Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2010 MLB Season Preview Part 3: NL East

NL East
Found a cool article over at Baseball Analysts showing the spread of different statistical forecasting systems and how they predict each division to play out. My assessment of the National League East  is right along the lines of what the forecasting systems predict.

1. Phillies
PECOTA: 90-72
My take: Over
They won 93 games and the National League pennant last year playing with a bad bullpen and a so-so starting rotation. And, according to Baseball Prospectus' WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) stat, Jimmy Rollins was less than half as valuable as he was in 2008 (2.5 wins down from 5.9 the year before). PECOTA forecasts a bounce back season from Rollins (a .284/.342/.467 batting line) and they have upgraded their only real glaring offensive hole at thirdbase, signing Placido Polanco to replace punchless Pedro Feliz. They didn't have Cliff Lee for a full season last year but now they'll have an even better pitcher, possibly the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay presumably for the whole season (pending an injury of course but he's been extremely durable). With Halladay and another bounce-back candidate in Cole Hamels (horrible luck last season) atop a rotation that also features stalwart moundsman Joe Blanton and lefty J.A. Happ, they should be able to match-up with just about anybody. The bullpen was a nightmare last season but it's hard to imagine they'll keep letting Brad Lidge take the ball in the 9th inning if he continues to suck. In the end, I see them matching last year's 93 wins and returning to the NL Championship. And they just might face these guys:

2. Braves
PECOTA: 86-76
My take: Over
I've thought about this team alot lately. They're a popular pick to dethrone the Phillies and deliver Bobby Cox a division title in his final season in the dugout and the more I read about this team, ponder them, and look over their projections, the more I like them. First off, they had terrific pitching last year. By FIP or Fielding-Independent Pitching (a stat that filters out the defense's contribution to pitching performance) they were the best team in all of baseball. They traded away Javier Vazquez who was great for them last year but the rotation is still loaded. Jair Jurrjens (what a wonderful name) has established himself as an ace and they'll have a full season of Tommy Hanson, their best pitching prospect whom PECOTA projects to have a 3.39 ERA in 192 innings this year. They lost some important bullpen contributors in Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano but their replacements (Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito) should step in ably and they still have the bespectacled submariner from down under, Peter Moylan.
The lineup doesn't seem to have any weaknesses (unless Troy Glaus gets hurt or doesn't hit), Baseball Prospectus' #2 prospect Jason Heyward is stepping into the mix this year at age 20, and they've even got a nice-looking bench. Because of all that, they are my pick for the NL Wild Card and I know they will provide many exciting games playing against the Phils who won't relinquish their crown without a fight. I'll say: Phillies 93 wins, Braves 92.

3. Marlins
PECOTA: 80-82
My take: Over
I guess it's about time I divulge my rooting interests. Well, it's complicated. I've already mentioned my proximity to the place where the Padres play their baseball games and I do like to see them succeed. At heart I'm a Mets fan but I also consider myself a serious fan of the Oakland Athletics (mainly because of Billy Beane) and I root for the Red Sox as well as the Padres. The pattern (aside from the Mets) is an interest in the teams that highly value sabermetrics and objective analysis and use that as a main tool in team planning and game strategy. The Marlins do not have a reputation for relying or emphasizing statistics in their evaluations of players and decision-making but, as a team with a cheap douchebag owner that often has to let its expensive star players leave (Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, AJ Burnett), playing in a football stadium where nobody comes to see their games, they nevertheless seem to stay in the mix every single year. I find it hard not to like them because, despite their disadvantages, the people in the front office seem to know what they're doing. 

They feature perhaps the most exciting player in baseball in Hanley Ramirez as well as a few sluggers in Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, and Cody Ross (a 5-foot-9 extremely rare lefty-throwing/righty-hitting outfielder whose main strength is his popgun homerun swing) in a what could be a pretty strong lineup with sophomore sensation Chris Coghlan leading off. They scored 4.95 runs per game when he batted leadoff last year (106 games)--a rate that would've been 3rd in the NL if he'd been penciled in there all year. The rotation is led by two 27-year-olds coming into their prime: certified ace Josh Johnson and the extremely underrated Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco had a fluky year last year, he struck out 195 while only walking 44 (only two NL pitchers had a better ratio) but ended up with a 5.06 ERA and had to spend some time in the minors to collect himself. I expect him to have a huge year in 2010 and help lead the Marlins to be a factor in the annual late-season Wild Card chase, falling short to stronger teams like the Braves and Rockies in the end.


4. Mets
PECOTA: 77-85
My take: Even
Ah, the Mets. The team of my youth, the team I used to go see at Shea Stadium a dozen times a year back when things looked promising for their future. Now they're once again a laughingstock. As indicated in Baseball Prospectus 2010, they spent $43 million dollars (35% of their payroll!) on players who sat out with injuries last season. They're already starting off this season next week with their starting centerfielder, shortstop, and firstbaseman all on the shelf and even with those guys in the lineup they're not projected to do well anyway because of a terrible pitching staff. It's pretty sad, although such a state of crapitude seems to be the overlying theme for the Mets in their history. Steve Phillips then Jim Duquette. Now, Omar Minaya has brought us here. Where are we? Well, some scattered remains of a once-hopeful contender can be seen in the rubbish: an ace (Johan Santana), a duo of young superstars (Wright and Reyes), a highly-paid Hall of Fame centerfielder (Carlos Beltran), some prospects-turned-projects (John Maine, Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey). Throw in Jason Bay to knock in a few runs and this might be a playoff contender, but half or all of those guys might get hurt and perpetuate the New York City tabloid circus. I'm with PECOTA, although it wouldn't surprise me to see them around the 80-82 record CHONE predicts for them. With some luck they'll be in the playoff mix but I imagine the baseball gods will avoid coming anywhere near this dung heap.

5. Nationals
PECOTA: 74-88
My take: Even
They're inching closer toward respectability. They only won 59 games last year but their run totals suggested they were closer to a 70-win team and such huge discrepancies don't tend to carry over from one year to the next. The Nats are led by a legitimately good offense with Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman both good for 30+ homeruns and Josh Willingham offering solid production. But it just about ends there. Their pitching is absolutely putrid. They tried 30 different pitchers last year and gave up 56 more runs than any other team in the NL. Aside from Mound Messiah Stephen Strasburg who should be playing for them at some point this season, their only bright spot is supposed to be John Lannan, the guy who struck out fewer batters per 9 innings than any other qualified pitcher last year (162 innings needed to qualify).
Their offense will win them some games before the Strasburg Era officially begins and then it's all chaos from there.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2010 MLB Season Preview Part 2: NL Central


Continuing our look at each division and how things will stack up...


