How did *Ulysses*' Ithaca episode strike you?
December 21, 2012 9:29 PM   Subscribe

How did *Ulysses*' Ithaca episode strike you?

I'd like some information about the Ithaca episode in *Ulysses*. I don't have a Catholic background so I'd like to know how someone with first-hand experience of cataclysm found this episode. Why?

I consider myself someone who celebrates minute discriptions of the quotidian more than the average person so I was enthralled by this section, initially. Toward the close of the episode I had to put the book down. As most readers of *Ulysses*, and other similarly lengthed books, know, fatigue can get the better of even the best of us. I'd like to get all the support you can give and also all the support you've been pointed to if you've ever been in a position similar to mine, hopefully dealing with this episode specifically.

I understand that there are several annotated versions, but what I'm looking for is more of a discussion of the writing style, themes and/or ideas in the book; I'm not particularly interested in what a specific phrase in the book is in reference to. Nothing long either, just looking for a quick way back in. Perhaps there is a section of the book you might propose I reread.
posted by slowlikemolasses to Writing & Language (15 answers total)
This is skirting dangerously close to chatfilter. What is your question, exactly?
posted by Specklet at 9:45 PM on December 21, 2012

Response by poster: As stated in the title, the primary question: How did *Ulysses*' Ithaca episode strike you?

The secondary question: How can you help me reignite my enthusiasm for the book?
posted by slowlikemolasses at 10:16 PM on December 21, 2012

But you're almost at the end then! If there was a place where a reader felt compelled to put Ulysses down, I would have thought it would have come much earlier.

Yeah, the Ithaca segment is overloaded with information, but the idea is like that of a symphony in which all the thematic material is woven into a finale--and then the Penelope segment is the coda. So it is hard to get through, but it's the last push to the summit.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:36 PM on December 21, 2012

I haven't read Ulysses, but Nabokov's lecture on the book was pretty good, from what I've read of it. It deals with the larger thematic content, just as you want.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:43 PM on December 21, 2012

Best answer: Catechism, not cataclysm.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:24 AM on December 22, 2012

I found the catechism segment incredibly hard-going - I have a vaguely Catholic background but not enough to make proper sense of it. I might have actually skipped that part and gone straight to the Penelope.
posted by mippy at 1:40 AM on December 22, 2012

Best answer: How did it strike me?

I suppose it found a generally numb participant in the great adventure, such state having been produced by the excessive and hugely weird Circe episode shenanigans. In other words, it was almost soothing, because I could at least follow the precision of the piece, if not always the overarching significance of the themes and correspondences. I suppose I would suggest dialling back the obsession with the catechism dimension, at least in terms of its frank 'religiosity'. I think it's JJ's way of description because he doesn't help the reader at all and that Q&A model is something he knew intimately from his childhood catholicism; whereas others might describe it as cross-examinational, for example -- this is too simplistic of course but, I tend to think there are fewer depths for the plumbing on this specific point); it's just my guess anyway.

For me, the secret to the book, especially on the first read, is to just keep swimming no matter what. There are a trillion puns and inferences and sub-sub-sub-commentaries going on and it's hard enough at times to work who is speaking or where the action takes place etc, so it's best just to, not ignore exactly, but simply pass on through the choppy parts without too much fuss. You have the rest of your life to read-read it!

By the by, I had a look through some of the bits and pieces I acquired through an online Joyce read-through group from a decade or so ago in which I found this quote:
"I am writing Ithaca in the form of a mathematical catechism. All events are resolved into their cosmic physical, psychical etc. equivalents, e.g. Bloom jumping down the area, drawing water from the tap, the micturition in the garden, the cone of incense, lighted candle and statue so that not only will the reader know everything and know it in the baldest coldest way, but Bloom and Stephen thereby become heavenly bodies, wanderers like the stars at which they gaze."
(letter from Joyce to Frank Budgen, end of February 1921, Letters 1:159-60)
posted by peacay at 5:57 AM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I liked Ithaca. After several sections which felt tiresome and excessive, it was emotionally touching. I didn't find it particularly quotidian; it struck me as an important incident in the life of Stephen, finally able to meaningfully join with a father figure after spending the novel wandering. Peacay is right--you need to just keep pushing. In fact, as with most dense, poetic works, I think focusing too much on anything but the most literal sequence of events, you might find yourself losing the general thrust of story. There is one there, and it's the most interesting part of the book.

