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MIT student blogger Mitra L. '07

Building 4 Odyssey by Mitra L. '07

Looks like my James Joyce karma isn't that horrible after all.

I very much agree with what Jess wrote about your comments on Stu’s entry — this is a challenging time for the MIT admissions office, and hearing your thoughts, whether supportive or critical, is always enlightening.

As I wrote back in February, I’m reading three heavy-duty books in the class 21L.702 Studies in Fiction: “James Joyce and the Legacy of Modernism.” Joyce’s Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man were both difficult but possible to understand. I really enjoyed both of them, and am fairly confident that I knew what was going on in each book. I haven’t often feel this way at MIT, so I was enjoying it.

Ulysses is something else. It is the most formidable piece of literature I have ever attempted, and, not gonna lie, it’s been rough. Between the changing narrative styles, extensive vocabulary (250,000 words from a vocabulary of 30,000 words), and hundreds of jokes/puns/foreign phrases that require 700 pages of annotations, it is a monster to read… let alone understand. But enough complaining. I am in a superb lit class that is tackling this book, and I diligently take pages of notes each class to supplement my reading comprehension. All good, right?

Not last Tuesday, when I left my copy of Ulysses, along with my awesome notebook of class notes from Dubliners, Portrait, and Ulysses in the Building 4 Athena Cluster. I rushed out of the cluster around 5:15 PM when I got an urgent email, and forgot to bring my books with me. When I went back around 8:00 PM to pick them up, they were gone. Yikes.

On Wednesday morning, after a sleepless night (not kidding), I went to the undergraduate math office in the same hallway and asked if anyone had dropped off my books. Nope. I then left a short note in the unlucky terminal that said, “If you found a brown notebook or the book Ulysses, please contact [email], thanks!” By Thursday, I was pretty bummed, since I figured that if the person who took my books hadn’t contacted me within a day, they were as good as gone.

With my last drop of optimism, I turned to the Athena gods. My awesome friend Phil ’07 taught me the useful Athena command last. I typed this in on the Athena computer I had used Tuesday and learned the names of the last ~40 people who had logged in on the same computer. I emailed the following message to the 3 users who were there between 5:15 PM and 8:00 PM Tuesday

Hey [Name],

I left my copy of Ulysses by James Joyce in the bldg 4 Athena cluster, and I see you logged on after me. Did you happen to pick my book and notebook? If so, I'd be happy to come get it from you


I got some very thoughtful responses, like

Hi Mitra, I'm afraid I haven't seen it. Good luck


Hi Mitra,

Sorry, I was actually in a rush to print something out, I didn't even notice anything on the table.

Sorry again! I hope you find it

At this point, I was beginning to lose all hope. Buying a new book wouldn’t have been a huge deal, especially since I don’t write much in my books, but the notebook was key. Then I miraculously received this email

Yes, I did! Sorry, I picked up the book and notebook intending to find out who owned them, but I got distracted. I have a big thermodynamics test today which has left me scatterbrained.

The test has got me jammed up today, and it would be hard for us to meet up. Can we meet Friday? Any time or place Friday is good for me.

I'm sorry for the inconvenience I've caused; I should have just left the books there and in all likelihood you'd have recovered them by now. Anyway, email me back and let's find a time and place to meet up and get/give back your stuff.

As you may have guessed, I was thrilled to get this email and am currently guarding my Ulysses book and notebook with my life. I am not sure what the moral of this story is, though I suppose it can be any one of the following: keep track of your stuff; learn your Athena commands; people at MIT can do great things for each other. Any others that I’m missing?

In any case, I’m off to reread and “Scylla and Charybdis” to try and figure out what Stephen Dedalus’s deal is.

9 responses to “Building 4 Odyssey”

  1. Stephan says:

    First Post

  2. Wow. I am supposed to analyse “Waiting for Godot” and give a presentation in front of the whole class and a really cynical professor, who enjoys throwing difficult (and in my opinion, often unnecessary) questions to students. And I am supposed to act the thing out with three other girls… How do you act out a play, in which, as far as I can see, nothing much happens except that two people are waiting for Godot, who never turns up?

  3. My advice? Just sit on a bench, the three of you, and stare at your watch… Sit there for five minutes or until everyone gets REALLY uncomfortable, and then end it. Brilliant satire!

  4. Alex M. says:

    @Someone in some crazy literature course-

    Ha, I just read “Waiting for Godot” in my English class and I was completely lost as well. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but I don’t quite understand why… something about Estragon making fun of Vladimir for how he waddles and the fact that it hurts when he goes to the bathroom. there are a lot of subtle jokes that are easier notice if you see it live on stage as opposed to reading it in a book, so I guess try to figure out what those jokes are and then act them out..?

  5. Mitra says:

    I read Waiting for Godot in French, and of course understood none of it, so sorry can’t help

  6. Snively says:

    Loved the story Mitra, especially since I can relate. I leave stuff everywhere, and kinda just hope that it’s still there when I come back to get it later. Oh, and it’s nice to see Barkowitz on the blog comments, very entertaining. MIT staff are amazing!

  7. Daniel '12 says:

    The moral of this story is simple:

    When anyone leaves anything anywhere, if they remember where they left it, they will return to retreive it. Therefore, if you see something out of place that is probably useful to someone else, LEAVE IT or turn it in to the group of people locally responsible for the surrounding area.

    At least, that’s my take on it. Is there any debate?

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