There’s Something Funny About Jesus

Buck, always the entertainer, and contending for the center of attention, recites a poem poking fun at the Lord. At the turn of the century, the gravity of the blasphemy was more severe than it is today  (if any level of severity at all) but there is something funny about the iconic image and persona of Jesus in his off-white robe and leather sandals that transcends time.  During ski season, in the present era, I had this experience.  I was staying in a ski condo with my family, tired after a day out on the slopes, and decided that the family would watch a movie together to relax and have a few laughs.  My husband and I had seen the movie ‘Amelie’ at our local Cinema Arts Center a few years before and we loved it so much that I thought it was time to share the film with my daughters who were now on their mid to late teens.  I put the DVD in the player while the family was getting ready to be cozy with their PJ’s figuring I would set the film up before they flopped onto the couch.  When it comes to TV remotes, however, I am a technologically-challenged Mom  (I know I am not alone because I saw a Modern Family episode a few seasons ago where Claire had to ‘train’ with her tech-savvy daughter to counter Phil’s spot-on accusation that she was useless with the remote). I pressed what I thought was the ‘play’ button but did not get ‘Amelie” but an episode of “The Bible’ on the History Channel.  I had read decent reviews of its depiction of the life of Christ and so I figured I’d watch while I waited for my family to join me for ‘Amelie’.  The episode was Christ in the Temple in Jerusalem and as Christ upbraided the moneylenders and upended their tables, there was carnival-like music in the background which as I watched I said out loud to my family, “I don’t know why the critics liked this production – it’s too modern – its like Christ is in a circus and its drowning out what he’s saying – Coppola’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was so much better than this…” and as I watched and grew to dislike it more and more, and continued to complain about the horrible soundtrack, I realized that the music was the french accordion intro to the ‘Amelie’ DVD playing over Jesus’s temple tantrum. My family rushed in the room wondering what was getting me riled only to find me laughing hysterically and when they saw Jesus at this point speaking his sermon with the daffy french music in the background, they joined in the laughfest.  Yes, there is something funny about Jesus!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode 1 (cont’d) – Confusion and More Obscure References

Haines is confused by Buck’s “he himself” statement which Buck finds amusing and says to Stephen’s ear, maybe in a half-whisper, “O, shade of Kinch the elder! Japhet in search of a father!” (line 561). I continue to be amazed and awed by the depth of meaning and reference Joyce packs into seemingly simple exchanges. The sentences are associations Buck makes with the idea of father and son. The exclamation references ‘shade’ a word for ‘ghost’ and Kinch’s ‘elder’ or ‘ father’ which leads Buck to reference the title of a book by Captain Frederick Marryat, an English novelist and an acquaintance of Charles Dickens (according to Barnes and Noble) entitled “Japhet, in Search of a Father” published in 1 836. Have you ever heard  of this book?  Haines finds that the Martello tower and cliffs remind him of the setting of Hamlet, Elsinore castle. Stephen’s inner thought note Haines’ pale blue eyes, ‘(t)he seas’ ruler’ , a reference to his English heritage, the British being known in that era for their outstanding Navy. Haines mentions that he once read a theological interpretation of Hamlet regarding the Father and Son ‘idea’.  I imagine that more than one exists and Joyce was familiar with at least one.  What I didn’t imagine really existed was ‘Upanishads’ (line 371) which I reference in my “The Milk Matron Cometh” post.  I was reading a TED blog and I see the ‘Upanishads’ mentioned and did a double take.  Turns out they are ancient texts which form the basis for the Hindu religion – talk about obscure!  That must mean ‘Mabinogion’ is a real thing too.  Lo and behold, the ‘Mabinogion’ is a “collection of eleven prose stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts” (thanks Wikipedia).   Now that screams obscure! I also note that my spell-check doesn’t even have a reference for ‘Mabinogion’.  Lesson to self, never leave a Joyce reference unchecked or you’ll miss out on filling in the gaps in a modern liberal arts education.  ‘Mother Grogan’ anyone?  217 days ’til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode 1 (cont’d) – I Am My Own Grandpa