NL Central
Baseball's only six-team division is also perhaps its weakest. Many consider the Cardinals the easiest bet in baseball to the win their division and I do think they'll come out on top but the Brewers have improved their horrid run prevention from last season and should be a worthy foe.

1. Cardinals
PECOTA: 87-75
My take: Over
Their frontline talent is as good as any team in the game. Baseball Zeus aka Albert Pujols is a lock to be one of the best hitters in baseball, Matt Holliday is a worthy complement, and the Carpenter/Wainwright pitching duo is superb. But have they assembled a good enough team around those guys? I really like Colby Rasmus and believe he will become a major contributor this year both at the plate and in the field. There's also Ryan Ludwick (22 HRs last year) and Yadier Molina who has developed into a pretty damn good hitter. It'll be fun to see if pitching coach Dave Duncan's voodoo on older pitchers can work for Brad Penny and, if it does (and Carpenter/Wainwright can stay healthy--not a given), I think it will all be enough to win a pretty weak division. The Brewers ought to be biting at their heels and I fear Cards' closer Ryan Franklin might turn into a pumpkin this year but Tony LaRussa will figure out how to get this team across the finish line ahead. 89 wins sounds about right.


2. Brewers
PECOTA: 78-84
My take: Over
Having Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez out there on defense will make a major difference for a team whose pitching staff was terrible last year. I also like the addition of Randy Wolf who should provide a stable presence in a rotation that would otherwise rely on one pitcher. That one pitcher, Yovani Gallardo is an immense talent, though. With the new defense and the wisdom of Wolf (plus Doug Davis who slots in as a worthy #3 starter), this looks like a totally different team as far as run prevention and, with their lineup of mashers, they have a shot to lead the NL in run scored. It's a nice mix and I'll be rooting for them to topple the Cards but it will be a very close race.

3. Cubs
PECOTA: 79-83
My take: Over
This is a .500 team. I'm saying Over on PECOTA's forecast but not by much. They've got a nice pitching staff but the offense has already reached its heights. They're lineup is relying on older players who can't be counted on to match their past performances...and that's IF they can even stay healthy enough to play! But, I'm sympathetic towards the Cubbies. I don't know why, maybe it's their cute ballpark, but I like to see them do well. With optimism, one can envision their offensive core which carried them to two straight division titles (leading the NL in runs in '08) giving it's one last gush of life this year to support a deep rotation but, even if that does happen, I see them falling short of the Cards and Brew Crew with a record right around their 83-win finish from last year.

4. Reds
PECOTA: 77-85
My take: Even
Always an intriguing team because of their young players, it is expected (once again) that maybe they just might put it together this season and be a contender. I'm with PECOTA which sees them as having a nice pitching staff in 2010 but not quite enough in the run-scoring department. You can see the potential for contendership, though: if Jay Bruce finally puts it all together and lives up to his former #1 prospect status, if Scott Rolen stays healthy and performs like he's expected to, if Drew Stubbs is the strong leadoff hitter many think he is, they'll score plenty of runs (assuming Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips continue to mash) and the pitching will be there to back it up. I think they'll be a fun team to watch and follow, they should stay in the mix of the things for a bit but they'll finish a few steps behind the Cubs and Brewers in the race for the division crown. Not quite the breakout team many hope for, but still it's a step in the right direction.

5. Pirates
PECOTA: 70-92
My take: Over
The dark clouds above PNC Park (one of the nicest ballparks I've ever been to) are finally, ever so slowly starting to fade. The youth movement is on in full force with Andrew McCutchen leading a band of ditched ex-prospects aiming for respect. I'm interested to see what firstbaseman Jeff Clement can do now that he's finally getting a chance after being trapped in Triple-A dungeon by the Mariners for so long. McCutchen and Lastings Milledge have the makings of a special duo and there's plenty of other intrigue in their lineup but the starting rotation doesn't look very good at all. It will be interesting to see what they can do this season with so many players who should be motivated to prove they belong (Andy LaRoche, I'm looking at you) and they should have a nice bullpen, but 75 wins will be a huge year for them. I think they'll get there.

6. Astros
PECOTA: 78-84
My take: Under
Once a perennial contender, they've turned into a sideshow (with a perfect bells-and-whistles mallpark as its setting) as the men running the team have refused to let their old hopes die. Instead of blowing things up, destroying and rebuilding, they've continued to add mediocre veterans and are looking more and more like the National League's version of the Royals. Now their major league team sucks and their farm system is the worst in baseball. Their answer was to add bullpen mediocrities Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom (5.89 ERA last year) to pitch the late innings and former wife-boxer Brett Myers to fill out the rotation.

The outfield is respectable, Michael Bourn (.354 OBP and 61 steals) has turned into a nice little player, Carlos Lee will bop a few homers, and Hunter Pence can play. Lance Berkman is still a great hitter when he's healthy but everybody else in the lineup kind of sucks and in the rotation it's pretty much the same story. Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez are pretty good but the rest...not so much. They're burrowing down to the bottom of a weak division and will unseat the Pirates for 6th place this season.

Monday, March 29, 2010

2010 MLB Season Preview Part 1: NL West


Throughout the week, as we approach Opening Day I will be posting my preview for the 2010 baseball season. I will be covering each of the six divisions, starting off with the NL West and moving eastward.

For each team I've included their projected 2010 record as predicted by Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system. The system determines playing time for all players on each team, derives Runs Scored and Runs Allowed totals from their 2010 forecasts, and extrapolates that into wins and losses. We'll be using the PECOTA record as a baseline and I'll offer my take on each team's chances and how they'll all stack up.  

NL West
A division that used to be an afterthought, a joke, an easy bet to be the worst division in baseball suddenly became the best division in the National League last year (.533 win% playing against the other divisions). The western chapter of the senior circuit is overflowing with young talent and, as players like Matt Kemp and Tim Lincecum continue to build on the levels of performance they've established, the NL West should continue to be a division of supreme quality baseball.

The Rockies and Dodgers have both established themselves as playoff contenders and it'll be fun to watch them duke it out for the division crown this year. I think it'll be a very close finish with the Dodgers finishing ahead by a hair, though, because even though they've lost some players from their big 2009 season and didn't add on much, they are still absolutely loaded with talent at the plate and on the mound.


1. Dodgers
PECOTA's projection: 82-80
My take: Over
The 1-2 pitching punch of Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley might be a tougher duo than their rivals Tim Lincecum-Matt Cain and a bullpen that was the best in baseball last year returns almost all of its contributors. On offense, the Manny-Kemp-Ethier combo will carry them again and I'm optimistic about Russell Martin (no where to go but up after last year), and James Loney who had a great postseason last year.

