...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Everchanging tracks of neverchanging space"

Parallax is the phenomenon by which one object, viewed by different observers in different places, appears to be in a different place relative to each observer. In Astronomy yesterday we talked about parallax with regard to the Moon, and how it's close enough to the Earth that parallax is observed, but how parallax is not observed with other celestial objects, much further away than the moon, like stars and supernovas (if parallax were observed with the regard to the stars, then it would be impossible to make a universal chart of the constellations, since they would be in different places relative to each other depending on the location of the observer.)

Parallax is also the literary technique of chapter 17 ("Ithaca") of James Joyce's Ulysses. Joyce wrote the chapter like a formal catechism; it goes through hundreds of questions and answers about the relative movements of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, their experiences and thoughts, and their relationships to their various national and ethnic groups (Irish for Stephen, Jewish for Bloom):
What fragments of verse from the ancient Hebrew and ancient Irish languages were cited with modulations of voice and translation of texts by guest to host and by host to guest?

By Stephen: suil, suil, suil arun, suil go siocair agus suil go cuin (walk, walk, walk your way, walk in safety, walk with care).
By Bloom: kifeloch, harimon rakatejch m’baad l’zamatejch (thy temple amid thy hair is as a slice of pomegranate). (…)

What points of contact existed between these languages and between the peoples who spoke them?

…Their archeological, genealogical, hagiographical, exegetical, homiletic, toponomastic, historical literatures comprising the works of rabbis and culdees, Torah, Talmud (Mischna and Ghemara), Massor, Pentateuch, Book of the Dun Cow, Book of Ballymote, Garland of Howth, Book of Kells: their dispersal, persecution, survival and revival: the isolation of their synagogical and ecclesiastical rites in ghetto (St. Mary’s Abbey) and masshouse (Adam and Eve’s tavern): the proscription of their national costume in penal laws and jewish dress acts: the restoration in Chanah David of Zion and the possibility of Irish political autonomy or devolution. (17. 724-760)
Throughout all of Ulysses, but especially in chapter 17, Joyce emphasizes that Stephen and Bloom experience the same events in fundamentally different ways, due the differences in their characters and sensibilities: parallax.

Sitting in Astronomy, listening to the professor talk about astronomical parallax, all I could think about was Bloom and Stephen and chapter 17. After class, I asked my friend K., who was also in Joyce/Woolf, if she was also thinking about Ulysses. "Oh my God, yes!" she said. "I was going to ask you that same thing!" And as I left class, I repeated to myself one of my very favorite passages from Ulysses, an image of comfort and security from the end of chapter 17, as Leopold and Molly Bloom lie in bed together after ten years of estrangement:
In what state of rest or motion?

At rest relatively to themselves and to each other. In motion being each and both carried westward, forward and rereward respectively, by the proper perpetual motion of the earth through everchanging tracks of neverchanging space. (17. 2306-2310)