Homage to Catatonia

A Loving Catalog of Orphaned Ideas.

Category: The Bloomsday Project

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.

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!

Sirens (Episode 11)

Ulysses is an uncommonly musical novel. Several characters, including Molly Bloom and her lover Blazes Boylan, are professional singers, while others, like Stephen Dedalus and his estranged father, Simon, are talented amateurs. Most of the rest, like Leopold Bloom himself, are music-lovers. This is only the beginning of musicality in Ulysses, however. The text itself is woven through with references and allusions to music of all kinds. More than three-hundred songs are listed in the index to Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated, a list that includes nursery rhymes and bawdy ballads; liturgical music and jingles; pop songs and rebel songs, earworms and arias. Some songs are used in passing, others recur as motifs or reveal a character’s state of mind (imagine how much more annoying that summer chart-topper would be if, like Bloom, you knew it was by your sexual rival). At least one song, a duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, subtly foreshadows the famous final line of the novel’s coda. The better we understand Joyce’s use of music in Ulysses, the deeper our understanding of the book as a whole. And nowhere in Ulysses is music more central than in Episode 11, where Joyce has set himself the seemingly impossible task of both writing about music and attempting to make music with his writing. Music is referenced throughout Ulysses but Episode 11 is music.

In Homer’s Odyssey the Sirens are two magical creatures who lure sailors to crash on the rocky shore of their small island by singing an irresistible song promising each listener gifts of wisdom and prophecy. Determined to hear the siren’s song without falling victim to it, Odysseus orders his men to tie him to the mast and plug their ears with wax so that he can listen while his men row on to safety.

In Ulysses, the Sirens episode is set in the Ormond Hotel bar, an actual location that was a well-known haunt for amateur musicians at the turn of the last century. The episode takes place around 4:00 PM, an hour that has particular importance to Bloom, who knows this is when his wife has arranged a rendezvous with her lover, Blazes Boylan. Bloom is surprised, then, when he sees Boylan’s car outside the Ormond Hotel, and decides to investigate under the guise of meeting with an acquaintance in the hotel saloon. Two barmaids, Miss Kennedy and Miss Douce, who idly flirt behind their reef-like bar, partially stand in for the sirens—though the closest they come to singing are peals of orgasmic laughter. (Miss Kennedy also makes a sort of music when she obliges a customer by snapping an elastic garter strap against her thigh). The singing is left to the male patrons, most significantly Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father, a talented singer and raconteur who squanders his talents in pubs and bars while his family slips into poverty. Simon Dedalus and the other patrons take turns playing the piano and singing, while Leopold Bloom, ever the voyeur, looks on from his seat near the door, sometimes covertly joining in by strumming an elastic band of his own.

In Episode 7, Aeolus, Joyce displayed his tremendous command of language and rhetoric. Here he combines those skills with his understanding of music, which was formidable in its own right. Joyce was an accomplished tenor who considered a singing career (as Stephen Dedalus does in Episode 10). His knowledge of music was encylopedic and throughout his life he was known to give impromptu recitals at parties and literary events, accompanying himself on the guitar or piano. That same knowledge provides him with an arsenal of devices as he strives to make music with words.

Here are a few examples:

  • The episode, which Joyce described as a fugue, begins with what appears to be sixty-three lines of non-sequiturs, sentence fragments, and even meaningless strings of letters (“Imperthnthn thnthnthn”). In fact, as literary historian Kevin Birmingham writes in his excellent The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, those sixty-three lines are “an overture, an introduction to the musical sounds and phrases that would be repeated, contextualized and vested with meaning over the course of the chapter.” In context they make more sense: “Imperthnthn thnthnthn”  proves to be a barman’s juvenile mockery of Miss Douce’s haughty promise to report his “impertinent insolence.”
  • Throughout the episode, Joyce insinuates musical terminology into his writing with puns like “play on her heartstrings pursestrings too” and “if he doesn’t conduct himself.” In describing Miss Kennedy’s mouth with the phrase “coral lips” he simultaneously evokes the siren’s coral reef and vocal (choral) music.
  • Joyce also plays with sentence structure to bring a sense of music to his writing. Consider this three-sentence paragraph, which critic Declan Kiberd likens to “finger exercises in musical scales, ringing changes on the same set of words”: Miss Kennedy sauntered sadly from bright light, twining a loose hair behind an ear. Sauntering sadly, gold no more, she twisted twined a hair. Sadly she twined in sauntering gold hair behind a curving ear.

So what temptation does Bloom, like Odysseus, experience without succumbing to its power? For the men and women in the Ormond Hotel bar, the camaraderie that comes of sharing songs is as important as the songs themselves. They are unified as much by the patter and banter surrounding the music as they are by each nostalgic, sentimental song. Even Bloom, the lurking outsider, experiences a moment of community in the section of Episode 11 I have chosen as this year’s excerpt. Bloom listens as Simon Dedalus performs a beautiful rendition of  M’Appari (“Come Thou Lost One”), an aria from Friedrich Von Flotow’s light opera Martha, in which Lionel, a successful farmer who has fallen in love with a Lady masquerading as a servant girl, laments her sudden disappearance. For nearly one-hundred lines, Joyce cuts between the text of the aria (Simon Dedalus sings a loosely translated version) and Bloom’s interior monologue as he responds to the words and music. The climax so moves Bloom that character, singer, and listener become entwined, an ecstatic state Joyce captures with the portmanteau word “Siopold!”—an exultant combination of Simon (singer), Lionel (character) and Leopold.

