Captain Picard, Professor Xavier, and James Joyce

An English teacher’s humble contribution to geek culture.



Illustrating Hemingway

I just found this great video that narrates and illustrates Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Joyce said of it: “He [Hemingway] has reduced the veil between literature and life, which is what every writer strives to do. Have you read ‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place’?…It is masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best short stories ever written…” I agree.

Notes and Quotes, June 2014


  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.


Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.



Living Well

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Humor in Ulysses, Part III

Now I’m in the middle of chapter 15 of Ulysses, and while it’s one of the densest, more incomprehensible sections, it’s also one of the funniest yet.

Written as a dramatic script, it’s largely a record of daydreams rather than conscious thoughts.  As such, Bloom’s imagination runs freer than before, and the rambling fantasy, plus a growing penchant on Joyce’s part for whimsical puns, makes this chapter a delightful bit of foreshadowing for Finnegans Wake.

Maybe the best part of the chapter so far is the following, where Bloom’s delusions of grandeur–as contrasted with his almost pathetically meek actual self; an Irish Walter Mitty, as it were–find him presiding over a ridiculous bureaucracy.  Joyce lists some mundane minutia in gloriously pompous detail (we’ve all seen government events and publications that take themselves this seriously–begging to be mocked), shares some clever wordplay, and even adds a pure joke at the end.




My beloved subjects, a new era is about to dawn. I, Bloom, tell you verily it
is even now at hand. Yea, on the word of a Bloom, ye shall ere long enter
into the golden city which is to be, the new Bloomusalem in the Nova
Hibernia of the future.

    (Thirtytwo workmen, wearing rosettes, from all the counties of
    Ireland, under the guidance of Derwan the builder, construct the
    new Bloomusalem. It is a colossal edifice with crystal roof, built in
    the shape of a huge pork kidney, containing forty thousand rooms.
    In the course of its extension several buildings and monuments are 
    demolished. Government offices are temporarily transferred to
    railway sheds. Numerous houses are razed to the ground. The
    inhabitants are lodged in barrels and boxes, all marked in red with
    the letters: L. B. Several paupers fill from a ladder. A part of the
    walls of Dublin, crowded with loyal sightseers, collapses.)

                       THE SIGHTSEERS

(dying) Morituri te salutant. (they die)

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More Humor in Ulysses

Chapter 14 of James Joyce’s Ulysses tells a story of men visiting a hospital for a local woman who’s having a baby.  Stylistically, it starts in the vein of the earliest English and gets more modern as the chapter goes on.

By the following point, Joyce tells of the men discussing some intimately sensitive matters far out of their depth, in a faux-Chaucerian vein.  The combination of highly serious epic poetry with the crudity of the men’s ignorant pontificating strikes me as pretty funny.

Now let us speak of that fellowship that was there to the intent to be drunken an they might. There was a sort of scholars along either side the board, that is to wit, Dixon yclept junior of saint Mary Merciable’s with other his fellows Lynch and Madden, scholars of medicine, and the franklin that high! Lenehan and one from Alba Longa, one Crotthers, and young Stephen that had mien of a frere that was at head of the board and Costello that men clepen Punch Costello all long of a mastery of him erewhile gested (and of all them, reserved young Stephen, he was the most drunken that demanded still of more mead) and beside the meek sir Leopold. But on young Malachi they waited for that he promised to have come and such as intended to no goodness said how he had broke his avow. And sir Leopold sat with them for he bore fast friendship to sir Simon and to this his son young Stephen and for that his languor becalmed him there after longest wanderings insomuch as they feasted him for that time in the honourablest manner. Ruth red him, love led on with will to wander, loth to leave.


But sir Leopold was passing grave maugre his word by cause he still had pity of the terrorcausing shrieking of shrill women in their labour and as he was minded of his good lady Marion that had borne him an only manchild which on his eleventh day on live had died and no man of art could save so dark is destiny. And she was wondrous stricken of heart for that evil hap and for his burial did him on a fair corselet of lamb’s wool, the flower of the flock, lest he might perish utterly and lie akeled (for it was then about the midst of the winter) and now sir Leopold that had of his body no manchild for an heir looked upon him his friend’s son and was shut up in sorrow for his forepassed happiness and as sad as he was that him failed a son of such gentle courage (for all accounted him of real parts) so grieved he also in no less measure for young Stephen for that he lived riotously with those wastrels and murdered his goods with whores.

Which means just what you think it does: Stephen was easy.  Alas.


Farce in Joyce’s Ulysses

I’ve been reading the complete works of Joyce in chronological order this year.  One thing I notice is that as Joyce’s career went on, he got funnier.  The early work is thoroughly sober to the point of dour torture–I never realized how unlikable Stephen Dedalus really is.

But by Ulysses, Joyce was in true comic master form.  Consider episode 12, which randomly cuts away from its main narrative dozens of times for short bits of tangential parody of various literary forms.  So, basically, it’s Family Guy.

I thought this farce of a story–especially the faux-medieval high romance in the second half–was funny:

The last farewell was affecting in the extreme. From the belfries far and near the funereal deathbell tolled unceasingly while all around the gloomy precincts rolled the ominous warning of a hundred muffled drums punctuated by the hollow booming of pieces of ordnance. The deafening claps of thunder and the dazzling flashes of lightning which lit up the ghastly scene testified that the artillery of heaven had lent its supernatural pomp to the already gruesome spectacle. A torrential rain poured down from the floodgates of the angry heavens upon the bared heads of the assembled multitude which numbered at the lowest computation five hundred thousand persons. Continue reading

James Joyce: “Spring forth, burly protector, and save me!”

