Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Re-Reading Ulysses or Basta

After being cruelly dumped by my undergraduate girlfriend and being quite insufferably suffering about it - I needed distractions. God knows why graduate school in astrophysics shouldn't be enough, but it wasn't.

I was introduced to some distractions my last semester of undergraduate. I had enough credits to graduate after 3 1/2 years, but I wanted to compete one last season in track. So I took classes to explore stuff. I took piano, drawing, lit of the theater, the 20th century American Novel. And the weird thing is that all of these things are very strong in my life now. I practice piano two to three times a week, I draw, I subscribe to two theaters and I read novels practically all the time in my free time. The class (besides drawing) that had the most effect on me was the American Novel class. It was taught by David Morrell who wrote First Blood, the novel that introduced Rambo. He introduced me to a lifetime of reading good, well-written stuff. We analyzed books like The Ambassadors by Henry James, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and others. I learned that there is much more to novels than just the plot - there are the characters, the motivations, the culture, the history, the notion of locale influencing everything etc. This wonderful stew was something I didn't know existed and it sent the science fiction stuff I had read in high school away from my hands.

After my dumping by my girlfriend Erin, I began reading all the classics of literature and also critical works to help me understand what I was reading. I don't know how, but I think it was after reading Dubliners by James Joyce, and in particular the story "The Dead", that I began an obsession with Joyce. I suspect there was also some dreadful Freudian psychology going on in that Joyce wrote to recapture Ireland from which he was exiled, and that I read Joyce to symbolically recapture Erin.

In any case, I devoured all I could read about Joyce. I got the guidebooks that helped understanding "Ulysses" and even got through "Finnegans Wake". I was in a friend's wedding in Ireland after I had read Ulysses and made sure I went to the places mentioned in the novel.

And then, like some obsessions, it died out. Partly because I had read everything by Joyce, and partly because I grew out of it. Art became more important in my life. I graduated many times, still trying to get it right :-) and began an Odyssey of places lived, girlfriends, and jobs until I ended up in Seattle where I am now.

Yesterday, I read parts of Ulysses in honor of the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday (June 16, 1904 - the day Ulysses takes place.) I still had my marked up copy and I was immediately struck by the things I know now that I didn't know then. I didn't know Dublin at all, and there were notations in the text about certain places that I don't need anymore.

There are other things as well, like the word "Basta" in the 3rd chapter which I had scrawled above "Enough". I now know that word very well, my Greek girlfriend in London always used to say it to me. And while she may have not said it to me when we ended our affair - it would have been very appropriate if she had.

I think I will re-read Ulysses soon, with a further fifteen years of life that has taught me things I didn't know then.


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