12 Winters Blog

Ulysses, the Odyssey, and Suskind’s Perfume

Posted in July 2010 by Ted Morrissey on July 7, 2010

I’ve been meaning to add a blog post for a while, but I’ve discovered my summertime routine doesn’t lend itself to blogging. I’ve been writing quite a bit each morning on my novel in progress, and by the time I reach a point where I might blog, I’m about written out. I hear of creative writers who hammer away on a novel, etc., for hours and hours at a time, but I find that a couple of hours per day is plenty. Still, I’m making much steadier progress than I did during the academic year, where I was limited to writing twenty to thirty minutes a morning, Monday through Friday. I spent most of June editing and revising what I had written of the manuscript, so it’s only been the last couple of weeks that I’ve been moving steadily forward with the plot. There are faint traces of the end of the novel in the air, but I’m trying to resist the scent so that I don’t rush through the end of the book. I’ve resigned myself to not finishing until perhaps next summer in hopes that I’ll have the patience to fully develop the concluding sections.

On the reading front, I completed a couple sections of Ulysses, specifically the “Nausicaa” and “Oxen of the Sun” sections. I must confess that I’ve been reading some notes along with actually reading the novel (especially SparkNotes), and I’ve found them most useful. However, a reference in the “Nausicaa” analysis underscored for me what I’ve found to be a regular, well, shortcoming with many people’s approach to reading Joyce’s novel. I’ve noticed that some academics and/or just plain Ulysses enthusiasts have only a vague knowledge of Homer’s Odyssey — in fact, I’ve run into more than one Joycean who says he’s never read the Odyssey. To return to the case in point, the SparkNotes writer says that in the Odyssey, Nausicaa “discovers Odysseus asleep on the beach” (p. 63), which, strictly speaking, isn’t an accurate way to describe the action of the poem. In Book VI, Nausicaa and her servant girls, at Athena’s divine urging, have come to the river to do the washing, and their youthful frolicking awakens Odysseus, who has been asleep in the foliage. Hearing them, Odysseus reveals himself to the young women (well, not totally, thanks to a sprig of leaves he modestly holds in front of himself). Hence to say that the princess discovers Odysseus asleep on the beach is not quite right — it’s more that Odysseus discovers the young women on the beach. I know some may see it as a picayunish point — and the description of their meeting may be more the result of editorial compression than the SparkNotes writer’s lack of intimacy with Homer’s story — but it does seem to suggest someone is more familiar with Ulysses than with the Odyssey. I would think that if someone is going to devote him- or herself to developing a profound understanding of Ulysses, then one of the first orders of business would be to develop at least a solid understanding of the Odyssey.

Taking a breather from Joyce (ha — you’ll see), I’ve been reading Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume (translated from the German by John E. Woods), and it’s very, very good. Besides the author’s virtuoso treatment of describing smells (something most creative writers don’t do very much of under normal narrative circumstances), I’ve also appreciated his representation of eighteenth-century France, especially Paris.

In addition to working on the Authoress, I’ve been continuing to circulate “Melvill in the Marquesas” (rejections are starting to trickle in), and I discovered my short story “The Composure of Death,” which, frankly, I had all but forgotten. However, I cleaned it up a bit and began sending it out as well.

tedmorrissey.com

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