Episode 5: The Lotus Eaters

A few brief bits of housekeeping before we get going: first, I have back-linked all the episodes of

Datura.

Datura.

Ulysses so far commented upon to the introductory blog post, which will now also serve as an index. It can be viewed here. Also, in many cases I have made some small tweaks to the writing to make the style slightly less bombastic or grandiloquent or I guess casual and more something my MA advisor wouldn’t have shaken his head at and dismissed out of hand. Still not perfect. Oh well. Also, for those of you who are sick of Ulysses, I should have another comic ready to go soon. The summer sabbatical was nice, but I am starting to feel like drawing again. Hooray? Also, you might have noticed that I moved all The Joy of Fishes-related links to this page. Just a reminder, if you read it, please consider reviewing it on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you!

And now, Ulysses. Enjoy.


This section of Ulysses, “The Lotus Eaters,” takes its name from an episode in the Odyssey referred to somewhat briefly in chapter IX of Homer’s text. Odysseus and his men land on an island to get fresh water and food. Odysseus sends a few men into town to see what’s up. It turns out everyone on the island eats lotuses, and the lotuses are so delicious that once you taste them, you don’t want to do anything else but lie around eating lotuses all day. (Please make your own joke about the 1960s here.) Odysseus marches his men back onto the boat and gets out of there tout de suite.

In their 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” which happens to also be an adaptation of the Odyssey, the Coen brothers used the episode of the Lotus Eaters to refer to religion—specifically, as our heroes are wandering through the countryside, they come across a long line of (somewhat stoned- or hypnotized-looking) people dressed in white, waiting in line to be baptized.

Not coincidentally, although almost certainly unrelated to the Coen bros, this episode of Ulysses has a lot of religion in it. In fact, the whole book has a lot of religion—it’s set in Ireland, after all, a place where divorce was illegal until 1996[1] because of the influence of the Catholic church. But if you are about to quote Marx’s quip about religion being the opiate of the people and think we’re done, think again. This is Joyce—nothing is so uncomplicated.

In the first episode (Telemachus), we saw several different ideas about religion. Stephen, called a “fearful Jesuit” by Buck Mulligan, seems to believe in a deity he is unwilling to worship. Like Lucifer[2], at the end of Portrait, we get this scene between Stephen and his friend Cranly:

After a pause Cranly asked:
—What age is your mother?
—Not old, Stephen said. She wishes me to make my easter duty.[3]
—And will you?
—I will not, Stephen said.
—Why not? Cranly said.
—I will not serve, answered Stephen.
—That remark was made before, Cranly said calmly.
—It is made behind now, said Stephen hotly. (Portrait, 259–60)

Stephen claims that he “neither believe[s] in [the eucharist] nor disbelieve in it” (Ibid.), but his stance in Ulysses is a bit less equivocal, telling Haines, “You behold in me . . . a horrible example of free thought” (1.625–6). “Free thought” meaning “thought free from the dictates of ‘Christian revelation’ “ (Gifford 24). He is quite firm on this point, to the extent that he is unwilling to take communion to appease his dying mother. But as much as he makes these claims, he’s still very much in the grip of religion, seeing himself as well as “a servant of two masters . . . an English and an Italian. . . . The imperial British state . . . and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church” (1.638–43). In fact, like Lucifer whom he quotes, Stephen is defined by religion and God, regardless of the latter’s existence; his desire to disobey the church brings him into much more strife than simply not caring about religion would—compare his refusal to take communion to appease his dying mother versus Bloom’s relaxing through a church service he doesn’t particularly understand or care to learn about.

In the first episode we also see Haines, who “couldn’t stomach that idea of a personal God. . .” (1.623), and Buck Mulligan, who is an irreverent medical student (as I already quoted, his feelings about death are put to Stephen like this: “And what is death . . . your mother’s or yours or my own? You saw only your mother die. I see them pop off every day in the Mater and Richmond and cut up into tripes in the dissectingroom. It’s a beastly thing and nothing else” (1.4–6)).

Finally we get to Mr Leopold Bloom. His attitude towards religion seems to stand somewhere between irreverence and ignorance.[4] For example, it is difficult to know whether or not he is joking when, watching a service, he muses, “Letters on his [the priest’s] back: I.N.R.I? No: I.H.S. Molly told me one time I asked her. I have sinned: or no: I have suffered, it is. And the other one? Iron nails ran in” (5.372–74). Similarly, he attributes the use of wine during the Eucharist ceremony to it being “more aristocratic than for example if he drank what they [the parishioners] are used to Guinness’s porter or some temperance beverage. . .” (5.387). During the mass he thinks of sex: perhaps he will meet Martha “one Sunday after the rosary” (5.375); imagines the priest murmuring to the communicants “Shut your eyes and open your mouth” (5.349–50); considers the confession process as a sadomasochistic ritual in which the confessor asks the priest to “punish me, please” (5.426); and imagines a woman confessing her infidelity (5.427–32). It should be noted that Bloom actually proposes the idea of the mass as an opiate during this section: “Good idea the Latin. Stupefies them first” (5.350–51) and sees the communicants as walking with “blind masks” (5.353) to take communion.[5]

What does this add up to? For Stephen (and probably for Mulligan, whose “Ballad of Joking Jesus” is showcased in several sections), religion is a source of creative energy if not comfort. For Bloom, it’s a source of mild interest. For none of them is it actually a sedative or distraction from the true woes of the world. But perhaps other things are—for example, Bloom ignores the gravity of the service to think about sex. While walking, he meets M’Coy, who is so wrapped up in preparing for a trip to the races that he will miss Paddy Dignam’s funeral (5.169–73). In another scene, Bloom calculates the amount of porter a local businessman must have sold in order to make a million pounds (answer: about 15 million gallons)—a lot of porter, and another common addiction (5.304–12). Bloom muses on drugs as well—cigars have “a cooling effect. Narcotic” (5.272), and the Chinese might prefer “an ounce of opium” (5.327) to learning about Christianity. All these things (sex, drugs, gambling) are in our modern time are commonly understood as things that one can become addicted to, which is to say that they can certainly be so distracting as to take one away from the duties of one’s life.

The message here is difficult to tease out, and of course different readers will draw different conclusions. Is Joyce suggesting that religion is problematic, but other things are problematic too? That “worldly” things like sex and gambling prove more of an opiate than religion? That somehow the removal of a deity from religion causes it to become one more distraction like any other? Any of the nice moral summaries I come up with sound pat, and I’m not convinced that Joyce actually believed any of them, since he notoriously indulged in both drink and sex himself (see for example Chiasson 2014). Ultimately there’s not an easy answer here, perhaps because there’s no author trying to pass judgment—although I’ve used the word “addiction” in the preceding paragraph, Joyce wouldn’t have, even were he alive today. This is just life—sometimes some things blind us to other things that are going on; preoccupied, we find ourselves unable to interact with every encounter the way that we should. In other words, perhaps everyone is an eater of lotuses.[6]

Notes

[1] As noted by (I’m sorry) Christopher Hitchens, the repeal of this law was opposed by, among others, Mother Theresa herself. (He noted this in several places; see for example his letter to the New York Review of Books here.) Also, I note from her Wikipedia page that she is now The Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, M.C., which is annoying because she’s from Macedonia.

[2] I’m not prepared to walk you through the mythology here. I suggest a reading of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It’s a good book. Or, the relevant reference, as summarized in Portrait:

Lucifer, we are told, was a son of the morning, a radiant and mighty angel; yet he fell: he fell and there fell with him a third part of the host of heaven: he fell and was hurled with his rebellious angels into hell. What his sin was we cannot say. Theologians consider that it was the sin of pride, the sinful thought conceived in an instant: non serviam: I will not serve. That instant was his ruin. (126)

[3] “Easter duty” refers to “the obligation to receive Holy Communion at least at Easter time . . .” (Catholic Essentials website, quoting “A Catholic Dictionary, 1951”; link below). Receiving communion requires that one have confessed first as well, so Stephen’s mother is essentially requesting him to go through the whole ceremonial shebang. See http://catholicessentials.net/easterduty.htm.

[4] Bloom later comments that Christianity is “more interesting if you understood what it was all about” (5.423–24). It’s hard to know how to take the INRI remarks in view of this.

[5] It’s worth pointing out that Bloom’s attitude towards Judaism is typically more reverent—and tinged with remembrances of his father. See for example 7.206–13: “Poor papa with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his finger to me. Pessach. Next year in Jerusalem. Dear, O dear! All that long business about that brought us out of the land of Egypt and into the house of bondage Alleluia. Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu. No, that’s the other. Then the twelve brothers, Jacob’s sons. And then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher. And then the angel of death kills the butcher and he kills the ox and the dog kills the cat. Sounds a bit silly till you come to look into it well. Justice it means but it’s everybody eating everyone else. That’s what life is after all.” Sharp readers will note this is as slightly wrong as the earlier INRI (it’s not “into the house of bondage”), which certainly leads to more questions. However, the topic of Bloom’s (putative) Judaism exceeds this essay, so I will return to it at a later time.

[6] Having spent my past week hanging out with a bunch of actors, I feel pressed to add something about the performativity of the mass scene—the way in which the priest seems to be moving through a series of steps (suggested by him reading things off cards and the like) rather than truly engaged in the service. So, too, one could ask if the predictable actions of the parishioners are meant to suggest members of an audience, or even of a Greek chorus, performing some kind of specific role. But no space for that here. Perhaps another time.

References

Catholic Essentials. “Easter Duty.” 2008. http://catholicessentials.net/easterduty.htm.

Chiasson, Dan. “ ‘Ulysses’ and the Moral Right to Pleasure.” The New Yorker, 16 June 2014: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/ulysses-and-the-moral-right-to-pleasure.

