Homage to Catatonia

A Loving Catalog of Orphaned Ideas.

Happy Bloomsday! ReJoyce!

Happy Bloomsday! What am I talking about? Bloomsday is a celebration of Ulysses, James Joyce’s modern epic of everyday life, which takes place on June 16, 1904. Bloomsday is named for the novel’s main character, Leopold Bloom, a modern-day Odysseus who echoes that Homeric hero’s long journey home as he strolls the streets of Dublin.

Ulysses was published on 2 February 1922, Joyce’s birthday, but the impulse to celebrate the novel on June 16th seems to have been immediate (in a 1924 letter Joyce mentions “a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day—June 16”). In 1954 a group that included two Irish writers (novelist Flann O’Brien and poet Patrick Kavanagh) inaugurated the intention (if not the practice) of celebrating Bloomsday by retracing Bloom’s journey across Dublin and re-enacting events from the book—ultimately they settled for accomplishing the equally Joycean feat of getting drunk in a pub. In the ensuing decades, though, those intentions have been realized by Joyce admirers the world over in the form of festivals, walking tours, public readings, radio broadcasts, informal gatherings, and countless tributes on social media.

The Bloomsday Project is my own contribution. Beginning in 2006 with the first chapter, I have paid tribute to Ulysses every Bloomsday, one chapter at a time, by posting an excerpt prefaced by my own commentary and observations. My goal is to share some of the pleasures of Ulysses with family, friends, and whoever else might find their way here. All of my previous Bloomsday posts can be found in the archives.
This year I am focusing on chapter 15, the “Circe” episode, also known as “Nighttown.”

Episode 15 (Circe – “Nighttown”)

With all that is happening at the moment I haven’t had the time or, to be honest, the inclination to immerse myself as fully in this year’s episode of Ulysses as I have in previous years. More important things are happening. Sometimes life and history intervene. As a result, the introductory remarks for this year’s episode will be more cursory than usual.

The “Circe” episode is also known among Joyce enthusiasts as “Nighttown” a reference to the name of the Dublin brothel district in which the episode takes place. “Nighttown” corresponds to the episode of Homer’s Odyssey in which Odysseus’ men are transformed into swine by the the sorceress Circe. Odysseus is able to resist this transformation thanks to an immunizing herb provided to him by the god Hermes. The name of the herb is often rendered as “moly” in early translations a detail that, in one of Joyce’s most touching flourishes, is echoed by the name of Leopold Bloom’s wife, Molly. Later Odysseus journeys to Hades (the underworld) to visit the shade of the soothsayer Tiresias.

The “Nighttown” episode, the longest in Ulysses, is a tour-de-force of psychological insight and technique. Joyce depicts the transformation of men into beasts in less literal (and more familiar) terms: drunken, lustful debauchery. In particular, Stephen Dedalus, who has been walking across Dublin cadging drinks all day, drinks still more, topping off his efforts with some absinthe. Joyce makes the debauchery of Nighttowns’ denizens nightmarishly visceral by presenting it in the form of a dream play (complete with stage directions) where the objective and subjective realities of the characters are represented side by side. Memory and imagination merge with reality as the fantasies and guilty consciences of Stephen, Bloom, and others bleed into the action. Bloom imagines himself on trial, with witnesses and accusers appearing and vanishing; Stephen relives his guilt over his refusal to pray with his mother at her deathbed, briefly conjures a singing and dancing Edward VII during an altercation with two British soldiers, and then exaggerates that altercation into a hellish vision of the destruction of Dublin. The effect is like a fever dream or hallucination.

The action culminates in this year’s excerpt, where Stephen finds himself on the losing end of a scuffle with two British soldiers, privates Compton and Carr. Private Carr, who knocks Stephen down, is named (in one of the book’s most famous little revenges) after Henry Carr, a non-professional actor Joyce cast in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, who sued Joyce (and was later counter-sued by him) over small matters related to the production. Stephen passes out and the police arrive. Bloom boldly implicates the soldiers and, thanks to the fast-talking efforts of Corny Kelleher (an undertaker’s assistant who organized the funeral in the Hades episode), the police are persuaded to let the matter drop. Bloom turns his attention to Stephen, who is still woozy, and experiences a burst of paternalistic feeling — as embodied by the appearance of Bloom’s son Rudy who died in childbirth but here appears as the eleven year old boy he would have been in 1916. After criss-crossing each other throughout the novel, Stephen Dedalus and Stephen Bloom have finally been brought together — even though they won’t truly connect until the next episode, “Eumaeus.”

____________________________________________________________

BLOOM: (Shoves them back, loudly.) Get back, stand back!

PRIVATE COMPTON: (Tugging his comrade.) Here. Bugger off, Harry. Here’s the cops! (Two raincaped watch, tall, stand in the group.)

FIRST WATCH: What’s wrong here?

PRIVATE COMPTON: We were with this lady. And he insulted us. And assaulted my chum. (The retriever barks.) Who owns the bleeding tyke?

CISSY CAFFREY: (With expectation.) Is he bleeding!

A MAN: (Rising from his knees.) No. Gone off. He’ll come to all right.

BLOOM: (Glances sharply at the man.) Leave him to me. I can easily…

SECOND WATCH: Who are you? Do you know him?

PRIVATE CARR: (Lurches towards the watch.) He insulted my lady friend.

BLOOM: (Angrily.) You hit him without provocation. I’m a witness. Constable, take his regimental number.

SECOND WATCH: I don’t want your instructions in the discharge of my duty.

PRIVATE COMPTON: (Pulling his comrade.) Here, bugger off Harry. Or Bennett’ll shove you in the lockup.

PRIVATE CARR: (Staggering as he is pulled away.) God fuck old Bennett. He’s a whitearsed bugger. I don’t give a shit for him.

FIRST WATCH: (Takes out his notebook.) What’s his name?

BLOOM: (Peering over the crowd.) I just see a car there. If you give me a hand a second, sergeant…

FIRST WATCH: Name and address.

(Corny Kelleher, weepers round his hat, a death wreath in his hand, appears among the bystanders.)

BLOOM: (Quickly.) O, the very man! (He whispers.) Simon Dedalus’ son. A bit sprung. Get those policemen to move those loafers back.

SECOND WATCH: Night, Mr Kelleher.

CORNY KELLEHER: (To the watch, with drawling eye.) That’s all right. I know him. Won a bit on the races. Gold cup. Throwaway. (He laughs.) Twenty to one. Do you follow me?

FIRST WATCH: (Turns to the crowd.) Here, what are you all gaping at? Move on out of that.

(The crowd disperses slowly, muttering, down the lane.)

CORNY KELLEHER: Leave it to me, sergeant. That’ll be all right. (He laughs, shaking his head.) We were often as bad ourselves, ay or worse. What? Eh, what?

