Friday, May 03, 2013

Beyond the Visible World

"the little lower layer": Digging Deeper 
into Joyce's Ulysses' Difficulties and Splendors

""Hark ye yet again- the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event- in the living act, the undoubted deed- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike though the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines. " (Herman Melville, Moby Dick - Chapter 36 "The Quarter-Deck, p 164)

One year ago this month I attended a First Friday Lecture "Ulysses - A Human Work for Humans" presented by Claudia Traudt, Intructor Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, The University of Chicago.  Today she followed up on that lecture with further thoughts derived from her longing to share "further, deeper, keener explorations of Ulysses' difficulties and splendors." (from the introduction to the lecture).  Beginning with a reading of Judge John Woolsey's decision allowing U. S. publication of Ulysses she explored some of the more challenging passages of this mature work intended for "Mature Audiences".

The lecture included, but was not limited to, an analysis of six excerpted passages that, while stylistically challenging, demonstrated some of the difficulties and splendors of Joyce's great novel.  The breadth of Ulysses is challenging yet even in the seemingly most straight-forward prose, for example as seen in Episode Ten: "the wandering rocks",  which consists of nineteen short views of characters, major and minor, as they make their way around Dublin in the afternoon. Even in this relatively simple section there are stylistic leitmotifs embedded in the prose that are invisible if one glides over the prose without further consideration.  Other examples included selections from:  Episode Twelve: “Cyclops”;  Episode Fourteen "Oxen of the Sun" which demonstrates the gestation of the English language. The prose styles of many different time periods, along with the styles of their most famous authors, are replicated and at times parodied in chronological order;  and, Episode Fifteen: "Circe" where the majority of the action of occurs only as drunken, subconscious, anxiety-ridden hallucinations.

The climax of the lecture for me came when Ms. Traudt demonstrated the critical emotional links between Leopold Bloom's meditations during his lunch in Episode Eight: “Lestrygonians” where he looks above the bar at the tins of food. He ruminates about food: odd types, poisonous berries, aphrodisiacs, quirky personal favorites. Bloom notices two flies stuck on the window pane. He warmly remembers an intimate moment with Molly on the hill on Howth: as Bloom lay on top of her, Molly fed him seedcake out of her mouth, and they made love. Looking back at the flies, Bloom thinks sadly of the disparity between himself then and now.   Significantly Molly reprises the seedcake moment from her point of view in her magnificent monologue that goes on for a moment of infinity in the final section of the book concluding with joy that encapsulates the possibilities for humans.  This lecture unlocked some of "the lower layer" beyond the visible world in the minds of everyday men and women who live and love in their very human lives.

Moby-Dick or, The Whale by Herman Melville. W. W. Norton, 1976 (1851).
Ulysses by James Joyce. Vintage International - Vintage Books, 1990 (1934).

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