Hitchens, Christopher. “Mother Theresa.” The New York Review of Books, 19 December 1996: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1996/dec/19/mother-teresa/.

Joyce, James. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Seamus Deane. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

Mankind is Something to be Overcome: A Review of Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer poster. Via.

Somewhat to my surprise, since I’d already seen a movie this year, I found myself seeing Snowpiercer this past weekend. I am still not sure what to make of it; it’s a hodge-podge. The film is based on a French comic book (Le Transpierceneige, created by Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand), directed by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, produced by Korean producer Park Chan-wook, (among others), filmed in a studio in the Czech Republic with glacial shots done in Austria, starring a cast of mostly quite famous American and British actors with a few Korean faces thrown in for good measure—names you might recognize include Chris Evans[0], Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and John Hurt. If you’re into Korean films, you’ll recognize some of those actors as well–Song Kang-ho is kind of a big deal. Or if you’re face blind it will all be kind of a weird mishmash to you. Sorry.

Let’s go to the synopsis. Warning, this review contains spoilers for basically every major plot point.

The film kicks off in the rearmost compartment of a train. Following an attempt to stop global warming around 2014, the last remnants of humanity are crammed onto a high-speed train that circles the globe at a rate of once per year. After eighteen years of this, Curtis (Evans) has had enough; after watching an unidentified woman in a yellow jacket take two of the tail car’s children for unknown purposes, he decides it is time to launch a revolution. Accompanied by his gang of misfits, including an 18-year old kid named Edgar[1], an old man with only one arm and one leg named Gilliam, an angry black woman named Tanya (mother to one of the taken children, Timmy), a sad and wild-haired man named Andrew who has one arm (father to the other taken kid), and a sassy tattooed martial artist called Grey, they kill a bunch of the guards and manage to burst into the prison car where they release Namgoong Minsoo, designer of the locks on the train car doors. They offer him drugs (a solid industrial waste product called Kronol) in exchange for him opening the doors on the way to the engine.

As an aside, it seems weird to have a) have the prison car between the tail and the rest of the train, and b) have the guy who designed the locks in prison. If the prisoners are all in suspended animation, it’s a shorter trip for the guards if the “economy class” car is before the prison. And wouldn’t you want to keep the lock designer happy to prevent him doing EXACTLY WHAT HE IS ABOUT TO DO?

Anyway, Namgoong lets his daughter (Yona) out of another cell and they agree to head for the front of the train, although Namgoong makes it clear that this isn’t his first choice. A few cars later, after discovering what goes into the protein blocks (hint: not the stolen children, as I initially assumed), they get into a long and bloody battle with axe-wielding guards in scary knit balaclavas. The cinematography here is really great—the train goes through a tunnel, giving the director an excuse to shoot in “night vision” as well as regular light, and the fight choreography is similar to the hammer scene from Oldboy.[2] At the end of the fight, Curtis chooses to let Edgar die in order to capture Minister Mason, who is apparently the only government official on the train and who acts as a go-between from “the people” to Wilford (the engineer/train owner). There are several interesting set pieces as they continue to advance up the train, but I don’t really want to summarize everything. The short version is that it is repeatedly impressed upon them that the train is a closed ecosystem—like the biosphere experiment—and balance must be maintained. A bunch of Cutris’s friends die, because that’s what happens in ensemble films with multi-racial casts. And then, just like that, the survivors (Curtis, Namgoong, and Yona) are outside Wilford’s (played by the amazing/creepy Ed Harris) door.

Let’s talk about Wilford for a minute. His name is very interesting to me—a combination of “will,” which brings to mind all kinds of Nietzschean imagery (the will to power, i.e. Nietzsche’s conception of ambition, whatever it is that drives humans to be all they can be), and “Ford,” which brings us around to “Fordism,” which is either a clever way of expanding the market for your product by bringing your workers into the middle class or a truly diabolical way to keep your workers impoverished by encouraging them to buy the very product that they’re making (further separating them from the means of production as you go) and convincing them it’s all their idea.[3] Having become an overman[4], Wilford is not interested (as Zarathustara was) in educating the people about overcoming man (or Christianity, I guess). Instead, Wilford has recreated the world within the train, and it’s a peculiarly Calvinist one he’s come up with. As has been reinforced throughout the film, people are born into a role and remain there until they die.[5] Everything that happens on the train is essentially under his absolute control.

At this point, the revelation that Curtis’s little revolution was stage-managed by Wilford should come as no surprise to the viewer. Curtis gets, in a short span of time, offered the opportunity to take over for Wilford (because he’s also an overman, I guess, or because Wilford likes the cut of Curtis’s jib or something), and he finds out what has happened to the missing children (hint: the train is running out of pieces). The camera pulls back a bit and gives Chris Evans a chance to really ACT. Curtis has eaten babies, seen his friends die, seen children put into small compartments to perform questionable feats of engineering. . . it has been a rough couple of days. And then, suddenly, we are reminded that Namgoong and his daughter are still in the hall outside Wilford’s room, and Namgoong is planning to use the Kronol to blow a hole in the side of the train to escape through.[6]

So here we have a choice presented to our hero. Side with the power, the authority, the DEITY of the train, or side with the tiny, crazy, chaotic element against the authority and all it stands for. On the one hand, a dictatorship is not a great way to live, but they are surviving under Wilford’s leadership, and arguably his choices are. . . at least somewhat necessary. On the other hand, they’re not really living, sitting in darkened bunks day after day as the world clicks by under their feet—the world they inhabit is not one that affords them access to the full spectrum of human emotions and experiences.[7] And—well, live free or die hard, baby.

Curtis of course makes the choice to choose anarchy instead of autocracy, and he and Namgoong huddle together to protect Yuna and Timmy (remember Timmy?) from the explosion. The train derails, killing (probably) everyone except the kids.[8] A few minutes later, we see Yuna and Timmy regain consciousness and step out into the snow, where they see. . . a polar bear, proof that life has, as Ian Malcolm put it, found a way.

Act, Chris, act! Earn that Oscar nod! Via.

Aside from the fact that if you are seventeen years old and have lived on a train all your life, you are probably unprepared to deal with the realities of meeting a polar bear in the wild, what does this ending actually suggest to us? Of course, opposing autocracy is portrayed as a brave and bold move, but the result is not so much anarchy or freedom as desolation. Even if the earth is now inhabitable again, two people do not a gene pool make. And of course the actions of the anarchists may have in some limited sense have aided a few people, but Curtis and Namgoong just killed an awful lot of people who were not given a vote on what they’d like to see happen. In a certain (utilitarian) sense, choosing autocracy here is really the better choice, since after becoming leader, Curtis could have made more controlled decisions to bring a more democratic system of government to the train, and even an end to the train ride.

Of course, fuck utilitarians, am I right? Philosophically speaking, the choice is really supposed to be a non-starter. Choose autocracy and you lose your humanity but keep your life; choose anarchy and you die a human death, because is there anything more human than one man standing alone against an incredible power that will totally kill him at the end of the act?[9]

One other way that the choice can be viewed is as a rejection of Calvinism and a turn towards Sartre’s theory of radical freedom. While Wilford’s world contains within it the imputation that all the inhumane stuff—the eating babies, killing people to maintain a balance in the environment, the protein blocks, the general terribleness—is all justified because that’s the way the world is. You are either elect (first class) or not elect (coach), and that’s your place in the world forever and ever amen, and then whatever baby eating you have to do is pre-ordained and therefore doesn’t affect you getting into heaven. On the other hand, Sartre saw freedom as an integral part of humanity, and, as the man says, “existence comes before essence” (itals. in original, Sartre, 1946). That is a fancy way of saying that by exercising choice, man creates himself, his life, his personage, his. . . destiny seems like an inappropriate word, so let’s say his life. Curtis, having been borne though the train like a leaf on a stream is now, finally, able to make one true choice. Perhaps the first choice of his life.

What I was really struck by was the total uselessness of it all. The civilization of the train, if you can call it that, doesn’t give any reasons why human beings are worth saving at all. At best, they are a summary of the terrible, petty, terrified parts of human nature, all huddled together in a desperate attempt to survive, going nowhere fast. Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Cosmos, but what really is the point of human survival? Ultimately it means nothing; the sun will go nova in a billion years and nothing of us will remain.
Let me put it another way. I have a dear friend who once told me she found that thought comforting—no matter how badly humans fuck up the planet, fuck up each other, in the longest of long runs, it’s totally irrelevant. Saving my own incredibly present fear of death, I can see her point. Watching this film, I was reminded of the futility of the struggle, and found myself asking, “Why wait?”

Was it a good film? I don’t know. You should see it though. Unless you just read my review, in which case I totally spoiled the ending for you. Sorry about that.[10]

Notes

[0] He was in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which I think I actually saw. Here, he’s made up in the way that Hollywood makes up very attractive men to be somewhat grubby and broody, so you know it’s a Serious Film with Thinking and Implications and whatnot.

[1] It is a little disconcerting to hear that name on the screen, when everyone knows that Edgar is the big black mop of a dog who is currently sleeping on the floor behind me as I write this.

[2] The original Oldboy, not the pointless American remake.

[3] Like many things, it depends on who you ask. What Ford (or Freud, as he occasionally allowed himself to be called) actually did was pay his workers enough that they could buy the cars they were producing.

[4] Alternative translations are a bit loaded—Superman or Übermensch. Smooth rhetoric aside, I do think that from the way the character is portrayed and from a lot of little details I don’t have space to discuss, we are meant to understand him as an overman. However, beyond that, he didn’t get the name by accident, you know?

[5] And then what? Not covered in the film. Presumably fed to the fish.