FIRST WATCH: (Laughs.) I suppose so.

CORNY KELLEHER: (Nudges the second watch.) Come and wipe your name off the slate. (He lilts, wagging his head.) With my tooraloom tooraloom tooraloom tooraloom. What, eh, do you follow me?

SECOND WATCH: (Genially.) Ah, sure we were too.

CORNY KELLEHER: (Winking.) Boys will be boys. I’ve a car round there.

SECOND WATCH: All right, Mr Kelleher. Good night.

CORNY KELLEHER: I’ll see to that.

BLOOM: (Shakes hands with both of the watch in turn.) Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank you. (He mumbles confidentially.) We don’t want any scandal, you understand. Father is a wellknown highly respected citizen. Just a little wild oats, you understand.

FIRST WATCH: O. I understand, sir.

SECOND WATCH: That’s all right, sir.

FIRST WATCH: It was only in case of corporal injuries I’d have to report it at the station.

BLOOM: (Nods rapidly.) Naturally. Quite right. Only your bounden duty.

SECOND WATCH: It’s our duty.

CORNY KELLEHER: Good night, men.

THE WATCH: (Saluting together.) Night, gentlemen. (They move off with slow heavy tread.)

BLOOM: (Blows.) Providential you came on the scene. You have a car?…

CORNY KELLEHER: (Laughs, pointing his thumb over his right shoulder to the car brought up against the scaffolding.) Two commercials that were standing fizz in Jammet’s. Like princes, faith. One of them lost two quid on the race. Drowning his grief. And were on for a go with the jolly girls. So I landed them up on Behan’s car and down to nighttown.

BLOOM: I was just going home by Gardiner street when I happened to…

CORNY KELLEHER: (Laughs.) Sure they wanted me to join in with the mots. No, by God, says I. Not for old stagers like myself and yourself. (He laughs again and leers with lacklustre eye.) Thanks be to God we have it in the house, what, eh, do you follow me? Hah, hah, hah!

BLOOM: (Tries to laugh.) He, he, he! Yes. Matter of fact I was just visiting an old friend of mine there, Virag, you don’t know him (poor fellow, he’s laid up for the past week) and we had a liquor together and I was just making my way home…

(The horse neighs.)

THE HORSE: Hohohohohohoh! Hohohohome!

CORNY KELLEHER: Sure it was Behan our jarvey there that told me after we left the two commercials in Mrs Cohen’s and I told him to pull up and got off to see. (He laughs.) Sober hearsedrivers a speciality. Will I give him a lift home? Where does he hang out? Somewhere in Cabra, what?

BLOOM: No, in Sandycove, I believe, from what he let drop.

(Stephen, prone, breathes to the stars. Corny Kelleher, asquint, drawls at the horse. Bloom, in gloom, looms down.)

CORNY KELLEHER: (Scratches his nape.) Sandycove! (He bends down and calls to Stephen.) Eh! (He calls again.) Eh! He’s covered with shavings anyhow. Take care they didn’t lift anything off him.

BLOOM: No, no, no. I have his money and his hat here and stick.

CORNY KELLEHER: Ah, well, he’ll get over it. No bones broken. Well, I’ll shove along. (He laughs.) I’ve a rendezvous in the morning. Burying the dead. Safe home!

THE HORSE: (Neighs.) Hohohohohome.

BLOOM: Good night. I’ll just wait and take him along in a few…

(Corny Kelleher returns to the outside car and mounts it. The horse harness jingles.)

CORNY KELLEHER: (From the car, standing.) Night.

BLOOM: Night.

(The jarvey chucks the reins and raises his whip encouragingly. The car and horse back slowly, awkwardly, and turn. Corny Kelleher on the sideseat sways his head to and fro in sign of mirth at Bloom’s plight. The jarvey joins in the mute pantomimic merriment nodding from the farther seat. Bloom shakes his head in mute mirthful reply. With thumb and palm Corny Kelleher reassures that the two bobbies will allow the sleep to continue for what else is to be done. With a slow nod Bloom conveys his gratitude as that is exactly what Stephen needs. The car jingles tooraloom round the corner of the tooraloom lane. Corny Kelleher again reassuralooms with his hand. Bloom with his hand assuralooms Corny Kelleher that he is reassuraloomtay. The tinkling hoofs and jingling harness grow fainter with their tooralooloo looloo lay. Bloom, holding in his hand Stephen’s hat, festooned with shavings, and ashplant, stands irresolute. Then he bends to him and shakes him by the shoulder.)

BLOOM: Eh! Ho! (There is no answer; he bends again.) Mr Dedalus! (There is no answer.) The name if you call. Somnambulist. (He bends again and, hesitating, brings his mouth near the face of the prostrate form.) Stephen! (There is no answer. He calls again.) Stephen!

STEPHEN: (Groans.) Who? Black panther. Vampire. (He sighs and stretches himself, then murmurs thickly with prolonged vowels.)

Who… drive… Fergus now
And pierce… wood’s woven shade?…

(He turns on his left side, sighing, doubling himself together.)

BLOOM: Poetry. Well educated. Pity. (He bends again and undoes the buttons of Stephen’s waistcoat.) To breathe. (He brushes the woodshavings from Stephen’s clothes with light hand and fingers.) One pound seven. Not hurt anyhow. (He listens.) What?

STEPHEN: (Murmurs.)

… shadows… the woods
… white breast… dim sea.

(He stretches out his arms, sighs again and curls his body. Bloom, holding the hat and ashplant, stands erect. A dog barks in the distance. Bloom tightens and loosens his grip on the ashplant. He looks down on Stephen’s face and form.)

BLOOM: (Communes with the night.) Face reminds me of his poor mother. In the shady wood. The deep white breast. Ferguson, I think I caught. A girl. Some girl. Best thing could happen him. (He murmurs.)… swear that I will always hail, ever conceal, never reveal, any part or parts, art or arts… (He murmurs.)… in the rough sands of the sea… a cabletow’s length from the shore… where the tide ebbs… and flows …

(Silent, thoughtful, alert he stands on guard, his fingers at his lips in the attitude of secret master. Against the dark wall a figure appears slowly, a fairy boy of eleven, a changeling, kidnapped, dressed in an Eton suit with glass shoes and a little bronze helmet, holding a book in his hand. He reads from right to left inaudibly, smiling, kissing the page.)

BLOOM: (Wonderstruck, calls inaudibly.) Rudy!

RUDY: (Gazes, unseeing, into Bloom’s eyes and goes on reading, kissing, smiling. He has a delicate mauve face. On his suit he has diamond and ruby buttons. In his free left hand he holds a slim ivory cane with a violet bowknot. A white lambkin peeps out of his waistcoat pocket.)

 

Happy Bloomsday! ReJoyce!

