The Books: “Ulysses” – the Proteus episode (James Joyce)

Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:

ulysses67.bmpUlysses – by James Joyce.

Oh, I forgot to mention in my other two posts about Ulysses (here and here):is that the first four books of the Odyssey (called “The Telemachia”) have been debated over for centuries. Same author? Artistic merit? Should it be included in the whole? WTF?

Joyce has broken his book up into 3 title-less parts – and within each part are numerous chapters, etc. And the first three “chapters” or “episodes”, which are included in part 1, are his version of the Telemachia – which is meant to establish Odysseus as a character (his role, his importance,) – BEFORE he sets out on his journey. This is what we’re doing now – because we’re about to leave Stephen Dedalus and join Leopold Bloom. Dedalus is about to go on his long “odyssey” through one day (June 16, 1904) … but before he sets out, we need to get to know his status, his thoughts, his life, etc. That’s what these first three chapters are about. Then we get into Part II – which is the “Odyssey” section of the book – and there, we are mainly with Leopold Bloom – through chapter after chapter – although Stephen’s path intersects with him on occasion. Then comes part III of Joyce’s book – which has as its correspondence in The Odyssey “The Nostos” – or “the return”. Odysseus has been on his journey … and now it is time to come home to Penelope. The final three chapters of Joyce’s Ulysses brings Leopold Bloom back to his house after his wandering, ready to join Molly – his wife – in bed.

So just wanted to make clear that with these first three chapters, we aren’t in The Odyssey proper yet – we are still in the Telemachia.

Chapter III is known as The Proteus episode (but again, none of this is labeled in the book itself – it’s not even numbered as a chapter – you can just tell, by the spacing, that a new section has begun. So Joyce makes you figure it all out on your own.) It’s 11 am. Stephen goes for a walk on the beach. He is blind, his glasses have broken. The style makes a radical shift in this section and it may be completely baffling if you don’t let go – and just go with it. If you also don’t understand what Joyce is doing. Let’s remember: Stephen has broken his glasses. We are now completely inside his head, inside his experience … And so, because he can’t see, all impressions come to him through sounds, all colors blur together … which is a perfect reflection of his own state of mind. He has not yet broken free yet, he has not yet separated himself from his inspirations, his tradition, his world. It’s very Hamlet-esque – which makes sense, because Stephen (and Joyce) were obsessed with Hamlet.

In the Odyssey, Ulysses must leave Calypso – the female, the nymph. He travels, he visits with the Phaenicians – he tells them all the long tale of his travels, his misfortunes, etc. They transport him back to Ithaca. Back home. That’s the arc of the book (so simplistic!!) But simplicity is good. It helped me out, in reading Ulysses to remember that fact: It’s just a journey. It’s the journey of two men through one day.

Their paths start out as separate. And eventually they converge.

The Proteus episode is an inner monologue.

It is also very interesting because it is from the point of view of Stephen, who, Joyce tells us ONCE in the 800 page book, has broken his glasses. Joyce doesn’t remind us: “Stephen broke his glasses”. The clues are all there in the language – but it’s not literal language, because when we are inside our own minds, we are not literal to ourselves. What does life FEEL like? That’s what Joyce is after.

So from inside Stephen’s world, everything is blurry and introspective, because he cannot see clearly. God forbid that Joyce would ever remind us of this or give us clues, or just flat out say, “What with having a pair of broken glasses, Stephen squints down the shoreline”. Of course, if he gave us bone-headed clues like that, it wouldn’t be considered a great book in the first place.

And so — You are left in this blurry subjective world. You don’t know why it’s blurry – or, if you miss the clue that Stephen’s glasses are broken – you have no idea why the entire thing is written overwhelmingly using SOUND cues. There are no visibles. It’s all about the SOUND. Of course. Because if you can’t SEE, then the sense of hearing will take over. For example, there’s one sentence in this section:

The dog’s bark ran towards him, stopped, ran back again.

Sound approaches him and then recedes. It is the dog’s BARK that is active … not the dog itself … because Stephen cannot SEE the dog.

This is what people mean when they call Joyce a “genius”.

The first paragraph of the Proteus section is rightfully famous. I will lead off with it below. And if you read carefully: Joyce is telling us what to expect in the chapter – “modality of the visible” … “thought through my eyes” … What does that mean? Stephen struggles. He feels very passive here to me (I mean, the dog’s bark runs towards him and then recedes … Stephen passively receives sensations) … In order to become active, something must happen, shift. We end up (much later) realizing that it is the meeting of Leopold Bloom, with all its connotations of father-figure, and eternal return … that makes Stephen become, at last, ACTIVE. A participant in his own life.

But here he is not there yet.


EXCERPT FROM Ulysses- by James Joyce – the Proteus episode

Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o’er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: they do. My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs, nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick. Wild sea money. Dominie Deasy kens them a’.

Won’t you come to Sandymount,
Madeline the mare?

Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching. No, agallop: deline the mare.

Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see.

See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.

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. Like me, like Algy, coming down to our mighty mother. Number one swung lourdily her midwife’s bag, the other’s gamp poked in the beach. From the liberties, out for the day. Mrs Florence MacCabe, relict of the late Patk MacCabe, deeply lamented, of Bride Street. One of her sisterhood lugged me squealing into life. Creation from nothing. What has she in the bag? A misbirth with a trailing navelcord, hushed in ruddy wool. The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Spouse and helpmate of Adam Kadmon: Heva, naked Eve. She had no navel. Gaze. Belly without blemish, bulging big, a buckler of taut vellum, no, whiteheaped corn, orient and immortal, standing from everlasting to everlasting. Womb of sin.

Wombed in sin darkness I was too, made not begotten. By them, the man with my voice and my eyes and a ghostwoman with ashes on her breath. They clasped and sundered, did the coupler’s will. From before the ages He willed me and now may not will me away or ever. A lex eterna stays about him. Is that then the divine substance wherein Father and Son are consubstantial? Where is poor dear Arius to try conclusions? Warring his life long on the contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality. Illstarred heresiarch. In a Greek watercloset he breathed his last: euthanasia. With beaded mitre and with crozier, stalled upon his throne, widower of a widowed see, with upstiffed omophorion, with clotted hinderparts.

Airs romped around him, nipping and eager airs. They are coming, waves. The whitemaned seahorses, champing, brightwindbridled, the steeds of Mananaan.

I mustn’t forget his letter for the press. And after? The Ship, half twelve. By the way go easy with that money like a good young imbecile. Yes, I must.

His pace slackened. Here. Am I going to Aunt Sara’s or not? My consubstantial father’s voice. Did you see anything of your artist brother Stephen lately? No? Sure he’s not down in Strasburg terrace with his aunt Sally? Couldn’t he fly a bit higher than that, eh? And and and and tell us Stephen, how is uncle Si? O weeping God, the things I married into. De boys up in de hayloft. The drunken little costdrawer and his brother, the cornet player. Highly respectable gondoliers. And skeweyed Walter sirring his father, no less. Sir. Yes, sir. No, sir. Jesus wept: and no wonder, by Christ.

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