Stephen is hanging out on Sandymount Strand, he writes some poetry, he picks his nose. This chapter defies summarising because, although not much takes place, his thoughts shift wildly in a stream of conciousness. The first challenging episode, Proteus ought to be approached like the proto-matter that it is: images may jump out and grab you, or they may go right over your head. Do not panic. There is so much there to keep you afloat.
Just in time for St. Patrick’s day, the theme is green! Again, I am admiring the way Joyce evokes a colour rather than describe it. The puce gloves stand out, as is “sanguineflowered”, but they are there to complement. Bodily fluids, birth, death, umbilical cords, snake imagery, seaweed, sand, foam and live and dead animals. The gloves and the absinthe glass are Paris memories, and the green fairy is a stand-in for Eve and other female figures in his literary thought soup.
Things I have learned while making this piece:
- That it’s not so much the reading of Ulysses that’s proving a challenge, as the actual illustrating of every episode. I’ve read much further than Nestor, and am finding it quite immersive, enjoyable, and really not difficult! Too many irons in the fire, and wanting to get it just right are causing the delay…
- That I love working in Adobe Draw. For this piece, I have used several layers and worked reductively, like an woodcut or scratchboard. It it immenseley satisfying, though time-consuming.
- All about the Gilbert Schema, a kind of chart devised by James Joyce, that catalogues the themes running through the episodes. “Nestor” for instance is revealed as the unofficial title of this chapter in a letter Joyce sent his friend Stuart Gilbert, detailing the fundamental structure of the book. He lays out the episodes’ symbolism in their Homeric parallels, the classical Arts, colours, animals, organs and techniques. Gilbert would later publish this scheme – hence the name.
10 am at the school. The headmaster is counting Stephen’s wages in the study. History is the reigning “Art” of the chapter, and also the subject Stephen has rather aloofly been teaching this morning. The lesson dissolves amid jokes, baffling puns and riddles only he gets, distracted by his own recent history. “The fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush.”
An inverted Nestor, Mr Neasy collects paintings of horses and harangues with unsolicited advice. The episode’s key colour is brown: base, earthy, heavy, ancient. Even the dark, old smell of the room is brown, “drab, abraded leather”. The brownness overrides the treasure motif: money, gold, silver, and even a “treasure” trove of seashells, all lose their sparkle in it. Collections on the sideboard are all somehow tarnished: a set of Apostle spoons are “faded”, antique coins in a case are but the “base treasure of a bog”, the shells “an old pilgrim’s hoard, dead treasure, hollow shells” and “symbols soiled by greed and misery”. Mr Neasy thinks highly of History and money. Stephen plainly does not. Like the headmaster’s murky study, both are brown, conservative and base, a “nightmare” from which he is “trying to awake”.
And here it is! I am proposing to read James Joyce’s Ulysses, to the end. So far – I have to say – it’s not as hard as it’s made out to be! Now I understand this may gradually change, as daily life gets in the way, and momentum is lost. But I’ve also decided to create an illustration for every episode I read, which could either prove to be a great motivator, or the worst idea ever…
Though its published chapters were untitled and unnumbered, we know from Joyce himself that he created his monumental novel using a tight scheme, with each chapter corresponding to an episode in the Odyssey. In case you didn’t already know this, the book is a kind of inversion of Homer’s epic: it takes place over the course of a single day in Dublin, rather than a ten year romp around the Mediterranean. It’s divided into three parts: the Telemachiad, the Odyssey and the Nostos.
This first chapter is named after Ulysses’ son Telemachus: in this case Stephen Dedalus, a young writer feeling oppressed by his roomie Mulligan during a pre-breakfast meetup on top of the Martello tower they are renting in Sandycove. Tension is caused at least partly by a cruel remark Stephen has overheard Mulligan making about his recently deceased mother, and from the fact that Mulligan has invited an English student, Haines, to stay with them. Usurpers are a theme of this episode – a reference to the suitors threatening to usurp Ulysses’ kingdom – as is the sea, bodily fluids, bereavement, ghosts, Hamlet, colonialism and most memorably an allusion to Irish art as symbolised by a razor across the cracked lookingglass of a servant.
Ephemeral to Stay is a blog I write as an excuse to illustrate. I base it around my own illustrations, both digital and the more traditional kind, that mostly follow the seasons, nature, art, teaching and other things that interest me. When I started over a year ago, I was drawn to the diaristic element, mainly because my work is inspired by the change in the seasons. Sometimes it’s a bit challenging to find the time so it’s been a while, but other projects have to take precedence, such is life!
I made this using Illustrator, Draw on my iPad and Photoshop, not necessarily in that order, and I had great fun. Happy Samhain, Lucky Halloween! I wish everyone a creative dark half of the year. Good things are coming, as the Earth heals.
Azure, cobalt, cerulean. Ochre of the earth and of limestone, a fragment of white marble blinking ferociously into the sunlight. Long shadows, jagged cliffs. Olive green and pale rose. One more week of August, but Summer still reigns in glorious Cyprus colour palettes. There is still time to take off, be a culture vulture or a beach bum. And on every adventure, out of the corner of the eye, an oleander: white, garnet, peach or pink, the quintessential flower of Cyprus. Unwilting in heatwaves, and forgiving of negligence. Anthropomorphised as heroine in distress, and sung of in medieval ballads. Deceivingly fresh looking, and treacherously toxic. Rosebay or Rhododaphne in greek, Arodaphne in the local dialect. Nerium Oleander, the laurel-rose of the ancients.
A ship sails into shore, a rusty well pulley moans
A blue plume of smoke on the rosy horizon
The image of a crane’s broken wing
Armies of swallows await to welcome the brave
Bare arms raised with anchors tattooed in the armpits
And a distant church bell saturates the sky with indigo
Amorgos, by Nikos Gatsos, 1943*
I’m glad I’ve been keeping sketchbooks. I wish I had painted more of these, but I am never going to wish I’d painted fewer. Some were done in cheap children’s water colours, some in fancy W&N. They are mostly from summers in the Aegean, and some from Cyprus. Here’s hoping the marine theme will get me in holiday mood. Two more days of school, for us teachers! Unwinding is a long process…
The translation of the poem (fragment) by Gatsos is my own. It’s from the rather long poem Amorgos. I couldn’t find the lines I wanted to quote online, so I translated as it suited me. Some of the vignettes here are scenes from Amorgos, the island. The cubist villages, geometric pigeon coops and stark whitewash around cobblestones,
…the eyes of the seaweed are turned to the sea
Big black sea with so many pebbles around your neck, so many gems in your hair*