The Laestrygonians (Second Attempt Accepted)

Ulysses_OConnellPhew! This was a toughie as described previously. Chiefly because the ‘real’ narrative only kicks in halfway through – the first part concerned with Leopold’s internal ramblings and musing on subjects diverse! So for the first part we are taken along with Leo on a walk around the city looking for some lunchtime sustenance. I think we’re all too familiar with Mr Bloom’s quirky fondness for food and the resultant action upon his system. We won’t be disappointed here. But that’s ahead of us. First we have to ponder the what and the why as to his train of thoughts for the first sixteen or so pages of Laestrygonians.

So we kick off we Leopold taking hold of a religious leaflet thrust into his hand. This somehow leads onto to the strange bluey-green sheen to be seen on fresh fish. I’ve always wondered about the fish but have never bothered to ask or find out what it was! Quickly we get to something that has thrown me before when Leopold spies the daughter of Simon Dedalus outside the auction rooms. I’ve never been very good at family trees so you’ll forgive if I make a stab at saying this must be Stephen’s sister then. Our pedestrian also recalls she is one of fifteen children and from a broken home. I’m guessing here, but is Stephen’s situation going to be drawn out over the full length of the book with the reader left to piece the full story together only at the very end? Ouch!

Next we have a stretch on alcohol and brewery rats. Shout out out if I miss anything significant won’t you? Then we get a little scene as Leo stops to feed the birds. First off he crumples up a ball of paper to see if it will fool the birds into thinking it is food. He is surprised by their response and rewards then with some real food. I am the only one who has tried precisely that at some point. I’m feel there is some kind of link back here to the children Stephen teaches. The same gentle and generous kindness – perhaps that’s just me, but are we supposed to link Leopold and Stephen in this way – as kindred spirits? Forgive my wild guesses.

Something that sparks my imagination while reading Leopold’s thoughts is how he is constantly on the look-out for and appraising advertisements that cross his path. Being a designer myself it just stands out as a natural way to think. I don’t know what it all means but I’ve not read any character before who had thoughts I could so easily share. It makes for a great contradiction – that it should be so difficult to read while still feeling you are receiving so much useful information. I’m not talking about ideas of social and political history of course – as these still whiz over my head. I’m talking about some sort of creeping emotion that somehow works through to you from between the words.

Moving on with his thoughts we get some stuff about Molly I think! Or maybe some previous love. Not sure, but then he bumps into Mrs Breen and we get some conversation in the real world thankfully. That seems fairly straightforward apart from the significance of the letters U and P?

Ulysses_VictoriaWe get another repeat of “I do not like that other world” and an allusion to how he might have come into correspondence with Martha. There’s some fairly inexplicable stuff after that – sss dth dth dth! Which ends with a gag about Queen Victoria being a good layer. Then there are some birds who take flight with Leopold projecting on them – “Who will we do it on now?” So once more Leopold is concern with all things at both ends if you get my drift. That seems to be a popular theme throughout the book.

After that some deeper political stuff which I’d probably have to read up on to make any sense of. Who are these Purefoys that are mentioned. Have I come across those already somewhere? Then there’s the octopus with two heads – a quick thought or two about vegetarianism – and another mention of Rudy. Phew – indeed!

So then we come to the first eating establishment which proves too bloody and crowded at which point Leo tries and fails to formulate a witticism without much success. He abandons the idea of eating at the Burton and hastens to Davy Byrne’s which is altogether more conducive to the quiet meal he had in mind. Here the only company he has to suffer while he partakes of his sandwiches is Nosey Flynn and the ever-dangling dewdrop about to fall from the end of his nose.

Ulysses_DavyBDuring the light-hearted banter Bloom’s mind wanders again. There’s a odd mention of a ‘Dubedat’ somewhere that brings to my mind alone probably the Shavian character from The Doctor’s Dilemma. Also I seem to recognise at last the Kate Bush reference from her album The Sensual World. Odd how these things stick or pass you by unnoticed. Then, rather jarringly, Bloom gets up to go for a pee (too much information on that) and whereas we were inside his head we are now suddenly disembodied. Some other characters arrive and we learn more about Bloom without his actual presence! I’m not sure what it is “he will never do” though – write a cheque?

Anyhow we’re soon re-inhabiting Bloom’s head as he leaves. Towards the end now Bloom helps a blind man across the road, we also get a reference to the day itself – the 16th, and then he seems to want to avoid someone – though again I’m not sure who!!!

All-in-all a tough read that doesn’t seem to advance the book much further in real terms. In character terms perhaps a bit more. I’ll let you tell me if this chapter is an aside or critical to the whole and take your word for it. I’ve got have a lie down now!


