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Let Go

See right there on page 29 of Ulysses (the 1990 Vintage International Edition) where Stephen Dedalus receives his salary for teaching wee snot-nosed lads history, mathematics, Latin, and etc.? You can tell right away that Mr. Deasy, the distributor of the money, is despicable in all sorts of ways. Stephen sees him “stepping over wisps of grass with gaitered feet.” Can we agree that undue interest in keeping one’s feet dry is despicable?

Deasy then proudly flourishes the money, dispensing it from a special change machine and counting it deliberately—investing the act with all the ceremony of the preparation of the Eucharist.

Stephen, qua man of ideas, is embarrassed by Deasy’s pomp and the necessity of money and quickly shoves it into his pocket, which prompts the schoolmaster to dispense some advice. He recommends that Stephen be more careful with his capital, save more. Deasy quotes Shakespeare: “Put but money in thy purse.”

Of course, Shakespeare wrote this line, but Iago, as Stephen notes, is the one who utters it. Iago, the villain, who’s giving this advice to his pawn Roderigo, and for villainous reasons.

This painful scene worsens, the players perfectly misfit for each other. Deasy selects those historical and literary details which best fit a series of ignorant, racist, or silly claims: that the Irish deserve to be an English colony, that O’Connell was a chump, that Jews are taking over the world, that hoof and mouth disease is easily cured if the government would just take his advice, that a black balance sheet is a man’s noblest virtue.

Stephen’s replies consist of grunts and brief gestures, but his interior monologue lists with poetic allusions the details Deasy omits. Stephen’s knowledge burdens him with history. Deasy’s ignorance liberates him. Deasy is comfortable; Stephen is beyond exasperated.

Why are the Mr. Deasy’s the ones we must genuflect to? Why are they the ones lording “financial arrangements” over our heads? Better yet, what does it feel like to ask these questions, and live in the world? Books that fail to address these items are worthless, and are for Mr. Deasies. The rest of us were left better books, and better words to live by.

When he was fired from the post office for hiding in the back room to read, Faulkner said: I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again have to be at the beck and call of every son of a bitch who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.