Their main problem is depth. If someone gets hurt they don't have anybody to plug a hole (Xavier Paul?) and they are actually entrusting Vicente Padilla to provide quality starting pitching for them. It's gonna be a tough season, I certainly don't envision them sitting up in first place all summer but in the end their core will lead them ahead of the Rockies' oncoming avalanche. They won 95 games last year when they were good enough to win 99 but I'll take the Over on PECOTA's 82-win prediction and peg them for about 90.


2. Rockies
PECOTA's projection: 86-76
My take: Over
One of the league's most exciting young teams right now they ought to really give the Dodgers a hard time. I expect Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler to continue to take steps forward and excel, Troy Tulowitzki is a monster, and Ubaldo Jimenez will be one of the top 10 pitchers in the league especially with their strong defense backing him up.

I peg them for 88 wins, a bit of a drop from last season's 92 attributable to the fact that this will be a really strong division this year. Last season it was basically the Rockies and Dodgers with the Giants tagging along but not really being able to hang with the big boys because of their puny offense. Everybody (yes, even the Padres, see below) should be pretty competitive this season and I think that'll drag the records of the Rockies and Dodgers down. Still a battle between those two for the top of the mountain but the mountain isn't quite as steep this time.

3. Diamondbacks
PECOTA's projection: 83-79
My take: Even
Alot of people like this team as a darkhorse contender and there's certainly alot to like about them. They've got Justin Upton for one. Mark Reynolds is young and blasted 44 homers last year. Conor Jackson, Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Miguel Montero and even Kelly Johnson can all hit. I like their rotation alot this year, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren can pitch with the best of them and the two youngsters they picked up in the offseason, Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy, ought to be relieved to discover that there's only 8 good hitters to face every night in the National League.

But the D'backs have looked good on paper for a few years now and they've been disastrous. Sure, if everything clicks (all those names perform at high levels) they can be a great team, certainly a playoff contender, but how often does everything break right for a team? The guy who's out there telling everybody what to do, manager A.J. Hinch, hasn't managed a baseball team (any team) for even one year. He's got a psychology degree, though. In a highly competitive division, I see them being just that: competitive. "On paper" their roster can probably match up with the Dodgers and Rockies but I don't think the D'backs will be able to hang with them all year. They'll certainly contribute to what will be a tight race for this division, though.

4. Padres 
PECOTA's projection: 73-89 
My take: Over
This will probably be the most daring prediction I come up with. The Padres are supposed to be absolutely terrible this year according to most analysts and predictive systems. BP has them finishing with 73 wins, the CHONE projection system says 78 wins but I peg them at about 80. Why? Because, crazy as it may sound, I think they have a solid lineup (and good enough pitching). Their main offensive hole is David Eckstein at secondbase but if he plays bad enough maybe Matt Antonelli will supplant him, finally. They've got a surprisingly strong middle of the order in Adrian Gonzalez, Kyle Blanks (who I'm really excited about), and Chase Headley. I expect good things from Headley who had a solid-but-unspectacular season last year with a .280 EqA, he's only 26 and he's moving back to original position at thirdbase after trying out left field for a couple seasons. Twenty-seven year-old Will Venable put up a .285 EqA last year and will get a chance to shine this season as the starting rightfielder and they've got Scott Hairston back in the mix, a guy who managed to slug .533 playing in the worst hitter's park in baseball last year (before he was traded, that is).

The pitching is nothing spectacular but Mat Latos is pretty damn good already and he's only 22. The rest of the rotation: Chris Young is helpful if healthy (last time he managed a full season he had a 3.12 ERA), Kevin Correia doesn't impress me but does eat up innings, same with Jon Garland, and Clayton Richard has some upside as a young lefty who throws hard but I'd like to see Tim Stauffer and Wade LeBlanc get some starts. The Pads have also assembled an impressive pen. It adds up to a .500-ish season that'll keep San Diego fans happy and hopefully (fingers crossed) Adrian Gonzalez in his hometown. (In the interest of full disclosure I should note that I currently live about 10 minutes away from Petco Park and developed a slight rooting interest in this team.)

5. Giants
PECOTA's projection: 81-81
My take: Under
Yes, their topline pitching is amazing. But the offense is as bad as the pitching is good. And as horrible as their hitters were last year, they were lucky to have even scored as many runs as they did according to the Giants' chapter in this year's BP annual. A regression is expected for an offense that was 13th in scoring in the National League last year. The strong rotation and bullpen won't make up for that.

They will be fun to watch, though, with Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval leading the way and I also enjoy following the machinations of a manager like Bruce Bochy trying to mix & match and move players around in his lineup in an attempt to ignite some slight little spark with his poorly equipped charges. I see them finishing a few games below .500 with their badly unbalanced approach of all-pitching, no-hitting catching up with them after their 88-win breakthrough last season (their run totals suggest they were actually about an 83-win team). In what should be a battle to avoid the bottom of the barrel, the Giants will finish below the Pads.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The James Joyce Quarterly and the Tunc page

In my study of Joyce, I constantly come across interesting articles through Google from the James Joyce Quarterly but I can never read the articles because, aside from one page previews, they're hidden behind the walls of archives like JSTOR.com which require that you have a subscription. To have a subscription, one must be a scholar, student, or researcher. When I try to register for the site, I'm immediately shunned away with the message: "Unfortunately, we do not recognize you as belonging to an institution or organization that has access to JSTOR." The often extremely insightful  essays written by all kinds of Joycean scholars from the 30-plus years the Quarterly has been published aren't available anywhere else on the web so I recently decided to go ahead and subscribe to it for a year and my first issue arrived the other day.
It's a beautiful looking softcover book that's about the size of a literary journal. It's labeled as Volume 46, No. 1 Fall 2008 which seemed weird at first but I discovered that it was written over the period of Fall 2008 to Summer 2009 (and then published at the beginning of 2010? I have no idea). There are at least two articles in it that talk about events from 2009 (one that details a Joyce Conference held in Rome in 2009, the other about Bloomsday '09 at the University of Tulsa where the Quarterly is published), then a few different Joyce essays exploring perspectives on Dubliners, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake (more on that later), followed by book reviews for a shockingly huge number of brand new Joyce books that appeared during 2009 (about twelve).

But, the reason I'm posting about the Quarterly is to discuss its cover image which is the elaborately colored thing shown above. The image is of a children's coloring-book replica (colored in beautifully) of the so-called "Tunc page" from the Irish Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a magnificently illustrated book of New Testament passages that was transcribed by Celtic monks some time in the 9th century. The actual page looks like this:
What makes The Book of Kells so cool is that it was created during a period in Irish history when Christianity was still in its early stages and thus was interpreted and assimilated into older pagan mythology and its symbolic forms. And so the pages and the passages they feature are absolutely loaded with deep meaning in an early form of Christianity that was not yet in accord with the orthodox interpretations and boring, historically rigid version of things which eventually developed from the Byzantine Church councils right around the same period of history (700-800 AD). These councils determined that a culture's pre-Christian symbols, images, and other icons must be destroyed and banned.

