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The Intellectual Devotional - Week 1

by David Kidder and Noah Oppenheim


The Intellectual Devotional - Week 1
Tuesday, Day 2

Literature: Ulysses

James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) is widely regarded as the greatest novel written in English in the twentieth century. It retells Homer's Odyssey in the context of a single day -- June 16, 1904 -- in Dublin, Ireland, recasting Homer's great hero Odysseus in the unlikely guise of Leopold Bloom, an aging, cuckolded ad salesman who spends the day running errands and making various business appointments before he returns home at long last.

Though Bloom seems unassuming and ordinary, he emerges as a heroic figure, displaying compassion, forgiveness, and generosity toward virtually everyone in the odd cast of characters he meets. In his mundane and often unnoticed deeds, he practices an everyday heroism that is perhaps the only heroism possible in the modern world. And despite the fact that he always feels like an outsider -- he is a Jew in overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland -- Bloom remains optimistic and dismisses his insecurities.

Ulysses is celebrated for its incredibly rich portraits of characters, its mind-boggling array of allusions to other literary and cultural works, and its many innovations with language. Throughout the course of the novel, Joyce flirts with literary genres and forms ranging from drama to advertising copy to Old English. The novel is perhaps most famous for its extensive use of stream-of-consciousness narrative -- Joyce's attempt to render the inner thoughts of his characters exactly as they occur, with no effort to impose order or organization. This technique became a hallmark of modernist literature and influenced countless other writers, such as Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, who also experimented with it in their works.

Not surprisingly, Ulysses poses a difficult journey for the reader, especially its famous last chapter, which recounts the thoughts of Bloom's wife, Molly. Molly's reverie goes on for more than 24,000 words yet is divided into only eight mammoth sentences. Despite the challenge it poses, the chapter shows Joyce at his most lyrical, especially in the final lines, which reaffirm Molly's love for her husband despite her infidelity:

and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Additional Fact

Ulysses was banned for obscenity in the United States for nearly twelve years because of its (mostly indirect) sexual imagery.

Wednesday, Day 3

Visual Arts: Lascaux Cave Paintings

The cave paintings at Lascaux are among the earliest known works of art. They were discovered in 1940 near the village of Montignac in central France when four boys stumbled into a cave. Inside they found a series of rooms with nearly 1,500 paintings of animals that were between 15,000 and 17,000 years old.

There are several theories regarding the function of the paintings. A natural feature of the cave may have suggested the shape of an animal to a prehistoric observer who then added highlights to relay his vision to others. Since many of the paintings are located in inaccessible parts of the cave, they may have been used for magical practices. Possibly, prehistoric people believed that the act of drawing animals, especially with a high degree of accuracy, would bring the beasts under their control or increase their numbers in times of scarcity.

The animals are outlined or portrayed in silhouette. They are often shown in what is called twisted perspective, that is, with their heads in profile but their horns facing front. Many of the images include dots, linear patterns, and other designs that may carry symbolic meaning.

The most magnificent chamber of the cave, known as the Great Hall of the Bulls, contains a painted narrative. From left to right, the pictures depict the chase and capture of a bison herd.

As soon as the paintings had been examined and identified as Paleolithic, the caves were opened to the public in 1948. By 1955, however, it became increasingly evident that exposure to as many as 1,200 visitors per day was taking its toll on the works inside. Although protective measures were taken, the site closed in 1963. In order to satisfy public demand, a life-sized replica of the cave was completed in 1983, only 200 meters from the original.

Additional Facts

The cave painters were conscious of visual perspective; they painted figures high on the wall, styled so that they would not appear distorted to the viewer below.
The only human figure depicted in the cave appears in the Shaft of the Dead Man. The fact that it is drawn more crudely than the animals suggest that they did not think it was endowed with magical properties.

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