ULYSSES Funmary #2: Nestor

by BEN VORE

Behold! I am about to reveal to you my amazing ability to perform a super secret Joycean mind meld which allows me to discern some of the thoughts and probing questions of a few Wandering Rocks regulars. Allow me to address those unspoken questions here:

“Could you just give me a brief overview of what’s actually going on in this episode? I’m new to Wandering Rocks and have chosen to remain in the shadows of anonymity until I get my sea legs, so to speak.” – Anonymous 

Yes, Anonymous (although I know who you are!). Stephen Dedalus is a history teacher and he’s teaching his class about Pyrrhus. It’s toward the end of class and the natives are restless. They ask for a joke and Stephen tells a morbid riddle that kinda freaks everyone out. But then class is over and everyone runs outside to play hockey, everyone except a kid named Sargent. Sargent needs a little extra help with math. Stephen helps him and feels an affinity for the kid. After that Stephen goes into headmaster Deasy’s office to collect his paycheck. Not only does he get paid, he also gets an earful of preachy monetary advice, curious historical assessments, anti-Semitic accusations and then some good old misogyny to top it all off. Deasy asks him to deliver a letter to some local newspapers, which is Stephen’s out. 

“I don’t speak Latin, so could you translate Amor matris for me? Also, Mike Allen’s corn hole tournament was a farce.” – Tad Smith

Tad, Amor matris translates to “mother love.” Joyce uses the phrase while Stephen is helping Sargent (with whom he feels a certain kinship) with his sums. This is noteworthy because Sargent ( “ugly and futile”) doesn’t seem like a lovable kid, although Stephen reasons that “someone had loved him, borne him in her arms and in her heart.” Here we have Amor matris, made all the more poignant because as Eric Jerric Jerry noted in his Telemachus Funmary, “Stephen is haunted by his dead mother, and his guilt surrounding her death. She asked him to pray for her at her deathbed. He refused.”

“This is well and good, but what about the last part of the sentence? It’s ‘Amor matris: subjective and objective genitive.’ And I’m really still steamed about that sham tournament.” – Tad

Based on my copious reading of commentaries, analysis and annotations, I believe I’m correct in saying that “subjective and objective genitive” suggests that amor matris can mean either a mother’s love for a child or a child’s love for a mother. It’s a two-way street. Why is this important? It might have something to do with Stephen’s ability to be the actor — or the acted-upon — for the journey ahead. Sort of like how you, Tad, have the choice to passively accept that it was indeed a sham tournament, or actively lodge an official protest with the International Corn Hole Association (located, conveniently, here in Cincinnati, Ohio).

“You said yesterday that ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’ is the episode’s money quote. Elaborate, please. And you know what else is money? Your unparalleled fashion sense.” – Andrew Cashmere

Thank you, Andrew! What a kind thing to say.

This is a money quote on several different levels.

  1. It’s a rebuke to Deasy. Deasy tells Stephen that “all history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.” Stephen wants none of it.
  2. It’s a rebuke to Haines. Back in “Telemachus” Haines tells Stephen, “It seems history is to blame,” an easy way to absolve certain parties (read: Brits) of responsibility. Stephen sees history as personal, close-at-hand, sometimes violent (especially with regard to Irish history). Note too that during this conversation Stephen’s color is rising and that Haines has “detached” some tobacco fibers from his mouth before speaking “calmly.” One speaks of a living, breathing history; the other exists in a sort of “ahistory.” 
  3. It’s true on a personal level. Stephen is a gloomy guy. He’s haunted by his dead mother. He’s wracked by guilt. He couldn’t make it on his own and had to move back home. A loudmouth and a freeloader kicked him to the curb. He sits through lectures by anti-Semitic blowhards. He’s literally trying to wake up from the nightmare of his personal life.

There’s also the tension here of how we should read history, a question that echoes from Stephen’s thoughts earlier in the episode. Thinking of Haines (though Deasy fits the bill too), Stephen muses, “For them too history was a tale like any other too often heard, their land a pawnshop.” Stephen’s history isn’t pliable in the same way because it’s anchored by fact, not memory. ( “Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away.”) So while Haines/Deasy absolve themselves of any responsibility for history, Stephen can’t shake it free.

“I have always wanted to be a star hurling player. Do you have any footage I could watch of you playing?” – Brooke Jackson

Yes, Brooke, I do!

“What would you prescribe for someone prone to coughballs of laughter which drag after them rattling chains of phlegm? I’m asking on a friend’s behalf.” – Mark Hoobler

Mark, I would advise your friend that it’s probably time to stop laughing altogether. Or get a lung transplant.

“As you may have noted if you read my spot-on post ‘swine flu — excuse me while i fail to be frightened,’ I’m not buying the media hype. But should I be at least a wee bit concerned about another outbreak of foot and mouth disease?” – Gflawrence 

Gflawrence, your post was indeed spot-on. And while I don’t want to downplay the potentially pandemic effects of another foot and mouth disease outbreak, you should rest assured that humans are rarely affected. Sleep easy tonight.

“Would anyone out there like a little perspective on Stephen’s classroom management skills from an actual 7th grade teacher (and Wandering Rocks participant!)? You would? Great! Because I’ve already written a blog post about it. Enjoy.” – Liza Anne

Thank you, Liza Anne!

“I rather enjoyed John Hodgman’s ‘Jokes That Have Never Produced Laughter.’ Might there be one more?” – Katie Else

Indeed there might, Katie! 

A dog goes into a bar. He is wearing an eye patch. The dog says to the bartender, “Have you heard the one about the one-eyed dog?” The bartender, who is deaf in one ear, thinks the dog is making fun of him. He asks him to leave. The dog says, “Don’t you have a sense of humor, deafie?” At the end of his shift, the bartender is tired of all the jokes. Today it’s a one-eyed dog. Yesterday it was a horse with rickets. The day before: ants. He lives above the bar, in a small room. He spends the night alone there, listening to his battery-operated radio, which picks up only a bad jazz station. He listens to bad jazz with his bad ear.

 

That closes the book on “Nestor”!

NEXT UP: The orphaned “Proteus”! What kind of monster would fail to adopt this poor child?*

* = clearly not you, as you are not a monster!

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3 Responses

  1. Wow! Your mind-meld skills are very impressive. That’s just what I was thinking! 🙂

  2. After you’re quite done with your space alien parlor tricks, I might ask you to call your attention to Deasy’s attitude toward Jewish folk and women, and wonder how it’s not a coincidence at all our other 2 main characters are a Jewish male and his wife, a lady. What links these 3 characters?

  3. Hmm, (forgive me if I err) methinks something has been forgotten. Mr J himself noted that the literary style parodied in this episode is the Catechism. For those not in the know, the Catholic Catechism was a book of rules, homilies, laws, guides to righteous living etc, in the form of questions and answers. The questions were not for discussion or thoughtful consideration – the Catechism was a didactic book and the questions were rhetorical. As with Mr Deasy’s letter and also his questions, there can be ‘no two opinions on the matter’ in response … but Stephen’s silence is telling … he makes small attempts to challenge the power of Deasy (also symbolising the Catholic church and Stephen’s rejection of it?) but ultimately he disengages and refuses to answer because he’s refusing to engage with Deasy’s dogmatism.

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