The Great Bloomsday Read-A-Long

Hello everybody! I know I have ignored blogging about Ulysses, but fear not: I'm still reading. I'm currently half-way through Circe, which I'm loving. I've been reading quietly and desperately trying to find something to say that would be insightful and interesting, but kept ending up feeling inadequate and not writing. But here we are: Bloomsday just passed and I'm reading Ulysses and I feel I should mark the day somehow (although it's not the first time Bloomsday catches me reading Ulysses, I was a few pages in this time last year).


So I'll address some of the points brought up by Emily and Lori during the weeks I was away, and bring up a topic of my own.

Writing styles: your favorites, least favorites, how do they work, etc.

I like the writing in the first three episodes (when we're following Stephen) the most. I like how visual the writing is here (more so, I think, than any other episode until Circe) and I like the constant back and forth between Stephen being over-dramatic and Stephen mocking himself. 
There are quite a few bits of these episodes that I remember off the top of my head, at least enough to search for them efficiently:
Hurray for the Goddamned idiot! Hray! No-one saw: tell no-one. Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful.
The cold domed room of the tower waits. Through the barbacans the shafts of light are moving ever, slowly ever as my feet are sinking, creeping duskward over the dial floor. Blue dusk, nightfall, deep blue night. In the darkness of the dome they wait, their pushedback chairs, my obelisk valise, around a board of abandoned platters. Who to clear it? He has the key. I will not sleep there when this night comes.
What doesn't exactly work for me is when Joyce is blatantly parodying popular writing styles of the era (like he does in the romance-y beginning of Nausicaa), though, to be honest, this is mostly because I'm never sure if I'm in on the joke.

Why We Need Diverse Books

Imagine a triangle.


That's a right triangle. I didn't tell you to imagine a right triangle. I told you to imagine a triangle in general. 


That's isosceles. You have to try again. We're not after particular angles or sides here. Try to be blind to those. Only see triangles as they are beyond these differences.


  You being deliberately obtuse? 


Now, if this were just satire of the real world instead of open criticism and I were writing for The Big City Review of Triangle Depictions I'd probably tell you, "Finally, ecce triangulus! This here is the naked triangle condition that shines through in every triangle ever drawn!"

But this here is just an equilateral triangle. It's not The Triangle, because well, there's no such thing. You cannot imagine an abstract triangle. You'll always imagine a particular one, be it isosceles or scalene. And when you draw a triangle, you'll draw a particular one and everything you want to show about triangles in general will have to be done through that particular shape. There's no escaping these differences. Representation - in your mind or on paper - is by definition of particulars. Keeping to equilateral triangles your whole life won't change that fact. It won't bring you closer to the ideal triangle. It will, if anything, distort and narrow your idea of what a triangle must be.
 
And if your mind cannot do more than this for 3 sticks put together, why would you think it can do it for a concept as complex as "human being"?

Ulysses Read-Along: First Impressions

For last week, Emily suggested as a discussion topic first impressions, and I want to talk about how I felt about Ulysses the first time I picked it up and how that changed.


To be honest, the first time I tried reading Ulysses, in high school, I did not like it at all, and I only made it as far as Aeolus through sheer stubbornness. I think my dislike was due to the fact that I never got immersed. I have one of those heavily-annotated editions, where the notes double the thickness of the volume. I figured the notes are there because they are important, because you cannot get everything out of the book without them. And I did want to get everything out of it. So I thought I should read all the notes; not as I encountered them, but to have a master check-up at least every few pages. Of course, then I would need to re-read the text with the notes in mind. Except I wouldn't remember half the explanations (many of which didn't mean anything without an even more detailed context of 1904 Dublin), and I would have to do this a couple of times more. I could appreciate how smart some of the connections were, or how elegantly Joyce could reference in a phrase a story that took a page of explanations in the notes, but re-reading something you've just read isn't very fun. So my first impression of Ulysses was that it's a clever book, but also i) very boring, and ii) pointless to read since I will never get all of it. 

I was about to make the same mistake when I started again, but then a birdcage hung in the sunny window of her house when she was a girl... happened and it was so beautiful and I just wanted to read on and know the story. I didn't stop again until Proteus, where I found it fascinating, rather than frustrating, to read up on Aristotle in order to be able to follow Stephen's thoughts. Now I make notes of things that I don't get but make me curious, and I try to keep the balance between looking up details and staying with the book. And of course I will not get everything out of it, but that's ok.

This time around, I actually have impressions about characters and situations and language, and not only about the book. I find Stephen adorably obnoxious, I think Buck Mulligan is funny but I empathize with Stephen's cringing around him, and I like Bloom a lot. I also have a very long, very fast-growing, list of phrases and sentences that I love. 


A Bloomsday Read-Along

Emily from Song of My Shelf and Lori from The Coffee Girl are hosting a read-along of Ulysses. When I learned it was going to be very laid-back, I decided it was the thing for me. So I'm participating in The Great Bloomsday Read-Along. Here are my answers to the start-up questionnaire.

