Saturday, August 29, 2009

Official "making of" documentary of last post

My little illustrated guide was begun on a whim and ended up taking me about three or four hours. The text is from the "Ithaka" chapter of Ulysses, which is presented in a catechistic, question-and-answer format. It's past midnight, and Leopold Bloom has brought Stephen Dedalus home with him. The long paragraph I used comes after Bloom contemplates the water he draws from the faucet to make tea. Joyce uses it as an opportunity to deliver an elaborate prose poem celebrating water in all its forms (it was Richard Ellmann who called it a "pseudo-hymn to water," a phrase that's stuck with me as strongly as anything in the hymn itself). Joyce, a fellow Aquarian who was born only a day apart from me on the calendar, is a certified hydrophile; like Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown, we both have water on the brain.

In finding links for all these watery terms I had most trouble with "freshets," "rhabdomantic," "bights," and, weirdly enough, "dissolve." Also had trouble with "torrents"--it mostly brought up file-sharing sites, and besides, what the hell is a water torrent anyway? "Maelstrom" is similarly unscientific, imprecise. I had no idea what Joyce meant by "luteofulvous bed" until I broke the adjective down into two parts, both of which pertained to the color yellow, thus the pic of yellow coral. Turns out Joyce is wrong with his "Sundam trench" (should be Sunda), and the Ashtown gate in Dublin has no well (or, as he weirdly calls it, a "hole in the wall"), which just goes to show that if you write a 700-page novel about your old hometown, you're bound to remember something wrong.

Funny that Joyce, although he does include spring tides, does not mention tidal waves. More surprising is his neglecting to address high and low tides, something I'd have guessed he'd go totally apeshit over. (Plumbing and other water-delivery concepts are also absent, but the paragraph I illustrated is preceded by an equally extravagant paragraph in which Joyce traces the delivery of Bloom's water, step by meticulous step, from the Roundwood reservoir [cubic capacity: 2,400 million gallons] to the kitchen faucet.) The original Odyssey kept coming back to the wine-dark sea, and in Joyce's work allusions to water are hardly confined to this chapter. Elsewhere in the book Joyce sends a crumpled-up leaflet for a journey down the Liffey, compares the greenish morning bay to the bowl of bile beside Stephen's mother's deathbed, and, in one of his attempts to rid the world of hyphens, speaks of the "scrotumtightening sea" and "everchanging neverchanging water." His water obsession would culminate in Finnegans Wake with the "Anna Livia Plurabelle" chapter, an account of two washerwomen on the Liffey in which hundreds of names of real rivers are ingeniously worked into the text. Upon completing it, Joyce ran out his door and down to the nearest river (in this case the Seine) to make sure the chapter's cadences truly sounded like water.

In seeking images, I found that "gulley," "marsh," and "fathom," besides being hydro terms, are also the names of various popular heavily-augmented women. (If Google searches are the yardstick, Michelle Marsh currently enjoys far more popularity than all the world's actual marshes combined.) Finally, here's a picture that I liked very much but could not find a place for even in a paragraph as seemingly all-inclusive as Joyce's. And here's another.

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