Monday, May 21, 2007

They haven't been able to have sex with each since their son died as a child.

She has a series of men in in the afternoons to have what they would call regular sex. He goes to prostitutes at night to have what he considers particularly bad, not regular, sex.

He's out all day and into the night. He has a series of jobs where he is supposed to be out and about--sales, collections. He is out and about and he doesn't spend a high proportion of his time out there doing his job. There are many men friends to say hi to, special events like funerals to go to, lots of not job activity.

She has a beautiful voice, a voice that would be operatic if trained, but that's not going to happen. In the past they sometimes toured small towns where other people enjoyed as he did her physical beauty and the beauty of her voice.

Now he travels around town all day and late into the night.

Rudi died. The son died. A shattering gaping wound to their connection barely papered over by routine and by, on his part, endless activity, convival with many people outside his home.

The guys--he talks to many guys during the day He picks up letters from a rented address from a woman he pays to write him sexy letters; they haven't met. He looks at a young woman on the beach and he looks at her and it's very sexual for both of them. I think both of them come. I'm not sure as this book is not always very clear. I'm also not clear on exactly what he did with prostitutes that he thought was so very bad. It is clear that in a sexually repressed society, sex will out, including with people yards apart exchanging a long glance.

It seems like it is routine that he is away from home from early morning to late at night, that the amount of time husband and wife spend together is from whatever late (or early morning) hour he gets in til the early morning light when he leaves.

Rudi has been dead a long time. His sister, their only other child, is off working in another town. Rudi is not the only reason they are not having sex together and not hanging out together, but Rudi's death has a lot to do with it.

It is betrayal. Like they created him in making love together and betrayed by not being able to save him from dying as a child? Or he betrayed them by dying?

Ulysses took ten years to get home from the Trojan War, and from the coast of what is now Turkey where the war was to a Greek island, Ithaca, where his home was, it wasn't that far.

Adventures happened, he would say. Obstacles. People stopped him.

He didn't want to go home.

We don't know what the deal was with Ulysses not wanting to go home, but we know with Leonard Bloom, the main character in "Ulysses," by James Joyce, that grief for the death of a child lead to the habit of husband and wife spending very little time together. Did she want him to come home?

The death of a child does shatter relationships sometimes. Would reading this hard-to-read book help anyone struggling with the dead child and the threatened living people for each other?

Maybe. Leonard Bloom fills his days with many little activities. His whole situation, amid these many little activities, feels frozen. Not dealing with big pain. Doodling around big pain. The pain of Rudi being dead. The pain of what he and Molly aren't to each other. They aren't sexual to each other. They are barely physically present to each other.

The book absolutely doesn't straightforwardly present the idea that this man is going nowhere while moving around sixteen hours a day because there is pain he will not face. But that's accurate. In that situation people don't label what's running the odd set up.

Many things that happen in to Bloom "Ulysses" are analogous to what happens to Ulysses, or Odysseus, in the Odyssey. And I don't care. It isn't a part of the book that appeals to me, though it was important to Joyce. It is a way of saying what happens to this regular man is as important as what happened to the famous hero. Or that what happened to the famous hero was as unimportant as what happened to the regular man.

The staring at the woman on the beach is like Odysseus going past the island of sirens. Sailors usually sail to their doom on the rocks around the island, but Odysseus puts wax in the ears of everyone but himself, and hears their allure as they sail by. Gertie the siren. He's close enough to the woman on the beach he stares at that he can hear her family say her name. The prostitutes near the end of the book are like Circe the enchantress who keeps Odysseus imprisoned--he couldn't help it!--for years.

That's not what I like about the book, though I like the idea of common man as hero. I like hanging with Leonard, and there at the end of the book, Molly as they struggle through, sort of enjoyably, their stuck lives.

It seems good that what many people think is a masterpiece of world literature partly honors the power of the death of a child over its parents. People get shattered. People get divorced.

Leonard and Molly Bloom live in Catholic culturein the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They haven't gotten divorced. It seems unlikely that they could get divorced. There they are, and there he isn't in terms of being home.

The very first scene in "Ulysses" is three people bickering. It verbally escalates from bickering to a nasty argument.

Two of the three bickers don't matter in a ongoing way in the book.