[6] There is of course debate about whether or not the endless winter has settled down enough for this to be a tenable plan. Namgoong claims that a plane wreck he has been looking at is increasingly uncovered each year—apparently there are no climate scientists onboard who might confirm or deny this assertion. Having lived through many a Wisconsin winter, I can say I sided with Namgoong, but also he could have found a better place to put his plan into action than when cruising through the mountains.

[7] It does give them the opportunity to eat things like babies and legs though. So there’s that.

[8] I felt very sad at this point that the amazing aquarium that they all walked through probably got smashed and all the fish died.

[9] Hint: Last time, he got nailed to a tree. Or, as I put it to my friends, you don’t get to be a Christ figure and die a nice death at home of old age surrounded by your family and children.

[10] I just wanted to note that every time I typed “autocracy” during the writing of this review, I typed “autocrazy” instead. That seems appropriate.

References

Sartre, Jean Paul. “Existentialism is a Humanism.” 1946. Marxists.org reprint, 2005. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm

Viroqua Triathlon Race Report

Ok, Viroqua Triathlon race report. I’m going to try to keep this short because I’m pretty tired and I got stuff to do. Got up at 4:30 in the morning (a time I’ve concluded should not exist) after a few hours of fitful sleep, ate a poptart, and dragged out of the house by a few minutes after 5. I’m glad I took extra time to pack everything up and put my bike in the car the night before, because triathlon requires so much gear and preparation that trying to do it at 4:30 would have led to me driving off sans helmet or something terrible like that. I had actually planned to leave the house by 5, assuming the drive was 90 min, so I would arrive by 6:30. The drive was actually longer than that, and I had to stop for gas. It got a bit nerve-wracking, actually. I was just pulling into the outskirts of Viroqua (a town with a “watch out for horse-drawn buggies sign on the main drag, as well as actual horse-drawn buggies galloping along) at 7.

At 7:10, I arrived at the pool. There were a few bike racks set up, so I dropped my bike off and ran inside, where no one seemed too concerned that we were 20 minutes away from the beginning of the race. Packet pickup went quickly enough, and I changed into my swimsuit and set up my transition area in about 15 minutes total for all three activities, so that by 7:28 I was standing on the deck of the pool. I was in the first wave of swimmers (at the time, I assumed that this was because I registered super early so I couldn’t convince myself not to do the tri. More on this later though.). We were assigned two to a lane in a really nice six-lane pool. I was in lane 1, and it was really wide—we probably could have gotten another person or two in without issue. The way the pool was set up, there was a wall with an opening in it that led to a shallower area (probably for water aerobics), and consequently the pool was super warm, at least in comparison to the pool I usually swim in, which is kept at 81 degrees. So everyone gets in the pool, the lane counter explains how everything works—eighteen laps, I’ll signal when you have one more using a kickboard and then signal when you’re done, have fun and good luck. I was a little nervous, suddenly feeling unsure about decisions like wearing my earplugs in the pool, wearing my watch, signing up for a tri when I’m obviously not a triathlete. . . . Pretty normal pre-race jitters, I guess. A few minutes after 7:30, the race director got on the microphone and talked and then we started.

Because of the nerves, I was feeling out of breath by the time I got to the end of the first lap (unusual for me). I guess I was probably pushing the pace, and also trying to do flip turns, which is always a bit stressful in a new pool. I consciously slowed myself down, focused on my stroke, and decided to stop with the flip turns for the time being. Things improved. By the time I hit nine laps, I was really moving—I passed the guy who was sharing the lane with me. I felt like I was flying, super aerodynamic despite the watch. I finished the swim in 17:24.3, the second fastest swim split!

Transition was run out the door and down to the transition area, dry off as fast as you can, regret the choice to try to put on tight spandex tri shorts over wet legs, hop about like an idiot, make sure your ear plugs get into your bag of stuff, grab the bike, duck underneath the rack of bikes because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, and sprint for the exit. 2:53.8. I think this is comparable to other tris I’ve done. (Actually, I just looked it up, my first transition in my first tri was 5:05, but I had to take off my wetsuit and I dropped my chip and all kinds of terrible stuff. I apparently didn’t blog about my other tris.)

The bike course was really pretty amazing. The first five miles were mostly downhill with a few rolling hills I was able to get up without issue. I knew ahead of time that there were only two really serious hills on the course. The first came a bit before mile 10, I think. According to MapMyRide, it was a 4.3% grade, which is pretty steep but not as steep as the hill I do hill repeats on. I knew it was going to be trouble when I was listening to the RD give me a description of the bike route, and when he said, “And then you turn left on Helgerson Road,” some guy standing behind me said, “Oh man, we have to go up Helgerson Hill?” Hills that have names are not fun hills. In person, it seemed very, very steep, that kind of lung-sucking climb that makes you grab the handlebars of your bike and bend over and just gasp to try to get through it. Sitting up straight is a better strategy though. Also, as I slowed down, a gigantic cloud of bugs came to attack me. Awesome. The second hill was longer but less of a climb (1.9%) and I went up it without any issues—it was actually almost fun compared to the first hill. As I was just getting to the base of the second big hill, some of the first sprint racers started to catch me. One asked if I was in the Oly. I said yes and that it was nice to see someone, since I’d been basically alone for the last ten miles. She mentioned that there were only six people doing the Oly, and only two women (so that was why I was in the first wave). I knew the other woman had gotten out of transition a few seconds before I did and was really fast on the bike, since I hadn’t seen her since. So at that point I knew I was basically racing for second place. Maybe she would have a bad run and I’d be able to catch her.

The best part of the bike was going past all these little small-town Wisconsin buildings. I passed a very small white clapboard church with a steeple, and a small graveyard behind it. It was like biking through Our Town. As I crested a hill, a flagger shouted to me, “Don’t worry, it gets better from here!” and then added, as I was almost out of earshot, “And then it gets worse again.” An accurate description of life. I finished the bike in 1:23:31, a pace of 16.8 mph if you believe their course measurement of 23.41 mi, and slightly slower if you go with the 20 miles my watch measured it at. Yes.

T2: Put on your shoes, blow your nose, remember to take off your helmet and go. 1:48.5.

As I was coming over the last small hill on the bike course, I’d seen the lead woman who was quickly overtaking the kid I’d shared a lane with (the run shared the same road as the bike course). She was really moving, so I knew I wasn’t going to catch her. At the same time, I’d passed another woman who was doing the Oly (turns out there were more than two of us) at around a mile into my run, so I had to push it a little to make sure I didn’t get caught myself. The run was a 10k on an out-and-back course—it ran almost entirely downhill to the turnaround, and almost entirely uphill back to the finish. I feel like I’ve learned two things from ultra running—the first is, always stop to fix small problems before they become big ones. And the second is, run with the terrain when you can, because it will totally turn against you. So I did the first 5k really fast, I think I was running 8:30s. The turnaround was a guy sitting on the bed of his pickup with his puppy. I got a glass of water from him and headed back. I passed the other runner who was on her way out to the turnaround and we attempted to high five. I cheered on a lot of the last few bikers and told them they were only a mile from the finish, and they cheered for me. It was cool and overcast, and the rolling fields and small houses made it feel like a Grant Wood painting. I slowed down to a 9:10ish pace on the way back because of the hills. With about one mile to go, my legs were pretty done. But then I got a little more downhill and made a respectable finish. Run time was 55:14; total time was 2:40:52, well below my goal of three hours.

My awesome post-race selfie, for those (Mom) who didn't see it on FB.

My awesome post-race selfie, for those (Mom) who didn’t see it on FB.


It turns out that there were in fact seven athletes who competed in the Olympic tri, five women and two men. The lead guy was out of the pool and out of transition before I managed to get to transition, so I never even saw him—he finished in 1:59:xx. The last woman, who must have been so far back I don’t even know if she’d started the run by the time I finished it came in at 4:04:xx. The age groups wound up a bit weird (why was it Men 20–29 but Women 26–35?), but I was the only woman in my age group and consequently got a medal. Overall I finished fourth of seven participants and the second woman of five. The woman who beat me did the swim in almost exactly the same time (she was a few seconds slower than I was), then did the bike in 1:11 and the run in 44.5 minutes. So clearly there’s something to aspire to.

And that’s it. I had a sweet roll from a local bakery, put my stuff back in the car, and drove to Green Lake for my husband’s family’s family reunion. Conclusions: All the time I spent doing 5×100 at I-want-to-die speed in the pool paid off. I should have spent more time pushing myself to go faster on the bike and working on hills instead of just training for distance. Running track has helped me keep my speed decent, despite the high training volume; my legs felt good and I think I would have been faster in a non-tri race. I can’t say I was sorry to get up this morning and “only” run without having to do a brick (a workout where one does at least two of the three tri disciplines), but I’ll miss some of the variety of triathlon training as I transition to getting ready for my last big race of the year, the Antelope Island 50k. Of which more later, because this “short” race report is now suddenly 1,800 words and I need to go make myself some dinner and maybe walk the dogs. Thanks for reading!

Episode 4: Calypso

20140704_100403-EFFECTSLeopold Bloom. Let’s talk about him. Let’s talk about how awesome he is.

Okay, first I have a confession to make. When I first read Ulysses, I did not think that Leopold Bloom was that awesome. I thought that he was kind of a failure. Now I am convinced he is one of the best characters in literature. I was I think 20 or 21 when I first read this book. Now I’m 31. Could be me that has changed.

I will give you a little warning here: I’m going to talk a lot about Bloom, and mention some things that are alluded to here but not really revealed until later on, as well as some things that are just flat out not mentioned until later on.[1]

Who is Leopold Bloom? Is he someone special, or “just this guy, you know?” (Adams, 153). Bloom is often referred to as an “everyman,” but I think this is a disservice to him. Bloom is a complicated fellow, a wanderer on the streets of Dublin, a man who may in fact become a hero. Bloom is our Odysseus.

