Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:
Ulysses – by James Joyce.
So here’s where we are at so far:
A complicated (on its surface) chapter. Thank God I had my dad as a tutor. I said, “Okay, so what is going on here?” He looked at the page – and could tell, just by the LOOK of it – what chapter I was in (Joyce is one of the few writers you can do that with). He said, “Okay, so that’s the Aeolus chapter. It’s in the newspaper office – and that’s why the text is full of headlines. It’s also about wind. So everyone’s a windbag.” The Aeolus episode in The Odyssey involves Odysseus being given a bag full of any wind that might push him in the wrong direction. He is in sight of his home … so the danger of returning is great. But his men (of course) are curious and open up the bag. Winds burst forth and they are blown off course. So once you know that, and once you know that Joyce is writing the entire chapter in the style of a newspaper – then you can settle in, and just enjoy. But before then? What the heck?? But like I keep quoting, Joyce said, “With me, the thought is always simple.” I have read all of Joyce’s stuff, even Finnegans Wake, and I can say that he is right on the money. The structure is complex, the analogies and layers and connections go deep into the core – some of which you, the reader, will NEVER get (this is why people spend their lives studying this writer) … but the thought itself is always simple. So once you “find your way in” – (and, from my experience, each episode in Ulysses requires a bit of work from me – as a reader – to do that) it’s not just easy-going, but fun, and interesting.
The Aeolus episode is all talk talk talk talk talk … to embody all of that wind in The Odyssey. Much of this has to do with very specific moments in Irish history – so you might have to do a bit of Wikipedia-ing, just to know what they’re talking about. Because even though Joyce changes some of the names, all of these are real people. The Italian who was on the city council – like Bloom, an outsider … yet he had assimilated to a degree that he was politically powerful. Joyce calls the Italian “Nanetti” – but his real name was Joseph Patrick. There is also much talk about the famous Phoenix Park murders – as well as a speech given the night before about Ireland – a speech that all the men mock. This is all based on real events.
But let me just talk about the plot of the episode. It’s about noon. Dignam’s funeral, from the last episode, is over. All of the men are dropped off in the heart of Dublin. Bloom has an errand to run. He sells advertisements, for a living – so he stops off at the offices of The Weekly Freeman and National Press . The Evening Telegraph is in the same building – so we have to wonder if this is the episode where Stephen and Leopold will finally meet – because, if we remember, in the Nestor episode – Mr. Deasy, the headmaster of the school where Stephen works, asks Stephen if he could drop off some of his writing at the newspaper when he goes into Dublin. And Stephen mentions The Evening Telegraph. But this episode is not where they meet. Bloom stands in the newspaper office – and over the course of the chapter – the overwhelming feeling we get is his isolation from the others. Joyce pulls no punches about his countrymen in this chapter. Everyone is living in the past, first of all – obsessing about the Phoenix Park murders which had happened 20 years before – and also getting all the facts wrong (this, again, you’d have to know the facts to get the misinformation that everyone is spreading) – and those who “run” the country are gasbags, plain and simple. Gasbags who live in the past. Bloom, a decent man, trying to do his best – is seen as the only person in the room with any integrity – yet he is roundly ignored, and also mocked. When he leaves, a couple kids follow him, imitating his walk – and one of the dudes in the newspaper office pretends to play a mazurka as Bloom exits. He is a total outsider. He is not treated with respect. The entire chapter involves a controversy with the ad he is trying to place, the “Keyes advertisment”. Nanetti says fine, cool – but it has to run for 3 months. Bloom mentions that Keyes wants the image changed – to two crossed-keys – an image that Keyes had seen in a Kilkenny paper or something. Bloom says he will go to the National Library to track the image down (this will be the famous Scylla and Charybdis character – when Stephen and Leopold are finally in the same place at the same time – although they still do not meet). Bloom tries to call Keyes from the telegraph office, to see if the 3-month run would be okay by him. The guys from the funeral (Simon Dedalus, Lenehan, and all the others) are there – and it’s crowded – and Bloom gets pushed around, hit by the door, etc. It is as though he is not actually there. The men do not perceive him as taking up space (the ultimate in disrespect). Again, there seems to be a joshing mocking hard-edged tone to the banter of the Irish (which is certainly true) – and Bloom doesn’t have that sensibility at all. He is much more literal. And also – I don’t know – sensitive. We never get inside Bloom’s head here – when you read the excerpt below – you’ll see how it is written – it’s all huge newspaper headlines, and the constant chatter in the offices. You have to really listen carefully to see what is going on.
