This chapter kind of reminds me of how I ended up loving Gertrude Stein. For our Modernism class, we were given a list of 20 poets and asked to read and write a couple of poems by each of them and write a report. Then we had to choose one of them to write a project on after a discussion with the prof.
When I met the prof, I confessed that I had loathed Stein and thought, basically, that the poems were nonsense. He suggested to me that I do my project on Stein because her poems were the ones I had had “the most powerful reaction to”. I knew he was being manipulative but despite this, somehow, when I exited the room I had agreed to write a paper on Stein for my final project. Although his methods were quite transparent, he had pressed the right buttons (ha! Tender buttons!): my inability to let stuff defeat me despite my pathological laziness.
Anyway, I groaned and moaned my way through half the collection… until suddenly, it was like I had discovered some sort of cipher and I began to find them delightful. I could see humour, skill, philosophy and beauty in the jumbled arrangement of words.
And this is what happened to me in this chapter. The first section just seems to be nonsense. However, it’s really a poetic conflation of the second section and the whole chapter is basically (the notes inform me) in the style of a fugue.
Now, of course, this is entirely self-indulgent. But then, I always feel that artists should be self-indulgent. They need to be true to themselves in order to create something original. Hopefully what they create will resonate with the rest of us and sound a prophetic voice. But even if it doesn’t, and strikes us as entirely nonsensical, it’s better for artists to “thine own selves be true” than for them to provide some sort of ornamentation or entertainment service to society.
So, if Joyce decided that he wanted to write a chapter in the style of the fugue (not too far fetched anyway since the Sirens are associated with music), why shouldn’t he?
And having said that, there are some phrases that are really beautifully musical as well as just delightful. (Which is why I see a repeat of the Stein episode happening here).