at snámh-dá-én

two-words: perspicacious piss-take

brian o'nolan a.k.a flann o'brien

Flann O’Brien is James Joyce meets Tex Avery, drenched in copious pints of plain.

As a lover of Ulysses, Looney Toons and the occasional drink, At Swim-Two-Birds, O’Brien’s irreverent satire of Irish Literature in general and Stephen Dedalus in particular, was destined to be a favourite and is the funniest book I’ve read in ages. It opens with the narrator positing the feasibility of a novel having three openings, successfully executes the gag making it a novel with four openings. It also has a triple-sweet ending with lashings of laughter in between, so there is plenty to love.

At Swim-Two-Birds is the story of a young nameless lazy drunken verminous student/author (O’Brien’s alter-ego) writing a story of another lazy author, Dermot Trellis (O’Brien’s alter-ego’s alter-ego, stay with me) whose characters come to life and revolt, with help of a pooka and a good fairy, against their poor workplace-conditions: Slug Willard, a trigger-happy cowpuncher, is sick of being recycled as a tram driver; Finn Mac Cool, a powerfully-built Fenian, protests getting his ass kicked by inferior specimen; Furriskey would rather not defile women; a talking cow would like to be milked more frequently etc. etc. Hi-jinx, twisted Celtic myth and running-kicks ensue, spliced with biting commentary on the writing process and gratuitous pandering to temperamental readers and critics alike,

It’s the sort of queer stuff  they look for in a story these days. p.170.

It is full of hilariously strange meta-fictitious characters, is acutely perceptive and self-deprecating, and has wild improbable anachronistic action, videlicet, it is the perfect combination of ridiculous conviviality and on-tap porter, making for laugh-out-loud rollicking humour.

irish acting powerhouse come out to swim

In fitting homage, an ambitious troupe of Irish actors, with In Bruges‘ Brendan Gleeson at its helm, is making an eponymous film set to be released in 2013. The budget now stands at $11M and I’m wondering just how much is dedicated to the portrayal of the layers in the action. Some scenes may be animated Tex Avery-style, or computer-generated, who knows, but this is the kind of book that can easily become your baby and you wouldn’t want to fuck up the adaptation. So the pressure is on, Gleeson!

If my brother gave At Swim-Two-Birds to me as a prank as Dylan Thomas suggests, I’d smother him in a thousand drunken grateful kisses. This novel is such a cracking funny piss-take, it goes straight to the pool room, snugly between James Joyce’s Ulysses and my 10 year old 21 year old bottle of Appleton.

my people-the presets
daddy cool-boney m
is my baby yours?-sarah blasko

ulysses: the wrap

two words: unadulterated genius

marylin and molly

I love Ulysses, as Avid says, in the pants! It was ten novels in one – a play, a catechism, an essay on Shakespeare, a thirtytwo page eight sentence no punctuation internal monologue, a masterpiece. Joyce executed The Unities effortlessly but still managed to take us on an odyssey. I heard Jamaican, “Ludamassy, mi pore picaninnies.” I heard Australian, “Crikey!” I experienced the cosmos of the solitary wo/man. The English language was deconstructed in a strange and wonderful way and expanded into infinite possibilities. It was breathtaking. Like Marylin Monroe and Virginia Woolf before her, I have been ruined.

Ulysses destroyed the whole of the 19th century. It showed up the futility of all the English styles.  Virginia Woolf in her diary, September 26, 1922

I can see why it was banned in the U.S. and U.K. for over a decade. They couldn’t decide whether it was pornography. What it is, is an unflinching fly-on-the-wall look at the inner intrigues of thoughts and desires, fear and doubt, passion and grief, all the things that make us human. Ultimately, it is less about what we say and do and more about what we think and feel.

I close this book having felt a profound sense of communion. Nothing at all and everything possible simultaneously happen, revealing  within the text all the secrets I crave.

Reading will never be the same.

strange fruit-nina simone
time to pretend-mgmt
i kissed a girl-katy perry
hand in my pocket-alanis morisette
ain’t no fun-snoop dogg

chapbook: on women & sex

The Charming Soubrette

the charming soubrette

Marie Kendall, charming soubrette, is the ideal woman. She is perky, silent and ready to serve.

