German Opera for the Eyes

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I like quantum mechanics. This is not to say that I understand it at all because to claim that I even remotely grasp the concepts involved would be an outright lie. No, I like quantum mechanics in the way I like German Operas, I may not understand what’s being said but I love the way it sounds. James Joyce is like that for me.

At the end of last April I picked up a copy of Jame Joyce’s Ulysses on a whim. It was in a used bookstore in Cambridge, it was attractively priced, it was solidly bound and it had a preface that contained Judge John M. Woosely’s decision to lift the ban on Ulysses; how could I refuse? Once I had it my possession I started off strong reading twenty-five or fifty pages a day, this was on break mind you, and then, when blasted school started again, I lost steam. Oh sure I was poking my way through it but then, at the beginning of the summer of 2010, I realized that I was only on page 250 after a three or four months of reading. I was angry at my lack of erudition (that’s the right use of that tense, right?) and threw in the towel. And then a week ago (or more, my memory is foggy when it comes to the short-term aspects) I picked it back up.

Why? Because I realized that I missed Dublin. I missed the dirty streets, the depressed teachers and editors, the pompous (and drunk) intellectuals and I missed the adrenaline it gave me. True I didn’t understand part of going on but it was like theoretical physics, German operas, football games and poetry, I didn’t need to truly understand to be swept up in it (alright, with football it’s just the tight pants and long hair).

And so I returned to Joyce’s frankly depressing world with a sigh of relief. This time however I brought with me a matured mind-set. Before cracking open the teal cover I told myself, “Lady Jane, don’t worry understanding each word just let the sentences flow and you’ll be carried away. Also, don’t stress over finishing it in a week, maybe you will (ha!) but maybe you’ll take fifty years, at least you’ll have fifty years where you were reading something good.” Sometimes the advice I give is just so startlingly good that I wonder if I switched brains with Yoda. Well, it’s been over a week (I think) and I’ve really only done 20-30 pages and you know what? I don’t care. Some days I’ve done one page, some days more, some days none and I’ve been loving it.

-You, Armostrong, Stephen said. What was the end of Pyrrhus?

-End of Pyrrhus, sir?

-I know, sir. Ask me, sir, Comyn said.

-Wait. You, Armstrong. Do you know anything about Pyrrhus?

A bag of figrolls lay snugly in Armstrong’s satchel. He curled them between his palms at whiles and swallowed them softly. Crumbs adhered to the tissues of his lips. A sweetened boy’s breath. Welloff people, proud that their eldest son was in the navy. Vico Road, Dalkey.

-Pyrrhus, sir? Pyrrhus, a pier.

All laughed. Mirthless high malicious laughter. Armstrong looked round at his classmates, silly glee in profile. In a moment they will laugh more loudly, aware of my lack of rule and of the fees their papas pay.

-Tell me now, Stephen said, poking the boy’s shoulder with the book, what is a pier.

-A pier, sir, Armstrong said. A thing out in the waves. A kind of bridge. Kingstown pier, sir.

Some laughed again: mirthless but with meaning. Two in the back bench whispered. Yes. They knew: had never learned nor ever been innocent. All. With envy he watched their faces. Edith, Ethel, Gerty, Lily. Their likes: their breaths, too, sweetened with tea and jam, their bracelets tittering in the struggle.

-Kingstown pier, Stephen said. Yes, a disappointed bridge.

The words troubled their gaze.

-How, sir? Comyn asked. A bridge is across a river.

[Ulysses, p. 24-25]


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