Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Our grandoldgrossfather

So I am writing my graduate thesis now. My MA program is only two years long, and this is the beginning of the final semester. I have finished my coursework, and the only thing I have left to do is write a 60-100 page paper. Last semester I had to write three 20-page papers (plus a 15 page thesis prospectus) in about a month and a half, so three months to whip out 60-100 pages seems definitely doable.

I'm writing on the connection between James Joyce's Ulysses and Derek Walcott's Omeros. Everyone, with the exception of my professors and one other graduate student, hasn't known who Walcott is. He won the Nobel Prize in 1992 for this achingly, drippingly beautiful pseudo-Homeric epic Omeros.
(Walcott painted the watercolor on the front). He's a Caribbean poet from the small island St. Lucia. I like writing about islands because more often than not their cultural and national boundaries are determined by their geography. Culture seems neatly divided into little dots on a blue background. Plus, the authors are surrounded by the ocean, and isolated from whatever is "out there." Alienation bred in paradise? Sign me up please. I love it.

Reading Omeros makes you ache. You're washing a dish and poetry just falls out of your mouth. Here are a few lines, chosen randomly. Read them more than once:

. . .The river stops talking,
the way silence suddenly turns off a market.

The wind squatted low in the grass. A man kept walking
steadily towards him, and he knew by the walk it
was himself in his father, the white teeth, the widening hands.


And Istanbul's spires, each dome a burnoosed Turk,
swathed like a Saracen, with the curved scimitar
of a crescent moon over it, or the floating muck

of a lowering Venice probed by a gondolier,
rippling lines repeating some pilgrim's journals,
the weight of cities that I found so hard to bear;

in them was the terror of Time, that I would march
with columns at twilight, only to disappear
into a past whose history echoes the arch

of bridges sighing over their ancient canals
for a place that was not mine, since what I preferred
was not statues but the bird in the statue's hair.


Ahhhh, Walcott. He makes you sigh and ache at the same time. I think it's love.

BUT I am also writing about Ulysses. I was stoked to be able to reread this amazing book. I took a week off at the beginning of January to rest up my p(r)etty little brain and then I began reading a chapter every day. There are 18 chapters, but one of them is 180 pages long (I divided it into two days). A few weeks ago I actually wrote a carefully thought-out blog post about the experience of reading Ulysses, which I intended to type up this morning, but for some reason I have lost it. It involved ballerinas! How sad. Something about transcendence too.

I have hit the other side of that transcendence. For the past two days I have been locked in the drunken, absinthe-induced trip to the brothel that reads like a nightmare. It's absolutely filthy (probably why Ulysses was banned in so many countries for so long; interestingly, Ireland was the last country to lift the ban in the 1960s) and bizarre, and goddamn it that is exactly the kind of thing that I like. For some reason though, it drove me absolutely insane and I am seriously glad that it's over.

I read first thing in the morning, and by 11 o'clock the first day I was craving a beer. No, I am not an alcoholic and I don't just booze it up willy nilly before noon. At one point, Bloom, one of the protagonists, loses himself in a reverie induced by the red triangle on a Bass bottle which comes to represent the tongue of a panther, a ruby on the belly of a stripper, and his wife's dally hoo-hoo. Let me give you an idea of what it is like to read this by transcribing some of my reading notes:

p539 Bloom's middle name is Paula
p540 Bloom is a woman and a cow
Bloom likes anal sex
p544 "We'll manure you Mr. Flower"
(realization of sexual desires culminates in shit. Leads to thoughts of death)
p551 Nymph has no asshole
p553 Nymph splits apart
p569 Stephen talks about his "grandoldgrossfather" who made the metal cage for
Pasiphae ["to indulge her lust for the bull"]
p571 "dreams go by contraries"
fulfills dreams
p589 Stephen must kill the priest and the king
p590 King sucks jujube
p591 "you die for your country...let my country die for me"
p597 Bloom tells Cissy Caffrey she's the "sacred lifegiver"

I really like "p551 Nymph has no asshole. . .p553 Nymph splits apart." I didn't notice that on a first reading. Joyce is funny. Earlier on Bloom goes to the national museum to look at the marble statues of the goddesses ("aids to digestion"); he wants to find out if they have an anus. But Joyce writes it like, "I wonder if they have a." The period at the end of the sentence represents the anus. Tee hee hee.

I'm glad I'm out of the brothel, though. It was too much. But it looks like I'll be going back soon; I'm going to write about male characters in drag. Yay! Wish me luck!

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