11 thoughts on “The Laestrygonians (Second Attempt Accepted)

  1. Okay, people. We’ve seen this before. Our poor first-timer Michael is foundering in the wild seas of the novel’s changes in perspective. Help him out. He’s getting quite a lot of the best jokes but the connections are eluding him. he’ll never make it through “Wandering Rocks” without some fundamental grounding and a course to set. C’mon! “Ireland expects that every man this day will do his duty.”

    Here’s some stuff that might help;

    -You’re avoiding other background material, Michael, which is noble but hazardous. The novel was, after all, written by a very smart man who spoke multiple languages and lived in a number of very cosmopolitan cities quite some time ago. There are numerous allusions that such a man of that age might have found entertaining to catch fragments of, but today’s first reader won’t have a clue about. There’s something truly, irrevocably “pop art” about Joyce in that he captures a moment in public consciousness and both glorifies it and disparages it in the same breath. His sense of condemnation is, often, linked to an understanding of history and literature that most of today’s readers cannot hope to follow without a guidebook.

    -The “Lestrygonians” that give this chapter (episode) it’s popular name were giant cannibals who lured Odysseus and his crew into a seemingly safe harbor. The chapter is a peek-beneath-the-veneer of Dublin cityfolk in a way that’s really meant to hit them where they live; on the streets and in the public eating houses. Bloom is introduced to us chapters ago as a man who “relishes the inner organs of beasts and fowls.” By the time he gets to see, really see, the behavior of people around him, he decides to become a vegetarian and just have a gorgonzola sandwich.

    -Most of the chapter, even in its first wanderings, deals with food and the sensual quality of taste. Almost every descriptive passage and memory has food or the sense of taste attached to it. For the purposes of this chapter “we are what we eat” and, midway through, what we are repulses Bloom more than a little. He’s heroic for even seeming to notice.

    -We will never know the full details of Stephen’s life in the same way we’re going to come to know Bloom’s, but even that is going to take the duration of the novel. No story worth telling, or so Joyce seems to say, is worth knowing before the end. There’s endless new wrinkles in the information provided and the idea is, this crazy idea of parallax being driven into a seemingly familiar story, the idea is that you might always learn more. The simplest seeming and most ordinary man on the street has more complexity than the characters we normally encounter in fiction of Joyce’s day. Stephen’s sisters are a great puzzle in understanding what a selfish bastard he can be. Much more on them later.

    Okay. That’s a start. I’m off to rally the troops. if you’re sitting out there reading this (yes, you!) and you’re not responding to Michael’s questions you’re missing out on a great opportunity to help someone really enjoy the novel. He’s foundering. Should we just watch him go down like so many first time readers before him, or is this the chance to get in there and help a blind stripling across the street?

  2. See, that’s what I love about this book. There’s always something new in there.

    Thanks, Stevie, I’d forgotten about the “corpse of milk” passage in relationship to this. Very cool considering Bloom’s thoughts about the milk from Molly’s breast in his morning’s tea. So the gorgonzola is the fetid husk of her sweet flowing bosom? Hmmn. That’ll be fun to draw.

  3. I would love to hear some of your ideas re: the seedcake flashback, Stevie, as I’m sure others would, as well. Please feel free to share them, if you’re comfortable doing so.

  4. You haven’t run across the hospitalized Mina Purefoy yet, but you will when you get to “Oxen Of The Sun”. This mention of her is setting that up…

    As for the U.P., which will come up again, it’s remained a bit of a puzzle. Some think it could be the mystery perpetrator’s way of razzing Dennis Breen about erectile dysfunction. I think it could possibly be even more juvenile – a urination joke, perhaps?

  5. Hi Michael, I love reading your blog posts about Ulysses because you often notice odd things that I’ve missed and you have an artist’s eye like Joyce did. I admire your candour too, there are too many people out there who don’t seem able to admit that this is a very difficult book.
    Anyway, you might find my blog post about this helpful, because I’m an amateur too. See I agree with Rob – using some background stuff is a good idea if you really want to make sense of this book. I’m not reading Ulysses for a term paper or academic study so I don’t want to invest hours of my time in extra reading but – while I like to read the chapter by myself first – I then tackle making sense of the confusing bits by reading the (really brief) Carlin & Evans chapter guide and if something still baffles me after that (like the UP) I’ll trawl through Cliff Notes too, or Wandering Rocks. (All these link are on my blog post).
    We’re on to Chapter 9 together Michael!
    Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers

  6. I just had a chance to check out your blogsite, Lisa. Great stuff going on there, folks, with a more in-depth description of what’s happening in each chapter. Now that you and Michael seem to be running up to the same point in the book, we’ll try to link to your site a bit more with questions.

    It’s a hard, hard book, people, but its so very worth it when we can help others to see how it all plays out.