The bickering is noticable because the main character never bicker. Molly and Leonard never bicker. They aren't around each other that much. The third main character, Stephen Daedalus, is the character most like the author, James Joyce.

He and Leonard know each other, sort of. Dublin, their town, is a medium size city and a very small town. People sort of know each other a lot.

The novel has a walls-closing-in feeling that could make appealing to a whole other city where they speak of whole other language and you will inherently never know all that many people. That's what James Joyce did. He went for non-English speaking cities where his memories and his use of language could be uninterrupted by what people in general and doing and saying now, as he writes.

In "Ulysses," Stephen Daedalus, the James Joyce-like character, is in Dublin. He's back in Dublin from living abroad. He came back for his mother's funeral, and now what. He's staying in an alternative space.

Sometimes people in their twenties rent spaces to live in that others wouldn't want. Stephen has rented from the government and unused military tower. He's living there with Buck Mulligan. Buck Mulligan has brought to stay a guest Stephen loathes.

The guest is an Englishman. Buck is presenting Stephen as a quaint native. Buck was also born in Ireland, but educated in England, which makes him--better? which makes him--a horrendously condescending jerk, like the Englishman he brings into the space Stephen rented.

That's the fight the book opens with. Buck and Stephen having at it about the English guest. Buck bringing up that Stephen broke his mother's heart as she was dying by refusing to pray in front of her as she was dying.

To use this information in a fight in front of a stranger, in front of a loathed stranger--bad. Awful. Buck presented this fact as part of the quaint localness that Stephen represents.

It is possible that Buck got exactly what he wanted out of this--exclusive use of the space that Stephen rented. Stephen stalked off and left Buck the key. The key to the place Stephen rented.

Stephen might have won the arguement, too. Stephen might have wanted to force himself out of town.

The first scene in "Ulysses" is different than most of the rest of the book. Two out of the three people don't recur. They are different people, and a different kind of people than most of the book is about.

The book is mostly from the point of view of Leonard Bloom. He is not dealing with snotty visiting English intellectuals. When he sees the English during the day, they are soldiers marching by.

What's up with the first scene?


It's Joyce saying, "This is how I finally escaped. The rest of the book will show what I escaped from. You can move around Dublin all you want, but things are stuck. Real change is rare."

It's Joyce showing the world that his former friend who was the model for Buck Mulligan who betrayed his confidence to make fun of him to a snob really is a horrible human being. He seems so in the scene. It's like any nasty breakup. You can't say, "Stephen, James, there was something you liked about this guy or you wouldn't be living with him." Nothing good about him shows through in this scene. I think that writing in another country many years later, James Joyce is quite angry at the real Buck Mulligan.

(The first words in the book are "Fat Buck Mulligan. . ." That has a certain, "Nyahh, nyahh, nyall" air about it.)

It's Joyce showing us we will be looking at Dublin, from which he escaped from a tower. Leonard Bloom's movement running from pain with give us views of many part of Dublin, as from a tower. A book about a man who worked in a shop or office and came home promptly at night would not tell as much about Dublin as Joyce wants to tell.

I also think the first scene is like an introduction to a book that Joyce didn't write. A young man raised Catholic in a Catholic culture refusing to pray when his dying mother asks him to. Joyce doesn't want us to ask about that any more than he wanted Buck Mulligan to talk about it. We are not to ask, "How did it feel to him to do that?"

Leonard Bloom is Jewish. That is to say, he is not Catholic. He grew up in Dublin but not inside the intensely Catholic culture.

That I think is what Joyce wants of Bloom's Jewishness--that Joyce doesn't have to write about being Irish Catholic from the inside. *Considering that most of the book is a detailed examination of what Bloom does and thinks on one day, I don't think Joyce is accurate or knowledgable about what Bloom might think as someone raised Jewish or as a non-Catholic in an overwhelmingly Catholic environment.

During the day the book is about, June 16, 1906, Bloom goes to the funeral of one of his father's friends. Death right in the middle to remind what all this days of twitchy activity lead to.

When he's in the coach with other morners, someone says something anti-Jewish.

