This week we'll read the "Wandering Rocks" episode (chapter 10) of James Joyce's high modernist novel Ulysses. The novel takes place in Dublin, Ireland, and follows an entire day in the lives of Stephen Dedalus (a young artist) and Leopold Bloom (a middle-class, middle-aged advertisement canvasser) on June 16th, 1904. Each episode (chapter) of Ulysses bears a set of correspondences to a story from Homer's Odyssey (the cyclops, the island of Circe, etc.). "Wandering Rocks," however, is the only episode not based on the Homeric paradigm. Rather, it comes from the tale of Jason and the argonauts, where the wandering rocks were boulders that moved about in the sea as a danger to sailors. The argonauts make it through the pass but not without their stern being clipped by the clashing rocks at the end.
The "Wandering Rocks" episode takes place between 3 and 4 in the afternoon and follows various characters (the wandering rocks) as they move around Dublin doing various things. It's a portrait of the city and its people in motion from many different angles. You'll notice that the episode is divided into small sections separated by stars, some of which contain lines from other sections. Where those intrusions occur, the idea is that the two events are simultaneous.
Joyce composed a schema of the techniques, symbols and anchoring facts of Ulysses and sent it to his friend Carlo Linati. The information given for "Wandering Rocks" is as follows:
People: Objects, Places, Forces, Ulysses
Meaning: The hostile environment
Symbols: Caesar, Christ, errors, homonyms, synchronisms, resemblances
It might help to keep in mind that Joyce's prose style does not use quotation marks. He uses an em dash (—) at the beginning of a paragraph to indicate a character's speech. Narratorial comment (i.e he said, he did) as well as a character's stream of consciousness often appear after a comma or with no discernible punctuation to set them apart. It involves a certain skill in observation to recognize what is speech, thought, or action, but Joyce is very consistent so it's not difficult to grasp.
Ulysses was first published in book form on February 2, 1922 (Joyce's 40th birthday) after being partially serialized in The Egoist (London) and The Little Review (Chicago, later New York). When Joyce would finish a manuscript of a chapter, he would have it typed and would send the typescript to Ezra Pound, who was foreign editor of The Little Review and a contributing editor of The Egoist. Pound would sometimes edit the typescript before sending it to the magazines. "Wandering Rocks" appeared in the June and July 1919 numbers of The Little Review and the December 1919 (final) number of The Egoist. I chose this episode because it does little to advance the novel's plot and therefore does not depend much on prior events.
Please don't hesitate to use the comments below for any questions or observations about "Wandering Rocks" and this week's material.