  7. I too enjoy your Blog very much indeed, though due to the nature of my experiment I have to read it ‘after the event’ as it were. It is a very clear and pleasant read and a valuable resource for anyone attempting the book themselves. I think my experiment is less useful in that regard but it interests me and so I hope will interest others in some small way also. Your comments on this chapter in fact make me think even more about the ‘religious’ nature of the text. Are we not in fact reading something fairly impenetrable that then has to be interpreted by those in the know – the priests, the rabbis, the imams. I have little respect or trust for this kind of ‘learned’ thinking so why should I ‘believe’ in this church of scholars any more than the last bunch of charlatans. My father was a Shavian and he always said “read my plays” meaning that if you wanted to know anything about Shaw the only reference worth looking at were the plays themselves. “The play is the thing” I think.

  8. I completely agree on the idea of reading the original text itself, Michael, and being distrustful of work of art that requires professional explanation to qualify its worth.

    But in the case of some works of art, particularly one’s which draw upon cultural idioms of their day, knowing the context is important to understanding the work.

    ULYSSES is very much a work made up of the context of its day; the urban environment of a modern city at the start of the last century. The portrait it gives us of this environment relies on some of the allusions being familiar to the reader but the world has changed very much since then. My wife often compares it to WAYNE’S WORLD; the movie is hilarious, but if you didn’t grow up in the late ’70’s or early ’80’s in America then most of the jokes won’t make sense.

    I don’t think you, or any first time reader, should go so deep into research as to consult major rabbis like Gifford and his annotated guide or even need a Sparknotes assessment of each chapter. My own work in doing the comic is aimed that idea of seeing the events of the novel “acted out” so readers might better understand the movements of characters and the shifts in narration and viewpoint. But the hard work of novel is understanding the world of Joyce’s day, the pop culture that he’s referencing, and that’s really hard for readers living ninety years later. Very few people today are going to get a joke about misquoting Don Giovanni.

    Fortunately, we’ve got Mike Barsanti for that kind of stuff.

  9. I watched radio comedian Fred Allen in the movie “It’s in the Bag” (1945)on TV the other day and it contains many jokes whose meaning is entirely centred in the period. It’s rarely shown and hilarious for anyone steeped in the pop culture of the time (as I am) but decidely unfunny for everyone else. Does that make it a bad film or a good film? Shall I pick apart the references therein? Would anyone be enlightened? Would it become great art? No. It is the Wayne’s World of 1945 nothing more.

    Political and pop culture comedy doesn’t last or travel that well and if that’s all we’re likely to find inside the book Ulysses I’d say I was wasting my time. However in order to last it must have something within beyond those pop culture references which are now puzzles – something that lasts. It is that something I am looking for. Someone somewhere once said there is no such thing as modern art. If it speaks to us now – it IS modern art, no matter how long ago it was made. So where is the thing that speaks to us now … or are we just archeologists picking through dead dry bones?

    The pop culture puzzles and jokes are not enough. The complexity and structure in itself dull. A scale model of the Brooklyn Bridge made entirely of matchsticks is complex and structural. So the something else then is the art.

  10. Oh, I think there’s plenty of “something else” in ULYSSES, Michael, and that it isn’t too hard to find. The language is certainly beautiful enough that if all your looking for is the attractiveness of well-crafted words you’ll find it on nearly every one of these 700 pages.

    But this makes for a tricky argument because it merges notions of beauty and attraction to an audience into the discussion of “what makes it art?”. The comment “if it speaks to us now- it IS modern art” is loaded with many of the problems found in separating or qualifying art through a set of specific and contemporary (or current) standards;
    -“How many people must it speak to?”
    -“Is there an elite group of deciders on art or is it popular opinion?”
    -“If it spoke to one generation or group, but fails to reach another is it no longer art?”
    -“Or is it no longer Modern?”

    These are the kind of questions of the nature, purpose and effectiveness of art and it’s ability to connect to living society that made the precepts of “Modernism” tumble like a house-of-cards and Joyce, there at the start of it all, raised them himself within the pages of this novel.

    I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that the puzzles nor the lushness of language are enough. As a fan of paintings, I’m seldom overwhelmed by the art of how unusually shaped a canvas is nor the smoothness of the paints application because, as a painter, I know that neither of these things is enough. It’s not enough to be clever or skillful in art, to out-think your audience or to stun them with the things you can do that they cannot. That’s the work of academics and sports figure and it’s only occasionally that that kind of work is art in itself.

    Art, like the kind that we find in Joyce, art that exceeds it’s own cleverness and skill to give new readers fresh challenges and wake up their thinking, often endures beyond its timeliness. But there’s so much more it can give us when time is taken to see it in it’s original context.

    Oh. And Fred Allen is ALWAYS funny enough to make those old-time references worth looking into.

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