Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

ulysses_gunkI forge ahead, but shortly after entering the forbidding jungle of meaning that is Chapter III, or part the third, or as I am reluctant to call it Proteus (I say reluctant as it seems the unnecessary addition of just one more word that escapes my understanding), I at last feel some sympathy for those who have indeed given up, lain down and expired on this Joycean journey.

Green Hell. I think it may be safe to say that everyone has a threshold for ‘this kind of thing’ and I can’t help feeling the desire for a sort of game-show type scenario (as at right) whereby readers are eliminated one by one. I myself have the uncomfortable feeling I’m about to take a short fall into the tank of gunge at any moment.

However, sheer meanness at the thought of wasting money prevents me from hurling the 1922 out of the nearest window. I am not a man to be defeated so easily. Well, not today anyway.

Did I not absorb the idea that Joyce was writing for the everyman. What a man the Everyman of 1922 must have been. A nation of Übermensch – something at least for a comicbook geek like be to appreciate – but I may be hopping back to Chapter one there.

proteus_beachProteus finds our hero Stephen Dedalus wandering along the beach. I think he’s wandering – he may actually be going somewhere, but where is lost on me right now. This wandering recreation allows him far too much time to think and God help us, we are privy to all those jumbled thoughts. Anyone unsure of how a stream of consciousness might actually read – well – here it is. I do believe it gets worse – or better depending on your tolerance. Not being afraid of seeming stupid I might hazard a guess as to the thoughts I partly recognise. Kind reader, please be aware that this a live show and I’m am not referring to any written notes – only mental ones. So Stephen is wandering the beach, and help me out here, but does he actually make a visit to some relatives, an uncle perhaps, or is that part just another of his thoughts and recollections – a memory perhaps. He does some somewhat troubled – very non-specific – these seem the thoughts that any creative might reasonably dwell upon while strolling beaches and observing live dogs pondering dead dogs.

Hard to put a percentage on how much of this is going over my head, but I find in the language an odd rhythm that keeps me going and every now then a word pops up or a phrase is repeated that makes me think I’m swimming to shore – just before I lose sight of it again. Thankfully, though having given up before the end, I read enough of Swift’s political satire to know what a Houyhnhnm is. Well, that’s one word at least. A tiny victory.

But just what is Stephen thinking about? It must be something like looking into a crystal ball for a phony gypsy. The mists are clearing. I see a birth. A couple of (old?) women. A miscarriage. A liaison in France. A watery death. There’s hardly enough understanding to make any kind of guess, so it looks like I’ll have to fall back on some questions. Whose birth? His own? What’s all this French about? Is he remembering time spent as a student abroad? Who is Kevin Egan – a friend or lover (I’d not spent any time thinking there might be any homosexual themes in the book – and there still might not be). What’s this book of letters? And this death. His father? Does this have anything to do with Mulligan who “saved men from drowning”? See – I am reading it! Not just pretending. There is more, much, much more.

I could extrapolate all kinds of stories from this material, but instead I’ll keep it floating. I won’t go by myself down any one path, but keep it all in mind for the next chapter, which, I’m sure will only confuse me even more. At any rate the text indicates a break before part II. I’m three chapters in and I’m still positive I’ll get something out of it – don’t anyone crush my hopes, OK?


7 thoughts on “Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

  1. Man, I’ve been waiting for this chapter to come up in your journey. This is the one that makes most people throw the book out the window. The real hurdle. Well done, Michael. You’ve cleared it.

    I’ll let some of the others pipe in first about your questions, but that metaphor about swimming and occasionally spotting dry land is right on.

    As for homosexual themes, well, yes I find them present in these first three chapters with Stephen, though its more a fear of tendency toward homosexuality that he grapples with. That’s one of the reasons I made Mulligan’s gestures so broad in the comic.

    I’ve always wondered, do readers think Mulligan is gay?

  2. Being gay myself, I’ve always pondered the question about gay threads in Ulysses. The clearest mention of such is when Mulligan tells Stephen, on leaving I think the National Library later in the book, that Bloom has his lustful eyes on Stephen. Some critics have suggested that Mulligan is an Oscar Wilde figure. Certainly there is little to show that Bloom’s interest in Stephen is a sexual one. Joyce himself was considered to be unsympathetic to the homosexual though the pansexual Circe episode might suggest his openness to all kinds of sexual possibilities. I may want to write more on this when I am back in New York where I have a few notes and references. Certainly Ulysses is able to sustain a wide variety of different interpretations, though gay elements are hard to find and I find it difficult to pin down with clear references in the book.

  3. Stephen Fry is a fun casting choice for Mulligan.

    (I love playing the casting game by the way, so if anyone else has any ideas for characters, please, send them in. Somehow Haines wound up a strange cross between Stephen Colbert and DENNIS THE MENACE’s Dad!)

    On the gay thing;

    Frank’s got some interesting points here and i probably should clarify take on it a bit more. Gogarty, Mulligan’s real-life model, was not, to my knowledge at least, an “Oscar Wilde figure” of an openly gay author from the time. Mulligan is, after all, a fictional character meant mostly as a foil to Stephen and his real-life antecedent has little to do with the relationship between the two men as it stands within the fiction.

    But the homosexual fear/attraction that Stephen shows in PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN toward Cranly comes up again when Mulligan takes his arm in the first chapter (page 18 in the comic) with “Cranly’s arm. His arm.” and that Clive Kempthorpe scene.

    Stephen is a fearful man and fear of a potential proclivity to homosexuality is only one of his many inner fears. Broadening some of Mulligan’s gestures in the comic was important to me as I hoped it might make this particular fear of Stephen’s more obvious for modern and first-time readers. Whether Mulligan is gay or not isn’t any more important than whether or not Gogarty was. What’s important is how we read Stephen’s reaction to Mulligan as part of a homosexual fear.

    But Wilde is another great example of what it is that is really standing between these two men, what Stephen really fears in his relationship to Mulligan. Mulligan, particularly in chapter one, is a performer. The kind of wit and intellect who wastes his talents on being the brightest light in the room. He’s vain and clownish, but the wit of his responses evidence a deeper mind at work busily seeking the spotlight rather than real illumination.

    I think that’s what Stephen fears most in Mulligan and it translates to homosexuality; he’s afraid of becoming the same as Mulligan, a vain clown rather than the real artist he set out from Dublin to become.

  4. There’s much to be gained by parsing out Stephen’s thoughts about Aristotle, perception, the early heretics, etc. etc., but it may be enough to bracket the whole chapter by saying that this is what goes through Stephen’s head when he walks down the beach. What goes through your head when you walk down a beach? If you take a step back from trying to figure out what exactly Stephen is saying, you see a young man whose mind is racing through all kinds of disparate an arcane subjects… what is he avoiding? what would help organize his thoughts? what is he trying to do? His attempts to write a poem give him a way of starting to organize his thoughts, but it doesn’t seem like a promising start. In this chapter,I see Stephen as a young man who knows everything and wants to be a writer, but is grounded by nothing and has not yet found a true subject, so all his knowledge just swarms around…

  5. Check out the following article by Russell McDonald:


    entitled “Who speaks for Fergus? Silence, homophobia and the anxiety of Yeatsian influence in Joyce.

    Also, nice article by Matthew Schultz on Joyce’s Exiles and more…


    And finally, more difficult to acquire:

    The “Unhappy Mania” and Mr. Bloom’s Cigar: Homosexuality in the Works of James Joyce
    David Norris
    James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3, Joyce and Homosexuality (Spring, 1994), pp. 357-373
    (article consists of 17 pages)
    Published by: University of Tulsa
    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25473572

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