Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Other Monologue in Ulysses: Shut your eyes and see

James Joyce championed the stream of conscious monologue in modern literature, most famously in the three hour Molly Bloom episode that concludes Ulysses. While Leopold Bloom reveals many of his inner thoughts to us throughout the book, his sexual fetishes, his artistic dreams, his preferences for lunch, he unlike Molly, does not have a chapter to himself. Bloom shares his world with all of Dublin and all her people.

Stephen Dedalus, the school teacher and aspiring poet, does have his own chapter, however: Proteus. In fact, he has a whole book (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). In Ulysses, he wrestles with his intellect while walking alone along Sandymount Strand. Stephen is the most intellectual character in the novel. His frenemy Buck Mulligan says Stephen "proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father." And in fact we hear him do just that in the library in the Scylla and Charybdis episode of Ulysses, an intellectual tour de force that only the cleverest of actors can perform as Jim Fletcher (left) did for us so wonderfully last year.

Stephen's Jesuit education supplemented by his own literary explorations is as excellent as Joyce's himself. Although he may be young and at times pretentious, there is no question that Dedalus is a truly brilliant man. In Proteus, Stephen examines the senses and what they actually represent, relives his own painful family memories and composes poetry on the beach. He is angry when he thinks of his homelessness, his financial troubles and the fact that no one has recognized his genius. His anger falls away when he follows the thread of an intellectual puzzle or creates an idea, thought or line. I have never heard an actor win the battle with Proteus when attempting this most difficult of monologues in its entirety until this week.

The Pulitzer prize winning poet, Paul Muldoon (left), the literary rockstar that Stephen aspires to be recorded the entire Proteus episode and it was amazing. Unlike in the Penelope episode, there is a little narration in the monologue, requiring, deft and delicate vocal shifts as Stephen moves from a more neutral description to his passionate and frustrated inner most thoughts. Throughout the monologue, Stephen recreates conversations with his drunken insulting useless father, wonders if he has killed his mother by refusing to kneel at her bedside, committed atheist that he is, and reminds himself not to spend what little money he has so quickly. Often the obscure phrases in Proteus fall over the listener like a lapping wave but in this recording Paul manages to fill you up with the hope, the desires, the desperation and the genius of a man on the cusp of greatness with nothing to look forward to but a lifetime of poverty.

The Proteus monologue, one poet playing another, Paul Muldoon wrestling with James Joyce, will be broadcast around 7.15 at the top of Radio Bloomsday on Wednesday, June 16th on 99.5FM in NYC and

The beginning of Proteus:
Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno.Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

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