Happy Bloomsday! What am I talking about? Bloomsday is a celebration of Ulysses, James Joyce’s modern epic of everyday life, which takes place on June 16, 1904. Bloomsday is named for the novel’s main character, Leopold Bloom, a modern-day Odysseus who echoes that Homeric hero’s long journey home as he strolls the streets of Dublin.

Ulysses was published on 2 February 1922, Joyce’s birthday, but the impulse to celebrate the novel on June 16th seems to have been immediate (in a 1924 letter Joyce mentions “a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day—June 16”). In 1954 a group that included two Irish writers (novelist Flann O’Brien and poet Patrick Kavanagh) inaugurated the intention (if not the practice) of celebrating Bloomsday by retracing Bloom’s journey across Dublin and re-enacting events from the book—ultimately they settled for accomplishing the equally Joycean feat of getting drunk in a pub. In the ensuing decades, though, those intentions have been realized by Joyce admirers the world over in the form of festivals, walking tours, public readings, radio broadcasts, informal gatherings, and countless tributes on social media.

The Bloomsday Project is my own contribution. Beginning with Episode 1 in 2006, I have paid tribute to Ulysses every Bloomsday, one chapter at a time, by posting an excerpt prefaced by my own commentary and observations. My goal is to share some of the pleasures of Ulysses with family, friends, and whoever else might find their way here. All of my previous Bloomsday posts can be found in the archives.

This year we take a look at Episode 14: Oxen of the Sun.

Happy Bloomsday! ReJoyce!

Happy Bloomsday! What am I talking about? Bloomsday is a celebration of Ulysses, James Joyce’s epic of everyday life, which takes place on June 16, 1904. Bloomsday is named for the novel’s main character, Leopold Bloom, a modern-day Odysseus who echoes that Homeric hero’s long journey home as he strolls the streets of Dublin.

Ulysses was published on 2 February 1922, Joyce’s birthday, but the impulse to celebrate the novel on June 16th seems to have been immediate (in a 1924 letter Joyce mentions “a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day—June 16”). In 1954 a group that included two Irish writers (novelist Flann O’Brien and poet Patrick Kavanagh) inaugurated the intention (if not the practice) of celebrating Bloomsday by retracing Bloom’s journey across Dublin and re-enacting events from the book—ultimately they settled for accomplishing the equally Joycean feat of getting drunk in a pub. In the ensuing decades, though, those intentions have been realized by Joyce admirers the world over in the form of festivals, walking tours, public readings, radio broadcasts, informal gatherings, and countless tributes on social media.

The Bloomsday Project is my own contribution. Beginning with Episode 1 in 2006, I have paid tribute to Ulysses every Bloomsday, one chapter at a time, by posting an excerpt prefaced by my own commentary and observations. My goal is to share some of the pleasures of Ulysses with family, friends, and whoever else might find their way here. It has also been way of honoring the memory of my late father, Dennis Thompson (1945-2005), a far more dedicated reader of Joyce than I could ever hope to be. All Bloomsday posts can be found in the archives.

This year we’ll be exploring one of the chapters that earned Ulysses a reputation as a dirty bookEpisode 13: Nausicaa.

Oxen of Sun (Episode 14)

What’s your favorite television show? Whatever it is, you can safely assume it has been the subject of a clickbait article ranking every episode from best to worst. Ranking and rating seem to be an inevitable result of the episodic form and, with its eighteen stylistically diverse episodes, Ulysses is no exception. If you google “James Joyce Ulysses episodes ranked” you’ll find dozens of blog posts and subreddits where Joyce fans all over the world do exactly this. 

While I have never taken the time to rank all eighteen episodes, I can tell you this: this year’s episode, The Oxen of the Sun, is my least favorite. For most readers there is at least one episode that overextends even Ulysses’ encyclopedic aspirations. For some it is the Sirens (XI), in which Joyce attempts to approximate music with language; for others it is Joyce’s use of the slimmest of correspondences to Homer’s Odyssey as an occasion to create a miniature of Ulysses itself in The Wandering Rocks (X). For me it is The Oxen of the Sun. 

Which is not to say that The Oxen of the Sun is terrible or not worth reading—this episode has plenty of admirers and it’s easy to see why. The concept is impressively ambitious: Joyce relates Bloom’s visit to the National Maternity Hospital (he is inquiring after a woman of his acquaintance who has been in labor for three days) in nine sections that parody the development of the English language and mirror the nine months of gestation. There is no question that the chapter is a masterwork of technique. Joyce puts on a veritable clinic of literary ventriloquism, cleverly mimicking everything from medieval latin, to Milton, Defoe, Swift, and Dickens, before ending with a jumble of (then) contemporary slang. 

This chapter draws its Homeric parallel from Odysseus’ visit to the Isle of the Sun where, despite his warnings, Odysseus’ men commit an unforgivable sacrilege by slaughtering the oxen of the Sun for food. Punishment quickly follows when a thunderbolt strikes the ship, killing everyone but Odysseus. As Harry Blamires explains in The New Bloomsday Book: “the general drift of the correspondence here is that that the ribald and riotous [medical] students in the Maternity Hospital commit a kind of sacrilege against the hospital’s patients who, like the Oxen of the Sun, are symbols of fertility.” (139) In a letter to a friend, Joyce (perhaps half-jokingly), described the chapter as an allegory in which “Bloom is the spermatozoon, the hospital the womb, the nurse the ovum, Stephen the embryo.”

My favorite sections of Ulysses are its most human and, for me, the Oxen of the Sun is Ulysses at its most gimmicky, making for a reading experience I find a bit sterile — ironic, given the episode’s overarching concern with fertility. Though, re-reading that last sentence, I have to wonder: wouldn’t it be typical of Joyce to craft an episode about callous medical students by deploying a technique that approximates a feeling of hospital sterility for the reader?

I have chosen this year’s excerpt not because of its source material (it is written in the manner of Thomas Malory’s Arthurian epic) but because it depicts a discussion between Bloom, Stephen, and the medical students about what should be done if, during childbirth, a choice must be made between saving the child (the official position in Catholic Ireland) or the mother. All agree that the official line should be ignored and the mother saved. The discussion moves on to related topics: contraception and abortion. Readers in 2019 may find this account of a roomful of men holding forth about birth control and abortion more familiar than they’d like. 

As always, I encourage you to read along to the RTE full-cast performance of the excerpt provided here:

And sir Leopold sat with them for he bore fast friendship to sir Simon and to this his son young Stephen and for that his languor becalmed him there after longest wanderings insomuch as they feasted him for that time in the honourablest manner. Ruth red him, love led on with will to wander, loth to leave.