It is a powerful moment, one that has genuinely moved Bloom even though, true to his contemplative nature, he soon goes on to reflect: “Numbers it is. All music when you come to think. . . Do anything you like with figures juggling. . . And you think you’re listening to the etherial.” Still, music is important to Bloom. He takes an active part in his wife’s singing career and wonders why their daughter, Milly, has not inherited her parents’ discerning taste. As Kiberd suggests, “the beauty of good music is that you can hear it many times with added pleasure. . . At its best, it may evolve new forms, which work in surprising ways; but sentimental songs performed around the piano by tired men will not generate new meanings. These men want to retreat into a past which will allow them to forget the unhappy present.” When Bloom hears another talented singer (Ben Dollard) bringing another sentimental song (The Croppy Boy) to its tragic climax, he thinks it best to “get out before the end.” Tellingly, the song-forged trinity of performer-character-listener embodied by the one-line exclamation “Siopold!” has been replaced by passing uses of “Lionelleopold” and “Simonlionel”—a lingering trace of the character, Lionel, remains in both men but the connection between singer and listener has vanished. For Bloom, the community in the Ormond Hotel bar is an enticing trap that uses fetishizing the emotional power of music as a lure. “Better give way only half way,” he decides. So Bloom leaves the Ormond to continue his journey across Dublin having enjoyed some beautiful singing without falling victim to its charms. Outside, though, he makes a little music of his own, letting loose a noisy fart (“Pprrpffrrppffff“)—a residual echo (or, perhaps, a distillation) of the songs he heard in the Ormond.

Below is this year’s excerpt (the Siopold section described above). As usual, I’ve also included an audio clip of the excerpt from the 1982 RTÉ full-cast production of Ulysses. Given the musicality on display in the writing, more than ever I would encourage readers to play the clip and follow along.


Each graceful look

First night when first I saw her at Mat Dillon’s in Terenure. Yellow, black lace she wore. Musical chairs. We two the last. Fate. After her. Fate.

Round and round slow. Quick round. We two. All looked. Halt. Down she sat. All ousted looked. Lips laughing. Yellow knees.

Charmed my eye

Singing. Waiting she sang. I turned her music. Full voice of perfume of what perfume does your lilactrees. Bosom I saw, both full, throat warbling. First I saw. She thanked me. Why did she me? Fate. Spanishy eyes. Under a peartree alone patio this hour in old Madrid one side in shadow Dolores shedolores. At me. Luring. Ah, alluring.

Martha! Ah, Martha!

Quitting all languor Lionel cried in grief, in cry of passion dominant to love to return with deepening yet with rising chords of harmony. In cry of lionel loneliness that she should know, must martha feel. For only her he waited. Where? Here there try there here all try where. Somewhere.

Co-ome, thou lost one!
     Co-ome, thou dear one!

Alone. One love. One hope. One comfort me. Martha, chestnote, return!

Come!

It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don’t spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the etherial bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness…

To me!

Siopold!

Consumed.

Come. Well sung. All clapped. She ought to. Come. To me, to him, to her, you too, me, us.

—Bravo! Clapclap. Good man, Simon. Clappyclapclap. Encore! Clapclipclap clap. Sound as a bell. Bravo, Simon! Clapclopclap. Encore, enclap, said, cried, clapped all, Ben Dollard, Lydia Douce, George Lidwell, Pat, Mina Kennedy, two gentlemen with two tankards, Cowley, first gent with tank and bronze miss Douce and gold Miss Mina.

Happy Bloomsday! ReJoyce!

Happy Bloomsday! What am I talking about? Bloomsday is a worldwide celebration of Ulysses, James Joyce’s epic novel of everyday life which takes place on a single day: June 16, 1904. Ulysses, though set in 20th century Dublin, is loosely modeled on Homer’s Odyssey.

Around the world Joyce enthusiasts (and those willing to feign interest in order to get a free drink) attend readings, dramatizations, pub crawls, and other Ulysses-related events held around the world. Others stay at home to fix meals described in the book or simply read their favoite passages. The Bloomsday Project is my own small contribution to the celebration: every June 16th, one chapter per year (what was I thinking?!), I post an excerpt prefaced by some of my own observations in an attempt to share the pleasures of Ulysses with family, friends, and whoever else might find their way here.

A fuller explanation of Bloomsday and previous Bloomsday posts can be found in the archives. Enjoy!

Sincereley,

The Blooming Idiot

The Wandering Rocks (Chapter 10)

Unlike the other episodes in Ulysses, Chapter 10 (The Wandering Rocks) finds Joyce diverging significantly from the pattern of correspondences to Homer’s Odyssey. The Homeric basis for the episode is merely this: Odysseus is warned to avoid the Wandering Rocks because they are impossible to navigate without divine assistance, so he does. The Wandering Rocks takes place between 3:00 – 4:00 PM and is comprised of nineteen overlapping sections that feature virtually every character in the book, with accounts of two authority figures crossing Dublin acting as a frame: Father Conmee, a high-ranking Church official opens the chapter, while the Viceroy (the embodiment of English authority in colonial Ireland) closes it.

