestor” because not only did I have no idea what they meant, but I had no desire to do the research to find out:
It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible. Aristotle’s phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquility sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.
I thought I got away with it, too. No one emailed me to ask why I skipped over that “form of forms” bit, so I thought my soul was free of the weight of guilt brought on by my own neglect.
But then, I came across this passage on page 44 of “Proteus”:
A character study of the infamous Mr. Deasy, the headmaster of Stephen’s school in “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. We discuss how Mr. Deasy is a stereotypical Dubliner of his day, as well as his defining characteristics (including his impressive mustache!) Mr. Deasy has a lot to teach us, though he is an old wise man archetype with no wisdom. We talk lots of history and politics in this one! Also, Kelly reveals the worst Scooby Doo character.
Kelly and Dermot tackle the reference to Averroes and Maimonides in “Nestor.” Not only does this episode cover these two philosophers and their connection to Aristotle, there’s also plenty of discussion on Morris dance, Giordano Bruno and the thematic importance of goth kids.
Dermot and Kelly take on a point of vexation and consternation for any Ulysses fan: what the actual heck does Stephen’s riddle mean? What symbolism lies within? Does he just like torturing children? We throw in some extra John Milton for good measure.
Welcome to Episode 10, our first episode covering episode two of Ulysses, “Nestor.” Kelly and Dermot discuss the political philosophy of Giambattista Vico and his influence on James Joyce, Homeric parallels between King Nestor and Mr. Deasy, and Dermot’s artistic inspiration for his cartoon version of Mr. Deasy.
—Tell us a story, sir. —O, do, sir. A ghoststory.
For all posts on music and poetry in Ulysses, visit this page.
Did you ever have a teacher in school who had a tenuous-at-best grip on their lessons? They were easily distracted or maybe a little too much of a hippie. Maybe they were a substitute who wasn’t too invested in the job. Stephen Dedalus is this teacher, a learner uneasy as a teacher. Stephen’s heart is just not in this job, and it’s clear from the first lines of ‘Nestor’ that he is going through the motions on the surface. His thoughts continually intrude upon his focus as he listlessly carries out his uninspired lesson plan. Not only does his student Armstrong know less than nothing about Pyrrhus, the rest of the boys are totally disinterested in the lesson and ready to distract their teacher. Stephen grimly realizes,“In a moment they will laugh more loudly, aware of my lack of rule and of the fees their papas pay.”
To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.
In the Gilbert schema, the art of ‘Nestor’ is listed as history, so it is fitting that the episode opens with Stephen delivering a history lesson. The topic is Pyrrhus, an ancient Greek king mostly remembered by the phrase “Pyrrhic victory.” The basic facts of the battle are there, but let’s indulge in the art of history ourselves and expand on the details the young student Cochrane lays out in his recitation.
First, a definition: a Pyrrhic victory is a victory in which the victor incurs such heavy losses that it may as well be a loss. You can drop this phrase in conversation at fancy dinner parties to sound smarter when talking about politics or sports. I’m assuming. I don’t go to a lot of fancy dinner parties. Pyrrhus, as mentioned above, was a military leader in ancient Greece fighting against an early but ascendant Rome. Tarentum, as recalled by Cochrane, was a Greek city in the instep of the boot of the Italian peninsula. Pyrrhus’ army, which included several dozen war elephants because PETA didn’t exist back then, helped push the Romans out of Tarentum in 280 BCE.
Mulligan will dub me a new name: the bullockbefriending bard.
Part of an occasional series on the Homeric parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.
The Odyssey, Book 3:
Telemachus and Mentor (Athena in disguise) find themselves in Pylos to meet Nestor, a wise king who fought with Odysseus in Troy. Unfortunately, Nestor doesn’t know what became of Odysseus on his journey home. Athena reveals herself by transforming into an osprey. Nestor is so impressed with Telemachus’ divine companionship that he sacrifices a heifer in Athena’s honor. There is much feasting upon the sacrificial heifer before Telemachus sets off to meet Menelaus, still in search of Odysseus.
Nestor’s biography is fairly exciting. He was the grandson of Poseidon and an Argonaut who fought centaurs and went to war with Odysseus and friends in Troy. When we meet him in The Odyssey, though, his salad days have gone and he is the wise old king of Pylos. His parallel in Ulysses is Mr. Deasy, who oversees his school from a dusty office stuffed with relics from the past, such as his collection of Stuart coins and seashells. Mr. Deasy’s CV is less impressive than Nestor’s (the only thing we know about him is that he is the headmaster of the school where Stephen works), but he is happy to rest on the laurels of his lofty ancestors, particularly Sir John Blackwood who died in an attempt to vote for Ireland to join the United Kingdom. This sort of parallel will arise again and again as we look at Nestor and Deasy. Mr. Deasy believes he is a vaunted wiseman like Nestor, but in truth he is all talk.