And for once in the book we are not inside Bloom's head hearing what he thinks. We are outside looking at his blank face. Bloom is in his sixties. Thisis not the first anti-Jewish remark he's heard, or the four hundredth. How does he process that? We don't know. Joyce doesn't know. Joyce doesn't want to know. He wants a non-Catholic, so he doesn't have to get into specifically Catholic pain, I think. He doesn't want to get into some of the specifics of being that other kind of person.

I like Leonard Bloom. He's a good guy to spend a book with. I don't quite believe the way his ethnicness is presented, but I believe him. He exists. He is genuinely nice. He's convival naturallt and as a way of surviving and passing the time.

He's affable as a way of running away from the pain.

Hanging out with affable guy Bloom for a whole book is easy. Hanging out with James Joyce for a whole book is not easy. He isn't into being an affable writer. He isn't into being immediately easy to understand. He has other things to do.

What actually happens as we live? How do with experience moments?

We may not experience our lives as book plotlines, like in traditional novels, but as one little moment after another, some moments more meaningful than others, some moments more intense that others.

One thing Joyce wants to do is write about that. That means he doesn't say thing like, "Here are three men in a military surplus tower on a beach in Dublin, having an argument."

They, the three men, don't think things like that. They know that.

In "Ulysses," we are always in Dublin. But where specifically? Joyce isn't into saying that in a straight-forward way at the beginning of a scene.

He goes right to noticing what happening right now, and how his focus character, usually Leonard Bloom, is reacting to it and thinking about it.

That's how Joyce does things. He is embarked on a great, important project, and he obviously gives it huge integrity of effort. So when I am reading Joyce, I try to yield to Joyce's way. I don't always get his reasons for what he writes and doesn't write. Sometimes I want to say, "Come one, Joyce. Spit it out. Say what is going on."

But that's not why Joyce was born. He was born to write this book this way and explore the regular day of regular people in the way that he, Joyce, thinks is most honest and accurate.

Reading "Ulysses" gets easier as you go along. That is because

1. Your brain was created to learn language. With "Ulysses" you're learning a slightly different language, and you learn by doing.

2. Because Joyce is working with great integrity, and it's ultimately easy to join something like that.

3. You pick up more about the situation as you go along, so it becomes clearer. The first time that Leonard Bloom thinks about Rudi, a reader's natural reaction is, "Who's Rudi?" It is not the James Joyce way to say who Rudi is the first time he is mentioned, or the second, because Leonard, thinking of Rudi would not think, "Rudi comma, my son who died as a child.

But that emerges, and as you read Joyce, you acquire faith that what you need to know in the story will emerge, in Joyce's own particular way.

It's not quite true to say that everything that happens in the book happens in Dublin.

The characters' bodies are in Dublin the whole time, but Molly Bloom grew up on Gibraltar, a really small island, a bit of the British Empire off Spain. She is an Irish Catholic in background, but Gibraltar is where she grew up. So like Leonard, she is not the basic Dubliner who is Catholic and who was born in and has always lived in Ireland. Catholic, yes, though when we're in her head she doesn't think abou it much. But she knows that ourside Dublin there is another world, and a whole other smallness she knew well at one time. And when she is thinking toward the end the book, she remembers Gibraltar and that's where we and she are for a bit, though also in Dublin.

When Leonard Bloom comes home late, early the next morning, we are first given his point of view in a dry, question and answer format. What does Leonard see when he gets home? He sees how worn the commode is. He sees the shape of the man who was there in the afternoon in the bed, and the crumbs left in the bed from Molly and the man eating there.

What does Leonard Bloom do when he comes home late? Eventually, he takes off his clothes, talks about his day, leaving out the sexy parts, and kisses the beautiful, melon-like bottom of Molly. He gets an erection.

I'm not sure what's with the question and answer format all this is presented in, but I think it might be a riff on scholarlyness, usually so far removed from the crumbs and the reaching out of daily life. Or it might be a riff on a cathecism, because we are in the general vicinity of a miracle.

When we have gotten Leonard to the point of erection and bottom admiring and kissing, we switch to Molly's point of view. Molly, first person, is the last fifty pages of the book. We are with her thinking and how she thinks.

It doesn't start, her thinking, with the moment of man and wife and sexy touching. It starts a bit earlier when she notices that she's home and thinks about that and about everything, about her whole life.