The three roommates exit the tower, having to climb down a ladder to do so.  At first I wasn’t sure what Buck meant when he says, “(a)nd going forth he met Butterly” (having only found a reference to a cricket player in Wikipedia) but then I chuckled and stopped taking it so seriously because Buck does have a sense of humor about him.  Just picture a large Buck Mulligan going down the ladder of the Martello Tower and you’ll start to picture the “Butt-erly” he’s talking about.  Buck asks about the key which Stephen says he has.  The key comes up again and I wonder whether Buck is afraid of being locked out or if it’s about rank and possession.   Stephen walks with an ‘ashplant’ which I suppose is a walking stick given that ash is a type of wood.  Perhaps Joyce gave one to Stephen because the word ‘ash’ also conjures up associations with Catholicism, such as Ash Wednesday, and that Stephen walks throughout life with that association.  The trio talk of the Martello tower and Haines follows up on the ‘bait’ about Hamlet that Buck raised with him before Stephen changed the tone of the conversation by inquiring about money.    Buck  equates Stephen with Thomas Aquinas, a compliment to his intellect, and basically tells Haines that it is too early, or that he is too sober, to keep up with Stephen and his ‘fifty-five reasons’ to support his idea about Hamlet. Haines’ curiosity is piqued inquiring if the Hamlet idea is a paradox but Buck references Wilde again (who said, ‘the way of paradoxes is the way of truth”) saying that they have outgrown ‘Wilde and paradoxes’ and that Stephen “proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father”  (lines 555 – 557).  The question is, who is ‘he himself’?  I find myself thinking of the oracle of the Matrix and the “I Am My Own Grandpa” folk tune at the same time which means my noodle is cooked!  32 days, 23 hours and 57 minutes ’til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode 1 (cont’d) – Inwit to Nitwit

We learn that Stephen works at a school as Buck implies that the drinks are on “Stephen tonight.  Buck and Haines are going for a swim and we get a sense of Stephen’s hygiene as Buck refers to him as the ‘unclean bard’ (and this guy is going to have a romantic liaison later in the novel?). Stephen replies that “(a)ll Ireland is washed by the gulf stream”, a phrase Haines likes as well as the”cracked lookinglass” mentioned earlier. Stephen seems paranoid as he groups Buck and Haines as those who wash but then alludes to conscience with the phrase “(a)genbite of inwit”,  possible meaning that they have cleaned their conscience as Stephen is concerned.  I searched the term and came up with a Wikipedia entry, “Ayenbite of Inwyt” and thought to myself, “how did Joyce dig up this obscure reference?” which translated from a french “confessional prose” work into middle english in the 14th century literally means an “again-bite” of “inward knowledge”.  Did Joyce gain this knowledge from his classical Jesuit education or did he glean it from another source?  If you have any insight, please comment (I would love to respond to a comment which BTW is why I am still writing about the first chapter, stalling for time in the hopes that I will figure out how to increase readership even though I am several chapters into the novel).  Buck plays with Haines to see if he can get any money from him for Stephen’s ideas but Stephen spoils the game by asking Haines, “(w)ould I make any money by it? – line 490) to which Haines replies, “I don’t know, I’m sure” and walks out the door.  Buck berates Stephen for being a nitwit and spoiling Buck’s efforts thus far but then agrees with Stephen’s view that there is little hope that they’ll make money off of Haines or the milkwoman.  Buck returns Stephen’s used handkerchief, gets a clean one of his own out of his trunk, and throws  Stephen’s hat from Paris to him before they make their way out of the tower.  79 days and 15 minutes ’til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode I (cont’d) – the Milk Matron Cometh