For they were right witty scholars. And he heard their aresouns each gen other as touching birth and righteousness, young Madden maintaining that put such case it were hard the wife to die (for so it had fallen out a matter of some year agone with a woman of Eblana in Horne’s house that now was trespassed out of this world and the self night next before her death all leeches and pothecaries had taken counsel of her case). And they said farther she should live because in the beginning they said the woman should bring forth in pain and wherefore they that were of this imagination affirmed how young Madden had said truth for he had conscience to let her die. And not few and of these was young Lynch were in doubt that the world was now right evil governed as it was never other howbeit the mean people believed it otherwise but the law nor his judges did provide no remedy. A redress God grant. This was scant said but all cried with one acclaim nay, by our Virgin Mother, the wife should live and the babe to die. In colour whereof they waxed hot upon that head what with argument and what for their drinking but the franklin Lenehan was prompt each when to pour them ale so that at the least way mirth might not lack. Then young Madden showed all the whole affair and when he said how that she was dead and how for holy religion sake by rede of palmer and bedesman and for a vow he had made to Saint Ultan of Arbraccan her goodman husband would not let her death whereby they were all wondrous grieved. To whom young Stephen had these words following, Murmur, sirs, is eke oft among lay folk. Both babe and parent now glorify their Maker, the one in limbo gloom, the other in purge fire. But, gramercy, what of those Godpossibled souls that we nightly unpossibilise, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost, Very God, Lord and Giver of Life? For, sirs, he said, our lust is brief. We are means to those small creatures within us and nature has other ends than we. Then said Dixon junior to Punch Costello wist he what ends. But he had overmuch drunken and the best word he could have of him was that he would ever dishonest a woman whoso she were or wife or maid or leman if it so fortuned him to be delivered of his spleen of lustihead. Whereat Crotthers of Alba Longa sang young Malachi’s praise of that beast the unicorn how once in the millennium he cometh by his horn the other all this while pricked forward with their jibes wherewith they did malice him, witnessing all and several by saint Foutinus his engines that he was able to do any manner of thing that lay in man to do. Thereat laughed they all right jocundly only young Stephen and sir Leopold which never durst laugh too open by reason of a strange humour which he would not bewray and also ford that he rued for her that bare whoso she might be or wheresoever. Then spoke young Stephen orgulous of mother Church that would cast him out of her bosom, of law of canons, of Lilith, patron of abortions, of bigness wrought by wind of seeds of brightness or by potency of vampires mouth to mouth or, as Virgilius saith, by the influence of the occident or by the reek of moonflower or an she lie with a woman which her man has but lain with effectu secuto, or peradventure in her bath according to the opinions of Averroes and Moses Maimonides. He said also how at the end of the second month a human soul was infused and how in all our holy mother foldeth ever souls for God’s greater glory whereas that earthly mother which was but a dam to bring forth beastly should die by canon for so saith he that holdeth the fisherman’s seal, even that blessed Peter on which rock was holy church for all ages founded. All they bachelors then asked of sir Leopold would he in like case so jeopard her person as risk life to save life. A wariness of mind he would answer as fitted all and, laying hand to jaw, he said dissembling, as his wont was, that as it was informed him, who had ever loved the art of physic as might a layman, and agreeing also with his experience of so seldom seen an accident it was good for that Mother Church belike at one blow had birth and death pence and in such sort deliverly he scaped their questions. That is truth, pardy, said Dixon, and, or I err, a pregnant word. Which hearing young Stephen was a marvellous glad man and he averred that he who stealeth from the poor lendeth to the Lord for he was of a wild manner when he was drunken and that he was now in that taking it appeared eftsoons.

But sir Leopold was passing grave maugre his word by cause he still had pity of the terrorcausing shrieking of shrill women in their labour and as he was minded of his good lady Marion that had borne him an only manchild which on his eleventh day on live had died and no man of art could save so dark is destiny. And she was wondrous stricken of heart for that evil hap and for his burial did him on a fair corselet of lamb’s wool, the flower of the flock, lest he might perish utterly and lie akeled (for it was then about the midst of the winter) and now sir Leopold that had of his body no manchild for an heir looked upon him his friend’s son and was shut up in sorrow for his forepassed happiness and as sad as he was that him failed a son of such gentle courage (for all accounted him of real parts) so grieved he also in no less measure for young Stephen for that he lived riotously with those wastrels and murdered his goods with whores.

Nausicaa (Episode 13)

Smut. James Joyce’s Ulysses first entered popular consciousness not as a literary masterpiece nor even as an obscure experimental novel but as smut, indecent and obscene. Even before the completed version of Ulysses appeared in book form in 1922 its reputation as pornography was already established. This was due to the publication, in 1920, of this year’s episode (Nausicaa) in the Little Review, a then little-known American literary magazine that published the work of modernist luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams. The publication of the Nausicaa episode resulted in more than a decade of trials, convictions, challenges, book-burning, and, finally, an historic ruling that changed the face of publishing in the United States.

The Nausicaa episode takes its name from the beautiful Phaeacian princess in Book VI of Homer’s Odyssey who cares for the shipwrecked Odysseus after finding him washed up on the beach. Despite their evident mutual attraction, Odysseus is faithful to his wife, Penelope. In the final moments of what some consider the earliest example of unrequited love in literature, Nausicaa tells Odysseus to “remember me, for to me first thou owest the price of thy life.”

In the thirteenth episode of Ulysses we are introduced to Joyce’s Nausicaa: Gertrude “Gerty” Macdowell, one of three young women spending the early evening of June 16, 1904 at the beach watching a baby and twin four year old boys. Gerty is an attractive twenty-one year old with an active imagination and a burgeoning understanding of the effect her good looks have on both men and other women (she suspects her friends of being envious). The first half of the episode focuses on Gerty, detailing her thoughts in a narrative voice modeled after the precious, sentimental writing of romance magazines:

Had kind fate but willed her to be born a gentlewoman of high degree in her own right and had she only received the benefit of a good education Gerty Macdowell might easily have held her own beside any lady in the land and have seen herself exquisitely gowned with jewels on her brow and patrician suitors at her feet vying with one another to pay their devoirs to her. Mayhap it was this, the love that might have been, that lent to her softly featured face at whiles a look, tense with suppressed meaning, that imparted a strange yearning tendency to the beautiful eyes a charm few could resist.

As she sits with her friends fantasizing about suitors and marriage, Gerty becomes aware that she has an admirer, a man (whom the reader soon recognizes as Leopold Bloom, recently escaped from the violence of the Cyclops episode) sitting among some nearby rocks: “Yes, it was her he was looking at and there was meaning in his look. His eyes burned into her as though they would search her through and through, read her very soul.” Gerty enjoys the attention, casting Bloom as that most romantic of figures: the mysterious stranger. Their wordless flirtation escalates until it erupts in a crescendo of mock-orgasmic narration as Gerty leans back, giving Bloom a view of her undergarments while he masturbates in his pants.

