ULYSSES pp. 41-51, “Proteus”

By JERRY GRIT

No question. This reading, although short, was a slog. But it’s a worthwhile slog. And a slog that will be richly rewarded. 

I went through and finished up the chapter, however it may raise an uproar about pacing. Dwelling on this chapter could drive us nuts. I thought it best for our collective health and morale to just get this one behind us. Marilyn Monroe would have wanted us to.

Here’s how the tweets went:

  • P41. SD lost in thought along polluted bay, realizes passed aunt’s house, bird associates. Recalls meeting son of Kevin Egan, expat in Paris.
  • P42. SD recalls living in & coming back from Paris; the unpunctuated telegram about dying mom; Egan as Fenian hero compared 2 his wimp son.
  • P43. SD recalls being sought out by Egan in Paris; Egan tells Irish indep mvmt war stories & asks SD 2 tell son in Ireland that he’s ok.
  • P44. SD thinks Ireland forgot Egan. Looks up @ tower, knows he won’t be going back. Sits on rock, looks @ bloated dog body floating in bay.
  • P45. SD scared by a dog running @ him. Mocks own cowardice, recalls BM’s bravery in saving drowning man. Links self 2 Irish history of fakes.
  • P46. SD recalls man drowned 9 days before & mom’s death. Sees dog’s owners. Dog barks @ cocklepickers, sniffs bloated dog, pees on rock.
  • P47. SD recalls last night’s dream of being led by a melon-seller 2 see someone. Sees gypsy c-pickers leave, has dirty thoughts about lady.
  • P48. SD inspired w/poetic lines, writes on paper from Deasy letter. Looks @ shadow, tries 2 reach the ideal again, recalls girl from monday.
  • P49. Thinking about girl, SD maybe masturbates. Borrowed boots makes SD recall wearing girls shoes in Paris. SD pees on rocks. Tide comes in
  • P50. SD thinks again of drowned man’s corpse, Lycidas. Thirsty, rises 2 go 2 meetup w/BM @ bar The Ship. Has bad teeth. Realizes hanky lost.
  • P51. SD picks nose. Doesn’t care who sees. But worried he’s being watched. Looks out 2 ocean, sees ship w/3 masts, look like 3 crucifixes.

A few more notes. We have at the end here Stephen’s first burst of creativity, or at least creativity directed toward creating poetry. Amid Stephen’s gloomy thoughts about the recently drowned man’s body bound to surface at any time, poor and lonely Kevin Egan in Paris, and not being able to go back to the tower, Stephen improvises a few lines. He sets down his flowing, changing thoughts on paper, like Menelaus pinned down Proteus.

I’m not judging if that poem will be any good (“He comes, pale vampire”…could be proto-Twilight vampire lit?), but it does mark the height of the Telemachiad and suggests that Stephen is not yet doomed to spend the rest of his life sad and uninspired in Dublin. The will to create still exists, however he’s been humbled by life and is still hung up by his own issues. 

I’m not sure Stephen masturbates when thinking about the Leeson park girl on p. 49 (“Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand…”). My memory is that Joycean scholars are not unanimous. But something’s happening there. And we have the first reference to the “word known to all men” (which will occur 2 more times). Thankfully, Hans Gabler has identified this word as “love.”

It’s also interesting to note his (postcoital?) thoughts on his not-completely-heterosexual attachment to Buck Mulligan . Stephen seems to lament the inevitable break between him and Buck. But he acknowledges that the break is his own choice. Stephen’s unwillingness to compromise his art or his life to play the games and scams that Buck survives on, shows how he still prioritizes what he imagines it means to be an artist over human connection. To Stephen (at this point), art requires isolation.

I’ll funmarize all of “Proteus” tomorrow. And then, finally, we get to the good stuff.

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One Response

  1. First, I know this is obvious– but water is EVERYWHERE in this section, both positively and negatively portrayed.
    Secondly– Joyce does something very clever by matching the rhythms of SD’s boots to the mood of his thoughts: “Rhythm begins, you see. I hear” (38); “His feet marched in sudden proud rhythm” (42); “He brooded on his broad-tipped boots” (49).

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