As the roommates await the arrival of the milk-woman, they sit down to a breakfast of fried fish as Buck does the sign of the cross in latin as he lays the fish into three plates – St. Patrick’s analogy has just found a new application.  Buck begins to tease a none-the-wiser Haines and Stephen catches on and plays along.  I have not looked up the Dundrums, Mabinogion or Upanishads as I believe Buck is joshing but if any reader knows differently, please leave a comment.  The old woman praises God for the morning and we learn she is Irish from Buck who tells Haines (and I love this) that the “islanders”  often speak of “the collector of prepuces” (foreskins)  which, as a religion teacher, I surmise is a reference to God’s covenant with Abram.  Stephen waxes disrespectfully (“old shrunken paps”, “witch”, and “crone” ) of this poor old woman who is just there to deliver their milk, still working at her advanced age. Buck tastes the milk (after the old woman urges him) and after he remarks that such food would improve the health of the country, the woman surmises that he is a medical student, is impressed and bows her head to Buck’s loud voice. Stephen takes this as a slight to him which if she could have read his mind would be deserved – maybe his negative thoughts gave off bad vibes!    Now, so far in this book (and we are only on page 12), Joyce writes phrases in Latin and Greek,  yet we find out that Haines, the Englishman, has spoken to the old woman in Gaelic only through the dialog.  There are no words in Irish in italics, possibly omitted purposely by Joyce because there was no commonly accepted translations or to just make his point that his “ancestors threw off their language and took another” as Stephen Dedalus tells Cranly in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  The old woman is ashamed that she doesn’t speak the language which Buck describes as “(w)onderful entirely” .  She curtseys and goes out after reciting the math to arrive at what they owe her.  Only 116 Days ’til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode 1 (cont’d) – It’s Only a Shaving Bowl!

Stephen’s ghoulish reverie is broken by Buck’s sing-song ‘friendly ‘voice summoning him downstairs to breakfast with Haines, their English rommate, and we learn that Stephen is a teacher when Buck asks him to lend him a ‘quid’ (a sovereign) after Stephen is paid.  Buck then seems to be mocking the English singing a ‘Coronation Day‘ song in a cockney accent.  Stephen sweats the small stuff by deliberating whether he will bring  down the shaving bowl that Buck forgot on the parapet likening it to an incense burner he carried as an altar boy at Clongowes,  a Roman Catholic private boarding school in Kildare which James Joyce attended and used as one of the settings of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  By the way, the founder of the school (in 1814) was Father Peter Kenney,(a namesake of mine), who also helped to found the first Catholic church in Dublin following the emancipation of Catholics in 1829, St. Francis Xavier (according to Wikipedia). He knows he is a different person yet he still calls himself a servant, but now not of the Church but of his roommate.  How about just being a good roommate while Buck makes breakfast!  Stephen apparently decides to ‘serve’ Buck by bringing down his shaving bowl which he sets on the locker (another term for icebox) which is located downstairs in the living room where the three will eat their breakfast.  To clear he smoke created by the cooking, Buck asks Haines to open the door (another ‘servant’, Stephen?) and the issue of the key (it comes up later) which Buck thinks Stephen has, is in the lock.  A reference is made to Stephen’s time in Paris (another POTAAAYM reference) who sits on his valise, implying he has recently returned,  probably because of his dying mother, and who suggests they drink coffee with lemon since there is no milk, segueing to the coming of the milk matron.  142 days til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode 1 (cont’d) – ‘Brood’ Begets more Brooding

Buck wants Stephen to give up his ‘moody brooding’, the word ‘brood’ calling to Buck’s mind a quote from Yeat’s poem, “Who Goes With Fergus?” which ironically seems to have a tune associated with it that Stephen’s mother asked him to play (this time he acquiesced) while she was on her deathbed, the memory plunging Stephen further into moody brooding.  So much so that he details items that he must have found after her death, ‘her secrets’, including dancecards and possibly a program from a ‘pantomime’, play, that she saw as a girl, brooding further on the items at her bedside and her red-stained nails from squashing lice – yuck!  He recalls her death rattle while all prayed for her on their knees, except him, which is probably why he is haunted by her death, and the latin words (of course) for the prayer his Mom wanted him to say.  He rails against his mother’s ghost, refusing it, calling it a ‘ghoul’, and demanding that it “let me be and let me live.”  What he wants to be is free of the religion in which he was raised, that pervades his country, something that is discussed in Joyce’s prior  work, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  Near the end of that novel,  tells Cranly that he “will not serve that which I no longer believe” which precipitates his self-exile to Paris, where he would not feel the weight of the Roman Catholic faith as he feels it in Dublin.  Stephen stood by his convictions despite his mother’s deathbed pleading which he is paying for now because he just did not count on his guilty conscience.  152 days til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode 1 (cont’d) – Was It Something I Said?