She thinks and thinks, and imagines and remembers. She ends up remembering when Leoard proposed to her on Gibraltar, how she felt and what she did.

At the start of the twentieth century, there were important free speech trials, or obscenity trials, about "Ulysses" and about "Lady Chatterly's Lover" by D. H. Lawrence. These are wildly different kinds of books.

"Lady Chatterly's Lover" is told in a straight-forward way. It's easy to tell who is acting, what the action is, and precisely where the people acting are. Sometimes they are having sex. Most of the time they are doing other things, but it's all clear.

Violation of social boundaries is big in "Lady Chatterly's Lover." Note the aristocratic title in the title of the book. Lady Chatterly is having an affair with the least tamed of her husband's servants--the gamekeeper. An outdoor man, a nature man.

In "Ulysess," it often isn't all that clear what is going on even when what is going on is sex. And "Ulysses" is egalitarian. The happy ending would be the people who are equals, who are married, who have been together a long time, having sex once again, as they haven't in quite a while. Not a violation of any standard at all, but a healing.

"Ulysses" has many trees to examine, but it also works to focus on what's happening, on the whole, with the forest. "Ulysses" has built in references to the Odyssey. "Ulysses" has puns made in several language. It's got layers, and it's layers have layers.

"Ulysses" is secretly a sweet book. You don't have to get all the references to catch that drift. It starts with an argument and ends with a reconciliation. The same people don't have the argument and reconciliation because Molly and Leonard don't fight. But the vibe is improvement. And something happens there towards the end.

The vibe of most of the book reminds me of Penelope, Ulysses' wife, weaving something every day and unraveling it every night. "You're getting nowhere, are you, scientist?" they say often in the Beatles movie "Help!" It feels like that, and they need help.

The things they do on that day, all of them, major and minor characters, feel re-runnish.

While Penelope was waiting for Ulysses to return, she was beseiged by suitors who wanted her, maybe, and the property, for sure. Unlike Molly, she didn't make love with them. She told them she couldn't marry anyone until she finished this important weaving, which she secretly unraveled every night.

In "Ulysses," the characters talk in passing about Irish people who went to America as abandoners, almost betrayers, not good folks. I read that and go, sheesh, go to American, or something, so something or other will change.

But for Molly and Leonard, change manages to happen right there, in the same old familiar places.

When Leonard gets home, Joyce, in his question and answer format, moves into a group of precise descriptions. Like Joyce is saying, "You want clarity? Here it is."

When Molly and Leonard are entwined on the bed, talking about his day, Joyce describes their exact posture with arms and leg positions stated with geometric angles. Which amounts to saying, "They are married. They are very familiar with each other's bodies. It's easy for them in the bodies to just hang out, at various, not-really-thinking about it angles.

The Leonard kisses Molly rears, and that's it for external, precise, physical description.

We are inside Molly's head and she is thinking about this and that.

My guess would be that this thinking about things of Molly's starts when Leonard gets home, and procedes through him sorting himself out and getting into bed. The thinking procedes through him kissing her bottom and more. The undescribed more.

She doesn't think, "We are touching each other in the following ways, and it feels good." She doesn't think that. She knows that.

She thinks about other things. As she feels better and better, she thinks about meeting Leonard, and noticing how he looked. She remembers the day she made him propose to her.

When he proposed the first time, she didn't answer. She looked at the sky, and remembered all the places and people that were important to her that he didn't know--many things on

". . .Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume. . ."

Her thinking ends and the book ends, "yes I can yes I will Yes."

"Ulysses" is tougher to read than the newspaper, in terms of skipping across the words fast and getting meaning.

On the other hand, James Joyce is a talented, hard-working guy doing his best to show what happens in all those times the newspaper leaves out, the times we mostly live in, if we're lucky.

Routine goes on. Sameness happens. And then one day the weaving holds; it doesn't unravel at the end of the day. Something shifts. Sometimes the shift is for the better.

It's usual to say "Ulysses" by James Joyce all happens on June 16, 1906. By the end, really, we're in a new and different day.

"Ulysses" has many fine qualities, not least of which is it ends with a woman feeling very good. A woman feeling very good in the arms of her true love who is her husband.

Come home.