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Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses’

Where’s Leo?

June 17, 2013 | by

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Two years ago yesterday I followed a man dressed in black into a small pharmacy in Dublin. Bars of yellow soap covered the shop’s dark wooden shelves and countertops. I watched from across the shop as the man conversed loudly with the pharmacist, gesticulating as he spoke. He ordered a specific type of lotion. He then grabbed a bar of soap, indicating that he’d return later to pay for the soap and lotion. I lifted a bar to my nose and sniffed: lemon. The man waved goodbye to the pharmacist and left. I put down the soap and followed him out.

While I don’t usually stalk errand-running strangers in foreign cities, this was an exception: I was participating in Bloomsday, the annual reenactment of James Joyce’s Ulysses, on the anniversary of day the novel takes place, June 16, 1904. The man clad in black was an actor portraying protagonist Leopold Bloom as he moves through his day in real time, in the actual spots around Dublin where Joyce set his narrative. I was part of a spectator’s group of about thirty people—some dressed in period garb, including an unwitting infant in a lace collar and antique stroller—that trailed Bloom through the streets of Dublin throughout the day. We visited a home on Eccles Street that could have been Bloom’s. The pharmacy was Sweny’s, a Dublin establishment still selling the same lemon-scented soap that Joyce first made famous in 1922. Read More »

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Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: Modernists Go Off-Menu

January 2, 2013 | by

The opening scenes of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times demonstrate the indignities mechanized factory production perpetrates upon the bodies of its workers. The first shot, of sheep herded into a pen, dissolves into one of men leaving the subway. They’re bound, the viewer assumes, for the kind of job in which the next cut finds Chaplin’s Little Tramp: working on an assembly line, his motions so repetitive that they become reflexive. He can’t stop twisting his wrists, as if to tighten bolts, even when he leaves the station where he tightens bolts all day. His body is so bound to the line and to the factory that the same boss who controls the conveyor belt’s speed also controls the movements of the Tramp’s body. Finally, the factory extends its control to the Tramp’s last autonomous function: eating his lunch.

A salesman so committed to mechanization that he lets a machine speak for him has brought to the factory boss’s office a prototype of “the Billows Feeding Machine, a practical device which automatically feeds your men while at work.” He asks the boss to pick one of his workers for a demonstration, and of course Chaplin’s Tramp is volunteered. Strapped into the machine, hands incapacitated, the helpless Tramp watches the machine rotate plates before him: soup, air-cooled between spoonfuls; corn, spinning on its cob; cubes of meat, pushed by a mechanical arm from the plate into his mouth; and finally cake for dessert. The machine promises to “eliminate the lunch hour.”

Even before the machine goes predictably haywire—speeding up, spilling soup on the Tramp’s shirt and cake in his face (always pausing, hilariously, to wipe his mouth)—it’s clear to the viewer that some kind of line has been crossed. Read More »

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Loving Gorey, Trashing Ulysses

August 7, 2012 | by

  • Eve Bowen on the enduring cult of Edward Gorey.
  • We love Bookdrum’s interactive maps of the real locations featured in famous novels.
  • On his tumblr Newcover, graphic designer Matt Roeser gives books the covers he thinks they should have.
  • At the Atlantic, a discussion of what grown-ups can learn from kids’ books.
  • Paolo Coelho made waves when he told a Brazilian newspaper, “One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit.”
  • Should you happen to disagree, here is a free audiobook of the modernist classic.
  • Joshua Cohen, a visiting scribe at the Jewish Book Council, talks the art and business of writing with Justin Taylor.
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    What We’re Loving: Gardens, Riches, and Kidneys

    June 15, 2012 | by

    The classical novel exists, in large part, to teach us how to imagine money—the more than we’ll ever have, the more than we’ll ever lose. Nobody today writes more convincingly about lucre than Jonathan Dee. You glance up from The Privileges thinking, Sure, I can imagine how it would feel to be that level of mega-filthy, godalmighty rich—it’s like grasping some exotic theorem—then you dive back in to watch the Moreys make even more. (For a round-up of moneycentric novels, check out Christian Lorentzen in the new Bookforum.) —Lorin Stein

    I’m not a gardener—I can hardly tell tulips from forget-me-nots—but I have many friends who are, and I’ve just come across the perfect book for them. James Fenton’s A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed is short, witty, and useful. If you were starting a flower garden from scratch, Fenton asks, what flowers would you choose to grow in it? The names themselves are a pleasure to read: the Shoo-Fly Plant (also known as the Apple of Peru), the Pheasant’s Eye, the Iceland Poppy, the Blue Pygmy. Fenton also gives sound advice: “When handling seedlings, always hold them by the leaves, not by the stem”; and, “Forcefully remind your cat about the difference between seed trays and litter boxes.” —Robyn Creswell

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    Reading in New York; Reading of London

    April 20, 2012 | by

    My apartment is infested with evil roommates and sad vibes. Being unemployed, I have no refuge. But I refuse to be depressed! Mornings I pack a small bag of books, take to the streets, wander around. But one can only sit on so many benches. Am curious about comfy food places where the management smiles kindly (or just not unkindly) on quiet, unassuming customers who occupy space for many hours, ordering only coffee, or perhaps (eventually) some delicious pie ... Suggestions?

    Sincerely, Ex Libris

    (oh and Manhattan only please)

    Dear Ex, We have one of the world’s great reading rooms–at least for now–at the Forty-second Street Library. Having spent years in tiny, often overcrowded apartments, I promise that you will sit longer and read more there than in any café. If you get hungry, there’s a Pret à Manger across the street, not to mention the restaurant and sandwich kiosks in Bryant Park. Enjoy it while you can. Other good reading places—on weekdays especially—are the side room at Cafe Pick Me Up on Avenue A, the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights, and Tarralucci e Vino, either the one off Union Square or the one on East Tenth Street. For weekends, I highly recommend the bar at Vandaag on Second Avenue. No pies, but excellent coffee, strupwafels, and poached eggs.

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    Paul Maliszewski on ‘Prayer and Parable’

    January 17, 2012 | by

    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 »

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