The female body during copulation should be passive, but not obtuse. Ulysses

The runner-up is Gertie McDowell – vain, provocative, foolish, scheming and a complete figment of Bloom’s imagination.

The women in Ulysses are, at first, one-dimensional objects/projections of men’s desires. But, of course, there’s more to it. Joyce seems acutely aware of the complex nature of our real or imagined cohabitation.


Bella/o, the mistress, can conjure Bloom into a pig since, “Brothels aren’t just sailor’s dreams but all men’s.” Circe

At the back of all men’s mind is a rented room. Walcott’s Odyssey

The face of everywoman is strangely projected unto the whores of Nighttown.

Fear not them that sell the body but have not power to buy the soul. She buys dear and sells cheap. Ulysses

So women are whores and men are pigs, but women live in Nighttown and men pay to visit.

Presenting… The Magnificent… Molleeeee Blooooom!

jennifer steyn as molly bloom

In the most brilliant piece of stream of consciousness ever, we meet the compelling Molly Bloom. She is primal, petty, cunning, weak, vain, ignorant, foul-mouthed and Bloom’s perfect counterpart.

She is Cleopatra-esque on her barge of a bed, but flesh-and-blood tits-and-tongue real. She has orgasms and farts, menstruates  and likes big cocks, she katyperried Hester and likes giving head to a clean dick. She wants to be fucked up against a wall by a  ‘wild stranger,’ or better yet to be a man so she can devour women. She is jealous of her daughter’s affection for Leopold. She grieves her dead son. She rules her man.

Ever the, and I say it in the most loving way possible, twisted character, Bloom is happy under his “petticoat government,” being dominated by his less intelligent and less morally intact wife, even literally kissing her ass. He wishes himself the charming soubrette.

Molly and Leopold aid and abet each others idiosyncrasies and cohabit inexplicably well. They are aware of each others infidelity, yet in a mutually tender and gratifying moment she suckles him and allows him to use her ‘thick and sweet’ breast milk in his tea. In both mock and sincere adoration, she wishes to write her own chapbook on “The Works of Master Poldy,”and has nothing but fond memories of when she said ‘yes’ to him.

Though she is flawed, there is no self-loathing, of her or her kind. She thinks women would do a better job ruling the world because “they know when to stop,” unlike men who drink/talk/bet/fuck to oblivion.

theyre all mad to get in there where they came out of

I begin to suspect that Joyce loves women, or at least Molly, in the best way possible – warts and all. Molly is the antithesis of the charming soubrette and she is uncompromisingly and unpatronizingly presented to us as screwed-up as she is, just like the male characters in Ulysses.

i knew it…

So said, so done. Water isn’t the only thing spraying at Sandymount Rocks.  Alanis Bloom has one hand in his pocket and ends up with a ‘cold and clammy’ shirt tail. What a perv!

But that’s not all, no! We are treated with the delights of synchronized peeing:

At Stephen’s suggestion, at Bloom’s instigation, both, first Stephen then Bloom, in penumbra urinated, their sides contiguous…

To top off this golden moment we have both their heads inclined towards the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of Molly’s silhouette. Nice.

chapbook: on biscuit tins

My joy is other joy. Both are joys.

‘…those cunning brothers, lords of the vat,’ run a ‘respectable licensed premises’ and keep I-man, the Fenian &co well lubricated. Bloom, however, is a teetotaler, a wet blanket and a ‘jew’. He refrains from drink, spoils their lark by paraphrasing their ideas in fustian language, and partakes without offering up his (mistakenly suspected) new-found wealth. Hi-jinx  and biscuit tins ensue.

Who made the allegations? I am the alligator.

I anticipated that this chapter would be difficult to read because of the overt antisemitism, but it was one of the funniest chapters in Ulysses. No one is spared the bitter brunt of Celtic wit. Of England:

On which the sun never rises… They believe in rod, the scourger almighty, creator of hell on earth and in Jacky Tar, the son of a gun… conceived of holy boast… rose again from the bed. p.315


auricular spectacular

The Sirens chapter begins with an aural montage, a snappy prelude of chatter and music recurring later in the chapter, reminding me of an Edgar Wright film, but for ears. And even though I am sometimes at a loss as to what Joyce is on about, I am aware of that “flow endearing flow over skin lips human heart and spine.”