When it appeared in the Little Review, Nausicaa immediately sparked controvsery among subscribers, one of whom condemned the episode as “damnable hellish filth from the gutter of a human mind born and bred in contamination.” Still, the episode would likely have remained a small-scale controversy were it not for the fact that a copy was delivered, apparently by mistake, to a teenage girl in New York. Scandalized by what his daughter had been sent, the girl’s father went to the authorities. Charges were filed against the Little Review’s editors, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap. At issue was the episode’s violation of The Comstock Act, a law passed in 1873 that criminalized the distribution by US mail of “every obscene, lewd, or lascivious, and every filthy book, pamphlet, picture, paper, letter, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character.” Since the word “obscene” was (and remains) vague, the authorities were were given a standard for determining what constituted obscenity, the Hicklin Rule. That standard was ridiculously low, defining as obscene any work that might “deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.” In other words, if a judge ruled that a publication contained a single word or phrase likely to corrupt a hypothetical individual who was easily corrupted, the entire work could be banned.

In the midst of the controversy an editorial appeared in the Little Review written by one of its co-editors, Jane Heap, in which she remarked upon the irony that they were being prosecuted for corrupting the thoughts of a young girl by “printing the thoughts in a young girl’s mind.” To Heap the chapter was no more than an honest and beautiful depiction of human life. The courts disagreed until until 1934 when Judge John Munro Woolsey finally lifted the ban on Ulysses, ruling that the Hicklin Rule was an unjust standard for determining what constituted an obscene work. In his historic decision Judge Woolsey wrote: “The words which are criticized as dirty are old Saxon words known to almost all men and, I venture, to many women, and would be naturally and habitually used by the types of folk whose life, physical and mental, Joyce is seeking to describe.” Or, as Jane Heap more acerbically put it in her editorial fourteen years earlier: “To a mind somewhat used to life Mr Joyce’s chapter seems to be a record of the simplest, most unpreventable, most unfocused sex thoughts possible in a richly-constructed, unashamed human being. Mr Joyce is not teaching early Egyptian perversions nor inventing new ones. Girls lean back everywhere . . .”

This year’s excerpt begins with Gerty and her friends enjoying some fireworks on the beach and includes the section that excited so much attention. As usual, I’ve included an audio clip of the excerpt from the 1982 RTÉ full-cast production of Ulysses. The best way to appreciate the music of Joyce’s writing is to hear it read aloud:


It’s fireworks, Cissy Caffrey said.

And they all ran down the strand to see over the houses and the church, helterskelter, Edy with the pushcar with baby Boardman in it and Cissy holding Tommy and Jacky by the hand so they wouldn’t fall running.

Come on, Gerty, Cissy called. It’s the bazaar fireworks.

But Gerty was adamant. She had no intention of being at their beck and call. If they could run like rossies she could sit so she said she could see from where she was. The eyes that were fastened upon her set her pulses tingling. She looked at him a moment, meeting his glance, and a light broke in upon her. Whitehot passion was in that face, passion silent as the grave, and it had made her his. At last they were left alone without the others to pry and pass remarks and she knew he could be trusted to the death, steadfast, a sterling man, a man of inflexible honour to his fingertips. His hands and face were working and a tremor went over her. She leaned back far to look up where the fireworks were and she caught her knee in her hands so as not to fall back looking up and there was no one to see only him and her when she revealed all her graceful beautifully shaped legs like that, supply soft and delicately rounded, and she seemed to hear the panting of his heart, his hoarse breathing, because she knew about the passion of men like that, hot-blooded, because Bertha Supple told her once in dead secret and made her swear she’d never about the gentleman lodger that was staying with them out of the Congested Districts Board that had pictures cut out of papers of those skirtdancers and highkickers and she said he used to do something not very nice that you could imagine sometimes in the bed. But this was altogether different from a thing like that because there was all the difference because she could almost feel him draw her face to his and the first quick hot touch of his handsome lips. Besides there was absolution so long as you didn’t do the other thing before being married and there ought to be women priests that would understand without your telling out and Cissy Caffrey too sometimes had that dreamy kind of dreamy look in her eyes so that she too, my dear, and Winny Rippingham so mad about actors’ photographs and besides it was on account of that other thing coming on the way it did.

And Jacky Caffrey shouted to look, there was another and she leaned back and the garters were blue to match on account of the transparent and they all saw it and shouted to look, look there it was and she leaned back ever so far to see the fireworks and something queer was flying about through the air, a soft thing to and fro, dark. And she saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees up, up, and, in the tense hush, they were all breathless with excitement as it went higher and higher and she had to lean back more and more to look up after it, high, high, almost out of sight, and her face was suffused with a divine, an entrancing blush from straining back and he could see her other things too, nainsook knickers, the fabric that caresses the skin, better than those other pettiwidth, the green, four and eleven, on account of being white and she let him and she saw that he saw and then it went so high it went out of sight a moment and she was trembling in every limb from being bent so far back he had a full view high up above her knee no-one ever not even on the swing or wading and she wasn’t ashamed and he wasn’t either to look in that immodest way like that because he couldn’t resist the sight of the wondrous revealment half offered like those skirt-dancers behaving so immodest before gentlemen looking and he kept on looking, looking. She would fain have cried to him chokingly, held out her snowy slender arms to him to come, to feel his lips laid on her white brow the cry of a young girl’s love, a little strangled cry, wrung from her, that cry that has rung through the ages. And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O!O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lively! O so soft, sweet, soft!

Then all melted away dewily in the grey air: all was silent. Ah! She glanced at him as she bent forward quickly, a pathetic little glance of piteous protest, of shy reproach under which he coloured like a girl. He was leaning back against the rock behind. Leopold Bloom (for it is he) stands silent, with bowed head before those young guileless eyes. What a brute he had been! At it again? A fair unsullied soul had called to him and, wretch that he was, how had he answered? An utter cad he had been. He of all men! But there was an infinite store of mercy in those eyes, for him too a word of pardon even though he had erred and sinned and wandered. Should a girl tell? No, a thousand times no. That was their secret, only theirs, alone in the hiding twilight and there was none to know or tell save the little bat that flew so softly through the evening to and fro and little bats don’t tell.

Cissy Caffrey whistled, imitating the boys in the football field to show what a great person she was: and then she cried:

Gerty! Gerty! We’re going. Come on. We can see from farther up.

Gerty had an idea, one of love’s little ruses. She slipped a hand into her kerchief pocket and took out the wadding and waved in reply of course without letting him and then slipped it back. Wonder if he’s too far to. She rose. Was it goodbye? No. She had to go but they would meet again, there, and she would dream of that till then, tomorrow, of her dream of yester eve. She drew herself up to her full height. Their souls bet in a last lingering glance and the eyes that reached her heart, full of a strange shining, hung enraptured on her sweet flowerlike face. She half smiled at him wanly, a sweet forgiving smile, a smile that verged on tears, and then they parted.

