Having my way with Ulysses

The mystical finesse involved was a bit out of his sublunary depth.

Ready the bone wax. Metzenbaum scissors. Get that cat out of here. Ready to close.
1:25 am

Jesus: [With a smile of unbelief] Dad, not to sound too pompous but your soul implantation technique is unsurpassed and will probably make your name live beyond eternity.

God: Probably?

Jesus: Too wishy washy. Forget the probably. Are you ready to close?

God: Not until after the breath of life, this is no simple soul. Well it is, but you know what I mean.

Jesus: I shouldn’t think simple is the proper word.

God: No? Give me a little sweat on my upper lip. Ok remove sweat. No no, the soul is simple, it has no contrary, and corruption is found only where there is contrariety. And since it is the recipient of my life giving breath, well.

Jesus: Goes without saying.

God: Exactly.

Jesus: Still, no one can give what he hasn’t got. I believe you are supernatural!

God: None of that, now, everything aspires to being after its own manner. Come to think of it, we might want to revise that into holy writ. Sounds good, no? Get some monks on that. Here, help me stuff the soul into there.

Jesus: Like that?

God: No, put your back into it. Good.

Jesus: Maybe we should say a few words to the soul before we close?

God: Good idea. In Dillman’s Grove my love did die and now in ground shall ever lie. None could ere replace her visage, until your face brought thoughts of kissage. Right. Good? Ready to close. 10 blade scalpel. Sponge stick. Scat! Damn cats around here. Cranial screw top. Check for stripping. Now all we can do is wait.

5 Responses to The mystical finesse involved was a bit out of his sublunary depth.

  1. It has been many years since I have read Ulysses. And I don’t think I understood it at all then. I would like to read it again. Where should I start? Obviously at the beginning, but I mean to better help me understand the references and such?
    Secondly, why the reference to the poem at the end? I could only find it in reference to the movie “A Man with Two Brains.” Did you use it because both this piece and the movie humorously dealt with surgery? Or to help suggest that the soul is the second brain located in the same place?

    • When I taught it at the UW I assigned the Gifford annotations as an optional text. It’s good for cultural references, music, odds and ends. There’s also the Blamires book, students liked that one because it gives an account of the action of each chapter in as clear a way as possible. Ulysses in a quarter system is a race to get it done, so if I were to teach it again, I’d do it in two quarters if I could. If you are serious about it, and I think it would be good for you to study something again (And good for you to get your ass back into a poetry slam) read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist first. Many people in Dubliners have parts to play in Ulysses, and it is important to know who Stephen is at the start. When you get to Ulysses you might also want to read chapters 1 and 4 together, 2 and 5, 3 and 6. They are mirrors of each other, almost beat by beat.

      Other than that, get out of your own way. Ulysses is not difficult if given a proper shot.

      I riff on The Man with two Brains throughout the post, and on Aquinas’ discussion of the soul in the Summa Theologica, as does Joyce. I wanted to point a little levity at the idea that the soul could have a location or even a distinction from other elements of personhood. It was an ancient and medieval obsession, one of the fun ones, and this idea still pops up wearing other clothes here and there. I also wanted to use this post to introduce an idea from Plotinus that temporality is an attribute of the soul and the soul is the site for unity between timelessness and temporality. Plotinus thought the body was too corrupt to have any connection with eternity, so where else are you going to put time? He would think that though, he had a nasty case of leprosy and was generally terrified of physical contact. I don’t have any idea why the Man with Two Brains popped out. It just fit.

Intercourse, eyeball to eyeball.