The range of characters in these sections is broad and includes our protagonists, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, but also minor characters such as, to name but a few, Blazes Boylan (Molly Bloom’s would-be lover), Boylan’s secretary Miss Dunne, Stephen’s musically named music teacher Almidano Artifoni, and the young son of Paddy Dignam, whose funeral provided the setting of chapter 6 (Hades). The Wandering Rocks is not, however, strictly linear. In each section the narrative circles back on itself, referencing previous sections and foreshadowing future ones to locate each scene in the overall chronology of the chapter. We repeatedly glimpse, for instance, the moment Molly Bloom’s arm appears from her bedroom window to toss a coin to a begging sailor, and trace the progress of five sandwich-board-men, each bearing a different letter as they advertise H.E.L.Y.’S stationary store by walking together through the streets.

What do we make of this odd jigsaw of a chapter? Most often the Wandering Rocks is described by critics as a labyrinth or maze. This image certainly speaks to the experience of reading the chapter, with all its twists and turns, but critics tend to use the terms “labyrinth” and “maze” interchangeably, when there is actually an essential difference between the two. A labyrinth leads only (and inevitably) towards its own center, while a maze is designed to disorient, confuse, and trap (or, at least, delay) those who navigate it with false leads and dead-ends. When we solve a maze we do not reach its center, we emerge on the other side.

So, what has Joyce created here, a labyrinth or a maze? While we know labyrinths are important to Joyce (Stephen takes his last name from Daedalus, the inventor of the labyrinth) and while the chapter’s placement (chapter 10 of 18) makes it a center of sorts, the content of the chapter suggests the less determined structure of a maze. After spending much of the first eight episodes making us intimately familiar with Bloom and Stephen, Joyce pulls back to remind us that they are actually of little or no significance in the world they occupy. Since fiction typically offers an ordered vision of life where the importance of each character is consistent and clear, this shift is jarring. At the same time, this mixed sense of scale should be familiar to most of us: it is the maze of modern life. “Why is it all so complicated?” Irish critic Declan Kiberd asks in his chapter on the Wandering Rocks in Ulysses & Us. Because, he answers, “Joyce seeks to capture not just the openness but also the randomness of life, something which is almost impossible to do in a neat narrative.”

In The Faraway Nearby, her extended meditation on the value of storytelling, essayist Rebecca Solnit compares books to labyrinths: “A labyrinth is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like thread on a spool. It contains beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return.” In this sense all books are certainly labyrinths: constructs designed to distract us until we arrive where their designers want us to go. Yet Solnit’s description of mazes sounds more like Ulysses: “a maze . . . has not one convoluted way but many ways and often no center, so that wandering has no cease or at least no definitive conclusion. A maze is a conversation.” So, perhaps Ulysses is both labyrinth and maze. “The world,” wrote philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “is everything that is the case.” Books are not so limited. Like the puns Joyce loved, a book can be two (or more) things at once. After all, aren’t the best books—the books we return to again and again—both labyrinths and mazes? For while, like a labyrinth, a great book can lead us somewhere new; a great book can also, like a maze, offer us the freedom to become lost.

* * *

Excerpting Ulysses is never easy but excerpting a chapter that many see as a miniature of the novel as a whole is especially frustrating. How to capture its complex, overlapping interconnections? Ultimately, I settled on the final section (in its entirety) simply because it includes more characters than any other. Beginning with a straightforward account of the Viceroy and his wife (Earl and Lady Dudley) passing, king-like, across the chessboard that is Dublin, Joyce pointedly shows no interest in depicting the inner-life of these two figures. Instead, he gives us a litany of the ordinary people they pass in their carriage, each of whom reacts (or, mostly, doesn’t) to these high-ranking personages in different ways. As always, I encourage you to read along to the RTE full-cast performance of the excerpt provided below.

Until next year, then, when we look at the music-drenched Episode 10 (Sirens), I bid you adieu and wish you a happy Bloomsday!

 

William Humble, earl of Dudley, and lady Dudley, accompanied by lieutenantcolonel Heseltine, drove out after luncheon from the viceregal lodge. In the following carriage were the honourable Mrs Paget, Miss de Courcy and the honourable Gerald Ward A.D.C. in attendance.

