ULYSSES pp. 31-36, “Nestor”

by BEN VORE

The pp. 31-36 tweets:

  • p31. Greasy Deasy laughs at SD’s debts, calls him a fenian, then lectures him on The Potato Famine. This guy’s a royal prick.
  • p32. Deasy asks SD to deliver a letter to the papers. He types, SD reminisces about the racetrack and playing hockey (“the joust of life”).
  • p33. Deasy’s letter is about … foot and mouth disease? Cue anti-Semitic bluster!
  • p34. Deasy really hates the Jews. SD wants to awake from the nightmare of history, hears God in “a shout in the street.”
  • p35. Deasy to SD: You’re not a born teacher. SD to Deasy: “A learner rather.” SD rustles the sheets, really wants this conversation to end.
  • p36. Deasy has to get in one last anti-Semitic joke. It’s bad. He’s a sad, phlegmy blowhard. SD says nothing; at last he’s free of him.

On to the recap:

We pick up in the middle of Stephen’s transaction with Deasy, who has just lectured Stephen about thrift and self-reliance and then — being the prick that he is — goes in for the kill by asking poor Stephen if he too can say I paid my way. I never borrowed a shilling in my life. I owe nothing. Of course Stephen can’t, and p. 31 begins with a comical internal accounting of Stephen’s extensive debts. Stephen answers Deasy’s question with, “For the moment, no,” which prompts Deasy to laugh “with rich delight” and respond ( “joyously,” no less), “I knew you couldn’t.” Say it with me: This guy is a jerk.

But he’s just getting warmed up. Like many a bully who masks his insecurities beneath an obnoxious personality, Deasy assumes Stephen is Fenian (an Irish Catholic nationalist), and thus hostile to Deasy being a Tory (an English-fearing Protestant). This is all Deasy needs to begin espousing his views on Irish history, going back to the Irish potato famine

Let’s watch a short clip for some background on the famine. For our purposes, the first 40 seconds are the most relevant here. Should you choose not to watch the remaining 2:38, please just put your head down on your desk and go to sleep or something.

Can someone get the lights please?

How about that creepy Famine with the scythe? Yikes!

For fun: Read through the comment thread on the video to get a little taste of the ongoing Irish/British hostilities with regard to this little bit of history.

As for its relevance to us and “Nestor,” it’s worth one more quick tangent on the name Deasy. According to Ulysses Annotated, The Deasy Act (1860) was “an act ostensibly intended for land reform in Ireland but in practice a ruthless regulation of land tenancy in favor of landlords (i.e., in favor of the pro-English, anti-Catholic establishment).” If Joyce named his Nestor after this Act, as seems likely, then we can see Deasy as the smug, self-serving, condescending embodiment of English Superiority whose selective reading of history would pin blame for the famine back on “you fenians.” The SparkNotes commentary sums it up nicely: “The purpose of [Deasy’s] lecture is less to teach than to assert authority, an authority that is undermined by several factual errors.”

Once Deasy is done lecturing he asks Stephen for the favor of delivering a letter to the papers (Stephen has the hook-up). The hot button issue Deasy is eager to sound off on? Foot and mouth disease. ( “There can be no two opinions on the matter,” Deasy says. That’s another way of saying, “Everyone who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot.” Blooooooooow-hard, Blooooooooow-hard.)

As Deasy types, Stephen (seated “before the princely presence,” a nice little echo of Telemachus/Nestor) recalls a trip to the racetrack with his friend Cranly, then — hearing shouts and whistles from the hockey game outside — imagines himself down on that field, engaged in “the joust of life.” But in Stephen’s head, the game takes a rather grisly turn and ends with “the frozen deathspew of the slain, a shout of spear spikes baited with men’s bloodied guts.” (He’s been watching The Last Boy Scout one too many times.)

Then we get an ugly blast of anti-Semitic bile from Deasy, who suspects Jews have infiltrated every sector of the “highest places” in England. (He’s just getting warmed up.) Stephen recalls standing on the steps of the Paris Stock Exchange and contends that greedy merchants can be Jew and Gentile alike. Jews, Deasy retorts, “sinned against the light.” Stephen counters by asking, “Who has not?” This leads to the money quote of this episode, spoken by Stephen: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

Deasy, surely caught off guard by cryptic non-responses to his anti-Semitic charges, tells Stephen that “the ways of the Creator are not our ways. All history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.” At that moment there are more shouts from the hockey game. “That is God,” Stephen says, gesturing outside. This throws Deasy for a loop. “A shout in the street,” Stephen adds. Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!

Deasy is way off-balance by this point, so he shifts from anti-Semitism to some good old-fashioned misogyny. He trots out the tireless charge that “a woman bought sin into the world.” Stephen has had enough and politely raises the letters, indicating he’ll be off to take care of Deasy’s business. But Deasy keeps going, telling Stephen “you were not born to be a teacher.” Stephen is strangely passive here. “A learner rather,” he responds, but his heart isn’t in the fight. He rustles the sheets some more and keeps trying to get out the door. The conversation ended long ago for him.

Deasy, perhaps worried Stephen didn’t pick up on how Deasy really felt about the Jews, runs after him in the street to tell one more anti-Semitic joke. After he tells it, we get this rather repulsive little sentence:

A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. 

Yum! Who’s hungry?

You’d better get hungry for the Nestor Funmary tomorrow. We’ll try to draw together the loose threads and tease out this “history is a nightmare” business. Until then, some questions for discussion:

  • Can you feel that you paid your way and never borrowed a shilling in your life? No? Are you ashamed of yourself then?
  • Have you suffered from foot and mouth disease? Really? You have? Sick. You disgust me.
  • How is God like a shout in the street?
  • Is Deasy right in his assessment of Stephen as a teacher? 
  • What to make of Stephen’s increasing non-responsiveness from that point on? His internal monologue basically gets turned off.

Also, anyone with a firmer grasp on European history (here I’m thinking particularly of resident scholar Katie Else) care to tell us more about the Irish Potato Famine?

TOMORROW: The “Nestor” Funmary!

But who has adopted “Proteus”?

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One Response

  1. […] About Wandering Rocks ← ULYSSES pp. 31-36, “Nestor” […]

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