Besides, Penelope is the best section of the book. It's not to be skipped.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:00 AM on December 22, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Thanks specifically for the quote, it was just the type of thing I was looking for. I'd still greatly appreciate any more input from the Catholics.
posted by slowlikemolasses at 8:55 AM on December 22, 2012

Response by poster: And, yes, I understand Joyce probably did not primarily have the religious aspects of a catechism in mind when he wrote this section, but I can't believe he didn't imagine that the contemporary reader would associate this episode with religion. I hope, by plumbing this particular depth, to recreated the mindset of this particular reader, purely for my own personal enjoyment.
posted by slowlikemolasses at 10:33 AM on December 22, 2012

Response by poster: Also: Not categorizing noticing water coming out of a faucet, boiling said water, having thoughts of uncertain origin enter the mind, &c. as quotidian would make me dubious of anyone, though, in this case, I'm optimistic.
posted by slowlikemolasses at 2:32 PM on December 22, 2012

Best answer: Also: Not categorizing noticing water coming out of a faucet, boiling said water, having thoughts of uncertain origin enter the mind, &c. as quotidian would make me dubious of anyone, though, in this case, I'm optimistic.

If you're focusing wholly on those details, you're missing the point of the emotional denouement of the novel, where (after the intense and surreal incidents of Circe), the two men walk together and bullshit and find an emotional commonality and appreciation for one another. In Circe Stephen hallucinates about his dead mother; Bloom, about his dead son. Now, they gather in Bloom's kitchen to talk as equals, even as differences exist (for example, Bloom considers telling Stephen to wash better, but doesn't, because he recognizes that Stephen's dislike of water has something to do with his genius). In fact, advice not given or offense not taken by Bloom are a running thread here, particularly over issues of religion. His fondness for Stephen is clear, even in light of the density of the text; when he offers Stephen a place to stay, it's as much because he'd secretly like Stephen to get together with his daughter as anything else. Stephen is taking for Bloom the emotional place of Bloom's son, and it's tender and really quite sweet. There's also beautiful poetic language embedded in the scientific stylistics, and much of these poetics comment on the relationship between the two men:
Alone, what did Bloom feel?

The cold of interstellar space, thousands of degrees below freezing point or the absolute zero of Fahrenheit, Centigrade or RĂ©aumur: the incipient intimations of proximate dawn.
I'm of the opinion that it wasn't quotidian for Bloom to experience these feelings, to make a connection with a young man he so respected and admired--this paternal relationship is the backbone of the novel (biography is just as useful as knowledge of the stylistic framework here--Joyce enjoyed a similar relationship with Italo Svevo, an older Jewish writer ).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:21 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Comment deleted. Slowlikemolasses, sorry, but this is not the place to have a back-and-forth discussion of the text. From the FAQ: "...if your motivation for asking the question is 'I would like to participate in a discussion about X,' then you shouldn't be doing it in AskMe. If your motivation is 'I would like others to explain X to me,' then you're probably OK."
posted by taz (staff) at 12:15 AM on December 23, 2012

Sounds like you want a james Joyce or Ulysses discussion group. There may be such a group in your own city--have you checked that out? There is certainly at least one on the web. Either one will give you all the discussion you want!
posted by uans at 8:13 AM on December 23, 2012

Response by poster: I appreciate the suggestion, but what I'm looking for is more of a jump start. While I'm sure that joining discussion group would net me a lot of good info, it seems like it'd be more work than I'm willing to put in.

I've actually gotten enough info to get me through the book; anymore answers are gravy, as well as, still, greatly appreciated.
posted by slowlikemolasses at 8:12 PM on December 23, 2012

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