The cavalcade passed out by the lower gate of Phoenix park saluted by obsequious policemen and proceeded past Kingsbridge along the northern quays. The viceroy was most cordially greeted on his way through the metropolis. At Bloody bridge Mr Thomas Kernan beyond the river greeted him vainly from afar Between Queen’s and Whitworth bridges lord Dudley’s viceregal carriages passed and were unsaluted by Mr Dudley White, B. L., M. A., who stood on Arran quay outside Mrs M. E. White’s, the pawnbroker’s, at the corner of Arran street west stroking his nose with his forefinger, undecided whether he should arrive at Phibsborough more quickly by a triple change of tram or by hailing a car or on foot through Smithfield, Constitution hill and Broadstone terminus. In the porch of Four Courts Richie Goulding with the costbag of Goulding, Collis and Ward saw him with surprise. Past Richmond bridge at the doorstep of the office of Reuben J Dodd, solicitor, agent for the Patriotic Insurance Company, an elderly female about to enter changed her plan and retracing her steps by King’s windows smiled credulously on the representative of His Majesty. From its sluice in Wood quay wall under Tom Devan’s office Poddle river hung out in fealty a tongue of liquid sewage. Above the crossblind of the Ormond hotel, gold by bronze, Miss Kennedy’s head by Miss Douce’s head watched and admired. On Ormond quay Mr Simon Dedalus, steering his way from the greenhouse for the subsheriff’s office, stood still in midstreet and brought his hat low. His Excellency graciously returned Mr Dedalus’ greeting. From Cahill’s corner the reverend Hugh C. Love, M.A., made obeisance unperceived, mindful of lords deputies whose hands benignant had held of yore rich advowsons. On Grattan bridge Lenehan and M’Coy, taking leave of each other, watched the carriages go by. Passing by Roger Greene’s office and Dollard’s big red printinghouse Gerty MacDowell, carrying the Catesby’s cork lino letters for her father who was laid up, knew by the style it was the lord and lady lieutenant but she couldn’t see what Her Excellency had on because the tram and Spring’s big yellow furniture van had to stop in front of her on account of its being the lord lieutenant. Beyond Lundy Foot’s from the shaded door of Kavanagh’s winerooms John Wyse Nolan smiled with unseen coldness towards the lord lieutenantgeneral and general governor of Ireland. The Right Honourable William Humble, earl of Dudley, G. C. V. O., passed Micky Anderson’s all times ticking watches and Henry and James’s wax smartsuited freshcheeked models, the gentleman Henry, dernier cri James. Over against Dame gate Tom Rochford and Nosey Flynn watched the approach of the cavalcade. Tom Rochford, seeing the eyes of lady Dudley fixed on him, took his thumbs quickly out of the pockets of his claret waistcoat and doffed his cap to her. A charming soubrette, great Marie Kendall, with dauby cheeks and lifted skirt smiled daubily from her poster upon William Humble, earl of Dudley, and upon lieutenantcolonel H. G. Heseltine, and also upon the honourable Gerald Ward A. D. C. From the window of the D. B. C. Buck Mulligan gaily, and Haines gravely, gazed down on the viceregal equipage over the shoulders of eager guests, whose mass of forms darkened the chessboard whereon John Howard Parnell looked intently. In Fownes’s street Dilly Dedalus, straining her sight upward from Chardenal’s first French primer, saw sunshades spanned and wheelspokes spinning in the glare. John Henry Menton, filling the doorway of Commercial Buildings, stared from winebig oyster eyes, holding a fat gold hunter watch not looked at in his fat left hand not feeling it. Where the foreleg of King Billy’s horse pawed the air Mrs Breen plucked her hastening husband back from under the hoofs of the outriders. She shouted in his ear the tidings. Understanding, he shifted his tomes to his left breast and saluted the second carriage. The honourable Gerald Ward A.D.C., agreeably surprised, made haste to reply. At Ponsonby’s corner a jaded white flagon H. halted and four tallhatted white flagons halted behind him, E.L.Y’S, while outriders pranced past and carriages. Opposite Pigott’s music warerooms Mr Denis J Maginni, professor of dancing &c, gaily apparelled, gravely walked, outpassed by a viceroy and unobserved. By the provost’s wall came jauntily Blazes Boylan, stepping in tan shoes and socks with skyblue clocks to the refrain of My girl’s a Yorkshire girl.
Blazes Boylan presented to the leaders’ skyblue frontlets and high action a skyblue tie, a widebrimmed straw hat at a rakish angle and a suit of indigo serge. His hands in his jacket pockets forgot to salute but he offered to the three ladies the bold admiration of his eyes and the red flower between his lips. As they drove along Nassau street His Excellency drew the attention of his bowing consort to the programme of music which was being discoursed in College park. Unseen brazen highland laddies blared and drumthumped after the cortège:

But though she’s a factory lass
And wears no fancy clothes.
Baraabum.
Yet I’ve a sort of a
Yorkshire relish for
My little Yorkshire rose.
Baraabum.

Thither of the wall the quartermile flat handicappers, M. C. Green, H. Shrift, T. M. Patey, C. Scaife, J. B. Jeffs, G. N. Morphy, F. Stevenson, C. Adderly and W. C. Huggard, started in pursuit. Striding past Finn’s hotel Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell stared through a fierce eyeglass across the carriages at the head of Mr M. E. Solomons in the window of the Austro-Hungarian viceconsulate. Deep in Leinster street by Trinity’s postern a loyal king’s man, Hornblower, touched his tallyho cap. As the glossy horses pranced by Merrion square Master Patrick Aloysius Dignam, waiting, saw salutes being given to the gent with the topper and raised also his new black cap with fingers greased by porksteak paper. His collar too sprang up. The viceroy, on his way to inaugurate the Mirus bazaar in aid of funds for Mercer’s hospital, drove with his following towards Lower Mount street. He passed a blind stripling opposite Broadbent’s. In Lower Mount street a pedestrian in a brown macintosh, eating dry bread, passed swiftly and unscathed across the viceroy’s path. At the Royal Canal bridge, from his hoarding, Mr Eugene Stratton, his blub lips agrin, bade all comers welcome to Pembroke township. At Haddington road corner two sanded women halted themselves, an umbrella and a bag in which eleven cockles rolled to view with wonder the lord mayor and lady mayoress without his golden chain. On Northumberland and Lansdowne roads His Excellency acknowledged punctually salutes from rare male walkers, the salute of two small schoolboys at the garden gate of the house said to have been admired by the late queen when visiting the Irish capital with her husband, the prince consort, in 1849 and the salute of Almidano Artifoni’s sturdy trousers swallowed by a closing door.

