Wandering Rocks

By JERRY GRIT

I chose “Wandering Rocks” to title our endeavor to collectively read Joyce’s Ulysses for both its multiple layers of significance and because it is a lame pun, which is all very Joycean. I was going to call it “Wandering Cephallenians” (don’t ask)…but I think this is a little snappier. 

“The Wandering Rocks” is the title of book 12 of Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce uses the Odyssey to structure Ulysses, which depicts the day in the life (June 16, 1904) of 3 main characters: Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and Molly Bloom (whose Homeric parallels are Telemachus, Odysseus, and Penelope…and whose names also have multiple layers of significance). “Wandering Rocks” figures as “chapter 10” in Ulysses.

In the Odyssey, this chapter’s action-packed. Odysseus sails through Scylla and Charybdis, dangerously listens to the sirens, and gets his entire crew killed. But no actual wandering rocks. They are apparently too scary for Odysseus to take on. Here’s the summary from the Gifford Ulysses Annotated:

In Book 12 of The Odyssey, Odysseus chooses to run the passage between Scylla and Charybdis rather than attempt the Wandering Rocks, which Circe describes as “drifters” with “boiling surf, under high fiery winds,” remarking that only the Argo had ever made the passage, thanks to Hera’s “love of Jason, her captain” (12:65-72; Fitzgerald, p. 223). Thus the episode does not occur in The Odyssey. The Wandering Rocks are sometimes identified with the Symplegades, two rocks at the entrance to the Black Sea that dashed together at intervals but were fixed when the Argo passed between them on its voyage to Colchis.

(from Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman, “Ulysses” Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s “Ulysses” [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988], p. 260

So in the Homeric parallel, our endeavor represents what is extremely difficult, often avoided, but which can be managed with a little love (from each one of us…aw). It also portrays Odysseus’ lame leadership skills, which should be warning to you all about me and my nominal role here. Don’t bother with what I say, or you will probably die…but I guess the sailors do die because they don’t heed Odysseus’ warning. So maybe it’s the opposite. Listen to me and you won’t die. Whatever.

I’m more excited about the lame pun. We’ll be like “wandering” through the text, as we follow Leopold and Stephen as they wander through Dublin, and as Molly wanders through her own mind. We should also be “wondering” at the text (both in the “wow” and “wtf?” senses).

And “Rocks” could be read as both a plural noun and a verb. As a noun, we’re like the rocks (“dumb as a rock”; “that dude is a total rock”; etc.) reading through Ulysses, trying to make sense of it with our limited training in classical literature and familiarity with the Dublin street grid circa 1904. And our endeavor will also “rock” in with Twisted Sister-esque loose, transgressive fun!

Won’t you rock and wander/wonder with me?

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4 Responses

  1. […] as Eric Bescak and Jerry Grit, Wandering Rocks (why the name, you ask? Read the first post here) “could be an online reading collective that will take on James Joyce’s Ulysses on June […]

  2. Hi Eric/Jerry:

    I’m going to try and follow along with your Wandering Rocks reading project, if it’s not too late to join in…

    matt

  3. Oh heck no, Matt. We’re happy to have you. You still have little less than a month to get yourself ready. And “ready” is pretty subjective. You could try reading the “Odyssey” or “Portrait,” or you could just spend the next 28 days drinking cheap whiskey and eating kidneys, or you could spend it yelling at yourself in the mirror…or any combination of the above. Whatever you want.

    You are more than welcome to contribute posts on a few readings. Or I might try just invoking the “Fight Club” membership model…when you join you have to contribute. Don’t know how that will work, though.

    In any case, welcome aboard. I’ll be posting some things this week that I think will help. But it’s been 10 years. I may just confuse myself.

  4. […] and the Oxen of the Sun (coming tomorrow!). The text amounts to a mere 19 lines, and yet Jerry Grit has chosen these lines to be the metaphor for our collective assault on the treacherous cliffs of Mt. Ulysses. And he has […]

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