So, let's take a quick look at the Tunc page and what's going on there. I've posted a large picture of it above so hopefully that will suffice to help you see what it is I'm referencing. I'm deriving the interpretation of it from pgs 467-469 of Joseph Campbell's Occidental Mythology. The page bears the sentence from the Matthew Gospel: "Then there were crucified with him two thieves" in Latin as "Tunc cru cifixerant XPI cum eo du os la trones" and it is that first elaborate "Tunc" that the page is named after. The entire page is encircled by the very old familiar mythological symbol of the self-consuming, self-renewing serpent, a popular Oriental symbol which is symbolic of the self-consuming and self-renewing powers of life. The serpent has a lion head and the "T" in the word "Tunc" (that cool J-looking thing that jumps out of the page) is also a lion with serpent attributes that is "either swallowing or emitting (or both) a tangled pair-of-opposites." As Campbell explains, the serpent is representative of "the lunar mystery of time," life waxing and waning, rising up and then dying, within the sphere of time while the lion is "the solar power, the sun door to eternity." The serpent then is the "demiurgic, world-creating and -maintaining principle, or...the God of the Old Testament" according to Campbell while the lion is the New Testament view, the eternal door, the "way and the light," the Redeemer (the New Testament is considered to have redeemed the Old Testament where Adam and Eve's fall from grace locked man of heaven).

The Greek letters XPI inserted in the text after "crucifixerant" are the Greek letters of abbreviation for Christ and, if you turn the page clockwise to lie on its right side, you see that XPI is spelled in big letters on the page. The huge curled "T" becomes the circle in the Greek "P", the middle letter "symbolizing the Savior between the two thieves" but here is where it all comes together: the whole thing is uniting these lunar and solar symbols beautifully. It is on the fifteenth day of each lunar month that the full moon appears directly across from the sun which shines on it and now observe, along the border of the page in the curving serpent's body, there are three groups of five men, fifteen. Easter (the most important day in Christianity, celebrating Christ's resurrection after being crucified) is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon on or following the Spring equinox and, as described in the Synoptic Gospels, the crucifixion took place on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan which is around March-April. It all seems to be "a lunar theme of death and resurrection."

But it gets better: the letter T is one of the symbols of the cross (+) and the cross is a traditional mythological sign of the earth (think of the north, south, east, west axis) and now picture the earth between the sun and full moon... It is at the time of the Spring equinox when the earth is in perfect alignment, standing upright on its axis instead of titled as it faces the sun---seeing the earth as Christ crucified between two thieves (the sun and moon) deepens our view here. Also consider that the T, the cross, as a symbol for the earth is also the symbol for the principle of space while the word Tunc, which means "then," is a word of time. It is in the field of space-time, phenomenality, that the mystery of Christ's Incarnation and Crucifixion took place, the eternal solar aspect coming forth into lunar time. 

The monks (the "filid", as they're called) who created this mind-blowing manuscript were trained under a highly organized system in which "they learned not only the entire native mythological literature by heart but also the laws according to which mythological analogies were to be recognized and symbolic forms interpreted" and they applied this training to read the symbols of the Christian faith and to recognize the parallels between it and their native pagan myths and legends.

What does this have to do with James Joyce? I'm glad you asked. Again, here's my mentor Joseph Campbell from his awesome book A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake:
The reader of Finnegans Wake will not fail to recognize in this page something like a mute indication that here is the key to the entire puzzle: and he will be the more concerned to search its meaning when he reads Joyce's boast on page 298: "I've read your tunc's dismissage."
The cover of the Skeleton Key book bears a huge letter T from a page in The Book of Kells, highlighting the ancient manuscript's importance for an understanding of Joyce's maze-masterpiece.



There is a great article in the Quarterly called "Finnegans Wake for Dummies" by Sebastian Knowles of Ohio State University (see my discussion of that article here) in which he conceives of an easier way to approach the text, starting from the middle of the book and working your way out going from the easier chapters to the increasingly difficult ones. Telling the story of a semester spent teaching the book in a new seminar for grad students, he describes how he came across the Tunc page in a coloring book on the floor of his five-year-old's room and brought it in for his students to color in, one of which is on the cover of the Quarterly.

Knowles' reading plan begins with Chapter 5 in Book 1, pgs 104-125. These are the pages devoted to the "Mamafesta," the Manifesto of Anna Livia Plurabelle, the flowing female presence that opens the book and runs throughout it as a river. Indeed, it could be said that the entire book is devoted to this female-archetype with the initials ALP. The "Mamafesta" is a letter written by ALP memorializing her deceased husband and, as can be seen from even a brief glance at any part of the chapter, it is also Finnegans Wake itself (pg 107: "The proteiform graph itself is a polyhedron of scripture."). But this exhumed manuscript that was dug out of a local rubbish heap by a neighbor's hen is also the Book of Kells which was once buried to protect it from the Danes invading Ireland in 853 AD. For four pages (119-123) in this Mamafesta chapter, Joyce parodies the language of Sir Edward Sullivan's description and analysis of The Book of Kells and thoroughly describes the Tunc page but he is also describing his own crazy book with its multitude of meaning, unnecessary elaborate flamboyancy, weird funky sigla, and "the sudden sputtered petulance of some capItallIsed mIddle; a word as cunningly hidden in its maze of confused drapery as a fieldmouse in a nest of coloured ribbons" (FW 120).

Further Notes:

-The Book of Kells is now in the library of Trinity College in Dublin. A facsimile of the volume was produced in 1990, this handbound leather edition comes in a hand-crafted presentation box accompanied by a volume of scholarly commentary. There have been 1,480 copies of this facsimile produced worldwide and one could pick up a copy for the meager price of... $20,000.

-In his Book of Kells study, Bernard Meehan notes that the lion (which appears twice on the Tunc page) is also a "potent symbol of Christ's resurrection. According to the natural history contained in the fifth-century Greek text Physiologus...lion cubs were born dead, but on the third day were revived by their father's breathing on their faces or roaring. This was a striking metaphor for the revival of Christ three days after his death." The lion was also associated in the Old Testament with the royal house of Judah, from which Christ was thought to be descended.