 

Scylla & Charybdis (Chapter 9)

First, the usual brief summary of the Homeric basis for this year’s episode. In Book 12 of The Odyssey, Odysseus and his men are forced to choose between sailing a course that passes near Scylla, a six-headed monster that will claim one member of the crew for each of its heads, or Charybdis, a massive whirlpool that will engulf the entire ship. Odysseus chooses the lesser evil but makes the mistake of battling the indestructible Scylla (which he was advised not to do) thereby losing far more than six members of his crew. When we say we are stuck “between a rock and a hard place” or “the devil and the deep blue sea” we are recalling Odysseus’ impossible choice. In Ulysses, the choice is between two great world views: the lofty idealism of the Platonists and the grounded analysis of Aristotelians—Big Picture versus Small Picture; Micro versus Macro; Idealism versus Materialism, and so on.

The central action of Chapter 9, set in the National Library, is a sprawling debate about Shakespeare between Stephen Dedalus and a shifting cast of actual figures from Dublin’s literary scene, including the poet George Russell (better known by his pseudonym AE). These literary lights are the whirlpool Charybdis of the chapter, quasi-Platonist members of the Irish Literary Renaissance that, in Joyce’s view, too often wallowed in silly mysticism and sentimental nationalism. Adding to the sense of Platonic abstraction, each figure appears in the novel under their pen name—these are not the men in question, only a depiction of their own ideals of themselves. In a surprising, witty touch the chapter’s Scylla, Jesuit-trained in the art of Artistotelian thinking (and sniping), is Stephen himself.

As Declan Kiberd writes in Ulysses & Us “this is the wisdom offered by the story of Scylla and Charybdis—the healthy mind must not submit to either extreme, but entertain both possibilities in a mode of openness.” Stephen’s mind, however, is not healthy. Indeed he is of many minds (like the six-headed Scylla) all of them apparently dedicated to lashing out at others and himself. He is consumed by guilt at his behavior during his mother’s death (he refused to pray with her), by anger with his father, by envy of the success of other literary Dubliners, by frustration at his failure to deliver on his own promising talent . . . and on and on. All these resentments become manifest as he tries to impress and outduel Russell and company in a sort of intellectual battle royal by trotting out his elaborate theory (which he later admits he does not actually believe) about the relationship between Shakespeare’s life and his plays.

As a result, Chapter 9 is a challenging episode filled with allusions and references not only to Shakespeare but to Greek philosophy, the mystical jargon of Theosophy, the Boer War, Irish literature, French poetry, and even American songwriter Stephen Foster, to name only a few. One could easily follow any (or all) of these ideas down countless intellectual rabbit holes—or should I say whirlpools? One could also engage in equally endless pedantic bickering over the origins and interpretations of these myriad allusions and references. Many Joyce scholars and academics have, in fact, done both. At one point, dismissing the ethereal neo-Platonism of his adversaries, Stephen reflects, “the life esoteric is not for ordinary person”—a remark that could be applied to much of what is said in Chapter 9. Which is not to say the episode is an outright condemnation of either philosophy or of the characters in the chapter. There is much wisdom to be found in Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, and the many other writers and thinkers referenced by Stephen and his rivals. The fault lies in clinging too strictly to any one idea or school of thought, a common mistake made by those who, like the men in this chapter, are enamored of the life of the mind.

But where is our modern Odysseus in all this? Where is Leopold Bloom? The lesson of the chapter is not a lesson that Bloom needs to learn, so we see him only briefly: first in silhouette as he speaks (unheard by us) to the librarian about tracking down an old advertisement and later as he passes between Stephen and his spiteful friend Buck Mulligan, thereby symbolically underscoring Stephen’s decision to end their friendship. Bloom avoids Odysseus’ fate by leaving Scylla and Charybdis to do battle with each other. Stephen, though, despite all his knowledge, still has a lot to learn. Early in the chapter he reflects on the temptations of books and libraries, comparing libraries to cemeteries and books to coffins: “Coffined thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice of words.” Of books he thinks: “an itch of death is on them.” And yet Stephen is an aspiring writer, a teacher, someone who is well and widely read. And Ulysses is a book. So what are we to make of this bookish condemnation of books, this chapter that uses erudition to condemn itself?

Often in Ulysses Joyce attempts to create a first-hand experience for the reader. The Scylla and Charybdis episode is a striking example of this. Like the characters we, as readers, are forced us to make our own imperfect choice: do we pore over the references and try to track down down each allusion or do we ignore them altogether and deny ourselves the wisdom they contain? In order to fully understand what you are reading, you must make the effort but in order to follow Bloom’s example you should avoid them. Bloom, after all, is precisely the sort of person who would abandon reading Ulysses after a few pages—if he attempted it in the first place.

This is a lesson for bookish people, for people who run the risk of adoring literature and the arts at the expense of their lives. Coffined thoughts may be a dusty replacement for the living minds of their creators but they remain our only means of gaining some slight victory over death. Coffined thoughts bridge the gaps of time and space that exist between ourselves and others; between our current selves and our past selves. It would be a grave error to ignore those tombish tomes. Yet we shouldn’t fetishize them either, mistaking the enjoyment of those ghostly records of someone else’s lapsed life for living itself.

Having said that, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 9. May it enrich your life!