Just days after my last post in which I wrote how much I was enjoying Ulysses, my car was rear ended and I ended up with a wicked case of whiplash.   I write this sitting on a stool in my kitchen so for weeks I couldn’t get comfortable.    Then the holidays were upon me, and all the accompanying preparation.  On Christmas morning, what to my sleep-deprived eyes should appear but a shiny new Gabler edition of Ulysses ( so I don’t hog the one at the library:)  Christmas was followed by a trip to Disney World (a gift from my Mom to her grandkids – by the way, Epcot on New Year’s Eve is a blast – 100,000 plus people from around the world dancing  and toasting each other with fireworks from each country around the world showcase – now that would be a great way to celebrate Bloomsday!).  Now that the kids are back to school and the therapy for my neck is helping, I’m back to Stephen and Buck and their antics in the Martello tower in Dublin.  After Stephen turns the phrase, “cracked lookinglass of a servant”, Buck links his arm with Stephen and dos-i-dos around the tower which calls to Stephen’s mind his former friend, Cranly, who similarly linked his arm in A Portrait of the Artist as  Young Man.  If I had not recently reread the book, I would have no idea what Joyce meant by “Cranly’s arm” (line 151). Either Joyce presumed that his readers had read his  prior novel or he wrote the phrase to puzzle the detail-oriented. Buck can sense, however, that something he has done is troubling Stephen and gets him to spit it out.  Stephen, after extricating his arm from Buck’s recalls in vivid detail how Buck disrespected him in front of Buck’s mother and a visitor who had asked who was in his room, Buck replying “O, it’s only Dedalus whose mother is beastly dead” .  Buck’s reply is rather callous given the situation which is probably why he turns red and nervously blames his insensitivity on his daily encounters withe the dying and cadavers in the course of his medical schooling.  “Mater and Richmond” refers to the largest hospital in Dublin at the time and its affiliated lunatic asylum. Buck then defends himself by bringing up Stephen’s failure to heed his mother’s deathbed request that he pray for her, reminding him that his mother was calling her doctor “sir Peter Teazle” a character of her era, and needed to be humoured until she died.  Buck also mentions “Lalouette’s”, a Dublin funeral parlor which rented out mourners.  Buck then says that he didn’t mean to offend Stephen’s mother’s memory but that’s not the issue with Stephen who views the offense as one to him personally.  Buck wants to get past this touchy subject, pointing out that the sea has no use for ‘offenses’ and tells Stephen to ‘chuck Loyola” (referring to St. Ignatius of Loyola and Stephen’s pious pensiveness)  and to come down to breakfast (‘rashers’ are sausages) where the English roommate awaits, nicknamed the “Sassenach’ which is gaelic for Saxon.  158 days til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode 1 (cont’d) – Stephen’s mother – Dead alas!

I had planned to coincide the discussion of Stephen’s mother’s death with Halloween but along came hurricane Sandy and I spent 11 days without power, getting my news from newspapers, and trying to maintain a semblance of the structure of my family’s life despite the closure of our schools for two weeks and a day.  Our area was a mess of toppled trees and power lines which made for interesting navigation on Halloween by determined trick-or-treaters shadowed by their concerned parents.  I was able to read through Episode Three and even picked up Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (which I did read in college).  Once power was returned, restoring our lives to pre-Sandy patterns, a trip to Syracuse for a reunion (and an amazing win by the Orangemen in the Carrier Dome over the Cardinals), and the preparation and today’s execution of a beautiful Thanksgiving Day with family, have all played a part in keeping me from this blog.  What has brought me back is how much I am enjoying this trip through the Joycean rabbit hole of Ulysses.  