We meet Leopold Bloom in his kitchen. He is up early; later today he will be attending a funeral for a friend of his, but now he is preparing breakfast for his wife, Molly[2]. He talks to his cat[3] while making Molly’s toast, and eventually decides to walk around the corner to buy a kidney for breakfast.[4] At the butcher’s shop, he ogles the maid from next door. When he gets home, he brings Molly her tea and the post, and they chat about various subjects. Although he nearly burns the kidney, he manages to save it and has his breakfast while reading Milly’s (his 15-year old daughter) letter to him. After eating, he steps out into the garden; there has been a drought, and the plants are overgrown[5] and in need of tending. Then, in one of the scenes that got the book marked as obscene, uses the jakes.

We actually learn a lot about Bloom from this day-in-the-life section. We see that he cares for Molly, but get a sense that something strange is going on between them (for example, he notices Molly has hidden one of the letters she received at 4.308). He thinks about their son, Rudy, who was stillborn (see 4.418–20), and we get the feeling he is still sad about it. We also see that he’s a curious person, and he seems like someone who has spent a lot of time reading, although his hypotheses are not always correct (for example, his discussion of cats’ whiskers at 4.39–42). Bloom also thinks about mortality, especially in light of the funeral of Paddy Dignam that he is shortly to attend—he’s genuinely sad about the death. Bloom is not an educated person the way Stephen Dedalus is with his command of several languages, but he’s interested and engaged in the world around him. We actually see him engaging in some interesting Orientalist fantasizing about being “[s]omewhere in the east” (4.84):

Wander through awned streets. Turbaned faces going by. Dark caves of carpet shops, big man, Turko the terrible, seated crosslegged, smoking a coiled pipe. Cries of sellers in the streets. Drink water scented with fennel, sherbet. Dander along all day. Might meet a robber or two. Well, meet him. Getting on to sundown. The shadows of mosques among the pillars: priest with a scroll rolled up. A shiver of the trees, signal, the evening wind. I pass on. Fading gold sky. A mother watches me from her doorway. She calls her children home in their dark language. High wall beyond strings twanged. Night sky, moon, violet, colour of Molly’s new garters. Strings. Listen. A girl playing one of those instruments what do you call them: dulcimers. I pass.

Probably not a bit like it really. Kind of stuff you read . . . (4.88–99)

There are so many interesting things here I can’t spend time on all of it, but in brief: the “cries of sellers in the streets” mirrors Stephen’s note that God is “[a] shout in the street” (2.386) from episode 2. The language itself conjures up very beautiful images. And finally, the rejection at the end of the passage means that Bloom has more insight into the truth of (i.e., the lie behind) Orientalism than Buck Mulligan.

One of the things this episode really shows is how effective stream-of-consciousness narration can be. Without necessarily understanding all of the stuff I’ve mentioned above, we are allowed to perceive many of Bloom’s thoughts that prepare us for the later truths. For example, we see him notice the missing letter, but don’t grasp immediately why it’s significant. We understand that he had a stillborn child, but don’t immediately grasp the impact this has had on his life. These small points prepare us for the revelations about Bloom’s life in the rest of the novel, as well as symbolically setting up certain themes. Narratively, Joyce manages to accomplish all of this without having to actually tell us anything more than what a normal morning at the Bloom household looks like—a neat trick.

The other important theme introduced here is that of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls. As Bloom explains, “Reincarnation, that’s the word . . . . Some people believe . . . that we can go on living in another body after death, that we lived before. They call it reincarnation. That we all lived before on the earth thousands of years ago or some other planet . . . . Metempsychosis . . . is what the ancient Greeks call it. They used to believe you could be changed into an animal or a tree, for instance” (4.361–86). Bloom is actually off a little bit here at the beginning—metempsychosis is as he says at the end, “the passing of the soul at death into another body either human or animal” (Merriam Webster, s.v. “metempsychosis,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metempsychosis), whereas reincarnation is “the idea or belief that people are born again with a different body after death” (Ibid., s.v. “reincarnation,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reincarnation).[6] Recalling that we are dealing with a work that has strong thematic ties to the Odyssey, this theme may begin to make sense.

Next time: Sex, drugs, and religion, what fun.

Notes

[1] For those wondering about how these essays are being constructed, I am constantly wrestling with the issue of discussing the episodes qua episodes versus discussing the episodes qua the book as a whole. Here, I’m going to do the latter a little bit.

[2] Short for Marion, née Marion Tweedy.

[3] For a number of reasons, I really enjoy the little moments with animals that turn up in Joyce’s works. Stephen watching a dog running on the beach in the previous section, Bloom’s interactions with the cat—all of them strike me as very well observed. In addition, for historical reasons, it’s interesting to me to see how people interacted with their pets at the beginning of the twentieth century.

[4] In what may be the first of many reminiscences, I want to note that in honor of this scene, my father once went out and got himself a pork kidney and cooked it while my mother was out on call. Although my parents didn’t keep strict kosher, they did eschew pork products; as my father told the story, Mom wasn’t pleased when she got home and found out about the kidney. (To be fair, this may have had something to do with my father’s chronic inability to remember to wash the pans he’d used after he cooked, rather than the kidney qua kidney.)

[5] As any English professor worth her salt will tell you, the overgrown gardens are a metaphor for the relationship problems between Molly and Leopold.

[6] People being slightly off on things they say is another theme in the book—for example, Bloom occasionally misquotes a piece of an aria as “Volglio e non vorrei” (I want to and I wouldn’t like to) rather than “Vorrei e non vorrei” (I’d like to and I wouldn’t like to).

References

Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. In The More Than Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide. Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press, 1993.

Episode 3: Proteus

Okay, so if you are reading through Ulysses as I am posting these, this is probably the first section that you really run the risk of getting hung up on. The language and style here are a bit more complicated than in previous sections, and if you aren’t accustomed to reading things in stream of consciousness, it can be disconcerting, to say nothing of the subject matter being outside most people’s familiarity. Don’t panic though—once you get into it, this section is great, and it’s not as difficult as you may be thinking right now.

Basically what happens in this section, and I don’t want to over-simplify, is that Stephen is killing time before he meets Buck, so he walks along the beach at Sandymount Strand and thinks about philosophy. He remembers his time studying in Paris and his father recalling him to Dublin because of his mother’s illness. He writes a poem. He urinates.

20140623_102802

Edgar, playing the role of Stephen, shows how much physical action goes on in this episode.

Why do these few things seem intimidating? Moreso than the previous chapters, Joyce has here used a style called stream of consciousness, which can be disconcerting to the uninitiated reader. Stream of consciousness is a technique used for providing readers with a window to the character’s interior world; however, it is not simply as straightforward as having a character essentially “say” what they are thinking. Contrast the two following paragraphs:

One summer afternoon Mrs Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. Oedipa stood in the living room, stared at by the greenish dead eye of the TV tube, spoke the name of God, tried to feel as drunk as possible. But this did not work. She thought of a Lotel room in Mazatlán whose door had just been slammed, it seemed forever, waking up two hundred birds down in the lobby; a sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west; a dry, disconsolate tune from the fourth movement of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra; a whitewashed bust of Jay Gould that Pierce kept over the bed on a shelf so narrow for it she’d always had the hovering fear it would someday topple on them. Was that how he’d died, she wondered, among dreams, crushed by the only ikon in the house? That only made her laugh, out loud and helpless: You’re so sick, Oedipa, she told herself, or the room, which knew. (Pynchon, 1965, 1–2)


His gaze brooded on his broadtoed boots, a buck’s castoffs, nebeneinander. He counted the creases of rucked leather wherein another’s foot had nested warm. The foot that beat the ground in tripudium, foot I dislove. But you were delighted when Esther Osvalt’s shoe went on you: girl I knew in Paris. Tiens, quel petit pied! Staunch friend, a brother’s soul: Wilde’s love that dare not speak its name. His arm: Cranly’s arm. He now will leave me. And the blame? As I am. As I am. All or not at all. (3.446–52)

In both paragraphs, we see the character’s environment and hear her/his thoughts. But Oedipa’s thoughts are to a point (the death of Pierce Inverarity and her history with him), while Stephen’s thoughts wander from his shoes[1] to a woman he knew in Paris to a literary allusion boyhood friend (Cranly). Oedipa’s thoughts are also marked out with certain guideposts, words like “supposed,” “thought,” “wondered,” while Stephen’s thoughts arise more organically from the paragraph.

Joyce’s version is more accurate, in my (limited?) experience as a thought-having human being. Most people don’t think in straight lines and in sentences. At the same time, Joyce’s version is more difficult and risky. He has to trust that his audience will understand the shift from what Stephen is doing (looking at his boots) to what he is thinking without needing little signposts to mark the way. He doesn’t even typographically set the thoughts off from the narration through the use of italics. This is—in my estimation, at least—gutsy. As a writer, one always worries about the reader understanding what one is trying to do. (I say “one” because as far as I can tell, this is a universal problem.) I admire the panache here as Joyce just throws the chapter out there, like a challenge to his readers. It’s also risky to write an entire chapter with so little movement. The plot, if one can claim Ulysses has a plot, is not advanced here in any significant way. Primarily this is a full chapter of character development; more than that, as Stephen cools his heels, we are also killing time. It is risky to slow down the story like that—when you lose your momentum, you risk boring your audience and losing them as well. But the fascinating use of language here keeps us reading. (Or keeps me reading, at least.)