-Ulysses contains a reference to the Book of Kells in the crazy, hallucinatory "Circe" chapter. The polymorphous beastly creature named Virag that pops in and out saying crazy stuff to Bloom exclaims at one point: "Verfluchte Goim! He had a father, forty fathers. He never existed. Pig God! He had two left feet." The first part is Yiddish for "Cursed Gentiles!" and he is alluding to Christ. "Pig God!" is a common curseword in Italian ("Porco Dio!") similar to "goddammit." And the two left feet thing refers to a page from the Book of Kells of "The Virgin and the Child" in which the child has two left feet while the Virgin has two right feet as you can see here (click on the pic and zoom in):

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: Baseball Prospectus 2010


The annual Baseball Prospectus book is an enormous mango that arrives at my door each year around Valentine's Day. This huge piece of fruit maintains its freshness throughout the baseball season and one can either devour it in huge luscious chunks or savor its sweetness in carefully chosen slices. No matter what, it's always delicious, nutritious, and refreshing.

The big softcover book signals the arrival of Spring and the baseball season. As Spring Training continues and Opening Day inches closer, I've been spending more and more of my time reading this and preparing giddily for the new season. Written by a diverse conglomerate of baseball experts (14 contributors in all according to the author page), the book features a comprehensive chapter for all 30 major league teams, each chapter containing a three- or four-page essay (my favorite part of the book) discussing what happened last year and what their chances are in the year to come and then for all the players in each organization there's a capsule displaying their performance over the last three seasons in stats including Baseball Prospectus' own statistics which translate a player's performance in such a way that what a guy did in the New York-Penn League (a low-level short-season minor league) can be compared apples-to-apples with the stats of a major leaguer. These numbers put all players on even footing, filtering out any advantages they may have gained from factors such as playing most of their games in a homerun-friendly ballpark or in an extremely difficult league. An example of these translated stats, Yankee farmhand Neil Medchill led the aforementioned NY-Penn League in slugging-percentage last season with .551 playing for the Staten Island Yankees but, had he been playing in the majors, that performance would translate to a slugging percentage of only .387.

The book also displays, for each player, BP's special stats like EqA and WARP which I discussed recently but the main feature of the book is its statistical projections showing us what kind of season we can expect from each player in the upcoming year. These projections are generated by BP's forecast system called PECOTA (short for, get ready...Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) and tell us things like:

-Prince Fielder will smack 51 homers this year and draw 101 walks while being worth 7.1 wins for his team
-Tim Lincecum will strike out 219 batters
-Albert Pujols will have another awesome season at .317/.427/.564 for AVG/OBP/SLG
-Javier Vazquez, in his return to New York, will have a solid year with a 3.85 ERA and 180 strikeouts

That's basically the foundation of the book, but all the stats and figures do not come close to making the huge book a boring reference source or baseball math textbook. What I love about it most is the writing. This is my seventh or eighth year of purchasing the book (unsure of the number because my early editions are in New York, I'm in California) and it is as good as ever. I've particularly loved the White Sox, Mariners, and Mets chapter thus far although I've only read 10 of the 30 chapters because I employ a pretty conservative system of consuming the enormous mango. I'm not going to read the essays for the Yankees and Red Sox until their season-opening game gets closer (the night of Sunday April 5th).

The writing overall is intelligent, witty, loaded with cultural references (I've already come across two that caught my eye since they're main aspects of Ulysses: synchronicity and leitmotif), and particularly incisive. I'm often amazed at how perfectly they've described or captured the characteristics and workings of a team in the essays like this from the White Sox chapter:
In a sports world virtually wallpapered over in gray, polite men chiseling away at fractions of value and mouthing the easy assertions of sensible asset management, the Sox gamble at a chance for something more. In this age of paralysis by analysis and prim, perfunctory press conferences, bless them for their daring.
And BP has a reputation, in the mini-essays under the capsule for each individual player (of which there are over 1,600 helping make the book such a sweet inexhaustible mango), to pack lots of jokes, snark, and funny analogies as well as the everpresent sharp baseball analysis. A few of my favorites so far:
-re: Twins' pitcher Kevin Slowey: "In an organization that collects finesse pitchers as if they'll be used as currency following the apocalypse, Slowey is a high-denomination bill among the singles..."
-on Yanks outfielder Nick Swisher's defense: "he's competent but will drop the occasional can of corn because feelings of inadequacy clouded his vision."
-Arizona pitcher Clay Zavada is described as "the recipient of the 2009 Robert Goulet Memorial Mustachioed American of the Year Award." 
-from Orland Cabrera's player comment: "They dealt him to Minnesota, which actually was contending, thanks to the AL Central's being to playoff possibilites what MADtv's 'Lowered Expectations' skit is to dating." (When the opening to that old skit rose up in my memory I broke out in laughter.)

A few other morsels:
-PECOTA forecasts a huge dropoff for Derek Jeter this year, with a loss of over 100 points in his OPS (On-base plus slugging) from .871 to .760.
-the Yankees have an amazing 20-year-old catching prospect in their system named Jesus Montero. In Kevin Goldstein's Top 101 Prospects List in the back of the book, the young catcher is #4 in all of baseball and Goldstein notes: "In terms of pure hitting ability, no prospect matches Montero." Scary for Yankee-haters.
-The #1 overall prospect on BP's list is Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg: "Not just the best college pitcher in the 2009 draft, maybe the best college pitcher in baseball history. His combination of top-of-the-line velocity and command is found once in a generation, if that...Only an injury or a meteor strike will prevent him from being a perennial Cy Young contender."
-I'm happy to see that David Wright is predicted to be his normal ball-mashing self again next season, forecasted to hit 26 homeruns with a 508 SLG and finish as the most valuable third basemen in the league next year (ahead of A-Rod and Evan Longoria of whom BP gushes, "he's all that and a bag of chips").

The one negative feature which I must point out is the same problem the book has had for about 4 or 5 years now: it's seemingly littered with typos, although it is a bit better than years past in that regard. Considering that there's a frantic rush each year to get the completed book into print as they try and include every last ounce of offseason baseball news before distributing to the hungry fans, it is a bit understandable but nevertheless frustrating. They are often minuscule but sometimes, like referring to Padres' righty pitcher Edward Mujica as a lefthander twice in the same chapter, they are bit more glaring (for a baseball maniac like me, that is). After all, this is considered the premium publication in what is now a growing industry. Such tiny proofreading errors certainly don't subtract from the awesomeness of the book, though. They are insignificant little blotches on a nutritious, fresh, deliciously satisfying piece of fruit.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Needles in Baseball

The part of the steroids-in-baseball argument that seems most silly to me is how something like this isn't a big deal:
Lee underwent an ultrasound exam, and Dr. Khalfayan gave him a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection. He will be re-evaluated in seven days.
He got a what?? Is that somehow not a performance-enhancing drug?