Deep

No one reads the whiteness:
We read the darkness
Because it is poetry

A poem’s darkness will swallow you down
And you will live deep within it,
Glimpsing worlds from the shadows as you travel

You will collect dust
And the silt on your coat will sparkle around you like stars.
Not just you but You. The deeper you.
The you down deep that anchors all your selves.

Deep: I want to write that word in blacker ink
So that you can fathom it, so that you can hear
All the other words I hear echoing within.

I wish by writing that word (Deep)
I could could capture all that blackness
And set it down with enough force to end this poem.
But every poem fades to white.

Detective Story #13 — Of Time & Office Space

You know how it is: try to picture someone you have only talked to on the phone and when you finally meet they look nothing like the person you imagined. The nature of your surprise is different, though, when you’ve spent hours imagining a hypothetical person know you will someday meet. By the time I opened for business I had spent hours imagining as many possible first clients as I could. I imagined their faces, their bodies, their clothes, their voices, their temperaments, and the types of investigations they would carry in with them. I must have conjured thousands of clients. Maybe millions. Who makes little hashmarks every time a new variation of an old idea flashes through their mind? I’ve been a detective long enough now to have met many of the people I imagined in those early days. Or so it seems. In truth, you can never really imagine a person. You can only reconfigure memories of the people you’ve already met. And these amalgams always lack definition, like someone who is just a little too far away.

When she walked through the door I was surrounded by strips of paper. I had been working on another map and had decided to indulge a bit of fantasy, drawing scale pictures of the furniture I hoped to have in my office some day on scraps paper and arranging them on my map of the office. The exercise reminded me of a movie I had watched when I was a kid about a boy growing up poor in the Depression who cut pictures of his favorite foods out of magazines, set them on a plate, and pretended to feast.

I heard a light tapping and looked up. A woman was standing at the threshold, gently rapping the extended knuckle of her index finger against the doorjamb. A bemused smile pulled at my lips. She was nothing like I’d imagined. She was too average to imagine.  Imaginations gravitate toward the exceptional — the tall, the short, the fat, the skinny, the ugly, the beautiful — but fail to account for the ordinary. The ordinary is familiar and because it is familiar we mistake it for simplicity.  See something every day and soon you forget its complexity. We only truly notice the ordinary when it is forced upon us.

She was around average height with a face that had probably made her look older throughout her teens and twenties but now, in her early forties, made her look a bit younger (I would have guessed she was 35). She had a vague chin and thin lips that disappeared when she spoke. Her skin was fair but splotchy. She had a medium shag haircut that was tucked behind the ear on one side (left). Her black blouse drew out the sparkle from a pair of large, gold rectangular earrings. Her pumps were flesh colored (though not the color of her own flesh) and cut in a sort of lattice work design. She was apologetic and a bit embarrassed about coming in, convinced that her case was too trivial.

“Who am I to decide what’s important?” I said, hoping to set her at ease as I ushered her into a lawn chair.

“There are two coffeehouses in my neighborhood,” she began in a voice that started off resigned but became sheepish as she went on, “and most days I grab a coffee on my way to work. It’s expensive but it just tastes better than anything I’ve been able to make at home.”

I nodded and lifted the small wire-mesh recycling bin I kept behind my desk to show her the jumble of paper coffee cups it contained. She laughed.

“If the first coffeeshop looks too busy when I drive by, I just go to the other one. They both use the same coffee supplier — a local roaster — so, in theory, there shouldn’t be much of a difference. But there always is. At the first place the coffee tastes unbelievable — I must drink it two or three times faster than usual — while at the second place it’s still very good, just not quite as good. Always. Every time. It doesn’t matter who the barista is, or what time of day it is. Are they using better water? Are they brewing it longer? It doesn’t taste stronger, just . . . deeper, fuller. Anyway, you can see how ridiculous this is.”

She had come to me, she admitted, because no one else would take her case. Luckily, I had no paying clients, no money coming in, nothing at all but time and office space.

You might expect that I spent hours, even days, researching coffee — and the related techniques and equipment — before surveilling the two coffeeshops to determine what they were doing differently. When I told my brother about my first case he was surprised I hadn’t tried to get hired at both coffeeshops. I would have happily done all of this but it wasn’t necessary because I happened to know the owner of the first coffeeshop personally — we had gone to high school together — and, in her enthusiasm for her business, she had already explained why the coffee tasted better at her cafe: they pre-infused their grounds. That is, they poured hot water over the grounds to release any carbon dioxide before putting putting them in the coffeemaker. She was adamant: if you skipped this step the carbon dioxide in the dry grounds would repel water during brewing making the final product less flavorful. She was appalled by how many coffeefeelingshops skipped this step and made a point of drilling it into her employees.

When I told my client, she was stunned.
“You just happened to know that?”
I shrugged.
She reached into her purse and pulled out her wallet.
“How much do I owe you? Do you take credit cards?”
I told her there was no charge but she insisted on paying for my time.
“That would come to about a dollar,” I said.
She wrote a check for $51 — my hourly rate plus a bonus.

I never cashed it. The most important thing about her case had not been the money or the feeling of validation or even the triviality of the matter she asked me to investigate — it had been her embarrassment. She had been turned down by other agencies — four of them, in fact — and yet she had kept asking. I was lucky she had come through my door at all. How many people had been turned down by a more established agency and given up, resolving to live with some unanswered question? How many more had never bothered to ask, had simply ruled themselves out?

After she left I sat and looked at the check she had given me and tried to settle on a criteria for the kinds of investigations I would accept. There are plenty of valid reasons to turn down an investigation — ethical reasons, logistical reasons — but as I tried to imagine declining a case based on merit, I found only my own values and preferences. Overcoming preconceptions was one of the main reasons I had decided to succumb to family tradition and become a detective. So, I said again, this time to myself: who was I to decide what was important enough to investigate?

The next morning I put a new ad in the newspaper and changed the language on my web site:

NADIE FARRAGO, DETECTIVE
NO MYSTERY TOO SM
BRING ME YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
LIFE IS A MYSTERY AND YOUR CASE IS THE NEXT CLUE
REASONABLE RATES

My father and any number of well-meaning colleagues advised me against this direction. The industry standard was for small agencies to narrow their focus and specialize while large agencies divided themselves into departments that basically did the same thing. It was one thing to accept “minor” cases when business was slow but to actively seek them out was seen as demeaning to the profession. The phrasing of my ad offended them as well. Referring to myself as a “detective” rather than a “private investigator” (or, better still, simply as an “investigator”) was considered old-fashioned, my use of the word “mystery”  amateurish and vague. But vague was what I wanted. I wanted to appeal to people who had mysteries in their lives, people who were baffled or bewildered or simply curious — not just people who were worried that their spouse was cheating or that their employees were stealing.