So how as a reader do you deal with the mélange of thoughts, memories, and even bits of external narration found here? I have tried two different strategies. The first is to get a copy of the Gifford and look everything up. Gifford is quite thorough in this episode—though it is only a bit more than 500 lines, he offers twenty-two pages of notes. Nearly every line seems to be noted. On the other hand, you can also just forge ahead and let the text wash over you. Although if you read what I just said about the Gifford you may be shaking your head, I think this is a tenable strategy. The stuff in the notes is largely interesting but not essential to understanding the text—sure, it is nice to get a translation of the few French phrases, or to know that “lawn Tennyson” (3.492) is a play on the game of lawn tennis and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, but these things are not essential to understanding what is going on, they only enrich the experience. I do encourage you as a reader just to dive in; you may not get every reference, but you will get the gist of what is going on, and some of the references will become more clear as you go on in the book.[2]

I have one other thing I want to discuss, and that is Stephen’s poem. I will quote it here:

He comes, pale vampire, through the storm his eyes, his bat sails bloodying the sea, mouth to her mouth’s kiss. (3.397–8)

Joyce actually wrote two books of poetry[3]. I haven’t made a thorough investigation of them, but I don’t recall being blown away by the ones I did read.[4] This poem in particular is a derivative work—Gifford refers to it as “a souped-up . . . version of the last stanza of ‘My Grief on the Sea,’ a poem translated from the Irish by Douglas Hyde” (1988, 62). It is one of the marvelous Joycean ironies of this book that while Stephen-who-is-Joyce is lying on the beach writing these kind of wretched poems, Joyce himself is writing this amazing chapter that is actually quite poetic in much of its language and that is also such a break from what came before in so many ways.[6]

This has been a shorter essay than some of the others, I think. Not to suggest that this episode is less good, but I have less to say about it because I can either talk about these general things or give a sort of line-by-line discussion of what I’m enjoying,[7] which could be a bit tedious. Next time though, we get to Mr Leopold Bloom, and I am excited to talk about him, so make sure you tune in—same blog time, same blog channel.

Notes

[1] Could we take a moment to admire the shoe-related puns here? Stephen is wearing shoes given to him by a friend (I assume Buck Mulligan, owing to remarks in ep. 1 on other clothes he has given Stephen, plus the phrase “a buck’s castoffs,” but the text seems to be nonspecific), and could potentially be addressing his remarks (the “you”) to either the friend or the shoes. When he says, “Staunch friend, a brother’s soul,” he could be referring to Mulligan, or to the shoes themselves, which also have a soul (sole).

[2] Your goal in general should be to make it as far as episode 17 (Ithica). That episode will explain a lot.

[3] Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach.

[4] Wikipedia notes that many of his poems are still in print in anthologies today, and that some of the poems in Chamber Music were widely regarded as being technical masterpieces. It also notes that in 1909, Joyce wrote to Nora Barnacle[5] that “When I wrote [Chamber Music] I was a lonely boy, walking about by myself at night and thinking that one day a girl would love me” (Source). That is such a lovely sentiment I take back any of the mean things I said.

[5] The woman he eloped with after going on a first date with her on June 16, 1904, which PERHAPS NOT COINCIDENTALLY is the day Ulysses is set on. They actually didn’t get married until 1931, despite having two kids in 1905 and 1907 respectively.

[6] Except possibly Tristram Shandy? Hm.

[7] I cannot believe I wrote over a thousand words and didn’t find a way to work in a brief discussion about the beach being full of clammy sand (“His blued feet out of turnedup trousers slapped the clammy sands . . .” [3.370–1]). It’s clammy because it’s coldish and dampish, and it’s clammy because it’s a beach and there are clams in it. YES.

References

Gifford, Don, with Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. 2nd ed., rev. and exp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: Bantam, 1965.

Episode 2: Nestor

This is a short episode but one in which many of the novel’s famous lines occur.[1] Here we see Stephen Dedalus as a teacher in a boys’ school, teaching history, literature, and maths to his students. After they go outside for a field hockey game, Stephen talks to his boss, the headmaster Mr. Deasy, about various topics—money, the English, religion, and foot-and-mouth disease. On this last topic, Mr. Deasy asks Stephen to take some letters to newspaper editors he knows, and Stephen agrees. As he leaves, Mr. Deasy chases him down to offer one last (anti-Semitic) joke.

There is a lot to talk about here in terms of colonialism—Stephen teaching his students the history of ancient Greece, his inner thoughts on Haines’s remarks in the previous section, his recollection of seeing a Siamese person working in the library in Paris in which he was studying,[2] the boys playing field hockey (an English game) rather than hurling (a somewhat similar Irish game), Mr. Deasy’s reverence for all things British (up to a picture of Albert Edward on his wall[3]), and so on. There’s a lot to say also about the father-son connections—as Tindall observes, Deasy (pronounced like “daisy”) seems to want to be a father figure to Stephen, who rejects his advances; Deasy’s name seems to prefigure the appearance of Leopold Bloom (who occasionally goes by the pseudonym “Henry Flower,” but we’ll come to that in time),[4] who will serve as a better (?) father figure to Stephen. There’s a lot about religion and a lot of pretty clear parallels to the Odyssey (Deasy represents Nestor to Stephen’s Telemachus). But I’m not going to talk about all of that right now, or not directly, though I’ll come back to some things later on. I’m going to talk about this line:

—History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. (2.377)

What does this mean? Don Gifford notes that it is a reference to Franco-Uruguayan poet Jules Laforgue, who wrote, “ ‘La vie est trop triste, trop sale. L’histoire est un vieux cauchemar barioléqui ne se doute pas que les meilleurs plaisanteries sont les plus courtes’ (Life is very dreary, very sordid. History is an old and variegated nightmare that does not suspect that the best jokes are also the most brief)” (1988, 39). This is interesting but unilluminating. Tindall notes that the entire chapter is about history—in fact, it is listed as the “art” of the chapter on the schemas. “To [Stephen] the past is intolerable, its shape arbitrary, its materials fictive and uncertain . . . Confined to time and space, history is impermanent and unreliable” (1959, 141). But this again is mostly a restatement of what Stephen is actually saying, rather than an explanation thereof.

So what does it actually mean? Deasy provides a clue when he replies, “The ways of the Creator are not our ways . . . . All human history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God” (2.380–1). This is a very Victorian view of history, although Gifford traces it all the way from Augustine of Hippo through Giordano Bruno to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel himself (1988, 39). By contrast, Stephen’s view is much more modernist verging on post-modern[5]: rather than being a progression toward something, history is instead the nearly random actions and reactions of a disparate group of people with variable motives, terrible and uncontrollable.[6] For a writer, there are some interesting implications to this. Stephen is, of course, denying the idea of destiny, but maybe there’s more than that. Books, after all, contain a plot wherein actions within a narrated time stream take place in a certain order and come to a conclusion. In a certain sense, because the plot is created by someone outside the novel, the conclusion is in fact a preordained final point toward which the rest of the book works. By awakening from the “nightmare” of history, Stephen can perhaps step outside this emplottedness and write something different, something that similarly lacks destiny.

Reading Stephen as Joyce, of course, we can say definitively that he did manage this with Finnegans Wake.[7] But that’s breaking the fourth wall a little bit. And it’s also not entirely fair, because obviously when he was writing this, Joyce didn’t know that he was going to write Finnegans Wake. But if he really did go out to “Forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race” (Portrait, 275–6), I suppose we can guess that he probably had something brewing.[8]

There’s one other thing I want to talk about with regards to this episode, which is movement. In the whole section, Stephen stands in his classroom, goes to Mr. Deasy’s office, and then walks out of the school. There is absolutely nothing remarkable here—very little movement, some strained conversation without much in the way of emotion or really description, but yet through what Joyce refers to as a personal catechism,[9] we as readers not only get a good sense of Stephen’s emotions, but we tacitly understand that this is somehow his last day of this. He is leaving the school. As he declared in the first episode that he won’t return to the Martello tower, he also won’t return to the school. I’m not the only one who senses this, by the way—Tindall also remarks on it (1959, 141). This is thematically appropriate somehow—the first part of Ulysses seems to concern death: the death of Stephen’s mother, the funeral Bloom attends, and also the death of certain parts of Stephen’s life—he is leaving the tower, leaving his job. He has reached a certain point of life—I can certainly relate to this feeling—where the things of his youth no longer fit, yet he doesn’t quite know which of the trappings of adulthood he’s reaching for—he doesn’t know what he’s going to be yet.[10]

Where is he going? What will become of him? Tune in tomorrow for the next episode.

Notes

[1] The assertion that these are famous lines is made in the Ulysses Wikipedia article and is uncited. But I think it’s true. (See Wikipedia ).

[2] I feel like I should comment on this, even if only to say that yes, there were a lot of Siamese students (mostly the children of elites, including many of King Chulalunkorn’s (Rama V’s) sons studying in the West during the late Victorian period. The crown prince, Vajiravudh, who would become Rama VI, lived in the UK from 1893–1902ish and took a degree at Oxford in law and history.

[3] Prince Albert Edward was Edward VII (r. 1901-1910); his son Albert Victor was possibly somehow mixed up in the Jack the Ripper killings but probably just a somewhat weird product of royal inbreeding. See also my essay on From Hell, “That Sick Feeling: From Hell Reviewed.”

[4] Leopold Bloom is our Odysseus to Stephen’s Telemachus, but we won’t meet him until episode 4.

[5] That’s right, I said post-modern. I’ll talk a little more about the (surprisingly many) po-mo aspects of the book later on.

[6] As Amy Fish at the Modernism Lab at Yale University points out, Ulysses was composed directly after World War I, a time when the idea that things were going in a planned direction seemed especially ludicrous.

[7] Damn, I said I wasn’t going to talk about the po-mo stuff until later on. Also I should point out that in a sort of weird ironic counterpoint to my suggestion that the Wake is something different from the nightmare of history qua novel plots, it’s about one man dreaming all of human history. I think.

