Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses’
January 17, 2012 | by Amie Barrodale
Paul Maliszewski is a friend of mine. He recently published a short-story collection called Prayer and Parable. Around the end of last summer, I asked him if I could interview him about it. We exchanged questions by e-mail for a week. Several times I said that I was incompetent—forget the whole thing—but Paul reassured me I was doing fine. What I especially like about the book is that Paul doesn’t compromise when it comes to portraying reality. He’s a little like Fellini in 8 ½: he preserves the confusion, meaninglessness, suddenness, and asa nisi masa of the everyday.
I have a question that might be a little bit unanswerable. I know you think a lot about individual sentences, and I wondered what makes a good sentence. Am I right in thinking that you give a lot of time to them?
I do give a lot of attention to sentences, but mainly because they don’t come out right for me on the first go-round, or the second, or the eighth, or the thirtieth. Revising takes me a lot of time. I drive myself crazy. I’ll just stare at lines. There are sentences in this book where I had a page, back and front, of all the different versions I was at one time trying. One sentence I’m thinking of was not particularly long or complex, but it was at the end of a story, and I didn’t want it to seem too ending-y, or pat. So there I was, scratching out, writing something new, circling back.
Reading like that is a hard thing to turn off. I catch myself revising e-mails and I think, What are you doing? When I’m working on a story or essay, if I find something messed up, I make myself start over and read it through again. If I find something else wrong, I start back over, and I keep starting over until I can read it without stopping, until I don’t suffer any doubts. That takes a long time, Worse, sometimes revising one sentence throws things off further down the page. It’s like I’m working on a pipeline and making a repair at one point, and whatever fix I make feels right, but it twists things around so that they get gummed up later. Read More »
October 20, 2011 | by Jonathan Gharraie
For the real action at this year’s Man Booker Prize, you had to hit the cloakroom. For much of the evening, along with correspondents from all the major newspapers, I was sequestered in a large room in the palatial spread of the Guildhall. It was only when I ventured downstairs that recognizable faces attached to tuxedos and evening gowns began to drift in from the dinner. I ran across one former winner, dreamily improvising at an invisible keyboard while explaining how relieved he was to belong to what he called the great continuity of the prize; a well-known literary editor roamed the corridors, warily peering from right to left in the manner of a displaced meerkat; and Anne Robinson, host of The Weakest Link, was huddled against a wall, unusually hushed by the seashell allure of her cellphone. Read More »
September 15, 2011 | by Dawn Chan
It’s late August in Brooklyn, and two men are trying to figure out how to hoist a piano up to a third-floor window and then release it so that it smashes onto the sidewalk below. “I think the major issue is just balancing out its weight,” says one. They push open a door to the roof to explore their options. A security alarm goes off; they’re undeterred.
The two men, director Chris McElroen and “professional problem solver” Dan Baker, are part of the team behind Chaos Manor, a multimedia performance inspired by the unconventional life of W. Eugene Smith. In the 1950s, Smith, celebrated for his front-line World War II photography, found himself increasingly at odds with his Life magazine editors. He quit his job and, several years later, embarking on what some might call a midlife crisis and others a visionary project, left his wife and children and moved into a dilapidated Manhattan building frequented not only by “derelicts, hustlers, and thieves” (in the words of his biographer) but also by some of the “biggest names in jazz.” From his fourth-floor apartment, Smith spent the next eight years relentlessly documenting the sights and sounds around him. His forty thousand photographs and 4,500 hours of audio reels captured hundreds of musicians, including legends such as Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, and Roy Haynes. Read More »
June 27, 2011 | by Jonathan Gharraie
Exuberantly marked across the globe, Bloomsday celebrates the single day on which James Joyce set Ulysses, his epic adaptation of The Odyssey, which also happens to be the day of his first successful rendezvous with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. Each chapter of the novel corresponds to an episode in the daily life of one of the book’s three protagonists as they move around Dublin in the summer of 1904: Stephen Dedalus, the frustrated artist as a young man; Leopold Bloom, the Jewish everyman; and Molly Bloom, his profoundly sensual but unfaithful wife.