This section, which comes fairly early in the chapter, gives a taste of the debate, of Stephen’s biographical reading of Shakespeare (Hamlet, in this case) and also of his guilty conscience over, among other things, the fact that he owes AE/George Russell a pound (which he misspent at a brothel). That guilt culminates in one of the more famous puns in Ulysses: AEIOU. As usual, I’ve also included an audio clip of the the excerpt from the 1982 RTE full-cast production of Ulysses.

—What is a ghost? Stephen said with tingling energy. One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners. Elizabethan London lay as far from Stratford as corrupt Paris lies from virgin Dublin. Who is the ghost from limbo patrum, returning to the world that has forgotten him? Who is king Hamlet?

John Eglinton shifted his spare body, leaning back to judge:

Lifted.

—It is this hour of a day in mid June, Stephen said, begging with a swift glance their hearing. The flag is up on the playhouse by the bankside. The bear Sackerson growls in the pit near it, Paris garden. Canvasclimbers who sailed with Drake chew their sausages among the groundlings.

Local colour. Work in all you know. Make them accomplices.

—Shakespeare has left the huguenot’s house in Silver street and walks by the swanmews along the riverbank. But he does not stay to feed the pen chivying her game of cygnets towards the rushes. The swan of Avon has other thoughts.

Composition of place. Ignatius Loyola, make haste to help me!

—The play begins. A player comes on under the shadow, made up in the castoff mail of a court buck, a wellset man with a bass voice. It is the ghost, the king, a king and no king, and the player is Shakespeare who has studied Hamlet all the years of his life which were not vanity in order to play the part of the spectre. He speaks the words to Burbage, the young player who stands before him beyond the rack of cerecloth, calling him by a name:

Hamlet, I am thy father’s spirit
bidding him list. To a son he speaks, the son of his soul, the prince, young Hamlet and to the son of his body, Hamnet Shakespeare, who has died in Stratford that his namesake may live for ever.

—Is it possible that that player Shakespeare, a ghost by absence, and in the vesture of buried Denmark, a ghost by death, speaking his own words to his own son’s name (had Hamnet Shakespeare lived he would have been prince Hamlet’s twin) is it possible, I want to know, or probable that he did not draw or foresee the logical conclusion of those premises: you are the dispossessed son: I am the murdered father: your mother is the guilty queen. Ann Shakespeare, born Hathaway?

—But this prying into the family life of a great man, Russell began impatiently.

Art thou there, truepenny?

—Interesting only to the parish clerk. I mean, we have the plays. I mean when we read the poetry of King Lear what is it to us how the poet lived? As for living, our servants can do that for us, Villiers de l’Isle has said. Peeping and prying into greenroom gossip of the day, the poet’s drinking, the poet’s debts. We have King Lear: and it is immortal.

Mr Best’s face appealed to, agreed.

Flow over them with your waves and with your waters,
Mananaan, Mananaan MacLir…

How now, sirrah, that pound he lent you when you were hungry?

Marry, I wanted it.

Take thou this noble.

Go to! You spent most of it in Georgina Johnson’s bed, clergyman’s daughter. Agenbite of inwit.

Do you intend to pay it back?

O, yes.

When? Now?

Well… no.

When, then?

I paid my way. I paid my way.

Steady on. He’s from beyant Boyne water. The northeast corner. You owe it.

Wait. Five months. Molecules all change. I am other I now. Other I got pound.

Buzz. Buzz.

But I, entelechy, form of forms, am I by memory because under everchanging forms.

I that sinned and prayed and fasted.

A child Conmee saved from pandies.

I, I and I. I.

A.E.I.O.U.

—Do you mean to fly in the face of the tradition of three centuries? John Eglinton’s carping voice asked. Her ghost at least has been laid for ever. She died, for literature at least, before she was born.

—She died, Stephen retorted, sixtyseven years after she was born. She saw him into and out of the world. She took his first embraces. She bore his children and she laid pennies on his eyes to keep his eyelids closed when he lay on his deathbed.

Mother’s deathbed. Candle. The sheeted mirror. Who brought me into this world lies there, bronzelidded, under few cheap flowers. Liliata rutilantium.

I wept alone.

John Eglinton looked in the tangled glowworm of his lamp.

—The world believes that Shakespeare made a mistake, he said, and got out of it as quickly and as best he could.

—Bosh! Stephen said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

Portals of discovery opened to let in the quaker librarian, softcreakfooted, bald, eared and assiduous.

—A shrew, John Eglinton said shrewdly, is not a useful portal of discovery, one should imagine. What useful discovery did Socrates learn from Xanthippe?

—Dialectic, Stephen answered: and from his mother how to bring thoughts into the world.

Happy Bloomsday! ReJoyce!

Happy Bloomsday! What am I talking about? Bloomsday is a worldwide celebration of Ulysses, James Joyce’s epic novel of everyday life which takes place on a single day: June 16, 1904. The Bloomsday Project is my own contribution to the celebration: one chapter per year (I’m up to Chapter 8!) I post an excerpt prefaced by some commentary and observations in an attempt to share the pleasures of Ulysses with family, friends, and whoever else might find their way here. A fuller explanation of Bloomsday and past Bloomsday messages can be found in the archives.