[8] Or, that is to say, he may have had an idea of the direction in which he wanted his literary project to move. For the uninitiated, I didn’t mention this before, but you should know that Ulysses is sort of a sequel to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was originally the (unpublished) book Stephen Hero, and the character of Stephen Dedalus is a somewhat thinly veiled (or, say, semi-autobiographical) version of Joyce himself, who at one point used the name “Stephen Daedelus” as a pen name.

[9] This is the term he uses in the Gilbert schema (here).

[10] I apologize for my gratuitous use of the em dash in that last sentence.

References

Fish, Amy. “Nestor.” The Modernism Lab at Yale University. http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/%22Nestor%22. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2010.

Gifford, Don, with Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. 2nd ed., rev. and exp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Edited, with an introduction and notes by Seamus Deane. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Tindall, William York. A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce. New York: The Noonday Press, 1959.

Dogs ChasingHappy Bloomsday, everyone!

 

Capital View “Couples” Duathlon

Lest you think my life is entirely given over to literature now . . .

I got up at 5:10 this morning to go do a duathlon, primarily because I signed up for it in a fit of enthusiasm back in . . . March or something. It was so close to my house, such a good chance to practice biking in race conditions before my tri in July. It would be fun.

Fun. I remember fun.

Okay, so I went into this race feeling a bit overtrained. “But Em, overtraining sounds like a positive thing, like you’re really on top of your training!” No. Overtraining is a thing that can happen if you train too much and don’t recover sufficiently–don’t take enough days off.[1] Symptoms include fatigue and decreased performance (despite speed work, you’re not getting faster); gastrointestinal upset; an increase in respiration rates or higher resting heart rate; lower appetite and increased thirst; decreased motivation to work out; feelings of sadness/depression or anxiety (for example, if you typically keep your anxiety in check with exercise, you may suddenly find yourself having an anxiety attack about your cat at midnight one night). Oh, changing sleep patterns too. If I get really bad, I tend to get night sweats.[2] So yeah, it’s a lot of fun not very fun. Lately I’ve had to drag myself out the door in the morning, and although my legs feel strong on the run, I feel mentally disconnected from what I’m doing. Add to that an ever-changing variety of stomach issues and the anxiety thing . . . it has been a rough few weeks around here.

Anyway, after I finally figured out what was going on, I decided to use my taper (yeah, I tapered for this) as the beginning of recovery, and just do the best I could with what I had in the tank on race day. Aside from getting lost on what was supposed to be an easy Friday morning bike ride[3], I think things went pretty well on that account. The race was a (trail) 5k, a 25-mi bike, and another trail 5k, which makes it pretty typical for duathlons in this area, although Wikipedia says the “classic” distance is in fact 10k run, 44km bike (a bit more than a marathon, for those that don’t do metric), and 5k run[4]. I completed these events plus two transitions in 2:43:19.2, good enough for 6th 5th in my age group and 36th35th overall. Here’s a quick breakdown of what happened.

Run 1

The last race (a trail half marathon) I did, I had to drive an hour between breakfast and the start of the race, so I was STARVING by mile two. This time, I grabbed a granola bar right before kickoff, and I think it was a good decision. The trails were wide and grassy, but not too spongy from last night’s rain. The biggest difficulty was in the sandy sections on the second loop. I was still pretty miffed with the event staff and volunteers for being badly set up and unable to answer any questions, so I basically stomped my way through. Perhaps because it was on trails (or because i had to run so damn much getting to packet pickup and transition), I couldn’t hold my planned 8:30/mi pace, but I finished in 27:21 (8:49 pace), not too far off.

Bike

Transition went relatively quickly (2:07) despite my never bothering to practice (oops). Also one never practices running in clip-in shoes, which is too bad because it is a pain in the ass.

Ok, I knew the course relatively well (I live five miles from it, after all)–it was a lolly pop shape–outbound to Enchanted Valley Road, a loop through Cross Plains, then back. Having ridden it Friday, I had a plan in place for where I was going to push it (the long flat section on Schneider Road, both directions); where the hills were (small rollers in the first five miles, then a bunch of downhill on bad roads, then some climb, then we’re back to the rollers); and where I was going to eat my gel (salted caramel flavor!). What I didn’t expect was the temperature–it was at least ten degrees colder than I thought it was going to be (it was maybe 60 when I expected 70-75 and humid), and overcast, and I was racing in a sleeveless tri top and very short shorts.

As I was running out of transition, I heard a woman shout to another racer, “Stay down on the hills, try to build some warmth.” Figuring this was a good plan, I stayed on the drop bars as much as I could throughout the race, and I think it made a difference in my time, which was a personal best in terms of average speed. I did get passed by a lot of people though–everyone from sixty year olds to guys on bikes that cost as much as my car.[5] I could appreciate, watching them, how useful aero bars are for position–given my geometry on the drop bars, I think properly positioned aero bars would get me quite low. But most of the riders with aero bars had bikes that were geared to allow them to climb hills without getting out of the aero position, while on my bike I find it most useful to get off the drop bars (and even stand up and shift my weight forward) to climb, so I don’t know that it would really be worth it overall.

I was alone for most of the first fifteen miles of the bike, but it was actually quite pleasant. I sang some various songs to keep myself company. (Example one; example two.) By mile 15, the oly triathletes had started to catch me, so I was within sight of others for the rest of the course. (Unlike cycling, drafting is not allowed in triathlon, so riders never bunch up into a peloton.) Around mile 17, I started thinking I should plan for the second transition . . . ultimately I decided to dismount in the normal way and do the run-in in my bike shoes rather than trying something weird like getting my feet out of my shoes before the dismount. In the last five miles I passed: two older people who had gotten off to walk their bikes up a hill; two older guys (50+) on mountain bikes, a woman whose chain jammed as she tried to pass me, and a 50-something woman who was having a devil of a time on the last hill.

I’m so badass, man. Elapsed time: 1:41:05, 14.8 mph.

Run 2

A few steps into the transition area, I stopped to take off my bike shoes to see if that would speed me up. My toes were totally numb from biking fast in the cold, but not numb enough that I didn’t feel the pavement under them. Ow! So I hobbled over and switched up my kit. T2 time: 2:40, very consistent.

The second run was basically the first run backward, sort of. The first run had consisted of an A loop and a B loop (arranged like a figure-8). The second run did the B loop first (forward), then the A loop (backward). I wish they had said that at the starting line instead of “follow the signs for the Sprint,” because I saw exactly one sign that said “Sprint” on it. During this run I passed at least one woman wearing a duathlon bib and saw a couple of others who were pretty far behind, so I knew I wasn’t last even though I felt like I was. I was, however, tired. I let myself shuffle along at whatever seemed like a sustainable pace; as the numbness in my toes receded, I found myself picking up the pace, and I think I actually did negative splits. My stomach was beginning to complain (cramp) at this point, but I told it to shut up because there was only a mile left to go, and I soldiered on. The second run was about three minutes slower–I finished in 30:04, a 9:42 pace. Not amazing, but could be worse.

Final Analysis

It’s clear that my crappy bike time was really the limiting factor here. Looking at all (50) finishers, there’s a strong correlation between the bike time and overall finishing order.[6] Also, almost everyone in the top 10 had a more consistent time between R1 and R2–they were within about a minute of each other. However, that particular fact is not relevant since I’m not doing another duathlon this season (as far as I know). Getting my bike speed up to 15 or even 16 mph would make a big difference in my finish. My main takeaways for July’s tri are: 1.) Gel around mi 11 is a great idea. 2.) Bike a lot more before July. 3.) Stop being overtrained. That’s all. Here’s a picture of my animals to thank you for reading this. Hat tip to Michelle (a former coworker from long ago), whose report on the sprint tri spurred me to write my own. Also, sorry about all the parenthetical remarks.

Hangin' Out

Hangin’ Out

Notes

[1] If you frequent fitness message boards, you often see people asking questions that amount to something like “I’m walking a mile per day worried about overtraining lol.” (Sorry, it’s the internet.) They’re probably not overtraining. But just because they’re not doesn’t mean nobody is, which I tend to forget until I hit the spot of oops too much. Also it goes to show you that everybody thinks their workout is super badass. As for me, my last two weeks before this one were 35 mi run/54 mi bike/2500 yds swim (week ending 31 May) and 51 mi run/37 mi bike/2500 yards swim (week ending 25 May)–doesn’t seem too onerous, but I guess it crept up on me. I did run 196 mi in May and 206 in April, suggesting a high weekly average.

[2] Other symptoms can be found by googling the term “overtraining,” but this 90s-era website has a fairly comprehensive list and looks reputable.

[3] Amusingly, in my attempt to figure out where the “challenging hill right before mile 15″ (as listed on the course description) was, I took a wrong turn and wound up biking up a much more difficult hill.

[4] Duathlon.com says 40k rather than 44k. Regardless, nothing in Wisconsin has a 10k/5k runs, to say nothing of long distances that can range up to 15k/80k/7.5k or 5k/56 mi/13.1 mi. Since I basically decided a few years ago I wasn’t going to travel over about 40 minutes for races that were shorter than a half marathon, I’ve not been super interested in going places in order to run two miles, bike 12 miles, and run another two miles.

[5] If you are a 43-year-old white man with a bike worth over $5k and an M-Dot tattoo on your calf, I have nothing to say to you.

[6] Actually, my idea of using the runs to compensate for the bike made me something of an anomaly–no one who finished ahead of me had a speed of under 15 mph, as well as the next four finishers behind me!

Episode 1: Telemachus

I hope you have all had a chance to read the first episode. Check the project’s introduction for an explanation and links.
My primary copy of Ulysses.

