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Annotation on “Some Joyce Skies”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009; 02:22 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Gordon, John. “Some Joyce Skies.” James Joyce Quarterly 33 (1996): 411-427.

            The SparkNotes summary of Ulysses identifies that both Stephen and Bloom notice the same cloud drift over the sun as they go about their morning activities, and that Bloom’s mood is affected by the change in light.  This instance is a prime example of Joyce’s intense attention to the minute details of his scenes. In his article “Some Joyce Skies,” John Gordon takes this intricacy one step further, analyzing Joyce’s placement of the sun and constellations in Ulysses, with a few brief mentions of Dubliners and Finnigan’s Wake.  Through the use of an almanac and other information detailing the construction of the cosmos on 16 June 1904, Gordon establishes that Joyce was in fact extremely accurate not only of the exact location of the sun at a given moment, but of the appearance and position of the various constellations mentioned and implied throughout the novel.  However, does not provide an overarching argument concerning the significance of Joyce’s celestial ordering, summing up rather lamely that understanding Joyce’s sky is “essential for understanding what is going on” (411).

            Despite the lack of a uniting theme, Gordon’s specificity is impressive, as is Joyce’s. Apparently Joyce is often accurate to a matter of degrees concerning where the sun would have shone on a particular street at a certain time. Using maps of Dublin, Gordon traces Bloom’s wanderings, identifying points of his walk in which he or others he encountered would have been in sun or shadow based on their street location and direction, as well as identifying observations or fluctuations of mood in the text which could result from the sun.  In his discussion of the nighttime stars, Gordon formulates a more solid argument related to the emergence, placement, and timing of certain constellations.  Again, Joyce is amazingly accurate concerning what constellations would have appeared where in the sky at what time.  Gordon’s argument becomes most interpretive in his discussion of various characters’ astrological signs in reference to specific appearances in the text.  The majority of the interpretations are related to Molly or Milly, the most interesting analysis in my opinion being from episode 14 concerning Bloom’s astrological sign Taurus (horny and horned) with a red mark on its forehead which “blazes” (14.1108).  All told, Gordon’s meticulous analysis highlights Joyce’s fascinating attention to detail but beyond that his examples do not illuminate Ulysses much further.

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