Immodesty on such a scale is rarely justified, but Joyce was entitled to make his claims on posterity since we don’t just remember his ambitions, we read what they achieved. In his influential book The Intellectuals and the Masses, John Carey argued that while “one effect of Ulysses is to show that mass man matters, that he has an inner life as complex as an intellectual’s,” the novel’s density works to “rigorously exclude people like Bloom from its readership.” I feel uncomfortable with the implication that writing sympathetically about “mass man” means writing for him, perhaps because I can’t quite banish the sense that I might have more than a little of him in me. But to properly defend Ulysses against the charge that it is deeply and treacherously unreadable, you cannot avoid calling yourself to the stand. Martin Amis baldly posed the question, “Who curls up with it?” And writing on this blog last year, Peter Terzian elected to take Ulysses on a vacation, reasoning that the book affords “the kind of pleasure to be found in difficulty.” I agree and would also subscribe to his method of consulting guides to Ulysses on a preliminary read, before trying to do without them for a second attempt immediately after. But I wanted to push things further still, to see just how much pleasure could be derived from the second most difficult novel in the language: to engage in some omphalos-gazing extreme reading.
September 30, 2010 | by Peter Terzian
This is the second installment of Terzian’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
8:00 A.M. Help the convalescent Caleb into a car-service limo to JFK, where he’ll board a flight to Rochester. This afternoon he gives his Melville lecture. We’ll rendezvous in Albany, where I grew up and where my father still lives, tomorrow: Caleb will fly in from Rochester in the afternoon, I’ll drive up from Brooklyn with Toby in the evening. On Saturday morning the three of us will drive to a rented cottage in Deer Isle, Maine, for a belated summer vacation. “Pack sweaters,” we are told by just about everyone.
8:57 A.M. Shave with Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” playing in my head. Sometimes I try to trace a seemingly random song in my head to its origin—a stray thought, a phrase in a book, something overheard—but I fail with this one. I haven’t been lying in any burned out basements lately.
9:27 A.M. On the subway, read Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy1—I’m toggling back and forth between this and Poser on my commute. There are a lot of animals in Bedford’s autobiographical novel, which is set in fin de siècle Berlin, and sometimes she holds back the fact that they’re animals. In one section, we’re told that a new character, Robert, is in the kitchen breaking plates, and two pages later he climbs into a young girl’s lap—Robert, we discover, is actually a monkey. In the passage I read today, the narrator describes the irritable donkey she had as a child who is “fond of music full of brass, and it was for her benefit that the gramophone was set a-trigger at tea-time under the lime tree.”
12:58 P.M. Take the subway on my lunch break to Chelsea, to see an exhibit of new work by David Shrigley at Anton Kern Gallery. This is the second time I’ve seen this show. I went to the opening two weeks ago with a couple of friends, but split off to talk to David, whom I interviewed last year for a travel article about the Glasgow arts scene, then had to rush through the gallery to catch up. David is tall and gentlemanly. The Glasgow trip was my last travel story, and I’ve been feeling misty-eyed about it lately. I told David that Glasgow was my favorite city, and he said, “Well, that’s ridiculous2.” Today I want to spend more time with the show, when it’s less crowded. The centerpiece is a row of ten pairs of empty black ceramic boots3. A row of his funny drawings lines the walls, and hanging outside the building is a desperate-looking placard that says, “IT’S ALL GOING VERY WELL NO PROBLEM AT ALL.” There’s also a wall with small, protuberant digits beneath a model of the word God. My favorite thing here, though, might be a sculpture of a rib cage set on the floor in a circle of light from the skylight above, which I find inexplicably moving.
1:34 P.M. Think about how I don’t think about Pavement when I’m not reading encomiums to Pavement shows.
7:05 P.M. Get my hair cut at Whistle, a salon in the East Village. “Um … so do you know this actor Andrew Garfield?” Will, my haircutter, does! I come out with a modified, less actorly updo.
9:04 P.M. Caleb calls. The lecture was a success, the people at Geneseo lovely.
10:05 P.M. What to read over a week in Maine? First, the books I’m halfway through: A Legacy, Poser. Then some magazines: the new Paris Review, the new London Review of Books with a piece about creative-writing programs by Elif Batuman I’ve been hearing about, last week’s London Review with the Alan Bennett story I never finished. And now comes the joy of selecting un-begun books from the shelf. I settle upon three short ones, as I had intended: two New York Review Books Classics—James Schuyler’s Alfred and Guinevere, one of Caleb’s favorites, and Maria Dermoût’s The Ten Thousand Things, which my friend Jeff Rotter has praised in a Facebook post; and Colm Tóibín’s The Heather Blazing, in a tiny hardcover Bloomsbury Classic edition with a hand-painted cover. I’ll bring The Oxford Book of English Verse, of course, for romantic reading over breakfasts studded with wild Maine blueberries. And then the big question: to bring Ulysses or leave it behind? For vacation, shouldn’t I pack “pleasure” reading? But Ulysses gives me great pleasure—the kind of pleasure found in difficulty4. But shouldn’t I bring books that don’t require entire other books of annotation? I end up voting in favor—a quiet Maine cottage seems like the right place for a distraction-free geek-out. Read More »
- Shockingly out of print.
