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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Firesign Theatre, The Wizard of Oz, and Ulysses

I just posted the following in the Joyce discussion group, in followup to an earlier post there where I picked up on another participant's spotting of a subtle allusion to Milton's Paradise Lost in the first chapter of Ulysses, and showed that the allusion was brought to its full fruition in the climactic scene in the Circe chapter of Ulysses, when Stephen Dedalus careens hallucinogenically through Dublin's Nighttown. Even those who are not particularly focused on Ulysses will, I think, enjoy the following:

As a nice reward from going through the exercise of pulling together the satanic highlights of the Pandemonium scene in Circe, I was thrilled to find two completely off the wall---and yet, in my considered opinion, completely certain---allusions which relate to that same passage, one looking back at Ulysses, the other where Ulysses itself looks back.

The first part of my Subject Line of this message is a tip of the hat to the Firesign Theatre, who, on their classic 60's surrealistic comedy album, "How can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all?" have as the end of Side One an amazingly powerful rendition of the last 2 minutes of Molly's soliloquy, right through to all the Yeses....I always knew, as everyone who knew the album knew, about that allusion. Nothing surprising in that.

But....what I just realized this morning, as I was writing my previous post, was that at one point on Side Two, "The adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye", there is ANOTHER allusion to Ulysses! It comes when Nick has been slugged by Lieutenant Bradshaw into unconsciousness, and then when he wakes up, groggily, he is in the midst of a hallucination where he is besieged by a welter of strange voices from earlier parts of his day, and that is when he says "Pandemonium was breaking out all around me".

Now I realize how clever the Firesign Theatre really was, because there can be no doubt that this is their send-up of that scene in Circe, where Stephen also gets slugged by a cop and hallucinates! And they show it by tagging their allusion with the word "Pandemonium".

And I just checked online, and found the following comments by Phil Austin, one of the four members of the Firesign Theatre, on the liner notes for the CD of that album:

"It has often been correctly note that the progress of Babe is linked with that of Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Epic poem, "The Odyssey". Although HCYB does not literally follow the form of "The Odyssey", there are several key meetings between the two stories and certainly, like Joyce's "Ulysses", HCYB derives much inspiration from the age-old story of a man trying to return home. Odysseus (Ulysses) finds himself imprisoned, bound by the spell of the witch Calypso, when his outrages against the gods are forgiven and he is allowed to return home. All we will see of this on HCYB is Babe running across a street, nearly to be killed, and entering the emporium of one {RALPH SPOILSPORT}, who may or may not be the god Hermes, sent to sell Babe the instrument of his homecoming. (Some see HCYB as the musings of Ralph, that Ralph is the storyteller and Babe portrays him as a young man. Well...)"

But I don't see that the Circe allusion in Nick Danger has been discussed previously....

That would be cool enough, but there's another equally cool allusion that I also just saw.

The SECOND part of the Subject Line of this message is a tip of the hat to Joyce himself, who, in that same Circe scene, was paying his own surrealistic homage to another work of imaginative literature, that ALSO involves a protagonist getting conked on the head and then having an extended dream with all sorts of fantastical alterations of everyday reality--of course I am talking about none other than THE WIZARD OF OZ!!!!!

Baum began publishing his Oz stories around the turn of the century, and there can be no doubt that Joyce was well aware of them, and he shows this by (at least) two textual allusions in Circe. The first is when the whore Zoe, while fanning herself with the grate fan, exclaims, "I'm melting!" The second, which is the (melting) icing on the cake, is when we read, in that very same paragraph in Ulysses which contains the word "Pandemonium", the following:

"Laughing witches in red cutty sarks ride through the air on broomsticks."

You can hear Margaret Hamilton, with her blue face, cackling as she rides the wind as the Wicked Witch of the West!

And, speaking of human beings melting, this also shed fresh light on the description of what happens to Mulligan earlier in that same Circe scene:

"(Tears of molten butter fall from his eyes on to the scone)"

And in a serious vein that goes to the heart of the matter in Ulysses, it's not just Zoe the prostitute who is a Wicked Witch, it's Stephen's MOTHER who Joyce is comparing to the Wicked Witch of the West!

And it also illuminates the Homeric subtext that Joyce saw in The Wizard Of Oz (Oxen?) that perhaps was what first attracted his attention--the flying monkeys in Oz under the command of the Wicked Witch seem to be the sailors turned into animals by Circe.

Or, is it possible that Joyce read one of Baum's Oz books and had a dream about it---and that was the birth of Ulysses???????

Cheers,
Arnie

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