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September 3, 2020

"Ulysses" — Part 2


[Odysseus, bound to the mast of his ship, listens to the deadly song of the Sirens. One of the bird-bodied maidens casts herself into the sea in despair at being foiled by the hero.*]

A week ago, on August 27, I wrote about my first encounters with Joyce's formidable 1922 book.

At the time I was on page 117 (of 783) and feeling chuffed about it.

I'm here a week later to tell you that I have made it to page 383, almost halfway through — but it has taken every bit of my will power not to take a break and read an easier, more typical (for me) contemporary novel just to give myself a chance to regroup.

I'm afraid, though, that if I do that, I'll break the chain of attachment to "Ulysses" and never be able to restore it.

I'm finding that after reading a couple pages, I start to fall asleep (a couple times, I have fallen asleep).

It's as if the book gives off this force field that melts my brain's ability to concentrate.

I feel as if I'm metaphorically recreating Ulysses' (the Latin variant of Odysseus, legendary Greek king of Ithaca in Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey) journey past the Sirens.

After having his sailors tie him to the mast, he ordered them to put beeswax in their ears so as not to be able to hear the Sirens' beautiful and irresistible song that resulted in sailors steering their ships toward the call and subsequently being dashed to pieces on the rocks.

When Odysseus heard the Sirens' song, he begged to be untied so as to approach it, but since his crew couldn't hear him or the song, they refused his pleas and were able to sail their ship safely past danger.

Clever joe figures out a strategy

I find that right before I fall asleep reading, I can fight off slumber by sounding out the words in my head, silently reading out loud, as it were.

Besides getting to hear, in my mind's ear, the beauty of Joyce's prose, holding off sleep in this fashion enables me to move forward a few more paragraphs.

What Thoreau wrote**

"To read well, that is, to read books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written." [my italics]

Read "The Odyssey" here.

Read "Ulysses" here.


Both are free, the way we like it (fair warning).

*Top image details: Stamnos Attic Red Figure Vase; Name vase of the Siren Painter;  c. 480-470 B.C.E.; Late Archaic period; in the collection of the British Museum, London.

**"Walden" (1854). Read it free here.

September 3, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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