The sound should seem an echo of the sense. Alexander Pope, 1711

How fitting to have Boylan on the horn. Cheeky.

the dirt on dublin

Joyce’s Dublin is dire. The stink of refuse and discarded lives proliferates the streets, all soaked in the oppressive drink.  The old wrappers, spit, piss,  the ‘frowzy whore with a face like dip’, Paddy Dignam’s children left to perish -Pa, come home!-,  the ubiquitous betting slip, all tell of decay… while the provost does his waving smiling rounds.

Like Stephen, I look on with ‘agenbite of inwit‘. It is unpleasant and familiar.

nigger count: 12

The anti-Semitic slurs in Ulysses are countless, but there seems to be some point to it, a platform to defend Bloom, or to facilitate the characterization of the people Bloom and Dedalus encounter during the day. The latent misogyny,  the insidious tenet that women are morally and intellectually inferior, is palpable and permeates each female character(ization), especially Molly(‘s). Joyce is an Aristotle nut, so I expect it and can process it. But what literally smacks the breath out of me, what gets a visceral reaction, is the gratuitous niggerlips, niggermouth, nigger and its variations, sambo, golliwog, coon, darkie. Surely Joyce, a man of such loquacious detail, can do better. After-all, nigger lips do come in different sizes.

Racism is a late 20th Century concept, I get that. The thought of political correctness circa 1922 actually makes me chuckle, mitigating Joyce’s culpability somewhat. Still, it doesn’t abate my disappointment.

Nigger is the pin that pricked.

kutcher v. shakespeare

come on, ashton. i dare ya...

Joyce makes me think of all kinds of random shit, e.g. Kutcher’s Punk’d list is impressive, but a coup de grâce would be Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare threw down the gauntlet when he punkt his own Anne Hathaway, bequeathing her only his second-best bed. Here is the poem that led to this random thought,


Leftabed   Ulysses p.195


chapbook: on art

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

Some art is disposable, like an old boot. Other old boots will lead you to a quidditch final.

Entelechy: actualized potential, pure realization of potential, if Joyce became Aristotle

Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.

Or as Galactus says -Wait a hundred years. If it’s still there it’s art, if not it was just bullshit.- Yes, just a toilet or an old boot.

Everything is dear if you don’t want it.

Stephen admits to bathing rarely. Bloom refrains from critique because of, “the incompatibility of aquacity with the erratic originality of genius.” Some people’s shit don’t stink.

People can put up with being bitten by a wolf but what properly riles them is a bite from a sheep.

the involuted author

Why did Joyce write this line?

Would anyone wish that mouth for her kiss? How do you know? Why do you write it then?

It has stuck in my mental craw like crab meat. When done well it reminds me of an actor’s come-hither look straight down the lens. The voyeuristic pact is broken, but something else happens. Viewing becomes more intimate. The author/narrator, the work of fiction and the reader curl into each other in a ménage à trois elevating the reading experience.

I like crab meat.

punch him in the face!

…a constant mid-movie refrain of mine. And yet again, as I read,

His hand looking for the where did I put found in his pocket soap… Ah soap  there! Yes. Gate. Safe!

all I can think at the top of my lungs is, “Punch him in the face!” Bloom sees Boylan, the man he knows is giving him the horn, and he’s reduced to the obsequious coward?!

For all my ranting, I’d probably do/be the same…

chapbook: on death

There is none now to be for Leopold what Leopold was for Rudolph.

Bloom is the only one left in the trinity, having survived father and son, Rudolph and Rudolph/Rudy.

The man was alive fifteen minutes before he was dead.

the met him pike hoses of milk

Corpse is meat gone bad. So what is cheese? Corpse of milk?

Things that wither express more than things that are immortal.

Sex and Death are irretrievably conflated in Nighttown: Corpse roam the streets along with the vestal not so virgins. Bloom sees Rabi Rudolph behind a crone with a lamp and tries to hide the swine in his coat pocket. Stephen sees his mother’s dead body as the guilt of the cardinal’s son/sin takes hold. Telemachus and Odysseus are united in grief.

Life is many days. This will end.

chapbook: in the spirit of haines’s

Hyperborean: people of the land of perpetual sunshine/of the far north. Jim and Kate

Thought is the thought of thought: Thoughtology

Jejune: dull, lacking…

Mummer: a person who, literally/figuratively, wears a mask of happiness, pantomime. As I was describing this to Galactus, he said, -Like V for Vendetta.

v, a mummer

Peripatetic: Aristotelian walkabouts

A pier is a disappointed bridge.

