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Are you as lost as I am?

Proteus. Confusing. Words. Splattered. Here and there. On the page. Dogs barking. Sea shells cracking. Crack! Crack! French. French. French. Sea shells again.

Did you get that?

This is how I see James Joyce’s style in Proteus. It is written in short clipped sentences that are occasionally vaguely comprehensible.

“Come out of them, Stephen. Beauty is not there. Nor in the stagnant bay of Marsh’s library where you read the fading prophecies of Joachim Abbas. For whom? The hundredheaded rabble of the cathedral close. A hater of his kind ran from them to the wood of madness, his mane foaming in the moon, his eyeballs stars. Houyhnhnm, horsenostrilled. The oval equine faces. Temple, Buck Mulligan, Foxy Campbell. Lantern jaws. Abbas father, furious dean, what offence laid fire to their brains? Paff! Descende, calve, ut ne nimium decalveris. A garland of grey hair on his comminated head see him me clambering down to the footpace (descende), clutching a monstrance, basiliskeyed. Get down, bald poll!”

Did you understand? I can’t say that I did. And, that’s the entire point. You’re not supposed to understand.

Structural notes:

Style: Monologue (male). The chapter is told in fragmented sentences in a stream-of-consciousness style. Stream-of-consciousness style was very popular in the early 20th century. It was a style of narration which was designed to mimic a person’s thought process in real time. When a person is thinking about something, it is typical that their thoughts will wander from one subject to the next. For instance, one moment you could be thinking about the fine blue sky, and then you will think of the snow storm predicted by the weatherman when you woke up this morning, and then you will wonder if you remembered to turn off the t.v after you watched the weather, and so on…

Time and place: the strand at 11:00 a.m.

“Proteus” is not a very fun chapter to read. Honestly, while reading it, my brain felt like it was about to explode. I saw words on a page with little to no meaning to me. However, when I listened to the audiobook of “Proteus,” the story was much more comprehensible.

One of the problems with tackling “Proteus” is that the narration is thrown in with Stephen’s monologue. The narrator and Stephen are not one and the same! Also, when listening to “Proteus” aloud, you begin to realize that James Joyce did not just chose random words and sprinkle them all over the page. When listening to “Proteus,” I realized that it has a poetic quality to it that cannot be captured by reading it.

What happens?

Stephen has retreated into his internal thoughts. Occasionally he is aware of the crackling of shells on the beach, and sometimes the barking of a dog in the distance. Mostly, he thinks about his past and his mother. Once again, Stephen makes many allusions which only added to my own confusion.

When it comes to Ulysses, there will never be a moment when I will be able to say “I understand.” Rather, if I ever become close to understanding, I will say “I think I get it, maybe,” along with some sort of minuscule revelation. Another chapter will go by and I will say “never mind! I don’t understand a thing!”

Until next time,