There’s an old adage among detectives that clients desperately want an answer until they hear it. Like most adages, it’s absolutely true part of the time. I’ve had plenty of clients who are grateful, even relieved, to receive my results. Quite a few are bemused. Still, true to the adage, many of my clients — probably a third, give or take — are disappointed. What came as a surprise (to me, at least) is the number of clients who are irritated, even angry. The angriest make wild, peevish accusations, or even refuse to pay.  Some seem to be angry because they feel the solution was something they should have figured out for themselves, but many, I suspect, feel cheated because gaining an answer has cost them a mystery. I rarely press the issue and often, after a few weeks or months, I’ll receive an apologetic phone call or a remorseful note with a check enclosed for the full amount.

If a client doesn’t pay, though, I make no effort to collect. It’s not worth the time and effort. Besides, the clients bring mysteries with them but they are also a mystery themselves. They come to me with some question they hope I can help them answer but the mystery they secretly, unknowingly, want me to solve is the unanswerable mystery of their selves. When I look at it that way how could I ever expect a client to be satisfied?

 

Happy Bloomsday! ReJoyce!

Happy Bloomsday! What am I talking about? Bloomsday is a celebration of Ulysses, James Joyce’s modern epic of everyday life, which takes place on June 16, 1904. Bloomsday is named for the novel’s main character, Leopold Bloom, a modern-day Odysseus who echoes that Homeric hero’s long journey home as he strolls the streets of Dublin.

Ulysses was published on 2 February 1922, Joyce’s birthday, but the impulse to celebrate the novel on June 16th seems to have been immediate (in a 1924 letter Joyce mentions “a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day—June 16”). In 1954 a group that included two Irish writers (novelist Flann O’Brien and poet Patrick Kavanagh) inaugurated the intention (if not the practice) of celebrating Bloomsday by retracing Bloom’s journey across Dublin and re-enacting events from the book—ultimately they settled for accomplishing the equally Joycean feat of getting drunk in a pub. In the ensuing decades, though, those intentions have been realized by Joyce admirers the world over in the form of festivals, walking tours, public readings, radio broadcasts, informal gatherings, and countless tributes on social media.

The Bloomsday Project is my own contribution. Beginning with Episode 1 in 2006, I have paid tribute to Ulysses every Bloomsday, one chapter at a time, by posting an excerpt prefaced by my own commentary and observations. My goal is to share some of the pleasures of Ulysses with family, friends, and whoever else might find their way here. All of my previous Bloomsday posts can be found in the archives.

This year we dip into the one-eyed world of Episode 12: the Cyclops.

Cyclops (Episode 12)

I’ll begin with a digression. Check the writing credits for the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000) on IMDb and you’ll find three headshots: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, and a bust of Homer. As the opening credits make clear, the misadventures of escaped convict Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) across Depression-era Mississippi are modeled on Homer’s Odyssey. McGill and fellow escapees Pete and Delmar (John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) negotiate an obstacle course of Homeric correspondences including encounters with a blind prophet, the Sirens, and the Lotus-Eaters. The Coen brothers’ version of the cyclops, however, owes as much to James Joyce’s Ulysses as it does to Homer. In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew visit a land of one-eyed giants and become trapped in the cave of the cyclops Polyphemus. After Polyphemus eats two of his men, Odysseus manages to get the cyclops drunk on wine, then blind him with a burning stake. In O Brother the cyclops is a one-eyed Klansman named Big Dan Teague (John Goodman). When McGill and his companions don white sheets to infiltrate a KKK rally and prevent the lynching of their friend Tommy, Big Dan, wearing a white hood with one eyehole, recognizes the trio and exposes them. McGill and his friends manage to get away, covering their escape by cutting the suspension cords holding up a giant flaming wooden cross so that it falls on Big Dan and his fellow Klansman. Reimagining Homer’s gigantic one-eyed brute as a large one-eyed bully is natural enough. The decision to make him a member of the KKK is less obvious — unless you have read Ulysses.

The Cyclops episode in Ulysses takes place at 5:00 PM in Barney Kiernan’s Pub, a dark, cave-like nationalist pub frequented by heavy-drinking men embittered by English rule. There are several cyclopes here but a menacing figure (with a menacing dog) referred to only as “the citizen” is Joyce’s Polyphemus. As critic Harry Blamires explains, the citizen has a “one-eyed view, a fanatical, unreasoning nationalistic passion that makes him incapable of seeing any other side to a question.” (Blamires 112) In practice, the citizen (and the pub’s other regulars) mix valid, if shopworn, complaints about British rule with a maudlin idealizing of Irish culture and history that too often finds expression in xenophobia, homophobia, antisemitism, and misogyny. Over the course of the chapter, the citizen makes numerous anti-Semitic remarks (mostly at Bloom’s expense), complains about immigrants (“we want no more strangers in our house”), gossips that a married man is a “pishogue” (Irish for fairy), refers to Bloom as a “white-eyed kaffir” (among other slights and insults) and twice blames the inconstancy of women for “all [Ireland’s] misfortunes.” Even the citizen’s attacks on England are often small-minded and overblown. When Bloom quietly (and characteristically) tries to moderate the conversation with a platitude about English civilization, the citizen responds: “Their syphilisation, you mean . . . No music and no art and no literature worthy of the name. Any civilisation they have they stole from us.” Joyce, to be clear, was no supporter of British rule. At the same time, he was critical when he felt Irish nationalism deteriorated to little more than an imitation-by-inversion of English attitudes of racial and cultural superiority.

Fittingly, Joyce uses a first-person narrator — a sharp-tongued raconteur who never gives his name — to describe Bloom’s visit to this one-eyed world. The narrator’s version of events is brutally one-sided and we get a sense of just how brutal he can be when he looks at a newspaper photograph of a lynching in Georgia and thinks, “Gob, they ought to drown him in the sea after and electrocute and crucify him to make sure of their job.” From the moment Bloom “slopes in” looking for Martin Cunningham it is clear he is in unfriendly territory. The narrator disdains Bloom’s wary eyeing of the citizen’s dog even though, just a short while earlier, he had expressed his own wish that “someone would take the life of that bloody dog.’ Bloom’s attempts to join the conversation are seen as tedious and pompous: “if you took up a straw from the bloody floor and said to Bloom: Look at, Bloom. Do you see that straw? That’s a straw. Declare to my aunt he’d talk about it for an hour and talk steady.” When Bloom briefly excuses himself to check for Cunningham at the courthouse, annoyance darkens to anger as word spreads that “the courthouse is a blind.” Bloom, they believe, has bet on a tip he received that Throwaway would win the Gold Cup “and he’s gone to gather the shekels.” When Bloom returns but does not buy everyone a round of drinks with his winnings, the situation quickly deteriorates until he is forced to leave — but not before finally responding to the citizen’s antisemitic digs by saying, “your God was a jew. Christ was a jew like me.” The citizen, infuriated by Bloom’s this heresy yells “I’ll brain that bloody jewman for using the holy name. By Jesus, I’ll bloody crucify him” before throwing a biscuit tin at Bloom as he flees in a carriage.

