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You probably don't care much about my reading, but it seemed good to share some of these thoughts about the book along the way. This passage may be one of the most evocative and sad of the entire book, and may give us a key to understanding much of what goes on. Then again, my reflections on it may simply be overwrought.
from The Sun Also Rises
The steer was down now, his neck stretched out, his head twisted, he lay the way he had fallen. Suddenly the bull left off and made for the other steer which had been standing at the far end, his head swinging, watching it all. The steer ran awkwardly and the bull caught him, hooked him lightly in the flank, and then turned away and looked up at the crowd on the walls, his crest of muscle rising. The steer came up to him and made as though to nose at him and the bull hooked perfunctorily. The next time he nosed at the steer and then the two of them trotted over to the other bull.
When the next bull came out, all three, the two bulls and the steer, stood together, their heads side by side, their horns against the newcomer. In a few minutes the steer picked the new bull up, quieted him down, and made him one of the herd. When the last two bulls had been unloaded the herd were all together.
The steer who had been gored had gotten to his feet and stood against the stone wall. None of the bulls came near him, and he did not attempt to join the herd.
This passage is followed near on by a fairly aggressive verbal attack by Mike (Brett Ashley's present husband) against Robert Cohn (her one-time pickup) in which Mike uses the following line:
"Tell me, Robert. Why do you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer?"
So, an obvious and overt reference. However, the passage above has stronger and more lingering resonances within the work as a whole. Jake Barnes has suffered a wound during the war which makes it impossible for him to consummate his relationship with Brett. Thus he is the physical steer of the group. It is also possible that his animus toward Robert Cohn is a result not of his jealousy of Brett, but of his jealousy of and confused thoughts about Robert. This is more tentative, and only gotten at by straining against some of the borders of the text. However, it is provocative that the chief sign here is that of the gored or penetrated steer. This same steer is excluded from the crowd in a way that both Robert and Jake are excluded. But Robert continually makes feeble attempts to join the herd, and Jake while more accepted does see himself standing outside.
Another point that this attraction (if it exists) might help to explain is the reference, quoted in the passage yesterday to being a bad Catholic and possibly never being a good one. If the matter were merely Brett Ashley, it is possible that Jake could think of himself that way--especially as the passion is adulterous. But the hope of being a good Catholic is not forlorn, knowing that Brett is fickle and likely to run through another husband or two in time. But if there a mixed and uncertain feelings about Robert as well, that would clinch the deal.
I won't push this as an understanding of the book, merely as a possibility suggested by this key passage. Obviously other parts of the work would need to be brought forward to support the thesis. It may not sustain close scrutiny, but the thought that Jake may entertain thoughts, perhaps not overtly homosexual, but perhaps a certain attraction to Cohn for looks, character, and ability, does help to explain why he ultimately betrays Cohn by presenting Brett to Romero (also attacking at the same time the obnoxious Mike, who, as noted in the passage above, attacks Robert). It's complex, but it isn't out of the question. The question is, will a close reading of the rest of the book support it. If not, it is at least an interesting speculation arising from the close juxtaposition of passages and symbols.
Oh, and it is an interesting coincidence of no meaning whatsoever, that the gored steer stands against the stone wall (Stonewall). (What other sort of wall would there be in Pamplona in the late 20s early 30s--but still, amusing if one wishes to force a reading on the text--Hemingway as prophet.)
There are a great many ways in which God has blessed me on this trip to Dublin. I was able to see the houses of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, AE, Robert Griffiths (founder of Irish Geology), many wonderful Churches and other such magnificent things.
However, one way in which He has chosen to enrich me beyond bounds is in my reading of Ulysses. When I knew I was going to Dublin, I decided to reacquaint myself with one of the most magnificent novels of the twentieth century.