- He had a point—we were at a big, fancy art gallery in New York, after all.
- $28,500 a pair.
- Caleb has no such ambivalence—he’s packed The Faerie Queene.
September 29, 2010 | by Peter Terzian
6:46 A.M. Sit on the couch with Toby, our dog, to read Ulysses. I’ve been doing this in hour-long sessions, a few mornings each week, since spring. Today I begin chapter 9, otherwise known as “Scylla and Charybdis.” This is the one where Stephen Dedalus gives a disquisition on Shakespeare in the reading room of Dublin’s National Library. (Meanwhile, Leopold Bloom, the novel’s main character, is in the National Museum nearby, checking out the bottoms of the classical statues to see if they have anuses.) I am, as a friend calls it, “geeking out” on Ulysses. My method is: read each chapter once through with Ulysses Annotated, Don Gifford’s exhaustive book1 of explanatory notes, at my elbow; read the corresponding sections in a couple of critical texts2 that discuss the book chapter by chapter; go back and read the chapter a second time, neat. But that’s not the end of the geekery! Before I begin each new section, I take a look at Ian Gunn and Clive Hart’s incredibly fun James Joyce’s Dublin, which maps the routes Bloom and Dedalus walk over the course of their shared June 16th and reprints archival photos3 of the Irish capital in the early twentieth century. For “Scylla and Charybdis,” there’s a great picture of the interior of the National Library, with men wearing many-layered, tightly buttoned suits, sitting at long wooden tables similar to the ones in the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room. No one’s playing Minesweeper on his laptop, though; these Dubliners are reading books—books, imagine!—propped on very civilized-looking reading stands.
This chapter is pretty note-heavy. Over the next hour, I get through only sixty lines of text, but according to the annotations, these lines contain allusions to Hamlet, Goethe4, Milton, Blake, Yeats, Matthew Arnold, Marie Corelli, A.E., an obscure play by Synge, and Irish political history5. I also learn two new Shakespearean words: coranto, “a running dance,” and sinkapace, “a dance with five steps.” I should say that I’m technically rereading Ulysses, but my memory of the book from the first time around, in college, twenty-three years ago, is almost nil. I’m sure I stumbled over every other sentence then. Not this time!
7:51 A.M. Toby and I hear Caleb waking up in the bedroom; Toby slides off the couch, corantoes off.
8:03 A.M. Breakfast. Caleb and I are slowly reading through The Oxford Book of English Verse, aloud, poem by poem. The idea is to start the day with beauty and art, while bad news waits on the doorstep, temporarily contained in a blue plastic bag. But sometimes, against our better judgment, we find the temptation to read the newspaper overwhelming. Today we decide to do both—the paper while we eat cereal, a poem after. I read “Political Cauldron Stirred by Old Video of Candidate,” about Christine O’Donnell’s dabbling in witchcraft, and immediately regret our decision.
8:25 A.M. Caleb reads Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, then I read it. It’s beautiful. The message is, Caleb says, “You love me more because I’m olden7.” We figure out that Shakespeare probably wrote it when he was in his late thirties—dismaying that he thought himself in his twilight then. I’ve read a lot of the plays but very few of the sonnets. I know this one, though, because Kate Jacobs, a Hoboken singer-songwriter I like, has adapted it and set it to music. Her version, “That Time of Year,” is enchanting—it’s done klezmer-style, with a horn, fiddle, and banjo.
9:02 A.M. Iron my clothes8 for work. I figure out that I can memorize Sonnet 73 in a week if I learn just two lines a day.
That time of yeeare thou maist in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few doe hang
I’ve been obsessed with the idea of memorization since reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, an account of the British travel writer’s walk across Europe in the 1930s. Leigh Fermor passed the time by reciting9 the anthology’s worth of English poetry he had committed to memory as a schoolboy. Rote learning was not a priority of suburban public schools in the 1980s—we memorized the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities in ninth grade, and that was it—and since reading Leigh Fermor’s book I’ve fantasized about making up for it in middle age, though without much10 success.