Back in the martello tower, following Buck’s reference to the sea as “Our mighty mother!’ (line 85), he raises to Stephen that his aunt thinks he killed his mother by refusing her last request that he kneel at her bedside and pray for her.  Buck says that Stephen has a sinister streak but that he’s a “lovely mummer” (an actor, not what he appears to be).  Stephen, however, has pain in his heart following his mother’s death, a pain that Joyce writes is “not yet the pain of love” which foreshadows a future romance for Stephen.  Stephen’s dream of his mother reads more like a nightmare in “smell-a-vision” and the use of the word “reproach” has an interesting double meaning both in Stephen’s mother’s disapproval of his refusal as well as Christ’s Reproaches on Good Friday “reminding (His people) of  his mercies and of their ingratitude” (Dictionary.com).  Stephen is experiencing catholic guilt and from his mother no less:)  204 days ’til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus

Episode I (cont’d) – Roommate Problems

Just like students and post-grads of today, Stephen and Buck are having difficulty with their English roommate, Haines, a wealthy son from Oxford, whom Buck describes as ‘dreadful’ and ‘ponderous’ (heavy) and whom Stephen is a bit afraid of after Haines raved about shooting a ‘black panther’ in the night, Stephen wondering where he keeps his gun.  Buck has reason to think that Haines doesn’t consider Stephen to be a gentleman, that he is somewhat superior because he comes from Oxford whereas Buck opines that Stephen has the manner of an Oxford man.  What Stephen doesn’t have is money, even though he has the learning.  Buck’s nickname for Stephen is “Kinch”, likening him and his intellect to a knife (the word sounds like the name of a german knife company – maybe it was, like Wustof).  At the time of the setting of this novel, what is now the port of Dun Laoghaoire was called ‘Kingstown’ (from 1821 through 1921 if Wikipedia is correct) because what is now the Republic of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom (until it gained its independence in 1922 following war).  Stephen wittily comments that the cracked mirror Buck has stolen from his homely servant, Ursula, is a “symbol of Irish art”, which brings two literary references: the first to Caliban in ‘The Tempest’ and the second to Oscar Wilde’s, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.  Wilde, a graduate of Trinity College,  died  in 1900 not long after his imprisonment on sodomy charges.  Buck’s comment, “If Wilde were only alive to see you!” might be alluding to Wilde’s homosexual tendencies and Stephen’s good looks.     Here is the statue of Oscar Wilde that is in Merrion Square in Dublin, near his birthplace and Trinity College.  When I was in the city in 2010, the statue was covered with a blue tarp undergoing renovations and I was happy to show my family in August 2012 that he had been restored to his colorful glory.   Buck detects that Stephen is holding something against him (that’s a whole other post) and Buck thinks it is because of Haines whom he offers to give a “ragging” (British parlance – play crude practical jokes upon) “worse than they gave Clive Kempthorpe”.  The next paragraph is Stephen’s thoughts going back to what was done to Clive which reads as though Clive was chased around a room by wealthy youths of privilege  with shears (“Ades of Magdalen” might have a double meaning possibly referring to inmates of the asylums for fallen women of the era or a British forestry official of 1905), aiming to neuter him as one would do an ox, after spreading jam on his face, with no one to hear him outside since the gardener who looked like the irish poet, Matthew Arnold (large sideburns), was deaf.  Stephen thinks of the word, omphalos, which was the center stone in the temple of Apollo at Delphi marking the center of the Earth, in relation to this paganistic prank, and later, Buck tells Haines that the Martello tower that they reside in was the omphalos, the center of British fortifications against Napoleon.  This may indicate that this location is the central point in the novel from where the other action revolves.  Funny that the word novel is like navel.  Hmm.  230 more days ’til Bloomsday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Stephen Dedalus