Monthly Archives: September 2010

Dear Dirty Dublin: More Thoughts on Aeolus’ Headlines

The following thoughts are from Mary Beth, a member of our group: 

I’m reading with the assumption that each  title is a sign of the content that follows. 

Consider “Dear Dirty Dublin.”  First of all, as Gifford points out, JJ tried to use all the classical Rhetorical Figures (figures of speech) in the Aeolus chapter.  “Dear Dirty Dublin” is an example of at least two:  alliteration , oxymoron and/or synoeceiosis.*   The contradiction/contrast in the rhetorical figures of the headline applies also to the content of its section.  For example, I wasn’t sure at first if the two “vestals” were truly elderly and pious (“dear”) as directly stated, because they are followed by Stephen’s memory of the (“dirty”) prostitutes . Clues do come in later sections, but I’m still not sure if the two women are pious or prostitutes (the same ambiguity surrounds the role of vestal virgins) or  reformed prostitutes. 

We are led to think about contradiction and ambiguity two headline sections before  “Dear Dirty Dublin.”  In “Ominous—For Him,” there is a reference to Macduff (line 10). In Macbeth “fair is foul and foul is fair.” For example, Lady Macbeth says ambiguously to King Duncan on his arrival:  “All our service/In every point twice done, and then done double” (I vi).  (They have prepared their hospitality and they also have prepared to murder Duncan so that Macbeth can assume the crown, as the witches prophesied he would.) The duplicitous witches (“Double, double, toil and trouble…”) make three prophecies for Macbeth when he consults them later.  One is “Beware Macduff.”  Another is “No man of woman born shall harm Macbeth.”  Macbeth believes, then, that he really has nothing to fear from Macduff—until he is confronted by Macduff, who reveals that he was not born, but was “from my mother’s womb untimely ripped.”  Then he kills Macbeth.

My question is why does JJ make us think about Macbeth at this point.  Hmmmm … Well, Blamires says a theme of the Aeolus chapter is disappointment.  There are few characters in literature who are more disappointed than ambitious Macbeth.  Could this be the connection?

The two “vestals” and contrast and ambiguity appear again in the headline section following “Dear Dirty Dublin.” One vestal ‘s use of Lourdes water is contrasted with the other’s drink of Guiness double-X (more double!).  The former has been given Lourdes water by a Trappist, monk who vows to convert sinners. Has she been reformed by him?  Perhaps the latter, who drinks double-x and eats pig (symbol of gluttony) feet (unclean), is still a sinner, now guilty of gluttony.  Thus, we have a wise and a foolish virgin, the parable referred to at the end of “Dear Dirty Dublin!”

Perhaps the ultimate contradiction implied in the headline is that Dublin is truly dear to the Irish, while at the same time dirtied by British control.

I don’t know if all of the headlines can be read so deeply, nor if each one links so deeply to sections before and after and to the themes of the entire book.  That’s my challenge to you!

  • oxymoron:  “the conjoining of contradictory terms so as to give point to the statement… “ (Gifford,639)
  • synoeceiosis: “contrasted or heterogeneous things are associated or coupled such as contrary qualities attributed to the same subject…” (Gifford, 638)

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A Reflection on Lemony-Scented Soap

As I’ve reflected on the readings, one thing that keeps returning to my mind is the lemony-scented soap Bloom purchases in Episode 5: The Lotus-Eaters.  He seemingly buys it on a whim while picking up Molly’s lotion.  At first glance, I assumed it was also for Molly.  Perhaps he bought it for himself. 

No matter for whom he bought it, the fragrance transports him to his eastern fantasy – citrons, melon fields, an exotic place, a Promised Land.   After all, his thoughts are repeatedly drawn back to the east.  In one instance, he considers an advertisement for citrus groves in Israel.  The New Bloomsday Book mentions that “possession of melonfields in the Promised Land is symbolically connected with happy marriage” (p. 25).  Thus, his eastern fantasies are intertwined with thoughts of Molly.  In her letter to Bloom (a.k.a. Henry Flower), Martha asks him about his wife’s perfume.  Only further reading will confirm my suspicion that it’s a lemony scent.

Bloom carries the soap with him throughout the day, a detail that evokes a strong sensory response for me.   Not only does it appeal to one’s sense of smell, but it also appeals to a sense of touch.  I can just imagine Bloom shifting it around the pockets of his coat all day long, smelling it, touching it, thinking about it.  Something else to consider is that if he can smell it, so can others.  It reminds me of a morning I bought a pound of freshly ground coffee at my favorite cafe and had to keep it with me the rest of the day.  I couldn’t hide its aroma no matter where I was.  Even while stashed in a cabinet in my office, colleagues could detect it there.   