Shut your eyes and see: Kubric’s last shit movie.


I’ve tried reading Ulysses in the past. It was a spectacular failure. I couldn’t connect with the dialect, the references were too obscure or quick on each others heels, stream of consciousness is a bitch to read, and I felt out of my depth… It was frustrating and I had more accessible books handy, books with women in them! So I moved on quickly.

What’s made the difference this time? Jim Norton.

I’m tempted to say ‘audiobooks’ in general, but most of the time I can’t abide audible swallows. Jim Norton, however, is peerless. He’s blown the book wide open for me with his gift for speech and meticulous direction. And I’ve read and re-read The Odyssey, mostly Walcott’s version.

Generally, I’ll avoid introductions and appendices, but can appreciate their worth in novels like Ulysses.

For my Ulysses entries, I’ll write my own chapbook on some of Joyce’s one-liners, words and ideas that resonate.


Though still a work in progress, here are the novels that I’ll be reading in 2011.

Struck through titles have been completed.
Bold titles are presently being read.
* indicates reread.

  1. 1984-1948-George Orwell
  2. The Adventures of Augie March-1953-Saul Bellow
  3. All The King’s Men-1946-Robert Penn Warren
  4. American Pastoral-1997-Philip Roth
  5. An American Tragedy-1925-Theodore Dreiser
  6. Animal Farm-1946-George Orwell*
  7. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret-1970-Judy Blume
  8. At Swim-Two-Birds-1938-Flann O’Brien
  9. Atonement-2002-Ian McEwan
  10. Beloved-1987-Toni Morrison*
  11. The Big Sleep-1939-Raymond Chandler
  12. The Blind Assassin-2000-Margaret Atwood
  13. Blood Meridian-1986-Cormac McCarthy
  14. Catch-22-1961-Joseph Heller
  15. The Catcher in the Rye-1951-J.D. Salinger*
  16. A Clockwork Orange-1963-Anthony Burgess
  17. The Corrections-2001-Jonathan Franzen
  18. The Death of the Heart-1958-Elizabeth Bowen
  19. The French Lieutenant’s Woman-1969-John Fowles
  20. Go Tell it on the Mountain-1953-James Baldwin
  21. The Grapes of Wrath-1939-John Steinbeck
  22. The Great Gatsby-1925-F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. A Handful of Dust-1934-Evelyn Waugh
  24. The Heart is A Lonely Hunter-1940-Carson McCullers
  25. The Heart of the Matter-1948-Graham Greene
  26. Herzog-1964-Saul Bellow
  27. Housekeeping-1981-Marilynne Robinson
  28. I, Claudius-1934-Robert Graves
  29. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe-1950-C. S. Lewis
  30. Lolita-1955-Vladimir Nabokov*
  31. Lord of the Flies-1955-William Golding
  32. Lucky Jim-1954-Kingsley Amis
  33. The Man Who Loved Children-1940-Christina Stead
  34. Midnight’s Children-1981-Salman Rushdie
  35. Mrs. Dalloway-1925-Virginia Woolf
  36. Naked Lunch-1959-William Burroughs
  37. Never Let Me Go-2005-Kazuo Ishiguro
  38. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-1962-Ken Kesey
  39. The Painted Bird-1965-Jerzy Kosinski
  40. A Passage to India-1924-E. M. Forster
  41. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie-1961-Muriel Sparks
  42. Snow Crash-1992-Neal Stephenson
  43. The Sound and the Fury-1929-William Faulkner
  44. The Sun Also Rises-1926-Ernest Hemingway
  45. Super Sad True Love Story-2010-Gary Shteyngart
  46. Things Fall Apart-1959-Chinua Achebe*
  47. To the Lighthouse-1927-Virginia Woolf
  48. Ubik-1969-Phillip Dick
  49. Ulysses-1922-James Joyce
  50. Under The Net-1954-Iris Murdoch
  51. Under The Volcano-1947-Malcolm Lowry
  52. Watchmen-1986-Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons*
  53. White Teeth-2000-Zadie Smith*
  54. Wide Sargasso Sea-1966-Jean Rhys*