Every year Bloomsday seems to get bigger and better. When I was a kid, Bloomsday seemed to just be isolated Joyceans like my father reading Ulysses, eating grilled kidneys and gorgonzola and, perhaps, listening to the WBAI broadcast. Now there are Bloomsday events all over the world. On the web there are a nearly endless number of creative projects designed to spread the joy of Joyce: the Bloomsday Survival Kit, the Ulysses “Seen” graphic novel, a digital interactive mapblogs (some of which are highly creative), a free audiobook and on and on . . .

Some acknowledgments. This year Bloomsday falls on Father’s Day, which only seems appropriate as The Bloomsday Project has always been dedicated to my father—the true Joycean. Riverrun. June 16th is also my brother Davin’s birthday and I hope he’ll be around to scrupulously scrape the icing off birthday cakes for many Bloomsdays to come. Joyce is said to have done most of his thinking and talking (and drinking) about Ulysses in cafés. The last couple years I have followed suit while preparing these Bloomsday Project posts and while many cafés will allow a solitary customer to take up a table for longer than their purchase really warrants, none have made me feel as welcome as the staff of the Bipartisan Café and Monti’s. Special thanks and congratulations to Ashley, whose expression of enthusiasm for Joyce when she noticed me poring over Ulysses for last year’s post prompted the first of many bookish chats — I wish her the best of luck with her new teaching job. Finally, thanks to all of you who take the time to read these posts (hi, mom!). Like most labors of love, my Bloomsday posts are undoubtedly longer than they need to be. So, truly: thank you.

Now, let’s get down to business. And this year’s business is pretty unsavory: cannibalism. Which, come to think of it, might be a savory business, too . . .

The Blooming Idiot

Chapter 8 (Lestrygonians)

It’s lunch time in Chapter 8 of Ulysses which, in Joyce’s game of Homeric correspondences, takes its theme from the Lestrygonians episode of The Odyssey in which Odysseus loses all but one of his ships (and most of his men) to a community of cannibals. Joyce repurposes Homer’s cannibalistic episode as a metaphor for unthinking consumption and the many ways people become mere meat.

A savvier, more publicity-minded, blogger than myself would connect the themes of Chapter 8 with some current trends and fads. Bloom’s preoccupation with recycling and minimizing waste is more relevant than ever and his musings on the unhealthy eating habits of his fellow Dubliners offer a great opportunity for a fad diet. There is even a whiff of zombie bloodlust in this year’s excerpt … and zombies are as trendy as you get. Still, I have my obscurity to maintain, so I’ll focus on a seemingly nonsensical seven-word sentence instead: “All up a plumtree Dignam’s potted meat.”

James Joyce has never been the most quotable of writers. Consult Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations and you find less than one full page devoted to Joyce. (By comparison, Bartlett’s offers more than five pages of T.S. Eliot). I’m hoping to convince you that “All up a plumtree Dignam’s potted meat” is a brilliant sentence but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s not the stuff of Quotable Quotes. Taken in isolation not only is it not pithy or witty, it doesn’t even make sense. As short-sighted naysayers are fond of pointing out, Ulysses is filled with such sentences. Joyce rewards patience and effort, however. Possibly more than any other writer, his writing builds on itself to such a degree that much of its brilliance is lost in quotations and excerpts.

So: some context. In Chapter 5, Bloom unrolls the newspaper he is carrying and “idly reads” an advertisement:

What is home without
Plumtree’s Potted Meat?
Incomplete.
And with it an abode of bliss.

Now, in Chapter 8, Bloom is hungry and enters Burton’s Restaurant to grab a bite but is disgusted by the orgy of animalistic consumption he witnesses there. He leaves and decides to eat a light meal at a “moral pub” — Davy Byrne’s. As he tries to decide what to eat he notes the canned (potted) meats on the shelves (sardines, etc) and recalls the advertisement. Since first seeing the ad, Bloom has not only witnessed the grisly meat-eating at Burton’s but he has also been to Paddy Dignam’s funeral (the reduction of a friend to mere meat) and dwelled on the adulterous tryst he believes his wife, Molly, has planned with a local cad called Blazes Boylan (the sex act reducing people to meat in another way). Joyce’s use of interior monologue allows us to observe Bloom’s thoughts as he makes all these connections: “Potted meats. What is home without Plumtree’s potted meat? Incomplete. What a stupid ad! Under the obituary notices they stuck it. All up a plumtree Dignam’s potted meat.”

Why does the ad bother him? Because the idea of “potted meat” reminds him of Dignam’s burial (“potting” or “planting” a body was common slang for burial) and it seems stupid to Bloom (an ad man himself) to further associate a food product with corpses by placing it under the obituaries. As is often the case in Joyce, another level is at work as well: to “pot one’s meat” is also slang for copulation. This advertisement (preying, as ads often do, on sexual insecurities) also reminds him that he has not had sex with his wife since the death of his infant son, Rudy, ten years before. If the ad is right, after all, this makes his home “incomplete” when it could be “an abode of bliss.” All these concerns coalesce in the quintessentially Joycean sentence “All up a plumtree Dignam’s potted meat” which captures, with remarkable economy, Bloom’s thoughts in the act of making playful, anxiety-driven, associations. “All up a plumtree” is another piece of slang roughly equivalent to “in a jam” or “in a tight spot” with the added implication of an unwanted pregnancy. Bloom was so heartbroken by the death that resulted from Molly’s last pregnancy that he has avoided both (another pregnancy and another death) by not potting his meat. Potting meat (sex) leads to potting meat (burial), so best to avoid the entire cycle. In a single sentence of seven words we see the tangled weave of Bloom’s anxieties about abstinence, sex, life, and death.