The sentence is from a news article about the Mariners' prize acquisition, lefthander Cliff Lee, who has an abdominal strain. For this strain, he was flown from where the Mariners are currently having Spring Training in Tucson up to Seattle where the team's medical director administered the rich plasma injection. I injured my right leg pretty badly in a hard collision with a goal post in my men's league hockey game last Thursday, a charley horse* resulted and I was unable to finish the game or walk without pain for a few days. I've had to play two more games since then, though, and I performed pretty far below my established level of performance and couldn't even apply myself fully. Had I been able to have one of these "platelet rich plasma injections" I probably would've performed much better and been able to give more effort. As far as I see it, both steroids and these PRP injections are beneficial and performance-enhancing for an athlete. Why is one allowed and the other not only illegal but carries an ugly stigma?

I'm probably overlooking some obvious fact that'll make this post sound foolish once I realize it. Or not.

*There are a couple anecdotes for the history of the term "charley horse". Both have to do with baseball. One says it comes from 1880s pitcher Charlie "Old Hoss" Radbourn who often suffered from leg cramps. The other, which I like better, is that there was an old horse named Charlie that used to work at Comiskey Park (named after Charles Comiskey) where the White Sox play. An old, retired horse was often referred to as "Charlie" in those days.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Links, Time, and Ferris Bueller

My job and some extracurricular activities (notably, a second job I worked on at home for a few days) completely consumed me this week and by the time I finally came up for air, the week was over. My blog: postless. The last five days seemed to zoom by at light speed. Why? I guess you'd say it's because I've been very busy and, as always seems to happen, when one is occupied or busy in some way---time flies. The opposite phenomenon is the watched pot that never boils. During those last few minutes of work or class when you're staring at the clock, time seems to take its time. If you stop and take the time to focus on something, time will seemingly slow down or, in rare instances, stand still. In the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter of Ulysses, the carousing drunken medical students notice Bloom (pg 416) staring deeply at the label on a beer bottle, totally hypnotized and in another dimension, and Joyce (speaking through his characters) says:
Any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods. 
Ferris Bueller said "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it" and as I get more and more involved with my job and let the days breeze by I realize the importance of that statement. It's very similar to what I described in the last paragraph of my introductory baseball post, where the timeless nature of a live baseball game often promotes reflection and consideration of where I am in life. Thankfully, baseball season (and spring!) is upon us.

Anyways, I'm back and I have some links. St Patrick's Day brought Joyce back into the news a bit and there's been some fun and excitement in hockey and interesting baseball stuff. I'm still figuring out how to unite and display such a weird conglomeration of topics so I'll break 'em up here.

Baseball
- Bill James' interviews usually suck because he comes across as cold and not wanting to be bothered. This one's cool but he makes some weird assertions.
- Major League Baseball's grouchy old get-off-my-lawn attitude when it comes to the internet media boom is annoying
- Torii Hunter, who has the same birthday as me, said some silly things recently and got lambasted for it but here's a slightly more sober view.
- Nice piece from Josh Wilker on the film "Sugar" and the lives of Dominican baseball players.
- Why people hate Yankee fans. I've gotta learn how to make my blog look that pretty.
- Another beautiful blog that makes me jealous. On the recent news about Texas Rangers' manager Ron Washington.
Hockey
I could've sworn there were a bunch more hockey things I wanted to link to but...this is what happens when you don't heed the words of Ferris Bueller.

Joyce
- A  short interview with a scholar who won a battle with the Joyce estate after they tried to block her from using any of his writings in her new biography of Lucia Joyce, his schizophrenic daughter. The interview is nothing in depth really but it brings up a couple interesting things: the Joyce estate and Joyce's daughter Lucia. The Estate of James Joyce or rather, Mr. Stephen Joyce, the writer's sole living descendant, has caused alot of trouble for scholars over the last few years, withholding and even destroying some of his work and being extremely stingy with giving a stamp of approval on anything while asking for lots of dough in royalties when they do approve stuff. The interview I linked to is with the author of a biography of James Joyce's daughter, Lucia, who was considered to have schizophrenia and spent the last 30 years of her life in a mental institution. Here's some more info about the sad story. It's been said that she inherited her father's genius but, whereas he was able to channel it into his writings, she had no sufficient outlet and was overcome by it.

- I really don't like this guy's article at all but the headline is nice: "The Best Book Ever Written is Irish"


Random
- My ladyfriend showed me a pretty cool documentary on this weird experiment and now it's gaining more attention with a television show. The chilling part: "The Milgram experiment showed that people will submit to authority no matter what its form: military, political, medical, a boss — or now a television host." Check it out.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Preparatory to Anything Else...The Beauty of Baseball

There are few things in life that I am more passionate about than the game of baseball. As the season grows near I will be writing much more about it and so a brief introduction will follow.

World's Most Beautiful Bookstore

El Ateneo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Came across this via Roger Ebert's Twitter page.

Just returned from a lovely dinner with my girlfriend followed by a trip to a favorite local used book store of ours. They had a weird old paperback copy of Ulysses, apparently very rare it was priced at $150 and kept in a glass case with some other rare birds. I ended up purchasing a paperback copy of Joseph Campbell's India Journals entitled Baksheesh and Brahman (I have the Japanese Journals and wasn't that into it but this one is supposed to be a little better to read) for pretty cheap as well as a cool little paperback that contains Joyce's Dubliners, Portrait, and Chamber Music.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Preparatory to Anything Else...What the Title Means

I'm starting a series of posts with the intention of introducing and explaining some things that will make frequent appearances in my writings as we move forward. This helps so that I don't have to pause to define or explain something in parentheses when posting about it (certain baseball statistics, for instance). I should have probably done this a while ago to introduce Joyce before posting so much stuff about his work but, really, it's only recently that I've begun to treat this blog seriously as something that people might read as opposed to a wall on which to carve my opinions and blabberings like graffiti.

So, to start, it's about time I explain what this blog's title means. Well, it has a number of meanings behind it but first I must point out the fact that I didn't decide "How 'bout I create a blog...and I'll name it 'A Building Roam'!" It is instead taken from an idea I had last year for a novel. "Building Roam" is from Bildungsroman, a German word used for a literary genre concerned with the growth and assimilation into society of a young person. Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is considered a Bildungsroman novel, so is Siddartha and also Catcher in the Rye.

