Saturday, May 7, 2016

Sirens of Dublin

I woke up this morning with a great idea for a video game based on James Joyce's Ulysses. I should have known that someone else already beat me to it:
James Joyce's Ulysses is one of the greatest books in literature, and it is also one of the hardest to read. Irish filmmaker Eoghan Kidney is crowdfunding a creative solution to this problem: A virtual reality video game that allows the reader to experience the book as the protagonist.
(USA Today Book Buzz, July 28, 2014)

It's no wonder I woke up thinking about Ulysses. For the past few weeks, I have been immersed in it, hoping to get through it before we visit Dublin this month. I studied excerpts of it in college, but this is the first time I ever attempted to read the whole thing. Why? Because, as the writer of the above piece pointed out, it's an incredibly difficult book to read. Some would say the only book that is more difficult is Joyce's second novel, Finnegan's Wake.

Here's an excerpt from a 1922 review of Ulysses that appeared in the New York Times:
Few intuitive, sensitive visionaries may understand and comprehend "Ulysses," James Joyce’s new and mammoth volume, without going through a course of training or instruction, but the average intelligent reader will glean little or nothing from it—even from careful perusal, one might properly say study, of it—save bewilderment and a sense of disgust. It should be companioned with a key and a glossary like the Berlitz books.
That from a contemporary literary critic, who probably understood most of Joyce's references. Now, nearly one hundred years later, readers have even less chance of comprehending Ulysses.

But it's definitely worth the effort.

It's a fascinating concept: take Homer's Odyssey, compress the story to a single day (June 16th, 1904) and a single city (Dublin), record every single thing the protagonist (for the most part, Leopold Bloom) does, says, and thinks throughout the course of that day. It should be required reading for writers, or for anyone who loves the English language. Joyce's use of language throughout Ulysses is nothing short of amazing: it is at times joyful, at times shocking, and at times playful, as in the section I am currently reading, titled "Sirens."

"Sirens" is a sumptuous free-verse poem composed of snatches of music, conversation, and especially the thoughts of Leopold Bloom as he dines with a friend at the Ormond Hotel. Here are a few examples:

Describing the flirtatious barmaids, Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy (aka "bronze" and "gold"):
Shrill, with deep laughter, after bronze in gold, they urged each other to peal after peal, ringing in changes, bronzegold goldbronze, shrilldeep, to laughter after laughter: And then laughed more. Greasy I knows. Exhausted, breathless their shaken heads they laid, braided and pinnacled by glossycombed, against the counterledge. All flushed (O!), panting, sweating (O!), all breathless.

Describing Blazes Boylan, the man Bloom suspects is headed for a liaison with his wife:
By Bachelor's walk jogjaunty jingled Blazes Boylan, bachelor, in sun, in heat, mare's glossy rump atrot, with flick of whip, on bounding tyres: sprawled, warmseated, Boylan impatience, ardentbold.

Describing the voice of Simon Dedalus, singing in the bar:
It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don't spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the ethereal bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness...

Describing Pat, the bald and deaf waiter:
Pat is a waiter hard of his hearing. Pat is a waiter who waits while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. Hee hee. A waiter is he. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. While you wait if you wait he will wait while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. Hoh. Wait while you wait.

Describing Bloom himself, as he exits the hotel:
By rose, by satiny bosom, by the fondling hand, by slops, by empties, by popped corks, greeting in going, past eyes and maidenhair, bronze and faint gold in deepseashadow, went Bloom, soft Bloom, I feel so lonely Bloom.

The section ends with Bloom outside the hotel, his thoughts punctuated by the flatulence brought on either by the cider he had with dinner or the burgundy he imbibed earlier that day at Davy Byrne's Pub:
Seabloom, greaseabloom viewed last words. Softly. When my country takes her place among.


Must be the bur.

Fff. Oo. Rrpr.

Nations of the earth. No-one behind. She's passed. Then and not till then. Tram. Kran, kran, kran. Good oppor. Coming. Krandlkrankran. I'm sure it's the burgund. Yes. One, two. Let my epitaph be. Karaaaaaaa. Written. I have.


Imagine that in a video game.