I read this article recently: When James Joyce Got Into a Bar Fight, He’d Yell, “Deal With Him, Hemingway!”


Which immediately reminded me of the 6th season Simpsons episode “Lemon of Troy,” where Martin Prince bites off more than he can chew while confronting punks in Shelbyville.  He says, “Nobody manhandles the bosom chum of Nelson Muntz. Spring forth, burly protector, and save me!”  Which he does, reluctantly.


That might be a good comparison to use in future classes: Ernest Hemingway = Nelson Muntz while Martin Prince = James Joyce.  Pretty much sums it up.

“Every age must look to its poets…”

joyce“In fine the truth is not that the artist requires a document of
licence from householders entitling him to proceed in this or that
fashion but that every age must look for its sanction to its poets and
philosophers. The poet is the intense centre of the life of his age to
which he stands in a relation than which none can be more vital. He
alone is capable of absorbing in himself the life that surrounds him
and of flinging it abroad again amid planetary music. When the poetic
phenomenon is signalled in the heavens, exclaimed this
heaven-ascending essayist, it is time for the critics to verify their
calculations in accordance with it. It is time for them to acknowledge
that here the imagination has contemplated intensely the truth of the
being of the visible world and that beauty, the splendour of truth,
has been born. The age, though it bury itself fathoms deep in formulas
and machinery, has need of these realities which alone give and
sustain life and it must await from those chosen centres of
vivification the force to live, the security for life which can come
to it only from them. Thus the spirit of man makes a continual

–James Joyce, Stephen Hero, ch. XIX

Stanley Kubrick Presents the Complete Works of James Joyce

As I recently finished reading a survey of Joyce’s writings, it occurred to me that each of his four majors works could be compared to the four major acts of Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, in order.

= Dubliners

A critical care for presenting a realistic story gives us the first stage of the work.  The inhabitants of this place are frustrated and stunted.  The Kubrickian monolith is equivalent to the Joycean epiphany.  Ironically, where the epiphanies of Joyce only instigate paralysis, the monoliths of 2001 catalyze a quantum leap in evolution.

= A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Here we see a truly new style (or, at least, a recent style perfected)–Joyce’s stream of consciousness and Kubrick’s special effects ballet.  Each work is a seamless, totally integrated work of ambitious art, where every facet contributes to the whole united  message.  Each work, thematically and in its plot, is about man moving onward and upward.

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Michael Chabon on Finnegans Wake

Last month I found this issue of The New York Review of Books (courtesy of my awesome department chair), featuring an article by hipster wunderkind Michael Chabon about the year he spent reading Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

While not exactly a gloss, it is a piece where Chabon creates a clever framework for viewing the text.  To wit:

Other than its simple unreadability (indeed its apparent hostility to being read), the principal knock against the Wake—what Seamus Deane in his introduction to the Penguin edition calls “the gravamen of the charge against Joyce”—is that, in Deane’s paraphrase, Joyce “surrendered the ‘ordinary’ world, the world as represented in the great tradition of the realistic novel, for a world of capricious fantasy and inexhaustible word-play.” Eliot, Pound, Stanislaus Joyce, Frank Budgen, and other early champions of Ulysses found disappointment in this apparent surrender, and the truth is that, for all the real, nutritious, and hard-won pleasure that can be wrested from the Wake—as from a bucket of lobsters, by a determined reader with a pick and a cracker—anyone who has first loved or admired Ulysses must, as Joyce himself anticipated, find disappointment in Finnegans Wake.

Seventeen years of tireless labor by a mind blessed with a profound understanding of human vanity, with unparalleled gifts of sensory perception and the figuration thereof, and with one of the greatest prose styles in the English language produced a work that all too often, and for long stretches, can remind the reader (when not recalling Yertle the Turtle) of the Spike-Milligan- meets-Edward-Lear prose tossed off by the Writing Beatle in five minutes between tokes and takes of “Norwegian Wood.” But to find disappointment in the Wake’s, and Joyce’s, supposed turn away from approved modernist procedure, derived from Flaubert, which subjects shifting states of consciousness to the same rigorous accounting as the bibelots furnishing a provincial lady’s sitting room, is to miss the point.

I also appreciate that he compares the Wake to Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.  I did the same thing in my article on the Wake several years ago.  =)

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris

Loved this movie!  What a sweet, beautiful celebration of a single time and place in the history of culture.  However, I wish Allen had squeezed James Joyce in with the rest of his pantheon.  Ewan McGregor played Joyce in a film once; would it have killed Allen to call him up to see if he could swing by the studio for an afternoon for a token cameo?

Also, what’s with the PG-13 rating?  Did I miss something?  It had zero nudity, violence, or swearing, that I noticed.  This could easily be shown in an English class.  The actors really do a superb job of capturing Hemingway and Fitzgerald.  There are some clever in jokes (Luke Wilson’s star-struck time traveler tells Hemingway that thought about Huck Finn being the root of all American literature that would later be attributed to Hemingway himself), and Adrien Brody camps it up in a scene as Salvador Dali.

Speaking of Luke Wilson, as Woody Allen is now too old to be the kind of befuddled everyman he made famous in so many films, I guess he was looking for a stand-in.  Wilson’s muted passive-aggressive schtick works surprisingly well in that mold.

And every shot of Paris in this movie is just a graceful love poem to that city.  Bliss.