Ulysses, Imagination, and Reorienting Infinite Space
From time to time, I believe I just want to post quotes or passages that have inspired me over the years. I find this process to be a sort of meta-reflection, reflecting on what has made you reflect. In this case, the passage is from James Joyce’s Ulysses, a favorite of mine for sheer scope if not for readability. I read it first as a rash 19 year old, then again and again over the years and it always produces something of charm and value.
A particular passage, found below, is towards the end of the novel (and the end of that single day) when the young Stephen Daedalus is at Leopold Bloom’s house and peruses (and catalogs) the books on Bloom’s shelves. He judges them a bit (actually a lot) and demonstrates that peculiar arrogance of youth (but he isn’t inaccurate). One of the books had an inscription that Daedalus records and it had my name. Granted, Michael Gallagher is one of the more common names one could find in Ireland, but there is my name staring back at me as an impressionable 19 year old. It wasn’t me, but it was someone. And I felt like in a span of a couple of sentences in a clever literary device (an inscription on a book), we learn so much about this Michael Gallagher
Short but yet Plain Elements of Geometry written in French by F. Ignat. Pardies and rendered into English by John Harris D. D. London, printed for R. Knaplock at the Bifhop’s Head, MDCCXI, with dedicatory epiftle to his worthy friend Charles Cox, efquire, Member of Parliament for the burgh of Southwark and having ink calligraphed statement on the flyleaf certifying that the book was the property of Michael Gallagher, dated this 10th day of May 1822 and requefting the perfon who should find it, if the book should be loft or go aftray, to reftore it to Michael Gallagher, carpenter, Dufery Gate, Ennifcorthy, county Wicklow, the fineft place in the world.
The fineft (finest-typeset s) place in the world. A man content, proud. A man trying to better himself through education. Young man or old? Either way, it wasn’t me but it was me. It was just a name, but it wasn’t. It was a puzzle that linked the reader (me) to the writer. It inspired me to do the following:
- read more (and I did)
- write more (craft puzzles/networks out of thin air)
- connect generations, people across time and place
I find myself returning to this quote as I am here now in London, pursuing a dream. Ulysses didn’t create that dream in me, but it had effect. It was one of the kindles of the larger flame. It helped me realize the ambitions and responsibilities in a dream, in inspiration. Once those fires are started, they never stop and one has a duty to follow it.
It reminded me that a man, however fictional, lived and was content and loved his ‘place’, his geography. He reminded me that perspective is important. It isn’t the size of the space that matters, but how that space helps one to enact purpose. I leave with another quote, this time from Hamlet, that has always inspired me (although it isn’t a positive in the context of the play).
I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
I could, too, be bounded in a nutshell and consider myself a king. And that is fine. We are all bounded by space, by context. And Hamlet’s bad dreams reminded him of his limitations and his desire to press through them. Mine aren’t bad dreams, but I dream. And these are often desires to reorient these bounded spaces, to reimagine my context. We push on and on and reconstruct our worlds entire, almost daily. It is the beauty of literature to demonstrate that this process is a natural one, an inspired one.