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. (1.1–2)

My main copy of Ulysses (of course I have more than one) is rather heavily annotated at this point. The first marginal notation I come across here says “State-cross: Locate S [Stephen] w/in historical/political terms—G.B., HR Church.” I don’t know where this insight came from, probably the professor who gave the course in which I first read this book[1], but it’s a very interesting idea. Look at the sentence again:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Lest you think this is grasping at straws, Stephen later reiterates it in conversation: “I am a servant of two masters . . . an English and an Italian. . . . The imperial British state . . . and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church” (1.638–43).[2]

Ireland in 1904 was a colony of Great Britain. It’s not the sort of colony we usually think of when we talk about colonialism, because nowadays the Irish are seen as white and colonialism is something that white people do to non-white people (for example, the French in Algeria, the Belgians in the Congo, the French in Indochina, the British in India, the British in Burma). But the British have very much colonized Ireland and were governing them. On the other hand we have the Roman Catholic Church (or Holy Roman Apostolic Church, as Stephen Dedalus would refer to it), which exercised at the time (and for most of the 20th century and on into the 21st) enormous power over the people of Ireland. One thing I’m going to argue in this essay is that there are strong colonialist themes running through this book. This is not a controversial claim—a cursory search of the internet provides a number of papers, such as Roghayeh Farsi’s “James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Post-Colonial Text,” which argue essentially this. Worth noting is that Joyce began writing in 1918, shortly before Ireland declared its independence (January 1919) and began the Irish War of Independence with Britain; this war concluded around the time Ulysses was published in full (1921 versus 1922). Where is the line between a colonial novel and a post-colonial novel? We must be very close to it.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit. The first three episodes of the book make up the “Telemachiad,” which is to say their focus is on our Telemachus, Stephen Dedalus.

Stephen Dedalus is one of the main characters in the book; in this section we meet two major supporting characters, Buck Mulligan and Haines. They are all three staying together in a Martello Tower, which is one of a bunch of towers put up in Ireland to look out for the possible invasion of Napoleon.[3]

Buck Mulligan is a medical student who is witty, quick to make up songs and ditties, and who holds nothing sacred, as he tells Stephen: “And what is death . . . your mother’s or yours or my own? You saw only your mother die. I see them pop off every day in the Mater and Richmond and cut up into tripes in the dissectingroom. It’s a beastly thing and nothing else” (1.4–6).

Haines, on the other hand, is “a ponderous Saxon [i.e., British] . . . [who is] bursting with money and indigestion” (1.51–2). He is every inch the colonial Brit, although he would no doubt claim himself enlightened. Tellingly, Mulligan observes that Haines’s father “made his tin by selling jalap to the Zulus or some bloody swindle or other” (1.156–7). This is a reflection of British colonialism[4]—the Zulus lived in Southern Africa and were defeated in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, which led to the fall of the Zulu empire. Haines is writing about Irish folklore (a book, I believe, possibly related to his degree) and has come to Dublin to do research. It is interesting that he is in fact living with two Irish men, neither of whom is exactly interested in serving as a native informant to him, but both of whom really want something from him—Mulligan wants money, and Stephen wants him to go away[5]. In fact, Stephen and Mulligan’s attitudes toward Haines are well, if unintentionally, summarized by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, when he writes of how native intellectuals are taught by colonialist bourgeois to believe in the ideals of Western civilization, which he describes as existing on a “Greco-Latin pedestal” (46). During the course of the decolonization process, the native intellectual begins to understand how indoctrinated into the ideology of his conquerors he has been, and eventually “he turns himself into an awakener of the people; hence comes a fighting literature, a revolutionary literature, and a national literature” (223).[6] So on the one hand we have Stephen the bard who wants to be rid of the British, and on the other hand Buck Mulligan the medical student who wants to Hellenize Ireland (1.158). What a pair. Haines’s attitude is typically apathetic, saying “An Irishman must think [that he is a servant of the imperial British state], I daresay. We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly. It seems history is to blame” (1.647–9). This is, implicitly, the viewpoint Jean Paul Sartre is raging about in his introduction to Fanon’s aforementioned text.[7]

The presence of the Catholic Church should also be regarded as a force for colonization; as Fanon puts it, “The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor” (42). And indeed, the Catholic Church’s oppressiveness in Ireland has been well documented (see for example Christopher Hitchens’s article(s) on Mother Theresa, or any of the millions of things written about the Magdalena asylums).

I’m nearly seven hundred words into this section and I have covered about a page and a half of the text. Seems about right. That aside, I think I have begun to make my point about the colonial/post-colonial themes in this episode. This is something that took me very much by surprise when I began re-reading this section, as it happens—in between my previous reading of the book and this one, I spent a great deal of time studying post-colonialism and post-colonial literature, so it really jumped out at me in a way it didn’t before. I will not discuss the next episode here (spoilers!), but suffice to say that these themes continue there in several ways.

In the rest of the episode, the boys have breakfast, get milk from the milk woman, and walk down the shore. They make plans to meet again later for drinks—Mulligan promises Haines that “[Stephen] proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father” (1.555–7). Then Mulligan and Haines go to bathe in the ocean and Stephen continues on to work, which takes us to the next episode. Tune in next time!

Notes

[1] I’ll do him the honor of not giving his name here. He probably wouldn’t want to be associated with this kind of project. Also, he was kind of an asshole.

[2] The basic rule of Joycean scholarship is assume everything is intentional, because it generally is. At least, this is my interpretation; I can’t claim to be deeply immersed in the academic side of Joyce at this point.

[3] I recall being told that the Irish were hoping that Napoleon would help to liberate them from the British, but I cannot find a citation for that. However, Gifford does note that the French made four attempts between 1796–8 to provide assistance to the Irish during a revolution (23). For a picture of a Martello Tower and more on their history than is strictly necessary, see their Wikipedia page. Hope that was fun for you.

[4] Edward Said often looks at the small mentions of colonialism that mostly live in the background of British literature, such as the very brief discussion of the slave trade in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Which is to say, this is a brief but important mention.

[5] As with many things in Joyce’s works, this is evidently drawn from an experience he had in which one of the other guests in the place he was staying had a nightmare and fired several shots from his gun into the wall above Joyce’s bed in the night. Joyce noped out in the morning, which is why Stephen expresses to Mulligan that he wants Haines to leave and refers to Haines ranting during the night.

[6] Fanon characterizes this as the phases through which a native intellectual passes,[+] however within a single society it does seem possible to see intellectuals who are in different phases simultaneously—for example, see the letters of non-fictional people Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. (Note to self: add a citation when this book is published.) I have borrowed some of this terminology from Spivak, who discusses the epistemic violence the education of the non-Western intellectuals causes and the tendency of the Western intellectual to overlook the influence of ideologies in critiquing the position of the subaltern AT LENGTH in her amazing article “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

[+] Just as an aside, I swear I had a really good quote about this but I’ve lost it. I guess I am reading too many things at once.

[7] Sartre writes, “You know well that we are exploiters. . . . With us, to be a man is to be an accomplice of colonialism, since all of us without exception have profited by colonial exploitation” (The Wretched of the Earth, 25). His entire introduction is a stirring excoriation of European imperialism and is well worth a read.

References

Farsi, Roghayah. “James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Post-Colonial Text.” The Criterion: An International Journal in English, vol. 4, no. IV (2013): 1–8.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove Press, 1961.

Gifford, Don, with Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. 2nd ed., rev. and exp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.) Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. London: Macmillan, 1988. Found online at http://www.mcgill.ca/files/crclaw-discourse/Can_the_subaltern_speak.pdf. (Online version is the referenced pagination.)
Thing I cannot cite yet, Routledge, 2014.

An Introduction to the Project

I quipped to my mother the other day that I wanted to re-read Ulysses and blog about it. In the month of June. And she said, “The whole thing?” Sure, why not? We have just passed the centenary of the release of Dubliners, and Bloom’s Day is coming up (June 16th).[1] Plus, Ulysses is a good book of the kind that is often on people’s bucket lists but seldom read. So I thought, “Why not write up a few of my thoughts about each section and post them?” I will try to keep it short, and perhaps my general impressions will give you a desire to delve into this amazing, beautiful book. Part of this will be chronicling my own path of discovery as I dive back into a work that is one of my favorites, but that I haven’t read in about a decade; part of this will be a sort of general discussion of the book and its themes from as writerly of a perspective as I can manage, since that is perhaps the one thing I can claim expertise in. Maybe. The one thing I will assert is that, unlike William York Tindall, I do not think Ulysses is “too difficult for careless reading” (123). Like any book, it can be read in a multitude of ways; any reasonably focused reader can make her way through it, enjoying the beauty of the language and storytelling without necessarily grasping the historical or philosophical references.

All of my citations will be to the text in the Gabler edition (see below for citation), but I will give an episode.line number citation (e.g., 1.10) so anyone who wants to follow along in one of the free online editions can do so (the line breaks follow the Garland, New York, 1984 critical edition). Do be aware that since the Gabler edition corrects several long-standing typos, the texts may differ slightly. The primary concordance I use is the Gifford—I’ll provide a citation for that when it proves necessary.

For those not familiar with Ulysses, although the chapters are not formally titled, Joyce created two schemas that divided it into eighteen episodes, all of which have names that refer to the Odyssey. These are the Gilbert schema and the Linati schema. I will probably not refer to these frequently, but you should know where some of this material is coming from. Other reference works I will cite as I go along.

As for what is the best way to read the book, I don’t think there’s any one right way to go about it. In high school, the first few times I attempted to make my way through the text, I had only the text itself. The first time I actually made it through, in college, I had the Gifford annotations by my side and frequently read it simultaneously with Joyce’s text. On this reading, I am making my way first through the episodes, then referring to the Gifford to clear up any lingering questions (and draw inspiration for these little essays). Any of these methods may work for you. For those who don’t have time to run to the library before starting this little adventure, this website containing hypertext annotations may be of use to you.

