Scylla and Charybdis – Either or Neither?

Ulysses_LibraryWell after the slow plough through chapter eight I expected things could only get more difficult but I fair raced through chapter nine. Why that is I don’t know because I understood less of it than any other chapter! Okay so it finally dawned on me they were in a library and Stephen was giving of his opinions on Shakespeare with particular emphasis on Hamlet. Haines has been and gone apparently. Mulligan shows up late on and appears to be his usual self – lowering the tone with his clever twisting of every ‘serious’ subject into a juvenile gag. The wandering Jew they pass at the end of the chapter must be Bloom. Having missed nearly every allusion going in this chapter I think I at least got the main thrust of it (though I may even be wrong about that) if none of the subtlety. I assume there is some – never having read any Shakespeare.

You might have to let me once more into the deeper meaning of this episode. My most pressing question is I suppose – the answer to which I cannot glean for myself – is precisely how is Stephen’s theory of Shakespeare received? Are his friends impressed – if indeed they are his friends – I couldn’t altogether make out who he was talking to! Best and Eglinton? Was this talk idle or was there some point to it – any money in it for Stephen?

You might wonder at my reading? After all, there seems to be very little in it for me. I don’t know. There are enough people telling me the novel is irrelevant. That the stream of consciousness has been done to death and that although this was new at the time ‘the shock of the new’ hardly lasts that well. I mean Duchamp’s urinal is important – but I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about it! Well, though I accept my reading is not terribly deep it is at least honest. I’m never going to be a scholar of this material (unless I’m converted at the end) and I wonder what end those who do study it seek to find – the Higgs Boson perhaps! I’ll go on my way to see what I can see – and maybe it will only be a few surface jokes – and maybe that will be enough. When the characters in the library begin to speak in Shakespearian voices and the form transforms for a moment into that of a play, well even people who have never read the Bard can find that funny. I did.

4 thoughts on “Scylla and Charybdis – Either or Neither?

  1. The Stephen chapters are always particularly hard–his mind is an unforgiving place to hang out.

    I think it’s useful to remember that Stephen is still a young artist, trying to find his voice and an audience. There’s a moment early on in this chapter when Lyster mentions he’s going to a gathering of the great young literary talents of the city that night & asks AE (Russell) if he will be there. Stephen doesn’t seem to know anything about it, and was apparently not invited: “See this. Remember.” he says to himself. You can imagine a 22 year-old James Joyce saying the same thing on a warm afternoon in the National Library in June of 1904.

    On first reading, there’s no need to get too deeply into the “Scylla” and “Charybdis” sides of the Shakespeare argument, except to be aware that Stephen needs to steer clear of both of them in order to find his place as an artist.

    I think the men listening to Stephen in the library are somewhat amused and more than a little confounded by his “theory.” The parlor game of “which character is Shakespeare” was a very popular one at the time, and Stephen’s answer seems to be that he is all of them and none of them. One of my favorite passages in this chapter speaks to this: “Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.

    I think there’s more than a little ridicule here for all the interest in ‘where’s Shakespeare’ instead of where are *we* in Shakespeare’s plays… and I suppose there’s a warning there for readers of Ulysses too…

  2. Also interesting to see here is Stephen’s agile brain working over problems of paternity and how they reflect on his own sense of self. Stephen is, as most people agree, a reflection of Joyce himself as a young man. But he’s also a fully-realized fictional character and, as Mike notes in the quote above, we are given the chance to see some of the many facets of ourselves and our own fictional identities in the such well-established characters. For me, this chapter, like Aeolus, establishes how different Stephen is other Irish literary figures around him. He doesn’t fit somehow and he knows it. His heritage as an Irishman doesn’t define him any better than his family name.

    It is indeed Bloom who enters the last few scenes, Michael. He’s come to the library to escape the approach of Blazes Boylan (whom he saw coming down the street at the end of last chapter) and to get some visual reference for his “House of Keyes’ ad. Mulligan, seeing him out in the hall, mentions how he saw Bloom checking out the backsides of Greek statues. We know from Bloom’s earlier musings that this is to see if they have a detailed anus. He’s just letting his mind work things out in it’s own naively amusing way, thew perfect foil to Stephen’s mental gymnastic.

    So the importance of the cameo appearance by Bloom here is found right at the end. Standing where he does he parts Mulligan and Stephen as they come down the stairs. It’s an important moment that I’m looking very forward to illustrating. This explains much, but Joyce tells us little about it directly.

  3. I agree with Mike that the Stephen chapters are more difficult than the Bloom chapters and that there’s a warning there for readers of Ulysses not to look for Joyce in the work, but rather to look for that to which we, ourselves can relate. I think most great works of art will show the viewer as much about himself as about the artist, if not more. Although I picked up on that general idea in my first reading of the novel and really approached it that way from the beginning, I missed the clue to it in this chapter.

    As for the way Stephen’s theory is received: Remember that after he has made his presentation, John Eglinton says roundly to him, “You are a delusion…You have brought us all this way to show us a French triangle. Do you believe your own theory?” Without much hesitation, Stephen replies that he does not, to which Eglinton, with a smile says, “Well in that case…I don’t see why you should expect payment…”

  4. Thanks all. Josh – I don’t how I could miss it staring me in the face – but miss it I did. The sheer weight of text makes it easy to stumble past what you’re actually looking for!!! Keep picking up for me guys 🙂

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