Reading Ulysses

I was stoned on my first voyage through Ulysses. That was back in 1970-something, and I was living with my second husband and the child of my first marriage in a small house in Green Bay, WI. Smoking pot was not something to which I had become at all accustomed in the course of my nearly 30 years - it wasn't until I reached Green Bay that, if I remember correctly, the neighbors across the street turned me on. Somehow, never in all my years as a sophisticated city girl had marijuana actually crossed my path in such a way that I felt comfortable enough to say, "Okay. Light me up."

It was also a time when I had few outside responsibilities. My husband went to work. My child went to school. I stayed home. There might be others who would do something else with this lovely combination of alone time with dope. I read Ulysses .

I got high and walked in circles in the living room, reading Ulysses, out loud. I remember thinking that the words tasted delicious.

I didn't really understand a single sentence. No. That's not true. I could understand the sense of most of the sentences, but putting them together into a comprehensible, memorable narrative - now that I couldn't do. And I don't think it was all because of the dope.

I don't remember the happy accident that brought me to Frank Delaney and ReJoyce. All I know is that a couple of years back, something took me to that site and after one episode, I was hooked. Now I can only hope that we both live long enough, with full wits intact, for him to finish.

You see, he reads, at most, a paragraph a week. Yes, a week. Sometimes only a few lines. He presents a tiny block of text, reads it (I read along online), and then the fun begins. It's called "unpacking," and he does so as only someone who knows Dublin like the back of his hand can do. And oh, yes. As only someone who delights in running every obscure reference to earth and returning to tell us of his adventures can do.

Tomorrow will bring the 226th installment (you can find everything in the archives). The first 13 of these are available as an E-book, re:Joyce, Volume 1: Exploring the World of Ulysses with Frank Delaney , and they allow me to give you a taste of what you might be in for:

Joyce: Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart.

Delaney: Doesn't that line, though appropriate to Stephen's bereft feelings, doesn't it also have the feel of a quotation? It does - and, as Joyce was a fine singer who took part in contests, he will certainly have heard the French art song, Plaisir d'Amour, ... Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment/Chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie. The pleasure of love lasts for just a moment, the pain of love endures your whole life long.

Joyce: Buck Mulligan wiped again his razorblade. "Ah, poor dogsbody," he said in a kind voice. "I must give you a shirt and a few nosebags. How are the secondhand breeks?"

Delaney: First, "dogsbody - "ah, poor dogsbody." Contemptuous. ... A dogsbody is a lackey, a servant, a menial person doing menial tasks ... Look at the patronizing tone of Mulligan - to whom Stephen is way superior intellectually. He offers to give Stephen a shirt and some handkerchiefs. And then piles it on by asking Stephen about the secondhand pants he's wearing, which is all Stephen can afford.

Joyce: Secondleg they should be. God knows what poxy bowsy left them off.

Delaney: "Secondleg" - as in "secondhand" - is a typical Joyce word-joke. A "poxy bowsy" is a Dublin lowlife, a scumbag with a venereal disease, who shouts suggestive comments to passing ladies.

Frank Delaney is a writer, a novelist, in his own right, but in this labor of love he is sitting in a sidewalk cafe, just around the corner from Shakespeare and Company in Paris, across a little table from James Alexander Aloysius Joyce. And he's asking, "So, did I get that one right? Or do you have something else to add?"

And he's in seventh heaven.

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