Now to this year’s excerpt, which begins as Bloom enters Burton’s Restaurant and includes some of the most stomach-churning descriptions of food this side of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. As always, I have included a recording of the excerpt (from the full-cast performance originally aired by Raidió Teilifís Éireann in 1982) so you can read along. Bon appétit!

His heart astir he pushed in the door of the Burton restaurant. Stink gripped his trembling breath: pungent meatjuice, slop of greens. See the animals feed.

Men, men, men.

Perched on high stools by the bar, hats shoved back, at the tables calling for more bread no charge, swilling, wolfing gobfuls of sloppy food, their eyes bulging, wiping wetted moustaches. A pallid suetfaced young man polished his tumbler knife fork and spoon with his napkin. New set of microbes. A man with an infant’s saucestained napkin tucked round him shovelled gurgling soup down his gullet. A man spitting back on his plate: halfmasticated gristle: no teeth to chewchewchew it. Chump chop from the grill. Bolting to get it over. Sad booser’s eyes. Bitten off more than he can chew. Am I like that? See ourselves as others see us. Hungry man is an angry man. Working tooth and jaw. Don’t! O! A bone! That last pagan king of Ireland Cormac in the schoolpoem choked himself at Sletty southward of the Boyne. Wonder what he was eating. Something galoptious. Saint Patrick converted him to Christianity. Couldn’t swallow it all however.

— Roast beef and cabbage.

— One stew.

Smells of men. His gorge rose. Spaton sawdust, sweetish warmish cigarette smoke, reek of plug, spilt beer, men’s beery piss, the stale of ferment.

Couldn’t eat a morsel here. Fellow sharpening knife and fork, to eat all before him, old chap picking his tootles. Slight spasm, full, chewing the cud. Before and after. Grace after meals. Look on this picture then on that. Scoffing up stewgravy with sopping sippets of bread. Lick it off the plate, man! Get out of this.

He gazed round the stooled and tabled eaters, tightening the wings of his nose.

— Two stouts here.

— One corned and cabbage.

That fellow ramming a knifeful of cabbage down as if his life depended on it. Good stroke. Give me the fidgets to look. Safer to eat from his three hands. Tear it limb from limb. Second nature to him. Born with a silver knife in his mouth. That’s witty, I think. Or no. Silver means born rich. Born with a knife. But then the allusion is lost.

An illgirt server gathered sticky clattering plates. Rock, the bailiff, standing at the bar blew the foamy crown from his tankard. Well up: it splashed yellow near his boot. A diner, knife and fork upright, elbows on table, ready for a second helping stared towards the foodlift across his stained square of newspaper. Other chap telling him something with his mouth full. Sympathetic listener. Table talk. I munched hum un thu Unchster Bunk un Munchday. Ha? Did you, faith?

Mr Bloom raised two fingers doubtfully to his lips. His eyes said.

— Not here. Don’t see him.

Out. I hate dirty eaters.

He backed towards the door. Get a light snack in Davy Byrne’s. Stopgap. Keep me going. Had a good breakfast.

— Roast and mashed here.

— Pint of stout.

Every fellow for his own, tooth and nail. Gulp. Grub. Gulp. Gobstuff.

He came out into clearer air and turned back towards Grafton street. Eat or be eaten. Kill! Kill!

Suppose that communal kitchen years to come perhaps. All trotting down with porringers and tommycans to be filled. Devour contents in the street. John Howard Parnell example the provost of Trinity every mother’s son don’t talk of your provosts and provost of Trinity women and children, cabmen, priests, parsons, fieldmarshals, archbishops. From Ailesbury road, Clyde road, artisans’ dwellings, north Dublin union, lord ma in his gingerbread coach, old queen in a bathchair. My plate’s empty. After you with our incorporated drinkingcup. Like sir Philip Crampton’s fountain. Rub off the microbes with your handkerchief. Next chap rubs on a new batch with his. Father O’Flynn would make hares of them all. Have rows all the same. All for number one. Children fighting for the scrapings of the pot. Want a soup pot as big as the Phoenix Park. Harpooning flitches and hindquarters out of it. Hate people all round you. City Arms hotel table d’hôte she called it. Soup, joint and sweet. Never know whose thoughts you’re chewing. Then who’d wash up all the plates and forks? Might be all feeding on tabloids that time. Teeth getting worse and worse.

After all there’s a lot in that vegetarian fine flavour of things from the earth garlic, of course, it stinks Italian organgrinders crisp of onions, mushrooms truffles. Pain to animal too. Pluck and draw fowl. Wretched brutes there at the cattlemarket waiting for the poleaxe to split their skulls open. Moo. Poor trembling calves. Meh. Staggering bob. Bubble and squeak. Butchers’ buckets wobble lights. Give us that brisket off the hook. Plup. Rawhead and bloody bones. Flayed glasseyed sheep hung from their haunches, sheepsnouts bloodypapered snivelling nosejam on sawdust. Top and lashers going out. Don’t maul them pieces, young one.

Hot fresh blood they prescribe for decline. Blood always needed. Insidious. Lick it up, smoking hot, thick sugary. Famished ghosts.

Ah, I’m hungry.