In my case, my story is concerned with a character who graduates college with a business degree but is unsure of what he wants to do with his future so, instead of interviewing for business jobs to begin a career as a suit-and-tie executive, he works as an office temp. This was me in New York in 2007. I worked for four different (very different) companies for varying lengths of time and have lots of interesting stories from each one. More importantly, it was during this time that I decided to move across the country to Southern California after spending the first 22 years of my life in the same spot. After growing up in the same nest (same house, same bedroom) I decided to jump out and test my wings. So, I see "A Building Roam" as referring to my journey as a temp from one office building to another as well as my eventual cross-country 10-day migration to San Diego where I had no plans, no job lined up, no apartment, I just had that destination. When I did make it there, there were some struggles for a little while and the bird who'd hopped out of the nest fluttered its wings frantically in descent at times, but eventually learned how to fly and stay afloat and enjoy the scene from the sky, soaring up above the buildings.

I have written a full outline for the novel telling that story but each time I try to sit down and compose the book I lose all confidence in my writing and shy away for a while. Part of the intention of this blog is to gain some more comfort in writing and hopefully (eventually) put up some draft chapters.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Books I'm Reading

I'm still new at this, this manner of displaying one's thoughts and contents out for the world to see, but I've often seen people on the web make note of the books they're reading and so I'd like to briefly discuss my own readings here. I've maintained a bi-annual book-reading count in a notebook journal for the last few years but, with a blog, why not put it out there for the online universe... I hope it's not as boring to people as listening to someone discuss their fantasy baseball team or the contents of their stamp collection.

Reading Right Now
Baseball Prospectus 2010 - I'm going to have a post this week all about this wonderful annual introduction to the upcoming baseball season. I received it last week and am slowly reading and leafing through it each day, savoring it while the baseball season's prelude, Spring Training, rises stretching from its hibernation in the bed of winter.

ReJoyce by Anthony Burgess - in the midst of a second reading as I prepare to re-approach the perigee of the celestial body that is Ulysses


Reading Next
Well...my plan is to begin reading Ulysses again (perhaps with a second reading of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man first) and, as any good reading of this encyclopedic novel entails, I will be accompanying this second reading of it with a few of what the honorable Judge John M. Woolsey called its "satellites". Mainly these:

James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert - I acquired this book when I was already past the most ridiculous chapter of Ulysses, "Circe," and so I didn't get full of use of it yet. The format is a chapter-by-chapter walkthrough but it's not as good as some of the more recent ones in that respect. The lengthy introduction to the book and its themes, though, is perhaps my favorite piece of Joyce-commentary (out of everything I've read so far). The composition of this book was overseen by Joyce himself and, supposedly, Joyce spoke through Gilbert at times to give the reader some clues to his puzzle book so this, the first attempt by a writer to make sense of Ulysses, is an enlightening and essential sidekick.

Allusions in Ulysses: An Annotated List by Weldon Thornton - this is one my new toys. It's an enormous (506 pgs) and overwhelmingly thorough listing of the insane amount of references and allusions from Ulysses. What kind of allusion, you ask? One of the most daunting aspects of Ulysses is the fact that it contains so many references to things like: Shakespeare, Irish history, Thomas Aquinas, Catholicism, a ridiculous amount of old songs and plays or operas, Dante, The Bible, and about a million other people, places, and things. The book explains as many references as it can and does so in a chronological order, organized by chapter. This is most essential for the parts of the book where Stephen is talking or thinking because he is a walking Wikipedia and spins out that globular ball of yarn in his brain through poetic but opaque short sentences---like aphorisms or Tweets. An example from the "Scylla and Charybdis" episode:

As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said, from day to day, their molecules shuttled to and fro, so does the artist weave and unweave his image.

from Thornton...Dana, who is called Mother of the Irish Gods, was the greatest of the Danaan deities. She is mentioned in A.E.'s play Dierdre, which was alluded to earlier in this episode. J. Prescott points out an allusion here to Walter Pater's The Renaissance: "It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution of impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off--that continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves"

Further down the Reading List
Finnegans Wake - I've already read A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake by Campbell/Robinson but I'm eager to begin a study of the book itself along with...

Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop - I've only read the introduction and first chapter but this appears to be the coolest Joyce book ever made. It's huge, not just lengthy but wide and has pictures and diagrams and all sorts of cool stuff. I look forward to reading this more than anything else.


Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - I picked both of these up recently and am eager to get into them after I read Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther last year and loved it. (Also, the name Wolfgang is awesome.)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche - I read a few of Nietzsche's books a year or so ago and absolutely freakin' loved them. I took a break from the poet-philosopher to get more into the poet-novelist (Joyce) and hope to get into the former's most famous book this year. (I've actually got two editions of this, one a paperback Penguin classic, the other a huge hardcover with a cool cartoon of Nietzsche on the front and large font inside.) A couple other Nietzsche titles sit on the bench of my bookshelf waiting for their name to be called.

Besides those, there's a random smattering of books including some more Joyce ones, a couple Alan Watts titles, and a re-reading of Volume 4 of Joseph Campbell's Masks of God series. And, since I started this post with a baseball book, I might as well end it with one:

Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards by Josh Wilker - I've been enjoying his blog for about three years now and this Spring, finally, he will be releasing a book. His reminiscences of growing up in a strange household are channeled through old 1970s baseball cards into sentimental, poetic, hilarious, and existential essays. One of my favorite baseball writers of the last few years.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A more readable Finnegans Wake?

After 30 years of combing the 60 notebooks, 20,000 manuscript pages, and nearly uncountable notes and papers Joyce used to create the mountainous masterpiece, two scholars have recently completed a fully-corrected and supposedly easier-to-read edition of Finnegans Wake. They spent about twenty years combing all of Joyce's papers which were hand-written and looked much like the page shown above (a manuscript page of the Wake) and then the last ten years typesetting the pages. Apparently, they've made 9,000 "minor yet crucial" corrections to the text. This new edition will be published next week in two limited edition versions: a standard one for 250 British pounds (about $375) and a calfskin-bound special version for 750 pounds (about $1,125). Next year, Penguin will release a paperback version of the new edition for a much more affordable price (probably about 35 bucks).