10:10 A.M. At work, read my Facebook news feed11. My friend Sean Howe has changed his profile picture to the rooster on the cover of Pavement’s Watery, Domestic EP. Sean texted me Saturday evening to say he had an extra ticket for Pavement at the Williamsburg Waterfront, the first of five New York dates on its reunion tour—did I want to go? I immediately said yes, and then realized I didn’t want to after all, and sheepishly called him back Sunday morning to say I had changed my mind. A reason for my ambivalence occurred to me later: that seeing Pavement, a band I loved in the 1990s, might make me feel temporally displaced—as though, for one night only, I would revisit a musically exciting time in my life, and then the window would close up again, for good. The prospect of such a heady rush of nostalgia made me uneasy12.
10:44 A.M. Sean e-mails a link to a review of the Pavement concert with the set list appended to the bottom. Maybe I was wrong—looking at this list, I think I would have been happy to hear these songs again.
12:32 P.M. Take advantage of my new MoMA membership by meeting my friend Kate Bolick for lunch at the trattoria-ish cafeteria on the second floor. Afterward we quickly walk through a small show about modern kitchen design. Some great poster art, including British wartime propaganda with a rat that “will eat your rations,” and TV monitors with kitchen-related vintage films. It’s too much to take in over a few minutes—I’ll have to come back.
6:18 P.M. On subway platform, begin new Alan Bennett story “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” in the London Review of Books.
6:50 P.M. Train pulls into the station near my house. It’s touch-and-go with this story; not sure I’ll end up finishing it.
7:45 P.M. Leaf through new issue of New York magazine while waiting for frittata to set on stovetop; wish that there were more photos of Andrew Garfield in Facebook movie article. I have a haircut scheduled for later in the week—could I pull off13 his flawlessly styled quiff?
9:31 P.M. Read draft of “Melville’s Secrets,” a lecture Caleb will deliver later in the week at Geneseo State College. He’s been asked to give the annual Harding Lecture, named after the late Walter Harding, a preeminent Thoreau scholar who taught at the school. The lecture is about “secret meaning” in Melville, specifically in Moby-Dick and Clarel, Melville’s little-read epic poem. Why do certain books, Caleb asks, make us feel that the author possesses esoteric knowledge he or she has encoded within the text? What might that hidden knowledge mean in Melville’s case? I haven’t read Moby-Dick in a long time, but I’m fully absorbed by Caleb’s paper; for one, there’s a lot of sperm14 in it. Read More »
- Longer than my edition of Ulysses itself.
- Richard Ellmann’s Ulysses on the Liffey, which brilliantly traces patterns I wouldn’t otherwise recognize; and the warmer and fuzzier Ulysses and Us, by Declan Kiberd, which argues that the famously avant-garde novel is actually a useful guide to a well-lived life.
- When I read a novel set in a place or era I haven’t personally experienced, I want to know as much as possible what its real-life trappings looked like—the scale of the buildings, the style of drawing-room furniture, the fashions in men’s facial hair.
- Here’s a beautiful line about Hamlet from Carlyle’s translation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister: “There is an oak tree planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom; the roots expand, the jar is shivered.”
- There’s lots of Irish political history in this book. Parnell, Daniel O’Connell, the Phoenix Park murders—my head is spinning trying to keep it all straight.
- An outtake from My Aim Is True that Costello later rerecorded for a single with George Jones.
- Olde and olden are words I originally adopted, for in-home use only, to describe food that’s not up to my high standards of freshness—i.e., “I’m not going to eat ye olde leftovers; you can if you want to” or “This milk is a day past the sell-by date. It’s olden—I don’t care if it’s still half full, I’m going to open a new carton.” We’ve expanded the usage to refer to our middle-aged selves.
- The problem with J.Crew pants is the fly. For some reason, the fabric folds open in such a way that one’s zipper becomes exposed. I spend a lot of time ironing the flies of my pants shut.
- Out loud, sometimes to the consternation of passersby.
- read: any
- That didn’t take long.
- Of course, there was also the prospect of crowds, jostling, tall people.
- A rare moment of hair-emulation that’s appropriate to my actual hair, which is thick and shrubby. Usually I covet floppy hair.
- The whale kind.