But Joyce’s deeper point is made. Bloom (or Odysseus) is in sight of his home, obviously – but he cannot go back … his wife is having a rendesvous with her lover Blazes Boylan … at least this is what he suspects … and so he must stay away. But the winds have been let out of the bag. All the guys in the office – talking, talking, talking … act as a windy force, pushing Bloom backwards.
There are two separate and complete parts of this chapter (perhaps like our two lungs?): Bloom in the newspaper office – and then all of the gentlemen from the funeral, sitting in a pub, talking. The two parts are irrevocably connected – one informs the other, one contradicts the other … we go back and forth, back and forth, and everyone’s talking, fast and furious, and we just have to keep up.
Bloom is treated like a buffoon (even though, as we get to know him, we realize he is anything but). He gets Keyes on the phone. Keyes says he will renew for 2 months, not 3. The editor treats Bloom like shit. To his face. The gloves coming off – the hostility underneath the Irish hospitality coming out.
The speech all the Irishmen reference – was one given by John Taylor – and it was about the revival of the Irish language. The Irish men mock the speech, with its romanticizing of Ireland … not realizing that they are part of the problem. They are just as caught in the past as Taylor is. Joyce, naturally, is making larger points throughout all of this. Ireland is not a free country. It is oppressed by England – and most of its problems can be traced back to that. The Irish language issue – which is such a hot topic (to some people to this day) was one that Joyce was interested in – and he wrote a lot about it. His obsession with language was such that he ended up creating his own – in Finnegans Wake. Some of the men say that Ireland needs a Messiah – someone to lead them to the Promised Land (a reference to the exodus, which is totally ironic – since they are dissing the one Jew in their midst) … Bloom, a true hope for the future of the nation (in his decency, his detachment from the past, his intelligence) … is completely ignored and mocked. The Irish wouldn’t know the Messiah if it came up and bit them on the arse. This is Joyce’s view.
Okay, so I think I’ve talked enough. I’m a windy gasbag myself! There’s a ton in this chapter I still do not understand – you feel like you need an encylopedia right by you, or a volume of Irish history – in order to get all the references, but that’s part of the fun.
Oh, and a bit of symbolism: Bloom is trying to get an advertisement placed for “Keyes”, a tea merchant. Keyes wants to have an image of two crossed keys on his ad – this is what Bloom goes off to the National Library later, to find. The two crossed keys: Stephen and Leopold? Crossing paths? Also, the symbolism itself of a key: it will open locked doors, it will let you in … Stephen (we know this from the Telemachia) and Bloom are both outside the regular grind and bustle of Irish life. They do not fit. They are exiled – internally. What is the “key”, for both of them? Is it each other?
Now remember: the episode takes place in a newspaper office. And it’s about wind (talk). So that’s the style in which Joyce wrote it. Are you ready? Here we go!
EXCERPT FROM Ulysses – by James Joyce – the Aeolus episode
WITH UNFEIGNED REGRET IT IS WE ANNOUNCE THE DISSOLUTION OF A MOST RESPECTED DUBLIN BURGESS
Hynes here too: account of the funeral probably. Thumping thump. This morning the remains of the late Mr Patrick Dignam. Machines. Smash a man to atoms if they got him caught. Rule the world today. His machineries are pegging away too. Like these, got out of hand: fermenting. Working away, tearing away. And that old grey rat tearing to get in.
HOW A GREAT DAILY ORGAN IS TURNED OUT
Mr Bloom halted behind the foreman’s spare body, admiring a glossy crown.
Strange he never saw his real country. Ireland my country. Member for College green. He boomed that workaday worker tack for all it was worth. It’s the ads ad side features sell a weekly not the stale news in the official gazette. Queen Anne is dead. Published by authority in the year one thousand and. Demesne situate in the townland of Rosenallis, barony of Tinnachinch. To all whom it may concern schedule pursuant to statute showing return of number of mules and jennets exported from Ballina. Nature notes. Cartoons. Phil Blake’s weekly Pat and Bull story. Uncle’ Toby’s page for tiny tots. Country bumpkin’s queries. Dear Mr Editor, what is a good cure for flatulence? I’d like that part. Learn a lot teaching others. The personal note M.A. P. Mainly all pictures. Shapely bathers on golden strand. World’s biggest balloon. Double marriage of sisters celebrated. Two bridegrooms laughing heartily at each other. Cuprani too, printer. More Irish than the Irish.