Finnegans Wake was originally published in 1939 with many typos and minor mistakes which should not come as a surprise since it is written entirely in a "dream language" that Joyce created and spans over 600 pages. Joyce finished composing the book on November 13, 1938 after laboring on it for nearly 17 years and then for the next month and a half, Joyce, with help from his friends Stuart Gilbert and Paul Léon and some professional proofreaders, frantically worked around the clock to proofread the book as Joyce insisted that it be printed by his birthday (February 2nd) no matter what. During this time, Joyce barely slept at all and once collapsed during a walk in Paris. In his famous Joyce biography, Richard Ellman tells another story from this "frenzy of proofreading":
Léon supplied a last drama by forgetting a section of the revised proofs in a taxi. He rushed back to stop the driver, but the taxi was gone. Bitterly ashamed, he hurried to Joyce's flat to inform him; Joyce did not reproach him, seemed rather to take it as the usual sort of bad luck. Léon telephoned to London to send more proofs, but the taxi driver, after two hours, miraculously appeared with the missing package. (Ellman, pg 714)
Joyce received a printed copy of the book from his publishers, Faber & Faber, on January 30th and for his birthday party on February 2nd, he celebrated the culmination of his years of work with friends and family. Paris' best caterer baked seven cakes, each one a replica of Joyce's seven books, with icing the color of the books' bindings. At the dinner celebration, Joyce told the guests how the idea for the book came to him in 1922 when he was at Nice in France and, after dinner, Joyce and his son sang a duet and his son's wife read aloud the last pages of Finnegans Wake.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review: "ReJoyce" by Anthony Burgess

 
To paraphrase the opening lines of the "Scylla and Charybdis" episode of Ulysses, this is "a great writer on a great brother writer." The great English scribe, Anthony Burgess, famous for his novel A Clockwork Orange, here waxes lucidly and passionately on the works of James Joyce. This is perhaps the best and most fun-to-read book of Joyce criticism that's out there, it's highly acclaimed but I'm going to offer my own thoughts on this wonderful book which I recently completed and am now jumping back into for a second go-round.

My copy is an older one, published in 1968, and it has a different cover than that which I show here but I couldn't find a good image of the older cover anywhere on the web. It has a cool sketch of two Joyce heads stuck together like Siamese twins (here's a tiny look at it, all I could find--EDIT: see two-headed cover courtesy of Eric Arbiter). Originally published in 1965 in Britain under the titleHere Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader, the American version was shortened to the much more pleasing title ReJoyce. Both titles are definitely apt, as Burgess' love and enthusiasm for Joyce's art glows on each page as he celebrates the author's entire canon from his early poetry to detailed walkthroughs of his major works, especially the two biggies, and in so doing he explains very clearly why these works are so important and what makes them so special. Burgess displays a passion in trying to make Joyce accessible and to dispel the cloud of heavy erudition that surrounds his books. In the foreword, Burgess explains the reason for the British edition's title Here Comes Everybody which is taken from Finnegans Wake, but he also wanted "to stress the universality of Joyce's creations" and enclosed in that title is Burgess' "hope that it will not be long before everybody comes to Joyce, seeing in him not torturous puzzles, dirt, and jesuitry gone mad, but great comedy, large humanity, and [the] affirmation of man's worth." 

 
The book contains three parts: The Stones, The Labyrinth, and The Man-Made Mountain. In the first part, Burgess examines Joyce's early career, some of his early poems, and walks us briefly but concisely through each story of Dubliners but the main focus of The Stones is the 'flight' of Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The symbolic name for the main character in Joyce's autobiographical Bildungsroman novel combines the great artificer of Greek mythology, Daedalus, with Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saint Stephen was stoned to death but, metaphorically speaking, Joyce (whom Stephen represents) took those stones and eventually constructed a Daedalian labyrinth in Ulysses and so, in part two, Burgess offers us an easy-to-read, thorough and interesting walkthrough of the longest day in literature. The part of the book (pgs 137-141) where Burgess explains the "Sirens" episode of Ulysses is probably the best explication of this difficult chapter I've yet across, here's a sample where he sheds light on the musical techniques Joyce used:
We distangle [Bloom] from a mass of musical tricks--a tremolo, for instance: "Her wavyavyeavyheavyeavyevyevy hair un comb:'d"; a staccato triplet: "I. Want. You."; hollow fifths: "Blmstdp"--in which the vowels are missing ("Bloom stood up") on the analogy of suppressed thirds in common chords. We have recapitulations, ornamented cadences, appoggiaturas, but above everything we have an exploitation of the musical possibilities of sheer sound..."
So, Joyce has obviously gone to great lengths in this chapter to include a bunch of musical elements in his prose---with all of the techniques Burgess points out there's also the fact that the entire chapter is in the form of musical fugue---but there's a reason for all of this:
Does the virtuoso display obscure this latest phase of the story? No, since the essence of the whole book is Bloom and his qualifications for the spiritual fatherhood of a poet, and we must meet Bloom's inner world at all its levels. Every fresh stimulus brings to the surface a new aspect of the man, and music---in a city passionately devoted to it---is a stimulus of considerable potency.

Burgess' walking us through the entirety of Ulysses feels like a relaxed, pleasant and informative conversation during an early evening after-dinner stroll. He is obviously passionate about the subject, but also engaging in his quest to make it all seem appealing and help us see the greatness in this famously difficult book (it wasn't voted Best Novel of the 20th Century for nothing):
The difficulties of Ulysses...are not so many tricks and puzzles and deliberate obscurities to be hacked at like jungle lianas: they represent those elements which surround the immediate simplicities of human society; they stand for history, myth, and the cosmos. Thus we have not merely to accept them but to regard them as integral, just as the stars overhead are integral to the life of the man who, micturating in the open air, happens to look up at them.
Micturating is a fancy word for peeing and he's making reference to the scene in the "Ithaca" episode where Stephen and Bloom piss in Bloom's backyard underneath "the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit."

The third and final section of the book, The Man-Made Mountain, is a walkthrough of Finnegans Wake. There are few things, if any, that I find more interesting and stimulating than reading about Finnegans Wake because it quickly becomes apparent that it is the greatest human achievement in words ever. It is generally regarded as the most difficult book to read but Columbia professor William York Tindall has called it "the funniest book of all time and the dirtiest book of all time." Burgess' look at the wonderful dream text is, again, a clear and concise one. He never goes to absurd scholarly lengths to break down the unbelievable amount of references in Wake sentences and words but he often will unravel the beauty of a sentence here and there. His main approach is to try to explain to us what is "going on" (in quotes because, since the entire book is a dream, and thus not in line with the laws of time and space, it's hard to speak in such terms) in each chapter of the book so as to help us read it and savor the words without having to worry so much about unveiling who is doing what.

Overall, this is a wonderful book which I'll probably read again more than once and I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in Joyce. I've read a number of Joyce books and criticisms the past year or so and this is unlike all of them in that, while not omitting any of the scholarly Joyce stuff, Burgess' book is easy to read and accessible. It also is not littered with footnotes and page references (he doesn't notate the page number on any quotes)---it is just simply a great writer waxing eloquently about perhaps the greatest writer. It is not sheer hero-worship, though. As I've said, Burgess sought to explain the beauty of Joyce and why he should be read. By regular people too, not just professors and polymaths, after all "Joyce's aim was the ennoblement of the common man." And what becomes most rewarding, as any reader of Joyce will tell you, is how his art seeps into your views of everyday life and, in so doing, adds a transfiguring depth to it:
Joyce, without blasphemy, saw his function as priestlike---the solemnisation of drab days and the sanctification of the ordinary.

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