The Anti-Ulysses

August 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just finished: Mulligan Stew.

I talked in the last post about the Stew portion of the title.  Now let’s talk about that Mulligan.

Aside from the allusion to hobo food, there is the allusion to Buck Mulligan in Joyce’s Ulysses.  I posit that Buck Mulligan is the perfect figure for the title of this book because he begins Ulysses with a parody — no, a travesty — of the Eucharist.  Mulligan Stew is a travesty of Ulysses.  It contains, in its novel-within-a-novel, first titled Guinea Red and then Crocodile Tears, the anti-Ulysses: as the eighteen sections of Ulysses chart and critique the techniques of literature and progress of western civilization through their densely layered and allusive texts, the fourteen chapters of Antony Lamont’s unfinished novel, plus two alternate first chapters (along with the various fragments of his other books, and the unforgettably awful excerpts from the work of his archrival/brother-in-law, Dermot Trellis), show the variety of ways to write horribly, mean nothing, “make it up as we goes along,” to paraphrase the final chapter’s title.

I won’t go into this with the detail I could, and really, it’s more of a hunch that I have that Sorrentino might’ve had this in mind for his book.  It is an example of how awful Ulysses should’ve been, in its attempt to encompass all techniques, all archetypes, all forms into one story.  Lamont tries the epistolary and writes letters that have no reason to be written, in an age of telephones, and no reason to be copied by their sender, and even recognizes this, and yet rationalizes it to himself.  (Ironic, since his caustic, unhinged, deliriously profane letters to his “enemies” are the best things in the book, and the one thing for which he shows any talent.)  Lamont writes pornography in which his main character ejaculates dozens of times and his seductresses go through multiple costume changes (hilariously, this gets Martin, the character, hopeful about future scenes along the same lines) and convinces himself it’s an example of truly sophisticated erotica.  Lamont writes dialogue that makes no sense, but tarts it up with lots of French to make it seem classy and obscure.  Lamont gives his chapters overwrought, inappropriate, or utterly tone-deaf titles, all or at least some of which are quotes from Finnegan’s Wake (my favorite is probably “Nameless Shamelessness,” for the porn chapter), constantly repeats or contradicts himself (hilariously moving a corpse from location to location), and finishes every single chapter with the word “blue” for no good reason (towards the end, he just adds the word “blue” for no good reason, compulsively).  I will confess that I actually kind of like one chapter, “A Bag of the Blues,” which is a Beat riff that I like a lot better than much of the work of the actual Beats that I’ve read.  This makes me wonder about myself.

Anyway, could this “blue” be the blue of Ulysses‘ original cover?  Two sections especially reminded me of Ulysses:

-In the chapter “She Is the Queenly Pearl,” there’s a kind of travesty of Molly Bloom’s book-closing soliloquy, but of course it’s terribly written and Lamont has to telegraph what he’s up to: “…marvelous it was actually it was called my Florida frock he had the most extraordinary habit of painting a moustache on his face whenever he felt blue do you like the way I’m talking on and on without any pauses or punctuation it’s my consciousness just simply streaming.”  Naturally, Lamont talks himself into loving it even though it refutes more or less everything else he’s already written.

-The chapter-long soliloquy delivered by the ghost of Ned Beaumont in “Like Blowing Flower Stilled,” in a kind of Irish dialect, with liberal use of Latinisms a la Buck Mulligan (or Joyce himself).  Lamont claims not to have written this chapter, and it’s certainly bad in a more interesting way than his other stuff, but still well nigh unreadable.

I’m probably way off, since I’m basing this anti-Ulysses hypothesis on incomplete information: I’ve read Ulysses, but not Finnegan’s Wake or At Swim-Two-Birds, the two other major touchstones I know of for this book.  It’s such a great idea, though, that I want it to be true.

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