The machines clanked in threefour time. Thump, thump, thurap. Now if he got paralysed there and no one knew how to stop them they’d clank on and on the same, print it over and over and up and back. Monkeydoodle the whole thing. Want a cool head.
— Well, get it into the evening edition, councillor, Hynes said.
Soon be calling him my lord mayor. Long John is backing him they say.
The foreman, without answering, scribbled press on a corner of the sheet and made a sign to a typesetter. He handed the sheet silently over the dirty glass screen.
— Right: thanks, Hynes said moving off.
Mr Bloom stood in his way.
— If you want to draw the cashier is just going to lunch, he said, pointing backward with his thumb.
— Did you? Hynes asked.
— Mm, Mr Bloom said. Look sharp and you’ll catch him.
— Thanks, old man, Hynes said. I’ll tap him too.
He hurried on eagerly towards the Freeman’s Journal.
Three bob I lent him in Meagher’s. Three weeks. Third hint.
WE SEE THE CANVASSER AT WORK
Mr Bloom laid his cutting on Mr Nannetti’s desk.
— Excuse me, councillor, he said. This ad, you see. Keyes, you remember.
Mr Nannetti considered the cutting a while and nodded.
— He wants it in for July, Mr Bloom said.
He doesn’t hear it. Nannan. Iron nerves.
The foreman moved his pencil towards it.
— But wait, Mr Bloom said. He wants it changed. Keyes, you see. He wants two keys at the top.
Hell of a racket they make. Maybe he understands what I.
The foreman turned round to hear patiently and, lifting an elbow, began to scratch slowly in the armpit of his alpaca jacket.
— Like that, Mr Bloom said, crossing his forefingers at the top.
Let him take that in first.
Mr Bloom, glancing sideways up from the cross he had made, saw the foreman’s sallow face, think he has a touch of jaundice, and beyond the obedient reels feeding in huge webs of paper. Clank it. Clank it. Miles of it unreeled. What becomes of it after? O, wrap up meat, parcels: various uses, thousand and one things.
Slipping his words deftly into the pauses of the clanking he drew swiftly on the scarred-woodwork.
HOUSE OF KEY(E)S
— Like that, see. Two crossed keys here. A circle. Then here the name Alexander Keyes, tea, wine and spirit merchant. So on.
Better not teach him his own business.
— You know yourself, councillor, just what he wants. Then round the top in leaded: the house of keys. You see? Do you think that’s a good idea?
The foreman moved his scratching hand to his lower ribs and scratched there quietly.
— The idea, Mr Bloom said, is the house of keys. You know, councillor, the Manx parliament. Innuendo of home rule. Tourists, you know, from the isle of Man. Catches the eye, you see. Can you do that?
I could ask him perhaps about how to pronounce that voglio. But then if he didn’t know only make it awkward for him. Better not.
— We can do that, the foreman said. Have you the design?
— I can get it, Mr Bloom said. It was in a Kilkenny paper. He has a house there too. I’ll just run out and ask him. Well, you can do that and just a little par calling attention. You know the usual. High class licensed premises. Longfelt want. So on.
The foreman thought for an instant.
— We can do that, he said. Let him give us a three months’ renewal.
A typesetter brought him a limp galleypage. He began to check it silently. Mr Bloom stood by, hearing the loud throbs of cranks, watching the silent typesetters at their cases.
Want to be sure of his spelling. Proof fever. Martin Cunningham forgot to give us his spellingbee conundrum this morning. It is amusing to view the unpar one ar alleled embarra two ars is it? double ess ment of a harassed pedlar while gauging au the symmetry of a peeled pear under a cemetery wall. Silly, isn’t it? Cemetery put in of course on account of the symmetry.
I could have said when he clapped on his topper. Thank you. I ought to have said something about an old hat or something. No, I could have said. Looks as good as new now. See his phizthen.
Sllt. The nethermost deck of the first machine jogged forwards its flyboard with slit the first batch of quirefolded papers. Sllt. Almost human the way it sllt to call attention. Doing its level best to speak. That door too slit creaking, asking to be shut. Everything speaks in its own way. Sllt.