Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music, do I wake or sleep?
– John Keats, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, 1819
Maybe I should start all of my blog posts with these Montaignean ‘no frills’ titles from now on: (preposition) + (topic). Straight to the point, hassle-free, boom. Ah, but of course, that’s everything I’m not. I mean, this post is supposed to be about ‘sleep’*, but 70 words in and I’m still skirting my way around the subject, trying to find a chance to springboard my essay from this prefatory lead-up to its goddamn point.
Okay, have hit 100 words; will now start.
I slept for 13 hours today. And that’s something I’ve not done since god knows when. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I slept for more than 6 hours/night. A lot of my friends wonder how I do it, and I say it’s because I always wake up hungry, so having the beckoning of breakfast as a natural alarm really helps. It’s kind of a twisted blessing in disguise, I suppose, especially when it seems like there’s never enough time going around. At least for me, that seems to be the case.
In my more reverie-prone moments, I sometimes find myself wondering what people are like just before they go to bed. It’s especially interesting doing this with those who you find really attractive. Don’t get me wrong – the point here is the bare-facedness, the unglamorousness, the ordinariness of it all.
Is this what all old married couples have to deal with every night?
Another example of this would be to imagine someone you really fancy taking a massive dump. There’s no mental processing more de-glamorising than this, I swear. I mean, really, you’re telling me that Penelope Cruz shits**? Samuel Johnson once criticised John Donne and the Metaphysical poets for “yoking together by violence… the most heterogenous ideas” – well then, this is it. The 21st-century version of the metaphorical conceit. When Hollywood is humbled by the reminder of its human essence.
And this is exactly why James Joyce was so ‘revolutionary’ for his time. He was basically calling E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf out on their hyper prim-and-proper BS of Georgian aesthetics. Make no mistake, Joyce’s poop descriptions at the end of ‘Calypso’ (Episode 4 of Ulysses) ain’t got nothin on Rabelais’ 16th-century Gargantua and Pantagruel, a gargantuan novel which positively brims with scatalogical don’t-give-a-fuckness. But would the following apply to, say, People’s Mr. Sexiest Man Alive 2014 Chris Hemsworth*** when he’s not under the aegis of Photoshop, and is instead behind the doors of his loo?
Quietly he read, restraining himself, the first column and, yielding but resisting, began the second. Midway, his last resistance yielding, he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read, reading still patiently, that slight constipation of yesterday quite gone. Hope it’s not too big bring on piles again. No, just right. So. Ah! Costive one tabloid of cascara sagrada. Life might be so. (Ulysses, Episode 4 – ‘Calypso’, italics mine)
“Life might be so.” Because what else bears the stamp of life more so than the triumvirate of eat, sleep and excrete? The way I see it, this is only slightly less melancholic than T.S. Eliot’s ‘live, have sex and die’ Waste Land logic.
But anyway, gotta love the faux mock-heroic touch Joyce has got going on: I feel like he’s trying to short-circuit sensibility with syntax. The haphazardly scattered commas enliven the prose with a poetic jig, which glides the reader along the ebb and flow of eh, someone’s bowel movements. Bathetic sublime?
The most hilarious line, though, has got to be “costive one tabloid of cascara sagrada”, when Leopold Bloom’s linguistic consciousness maps his reading of a tabloid column onto his need for a laxative tablet, presumably for ‘costive’ (constipating) reasons.
That, or Joyce is implying that the Dublin newspapers of his time are just shit, but also a daily necessity – so basically, like shit.
Close reading is subjective, after all.
PS. This was supposed to be about sleep, but ended up being about the stylistics of shitting. How is it that even my digressions are bloody alliterative?!
*My title is a retrospective revision. This blog post was initially titled ‘On Sleep’. But I failed to not digress. So very much in keeping with the Modernist vibe. Or maybe that’s an excuse. I don’t know.
**I don’t fancy her, but surely she’s someone who’s attained universal crushability status.
***I don’t agree with this, more of an Edward Norton kinda gal, but that’s beside the point here.