1. Introduce yourself.
Hi, I'm Irina, though I usually go by Iris around here. I'm a Physics Master's student whose favorite activities include reading, power-walking (not good for your knees, I know), and taking random naps (not good for your productivity, I know). My taste in books is erratic, and so is my reading schedule. 

2. Have you read Ulysses before? Any other Joyce? Any attempts?
I've read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Attempted Ulysses half-heartedly in high-school, and again with more enthusiasm last summer. I didn't get halfway through the book on any of these attempts. 

3. Are you feeling nauseous?
Does anyone even need to ask?

Review: The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett


The title of this post is a lie: I don't actually want to review Pratchett's The Bromeliad Trilogy (also known as The Nome Trilogy), but rather to gush over how great it is and to tell you all how it blew my mind when I was about 10.

I love this series the absurdly protective way reserved for childhood classics and I credit it with a big part of my interest in social change and activism. (I also spend a lot of energy aggressively trying to get all my friends to read it; and I would like to take the opportunity to ask you all to join the campaign for Claudia's education NOW). 

The Nome Trilogy consists, unsurprisingly, of three books (Truckers, Diggers, Wings), and is, also unsurprisingly, about Nomes. Nomes are tiny people, about 10 cm high, who live on Earth unnoticed by humans. In Truckers, a group of outdoor Nomes, lead by Masklin and Grimma, find their way to Arnold Bros. (est 1905), a department store. There they meet the inside Nomes, who have lived under the floors of the store for generations and who don't react well to the unfamiliar (most inside Nomes hold the religious belief that ‘The Store’ contains 'All Things Under One Roof', and so there can be no “outside”, while the more scientifically inclined have devised the theory that outside Nomes would have pointy heads, as this shape is more fit for unpredictable weather). The outside Nomes have owned, since times immemorial, The Thing, a mostly useless metal cube. In the presence of the electricity in the store, The Thing powers up, revealing that it's the board computer of the ship that brought the Nomes to Earth, long ago. When they learn that the store is about to be demolished, the Nomes have to work together, navigating religious systems and social norms, as well as personal antipathies. They manage to escape the store in a truck, and find a new home at an abandoned quarry. 

In Diggers, the Nomes have more or less adjusted to life in The Quarry, but they are continuously threatened by human presence. A religious sign prompts Masklin, Gurder (a religious leader), and Angalo (a prodigy engineer) to leave the quarry, going out to the investigate a nearby airport, taking the Thing with them. In their absence, those left behind have to deal with a new threat: the quarry is to be reopened. Grimma leads the defense efforts, sabotaging equipment, locking up the quarry, and even attempting to communicate with humans. In the end, the Nomes are driven out again, escaping on an excavator. 

Wings is the story of Masklin's, Gurder's and Angalo's journey. The Thing convinces them that they should take it to a satellite launch, where it can attempt to contact the ship. The Nomes end up in Florida, where they meet other tribes of Nomes and realize there must be more to the Nomanity than they thought. Humans also have to deal with the existence of Nomes, as their spaceship lands. The Nomes use the ship to save the ones that are escaping the quarry, then leave Earth. But they know they must return, for all the other Nomes, as well as for humans, who might be capable of intelligent communication. 

Rainer Maria Rilke and A Regrettable Abundance of Consonants

You know how they say that the hardest thing about blogging is what to say when you come back after a long absence? Well, I just tried to refute that theory by staring at the screen for the past twenty minutes, trying to come up with a properly chatty intro. So okay, perhaps it's not the most difficult thing about blogging (that title should probably go to updating regularly, i.e. the thing that brought us here in the first place), but it's up there. Top three or so. 

So lacking a properly chatty intro, I then thought I should tell you about why we were gone for so long. And I wish we had a good reason, but the truth is that when it's been a while since you blogged, it's going to be a while longer. Once it gets going, not-blogging is mostly a self-sustaining process. (At least in our experience it is.) So there was that, and also the fact that I started to really resent our name/URL and its entirely-too-many consonants awkwardly broken by I's. I'd been meh about it for a while, but about a month ago it finally got to the point where I decided we need a new name if we're ever to start blogging again. Cue brainstorming. Cue almost naming our blog "A Different Kind of Failure" for a. the T.S Eliot reference and b. the ability to utter endless variations of "During the day I write for my thesis. In the evenings I write for A Different Kind of Failure." In the end, we did find what we think is a good name (although my heart will always be with A Different Kind of Failure). We're going to have to be Lit. Hitchhiker for a while longer, as I figure out the logistics of transferring to a new domain, but after that, it's shiny new name time! 

And in order not to make this a purely State of the Blog kind of post, I decided to also share a poem I've been fairly obsessed with for... uh, 6 months now, give or take? Just in case you don't know it (and are ready to be punched in the gut by its brilliance) and also because I really wanted to have it somewhere on the blog. It's Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo, in the translation of Stephen Mitchell. Fretting about translations and where they differ is one of my favorite pastimes, but in this case I'll just go with the first version of this poem I read. I feel a sort of weird loyalty towards it for being the one that first made an impression on me. You can find the German original, together with a different translation, here. And, at the height of my obsession, I've also found this article and the discussion here pretty useful.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.