I feel at the outset that I should define my goal more specifically before I begin. This is not meant to be a series of scholarly essays into the text of Ulysses, although some of my essays do take on that form to a certain extent. This is also not meant to simply reproduce the information contained in any of the particular references I’ve consulted. Instead, I want you to read along with me and consider this a kind of book club discussion. You can find an ebook version here at Project Gutenberg or elsewhere on the web. I hope you’ll join me for a brief tour through a magnificent work of art.

Sections

Telemachus

Nestor

Proteus

Calypso

Lotus Eaters

Hades

Aeolus

Lestrygonians

Scylla and Charybdis

Wandering Rocks

Sirens

Cyclops

Nausicaa

Oxen of the Sun

Circe

Eumaeus

Ithaca

Penelope

Notes

[1] I’d originally planned to post one essay per day between May 29-June 16, but that isn’t happening, is it. Take what you can get, that’s my advice.

References

Joyce, James. Ulysses. Edited by Hans Walter Gabler, with Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior. New York: Vintage Books, 1986.

Tindall, William York. A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce. New York: The Noonday Press, 1959.

That Sick Feeling: From Hell Reviewed

Note: I read this book in October 2013, and worked on the review for almost six months, then forgot about it. I don’t know why this happened. The date in my Word doc is October 13th.

Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. From Hell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 1999. 572 p. 095857834-6.

 

In Whitechapel, London, in the 1880s, humans live in powerless poverty and squalor. By the end of the decade, hundreds of the unemployed would be injured at the (1887) “Bloody Sunday” rally in Trafalgar Square, where they were protesting their lack of employment and the Irish Coercion Act, a crack-down that underscored how powerless the working class were. Beneath working class men, the “working girls” of Whitechapel were even less secure as they tried to make their way in the world. Often married very young, at the age of 12 or 13, they were condemned to poverty and prostitution when abandoned by their husbands (the ones who didn’t die in childbirth, anyway). By the end of the 19th century, wealthy women could inherit land, but womankind in general still could not vote. And worse, a monster was preying on the women of Whitechapel. In the fall of 1888, an unknown person or persons murdered at least five prostitutes in London’s East End, vivisecting four of them. “Jack the Ripper,” as the killer came to be known, was never caught, and the theories the case has spawned live on today, too many to enumerate.

Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel From Hell takes as its starting point the theories of one Stephen Knight, who evidently heard the story in his book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution from the illegitimate son of English painter Walter Sickert, Joseph “Hobo” Sickert. (Walter Sickert, incidentally, was somewhat obsessed with the murders and was fingered as Jack the Ripper by a number of theorists including Patricia Cornwell, based largely on the evidence that he drew moody paintings of murdered women in dark rooms and that he allegedly had a congenital deformity of the penis.) Joseph Sickert (also known as Joseph Gorman)’s story makes his father only an accomplice, but the whole thing is so rotten that’s hardly a consolation. Basically Knight/Sickert maintain that: Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward (“Eddy” to his friends), grandson of Queen Victoria, knocked up a working class girl, Annie Crook, and secretly married her. Of course Victoria finds out about the whole nasty business and sends the girl to her physician ordinary, Sir William Gull, who certifies her insane. The baby (a daughter), however, survives, and when a group of prostitutes led by Marie (or Mary) Kelly find out about her, they try to blackmail Walter Sickert and Victoria asks Gull to “take care” of them too.

As it happens, according to the way our boy Joseph tells the story, his mother was the daughter I just mentioned, so he is descended from legitimate but unacknowledged royalty. Decide for yourself how much doubt that casts on the story. The story also ignores the powerlessness of the prostitutes to actually carry through on any kind of threat–while it seems possible a gossip tabloid might have run the accusations (maybe), it seems unlikely that anyone would have believed them in the face of a denial from Victoria.

Running behind all of this is a hint of Freemasonry: Allegedly, both Prince Albert Edward (later Edward VII, Prince Eddy’s father) and Sir William were masons, hence Gull’s willingness to do something that would admittedly seem entirely insane to any reasonable person.

In the hands of Alan Moore, though, this story becomes slightly more elaborate. Gull is a mason, yes, and a patriot. He has also suffered a stroke-cum-theophany; it is not entirely clear that he is the same person after that event, although the implication is that he is, just with more outlandish theories. Gull is certainly bidden on to his task by Queen Victoria, but he also sees himself as striking a blow in a battle for supremacy between men and women that dates back to the stone age (see Robert Grave’s The White Goddess and other books about the idea of a mother goddess being supplanted by a father god for more of this idea). He is an unrepentant misogynist who worries that women will somehow gain back the upper hand and (re)subjugate men. Additionally, he sees himself as moving society forward, noting that some crimes can cause the public to agitate for certain things, as in the case of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders leading to the formation of a police force in 1811. What exactly he is leading society toward is unclear, but at a pivotal moment he tells his (semi-literate) driver and assistant, Netley, “I have given birth [to the twentieth century].”

Moore does a good job of allowing Gull enough time to explain his theories. In fact, he spends an entire chapter driving around London with Netley, talking about the architecture of Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, the Dionysian architects, the solar and lunar symbols of the battle between men and women, prostitution through the ages, and how all these symbols, both pagan and Christian, get rolled up together into one big ball of conspiracy that makes sense if you don’t look at it too hard. Then Moore undercuts Gull brilliantly: at the beginning of the next chapter, we see the morning routines of Sir William contrasted against the woman who will be his first victim, Polly Nicholls. Gull wakes in a bed, is fed a good meal prepared by his cook, and is driven to work in a coach. Polly, on the other hand, is sleeping on a bench, sitting up against a wall with a clothesline strung across to stop her from falling over. This was in fact the cheapest form of accommodation available to Londoners of the era. To see the privilege on the one hand and the crushing poverty set against it is to realize how out of touch with reality Gull really is, and how unlikely his fear that women will somehow “win” is.

The story from there on out is roughly the one you are probably somewhat familiar with. Women die, the police continually foul up the investigation, and Gull grows increasingly out of touch with reality. The narrative begins to flip back and forth between Gull and Inspector Abberline, the hapless but clever detective assigned to the case.

It seems moot to discuss Sir William Gull and whether or not he was really the murderer. Nearly every man of any social standing who lived in London during that autumn has been theorized to be the Ripper, as well as most men of no social standing. Some of the information related here about Gull seems to be true: he did come from an impoverished background, he was a doctor, he was quite intelligent, and he did seem to have some disregard for what today we would consider to be medical ethics. His selection as the murderer makes as much sense—or lacks as much sense—as anyone. Personally, I think there were some who have been named, like Francis Tumblety, a known misogynist who boasted that he had a collection of female reproductive organs, who were probably more likely suspects. But in the context of From Hell, Gull’s character is built so that he makes sense as the killer, and that is what matters. It can help to remind oneself that this is fiction based on facts; as Eddie Campbell put it in a blog post, he’d “always liked to imagine that our William Gull is a fiction who just happens to share a name with a real one who existed once” (source).

In a certain sense, it doesn’t matter who the killer actually was because the killer was everyone. Several of the women Jack the Ripper offed would have been dead within a year or so anyway, since they were impoverished, living in insanitary conditions on the streets of Whitechapel, which as far as I can tell was quite a bit worse than what you might find in a major city today—for example, Londoners of this era had to deal with diseases like tuberculosis, attacks from packs of feral dogs, crime, diseases caused by the terrible pollution and inadequate nutrition, and poor housing . . . and of course, if they were lucky enough to have a job, they might have to face conditions in the factories . . . if not, there were workhouses. This is reinforced by the scene in which Campbell and Moore depict hundreds of people writing letters to the police posing as Jack—a disturbing but real event. To put on my Žižek hat for a moment, is this an outgrowth of Victorian anxiety about the poor? Or, alternatively, about women, women’s place in the world, sex, religion, colonialism and aliens in the metropol[1] . . . the list goes on. Moore presents a holistic view of the crime that, in some way, should clarify what happened but in actuality serves only to confound what has happened. It is a conceit of crime fiction that crimes can be picked apart and a definite killer and motive can be found. In reality, life is rarely cut-and-dried. Certainly, general motivations can be discerned, but what really causes a certain person to commit a specific crime?

The thing I keep coming back to is that Mary Kelly never really finds out what’s happening to her. The audience knows, sort of, both the reasons Victoria objected to her continuance and the reasons Gull gives. Mary Kelly at best has a small sliver of the picture; she is able to piece together that her friend Annie Crook got into trouble with royalty and that her friends are being murdered one by one. She can’t see the whole picture, and Gull doesn’t oblige her with a moustache-twiddling moment of revelation before he offs her.[2] I feel like because I do see the whole picture that this shouldn’t be an issue, but I keep circling around the lack of resolution (obviously, because I’ve been writing this review for six months—can you tell?). Perhaps this is reminiscent of the way the people of London felt, knowing something was walking among them that they could not understand. Mary Kelly, for her part, likely felt nothing at all for very long.

To bring this to a kind of conclusion: The collected version of the comics has not only a short epilogue, “Dance of the Gull Catchers,” that tackles some of the difficulties surrounding naming Gull as a suspect, but also Moore’s extensive annotations explaining the origins of his theories and various obscure pieces of Victoriana. The art is illustrative without being overly graphic. The writing is solid. Really, if you haven’t read this book yet . . . why not?


Notes

[1] The Victorians were, as far as I can tell, a very anxious people. Or at least a people whose anxieties have been highly researched.

[2] I should mention, for those unfamiliar with the Kelly murder, it was really gruesome. The real life killer really dissected her; the best that can be said is that the coroners at the time thought she had been killed relatively quickly and then mutilated. I don’t recommend looking up the photos unless you have a strong stomach.

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