“In the kingdom of the one-eyed, the two-eyed man is in considerable danger,” observes Declan Kiberd and Joyce heightens that sense of danger by omitting Bloom’s revealing interior monologues. Instead, the only distance we get from the narrator comes in the form of even greater hyperbole: thirty-three satirical interpolations woven throughout the chapter that, as Harry Blamires explains, are “inflated caricature[s] of the legal, the epic, the scientific, the journalistic . . . each a gigantic inflation of the one-eyed approach.” When the men talk about the citizen’s glory days as champion shot-putter, These parodies allow Joyce to use language to both mock self-important modes of writing and depict the cycloptic mentality. When, for instance, a barroom conversation about capital punishment turns to the lewd fact that a hanged man gets an erection, Bloom’s attempt to offer a scientific explanation for this phenomenon is mocked as pompous by the narrator (“then he starts with his jawbreakers about phenomenon and science and this phenomenon and the other phenomenon”) and then that dismissal is satirized in an interpolation written in the style of a scientific account: “The distinguished scientist Herr Professor Luitpold Blumeduft tendered medical evidence to the effect that the instantaneous fracture of the cervical vertebrae. . .”

Still, we know Bloom well enough from previous chapters to see how unfair the version of him we get in this chapter really is. We know for a fact that Bloom was oblivious to the Gold Cup and that the rumor he had inside information is based on a misunderstanding. The reader is left to wade through a sea of bluster, exaggeration, narrow-minded conjecture, and outright lies, not only to find the Bloom we already know but to understand how the noble goal of freedom could result in stunted men like the citizen. For all their narrow-mindedness, we occasionally hear echoes of lost potential in their voices. Throughout Ulysses Bloom struggles whenever he tries to express his nuanced ideas out loud. The citizen and the narrator have no such problem. While it is tempting to attribute the ease with which they speak their minds to their monolithic thinking, it would be unfair to overlook their skill and confidence. The name Polyphemus, it should be remembered, means “abounding in songs and legends.” There is real tragedy in these men who, like the chapter’s thirty-three interpolations, have been reduced to self-parody. “There’s no one as blind as the fellow who won’t see,” the citizen says to Bloom, “if you know what that means.” Ironically, it is the citizen who doesn’t understand his own words, who doesn’t see. It falls to the reader to see the citizen and his fellow pub-dwellers more fully than they see themselves. The cyclops may be a one-eyed creature but the reader of Ulysses cannot afford to be.

This year’s excerpt takes place during a heated exchange between Bloom and the citizen, an exchange that leads to Bloom’s passionate, if somewhat clumsy, expression of one of the novel’s central themes: the redemptive power of love. During an exchange about how to define the word “nation,” Bloom’s suggestion that a nation is “the same people living in the same place” is met with mockery. Inevitably, the citizen presses Bloom, asking “what is your nation?” to which Bloom, the son of Hungarian Jews, honestly answers, “Ireland . . . I was born here. Ireland.” The citizen’s only reply is to clear his throat and spit “a Red bank oyster out of him right in the corner.” We join the scene a few moments later when Bloom, after still more pints of Guinness have been distributed, resumes the topic and eventually makes his earnest but sentimental plea for a world ruled by love rather than hate. Bloom then excuses himself to look for Martin Cunningham at the courthouse and the citizen takes the opportunity to overtly cast aspersions on Bloom in his absence. A brief, one-paragraph, parody interpolation, reduces Bloom’s call for universal love to the sort of graffiti you’d find carved in a tree or scrawled inside a schoolbook. (The citizen’s odd pivot at the end of this excerpt from Bloom’s plea for love to the atrocities of Oliver Cromwell’s troops in Ireland may call to mind another character from a Coen brother’s film portrayed by John Goodman: Walker Sobchak from The Big Lebowski, who somehow manages to bring every topic back to the Vietnam War.)

As usual, I’ve included an audio clip of the excerpt from the 1982 RTÉ full-cast production of Ulysses. The distinctly Irish voices in this chapter are beautifully brought to life in this recording.

—Shove us over the drink, says I. Which is which?
—That’s mine, says Joe, as the devil said to the dead policeman.
—And I belong to a race too, says Bloom, that is hated and persecuted. Also now. This very moment. This very instant.

Gob, he near burnt his fingers with the butt of his old cigar.

—Robbed, says he. Plundered. Insulted. Persecuted. Taking what belongs to us by right. At this very moment, says he, putting up his fist, sold by auction off in Morocco like slaves or cattles.
—Are you talking about the new Jerusalem? says the citizen.
—I’m talking about injustice, says Bloom.
—Right, says John Wyse. Stand up to it then with force like men.

That’s an almanac picture for you. Mark for a softnosed bullet. Old lardyface standing up to the business end of a gun. Gob, he’d adorn a sweepingbrush, so he would, if he only had a nurse’s apron on him. And then he collapses all of a sudden, twisting around all the opposite, as limp as a wet rag.

—But it’s no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life.
—What? says Alf.
—Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred. I must go now, says he to John Wyse. Just round to the court a moment to see if Martin is there. If he comes just say I’ll be back in a second. Just a moment.

Who’s hindering you? And off he pops like greased lightning.

—A new apostle to the gentiles, says the citizen. Universal love.
—Well, says John Wyse, isn’t that what we’re told? Love your neighbours.
—That chap? says the citizen. Beggar my neighbour is his motto. Love, Moya! He’s a nice pattern of a Romeo and Juliet.

Love loves to love love. Nurse loves the new chemist. Constable 14A loves Mary Kelly. Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle. M. B. loves a fair genteman. Li Chi Han lovey up kissy Cha Pu Chow. Jumbo, the elephant, loves Alice, the elephant. Old Mr Verschoyle with the ear trumpet loves old Mrs Verschoyle with the turnedin eye. The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead. His Majesty the King loves Her Majesty the Queen. Mrs Norman W. Tupper loves officer Taylor. You love a certain person. And this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody.

—Well, Joe, says I, your very good health and song. More power, citizen.
—Hurrah, there, says Joe.
—The blessing of God and Mary and Patrick on you, says the citizen.

And he ups with his pint to wet his whistle.

—We know those canters, says he, preaching and picking your pocket. What about sanctimonious Cromwell and his ironsides that put the women and children of Drogheda to the sword with the bible text God is love pasted round the mouth of his cannon? The bible!