Sunday Salon : A Ulysses Marathon

The Sunday

The stroke of noon

My first ever Sunday Salon. I am filled with delight.

Sadly, because I teach tomorrow (and it is a particularly busy moment in the syllabus) there will not be very much time for the three pleasure-reading books I have underway: The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (a Canadian play), Arlington Park (a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book about women's lives in the suburbs of London), and To Hate Like This is To Be Happy Forever (a reflection on the Duke-Carolina basketball rivalry in which I am so deeply entangled). In reference to the last of these, which is the book I am farthest along with, those of you have been following my blog know that I have been so deep in March Madness that I eat, sleep, and drink college basketball. Well, last night that was taken to a new level, when I actually dreamed that Tyler Hansbrough (our star player at UNC) came to live in my house, and was a perfectly lovely guest, although he did have some strange dietary requests.

My other preoccupation of late (I believe I have spoken of both it and Tar Heel basketball as being labyrinthine obsessions, in their capacity to absorb my attention) has been my reading of Ulysses, which I am teaching to a wonderful group of students who are having, well, intense and diverse emotional reactions to it. Last class was the first in which literary discussion actually reached the level of yelling, and I loved it. So today will be a marathon of Ulysses reading and paper grading. I will keep you updated as I go.

9 p.m.

Slow but steady progress in Ulysses. My favorite (obscure) line so far is one in which the young hero, Stephen Dedalus is being mocked by the imagined voices (inside his own stream-of-consciousness monologue) of family members who are filled with derision for his attempts at saintliness. This is the exchange he has with his internalized taunters:
Reading two pages apiece of seven books every night, eh? I was young. You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly, striking face. 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. (34)
Frankly, reading 7 books simultaneously at a rate of two pages a day sounds like EXACTLY the sort of project I would undertake.

Joyce's sense of language and character is remarkable for how palimpsestic it is: you can see through the layers of connotation and allusion to all the other layers, and the relationships between them create a continuously shifting body of meaning. Whole sections of the book shift perceptibly, like a hologram, as you read them from different symbolic or formal viewpoints.

We had a fascinating argument in class last week about translation, as students insisted that Ulysses, in all its linguistic richness or chaos (depending on your opinion of it), was untranslatable. How does this differ from other authors, I asked, like Shakespeare or Cervantes? Shakespeare, they reluctantly admitted, might also be easy to lose in translation, but Cervantes's language just didn't have the requisite linguistic complexity. You don't think, I followed up, that we feel that way because we just read Cervantes in translation (albeit a very good one), rather than in the original Spanish? They looked skeptical. Except, perhaps, my bilingual students, who had been reading Don Quixote in the original.

Now, I would never argue that the language of translation is lacking in richness or nuance, but I think the way we approach a translation's language is quite different. We are reluctant to do close readings, because the language has been divorced, in our minds, from the "intention of the author." Unless we view the translation as either miraculously accurate and trustworthy or an autonomous work of art in its own right this is a hard analytical hurdle to jump.

Ok - I must return to paper grading and Ulysses-reading. But first, a note on my reading goals for the next week. I would love to finish off both The Ecstasy of Rita Joe and To Hate Like This is To Be Happy Forever (something has got to tide me over, basketballwise, until next weekend's Final Four game. Go Tar Heels!), and to make significant progress with Ulysses (she says virtuously) and Arlington Park. The next thing I will embark upon will probably be The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, which, if I remember correctly, was on last year's Booker short list, and which has gained a newly urgent reading status when it was recalled from me by the library. Happy reading, everyone!

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