Today I found myself reading the section knows as "The Lestrygonians." In it, Leopold Bloom walks down O'Connell street to Grafton street--right in front of my hotel. There are brass plaques all over with sentences from this chapter. On the way to watch a performance of Riverdance at a small, gorgeously appointed theatre, I found one that I had not seen to date, in front of a statue on the way to Trinity College, labeled simply, "Moore." I just about jumped for joy, because now, I was able to chart the amble up O'Connell with some precision.
I know this doesn't seem like much, but reading Joyce's masterwork in the city it was meant to commemorate and even enshrine is such a humbling experience and an enriching experience. Where before I had some vague idea of people walking around a lot (the travels of Ulysses), now I had a sense of where they were walking and what they were doing.
Okay, so not the most exciting thing in the world, I suppose. And yet, it is. I could have continued with an intellectual appreciation of Ulysses as a work of art, but now I also have a bones-deep visceral appreciation of its amazing reality--the reality not only of the city but also of the thought of the characters.
Tomorrow I leave, but today God vouchsafed my a glimpse of real genius that I will be able to appreciate and reflect on for the rest of my life.
I hope time allows me to share more of this truly wonderful trip with you in the future. I have even thought of calling it something like--"Keeping Track of His Hat in Europe."
I have been fortunate enough to be assigned a trip to Dublin--a situation I frankly dreaded, but which has proven one endless delight.
I started out with a trip to Sandycove to view the Martello tower at which Joyce starts Ulysses. And you know, there is a great delight and depth to reading the greatest book of the 20th century in the place that it eternalizes. Seeing what Joyce saw, being where he was and experiencing some sense of it, even at some remove in time. Also on that day, I walked to Dublin Castle, the gardens, Trinity College, the Liffey, the Pearse street Garda Station, and probably a dozen other places.
Tuesday to the General Post Office, the O'Connell Memorial, the Parnell Memorial, the James Joyce statue and south to St. Stephen's Green. Then to temple bar, and through Trinity Campus again. Haven't been able to see the Book of Kells yet.
Today, no time for touring, but lunch again in a pub.
And tomorrow--Iveagh Gardens, Oscar Wilde's memorial, Wilde's home, perhaps his Birthplace, and Nichols' Mortuary (A Joyce place). And then out to the Medieval Part of town to see Christ Church, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and some close by, even more ancient churches. And then to other Joyce locations. As I have said, it deepens the delight of the reading. I can revel in Ulysses in a way I think Joyce meant us to. Setting is so tremendously important.
Too much to say, too condensed, but let it rest at the profound delight I experience reading after dark Joyce in Dublin. Wonderful--oh, and morning starts with Yeats. I'm so profoundly blessed to have a Kindle.
Last Saturday my book group had its most satisfying discussion (about a book) in quite some time. We spent nearly two hours just walking through Mrs. Dalloway in an attempt to understand everything from the title of the novel to why time dissolves in leaden circles. Here then, composed before the discussion, is my attempt to make sense of the novel.
Clarissa and Septimus--Giving Time Meaning
in the dissolving leaden circles of the hour
she learns to be, spring green,
and he learns not to be before
a leaden grey car crouched in the drive
and haunted by spectres of previous trips.
As the hour sounds, time
and all its boundaries dissolve
so what were separate actions
now become all one
and grey and green and male
and female, all have meaning
in the limpid light that
in the ripples of lead.
There, could it be any more clear?
And I add for what it is worth, the following excerpt from my journal of reading:
"One of Woolf's themes in Mrs. Dalloway is how time is measured and becomes variously interpreted, especially when simultaneous actions are seen in gentle correspondence. She began to put her fingers upon time's pulse and see that while clocks and chronometers hack and split time, human actions give it profound meaning. There's a human need to measure what cannot truly be measured."
from The Selected Poems of Wang Wei
tr. David Hinton
The Way It Is
Faint shadow, a house, and traces of rain.
In courtyard depths, the gate's still closed
past noon. That lazy, I gaze at moss until
its azure-green comes seeping into robes.
Yep, been there, done that, and I have the souvenirs still here about my person.