One more thought about the lemony soap – it’s not the only thing he keeps in his pocket.  Strangely enough, he always keeps a potato in his pocket as a talisman.  Inherited from his mother, the shriveled potato serves as an interesting symbol, both of Ireland and the current state of Bloom’s family.  In contrast, the adjacent talisman – the soap – represents something else entirely: fertility, renewal, an exotic and other land.  Which will prevail?

Finally, the place where Bloom bought the soap – Sweny’s Pharmacy – still exists in Dublin.  After closing back in 2009, it’s open again.  It should be no surprise that its bestselling item for many years has been lemony-scented soap.

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Books People Lie About Reading

This article from Huffington Post should resonate with our little community of readers: “13 Books Nobody’s Read But Say They Have.”  It should come as no suprise that Ulysses is third on the list.  I love the caption under the Ulysses  bit:

“Let’s just pretend there isn’t a book called “Finnegans Wake,” which nobody’s read or even talks about outside academic circles. However, if you’ve read all the way from “stately” to the very last “yes” in “Ulysses,” consider yourself one of the proud few. Just don’t act like you actually knew what was happening, especially in that last chapter.”

In a few months, many of us (I hope) can truthfully report that we’ve actually read the novel.  Some other familiar titles on the list include War and Peace and Moby Dick.  Perhaps those would be appropriate selections for future Mission Impossible programs.


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Extra! Extra! Readers Confused by Headlines in Aeolus

Before I even started this novel, I anticipated I’d find it confusing at times.  Really confusing.  Episode 7: Aeolus was the first episode that made my head spin a bit.  It’s the newspaper-like headlines that have thrown me for a loop.  I’d like to hash this out a bit, as I’m guessing it’s also caused many of you grief. 

However, before I go into explanations about the headlines, it might be good to mention the reference to Homer’s Odyssey.  Aeolus, the god of winds, aids Odyssesus by presenting him a bag full of all the adverse winds on his journey home.  Unfortunately for Odyssesus, his companions open the bag out of curiousity, unleashing the winds which blow the ship off course.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about the headlines (generated with the aid of my many study guides):

  • The most obvious: the headlines are present because the episode takes place in the Freeman newspaper offices, echoing the very style of a newspaper.  After all, the newspaper office is much like Aeolus’ palace of wind.
  • They serve as a bag of winds, blowing us off course and frustrating our journey through the novel.
  • Let’s just cheat and consider Joyce guru Stuart Gilbert’s thoughts: “It will be noticed that the style of the captions is gradually modified in the course of the episode; the first are comparatively dignified, or classically allusive, in the Victorian tradition; later captions reproduce, in all its vulgarity, the slickness of the modern press.  This historico-literary technique, here inaugurated, is a preparation for the employment of the same method, but on the grand scale, a stylistic tour de force, in a later episode, the Oxen of the Sun (James Joyce’s Ulysses, p.179).
  • I’m still left with a gnawing thought that confuses me even more: Do the headlines somehow describe the text that follows them? 

Please feel free to share your own thoughts and responses by commenting on this post.

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30 Views of Ulysses Exhibit

I’m very pleased to announce that the Library will host Leonid Osseny’s 30 Views of Ulysses exhibit in March 2011.  Mr. Osseny is an artist/architect from Skokie.  His 30 Views exhibit was displayed at Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center back in June of this year.  Stay tuned for more information!

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Two Weeks Notice

If you can believe it, the next sessions of Mission Impossible: Ulysses start in just two weeks!   No matter how deeply you plan on delving into this assignment, now is probably the time to start if you haven’t already.  It took me about a week to get through it at a fairly leisurely pace.

Regarding attendance, please notify your group leader if you won’t be attending the next session or if you’re dropping out completely.  There are still sizeable waiting lists for most sessions, and I’m sure those folks would like to jump in if there’s an available spot.  To the folks on the waiting lists – there are no plans to create an additional group.  Unfortunately, there is neither enough staffing nor space to do so.  The best I can do is suggest you keep up with the reading and jump in if and when a space opens up.  If one of you would like to start your own group, I’d be happy to support you in any way I can.

As always, feel free to email me your questions or concerns:

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