IF HE READS IT LEADS
Most years when I prepare to write my Bloomsday post I spend a lot of time fretting over my choice of excerpt from that year’s chapter of Ulysses. Not this year. In fact, I have known since this project began exactly which portion of Chapter 7 I would use for the 2012 Bloomsday post. Why? Because in 1924 when James Joyce was given the opportunity to make a gramophone recording of any section of Ulysses (thanks, yet again, to efforts of the remarkable Sylvia Beach) he chose this year’s excerpt from Chapter 7 (Aeolus).
Chapter 7 marks an important shift in the narrative technique of Ulysses. While the deft combination of narration and interior monologue remains, it is folded into the format of a mock newspaper—complete with headlines.
Why has Joyce suddenly shifted to a newspaper format? The answer may surprise you. For more, we go to Ancient Greece . . .
HOMER IS WHERE THE HEART IS
The Aeolus episode of The Odyssey (Book X) is about frustrated efforts and ill winds. Odysseus and his men are given aid by Aeolus, king of Aeolia, whom Zeus has appointed “Warden of the Winds.” Aeolus presents Odysseus with a bag that contains all of the winds that will interfere with his journey home to Ithaca. Within sight of Ithaca Odysseus’ men, suspecting it may contain treasure, open the bag and release the winds. The ships are blown to Aeolia where the disgusted king refuses to help Odysseus again and forces him to leave.
In Ulysses the ill winds are relocated to the offices of two Dublin newspapers (the Freeman’s Journal and the Evening Telegraph). As Harry Blamires writes in his indispensable The New Bloomsday Book, setting the Aeolus chapter in newspaper offices creates “a background throbbing with noise, haste, and bustle. The printing presses with their ceaseless Sllt Sllt, the shouting newsboys and (in a different sense) the screaming headlines, all help to create the feel of restlessness.”
Setting isn’t the only source of bluster in Aeolus. The newsmen themselves provide plenty of hot air as they lament the good old days, trade lazy insults, and ridicule a public speech, all the while regaling one another (and themselves) with puns, riddles, and other rhetorical flourishes. Where The Odyssey features a bag of winds, Ulysses gives us windbags.
The entire Aeolus chapter is a compendium of rhetorical devices. There are nearly one hundred such devices (the count is still fluid as critics debate) including: metonymy, synecdoche, prosopopoeia, palindrome, spoonerism . . .
BLOOM, STEPHEN FRUSTRATED BY GALE FORCE METAPHORS
Both Bloom and Stephen go to the newspaper offices with specific goals in mind: Bloom in his capacity as an ad canvasser looking to finalize a deal, Stephen on behalf of his employer (Mr Deasy) who wants his letter to the editor published. On the verge of success, Bloom is forced (by a moody editor) to start all over again. Stephen easily gets Deasy’s letter placed but keeping the company of newspapermen only highlights his frustrated literary ambitions.
READERS NOT SPARED BY HEAVY WINDS
The reader is blown about, too. This is the first chapter in Ulysses that is not moored to the consciousness of a single character. On several occasions the reader must rely on his or her familiarity with Bloom and Stephen from previous chapters to identify whose dialog or thoughts they are reading.
THOUGHTFUL HOST PROVIDES SOME MUCH NEEDED SET-UP
Some context for this year’s excerpt: Stephen gives Deasy’s letter to Myles Crawford (editor of the Evening Telegraph) and stays to chat with the newspapermen and wags killing time in Crawford’s office. As the topic turns to great examples of public speaking, Professor MacHugh tells of the “finest display of oratory I ever heard . . . a speech made by John F. Taylor at the college historical society.” A paper advocating the revival of the Irish language had just been dismissed in haughty terms by an Irish politician who supported English rule. MacHugh then quotes Taylor’s reply from memory. Stephen, having already resisted the temptations of a career in journalism, finds himself tempted by Taylor’s words to use his literary talents for political ends.
As always, Joyce uses italics to indicate a quotation within dialog.
HIS MASTER’S VOICE
Since this recording is from 1924 (with all the hisses and scratches you might expect) I have included the text below so you can read along. Despite the age and quality of the recording I think you can get a sense of the lovely tenor voice that earned Joyce some acclaim as a singer.
He [MacHugh] began:
—Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: Great was my admiration in listening to the remarks addressed to the youth of Ireland a moment since by my learned friend. It seemed to me that I had been transported into a country far away from this country, into an age remote from this age, that I stood in ancient Egypt and that I was listening to the speech of some highpriest of that land addressed to the youthful Moses.
His listeners held their cigarettes poised to hear, their smoke ascending in frail stalks that flowered with his speech. And let our crooked smokes. Noble words coming. Look out. Could you try your hand at it yourself?
— And it seemed to me that I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest raised in a tone of like haughtiness and like pride. I heard his words and their meaning was revealed to me.
FROM THE FATHERS
It was revealed to me that those things are good which yet are corrupted which neither if they were supremely good nor unless they were good could be corrupted. Ah, curse you! That’s saint Augustine.
—Why will you jews not accept our culture, our religion and our language? You are a tribe of nomad herdsmen; we are a mighty people. You have no cities nor no wealth: our cities are hives of humanity and our galleys, trireme and quadrireme, laden with all manner merchandise furrow the waters of the known globe. You have but emerged from primitive conditions: we have a literature, a priesthood, an agelong history and a polity.
Child, man, effigy.
By the Nilebank the babemaries kneel, cradle of bulrushes: a man supple in combat: stonehorned, stonebearded, heart of stone.
—You pray to a local and obscure idol: our temples, majestic and mysterious, are the abodes of Isis and Osiris, of Horus and Ammon Ra. Yours serfdom, awe and humbleness: ours thunder and the seas. Israel is weak and few are her children: Egypt is an host and terrible are her arms. Vagrants and daylabourers are you called: the world trembles at our name.
A dumb belch of hunger cleft his speech. He lifted his voice above it boldly:
—But, ladies and gentlemen, had the youthful Moses listened to and accepted that view of life, had he bowed his head and bowed his will and bowed his spirit before that arrogant admonition he would never have brought the chosen people out of their house of bondage nor followed the pillar of the cloud by day. He would never have spoken with the Eternal amid lightnings on Sinai’s mountaintop nor ever have come down with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw.