Monthly Archives: October 2013

Episode 9, Scylla and Charybdis — A Missed Encounter

Congratulations! At this stage of the book, you have passed the half-way mark and are solidly within the SECOND half of this monster.

If you are still with us, you will recall that at the very end of Episode 8, as part of the actual, existing “story” of Ulysses, Bloom ducked into the National Library in order to avoid running into the cursed Blazes Boylan and coming face-to-face with the reality, or soon to be reality, that he is a cuckold.

In Episode 9, the reader may find themselves surprised by the existence of continuity in the text as we return to the National Library, wherein we find Stephen, demonstrating his will to become a Young Artist. The careful reader may remark that the term Artist is a bit loose and/or one can assume a varying definition within the early part of the 20th Century as Stephen goes on to demonstrate his more or less loose ability at being an academic.  The entirety of this section is largely devoted to Stephens’ presentation of a theory related to his reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Now, the actual theory has some relevance on our own story (Ulysses/reading Ulysses) in two ways:

1. According to Stephen’s theory, Shakespeare envisions himself as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, rather than as the hero of the play, young Hamlet. In general, Stephen is at this stage, (and perhaps throughout the book given the recurring appearance of his own father) obsessed with the father-son relationship:

A father, Stephen said, battling against hopelessness, is a necessary evil. …The corpse of John Shakespeare does not walk the night. From hour to hour it rots and rots. He rests, disarmed of fatherhood, having devised that mystical estate upon his son. …Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten. On that mystery and not on the madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe the church is founded and founded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro- and microcosm, upon the void. … Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of any son that any son should love him or he any son?

What the hell are you driving at?

I know. Shut up. Blast you! I have reasons.

This is all of interest to me due to my leanings toward Central Character # 2, Leopold Bloom, who is mostly absent in this section but who fulfills the role of father to Stephen, as we learn he has lost his own son many years earlier. Bloom is therefore haunted by the ghost of his own son, as Stephen is haunted by the ghost of his own father, both coming together in a tidy analogous theory here focused on William Shakespeare, the man.

2. In presenting his theory, this is the first and perhaps only formal time within Ulysses where we see Stephen striving toward his goal of becoming an intellectual.  We have to give him props for this, but at the same time, his theory is refuted at every turn by the collection of assembled scholars. Holes are poked through his theory left and right until Stephen himself admits he does not believe his own theory. He is further trampled upon as one Buck Mulligan enters into the scene to heap additional humiliation upon him, and at the same time remarks disparagingly upon Leopold Bloom (future substitute father), a stranger to Buck and Stephen at this stage, who he saw ogling (observing) the bottom of a statue out in the corridor.  In this way, the repeating themes of Stephen and Bloom sharing in the “outsider” status is brought forth once more (for the 98th time and we’re only half-way through the book!) and the connection between them is reinforced outside of the view of the pure reader.

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Episode 8, Lestrygonians — In which our sanity returns, briefly.

Following the bustle of activity in Episode 7, Episode 8 finds us back where – if we’ve been paying any attention – there is some comfort.  Namely, inside the head of one Leopold Bloom. The “action” of this section can be summed up as rather every-day occurrences.  Bloom is out and about, interacting with various people, causing his thoughts to flit in every different direction. He walks over O’Connell bridge and purchases some Banbury cakes to feed the seagulls, at which point he runs into his former girlfriend, Josie Breen. At the time, Bloom has also been further contemplating the impending tryst scheduled to happen later in the day between his wife and Boylan.  As he interacts with Josie we learn that her husband is mentally a bit of a wreck, however the conversation largely focuses on Mina Purefoy, a common friend, who is giving birth and has been in labor for three days. Bloom continues on, passing the newspaper office, going in search of something to eat, and eventually he ducks into the National Museum to avoid Boylan who has just passed along the street.

Despite Section 8 being largely focused on the observations of Bloom/total free-association gone amuck, there is also a theme that I can only describe plainly as “movement”:

Yes, yes, there are the ubiquitous Seagulls.

There is also a flock of pigeons.

And moving down the winged animal food chain, there is a fly stuck on a windowpane within Davy Byrne’s pub.

In addition, we have the movement of trams traveling in and out of the city and thoughts about a future eclipse which will occur later on in 1904. Here’s where our friend JJ tries to trip us up: all of this movement is meant to indicate stagnation.  Or so I would infer as our dear anti-hero falls into his typical gloomy mood:

“Trams passed one another, ingoing, outgoing, clanging. Useless words. Things go on same; day after day: squads of police marching out, back: trams in, out.”

Poor old Bloom. And yet I’m again struck by how perfectly human he is. In general my reading of the guy is that he is a rather optimistic character, thus prone to disappointment. Maybe this is only in comparison with the truly downbeat Stephen but I find Bloom’s combination of thoughtfulness about the world around him, philosophizing about improvements to the city of Dublin, the nation, Europe; pondering of the role of religion and government and in this particular section, being somewhat discouraged at these things, much more uplifting than Stephens general rancor.

Many readers will also take note of the presence of food as Bloom searches for lunch.  There is certainly a good lot of talk about food and food imagery, but I think there is something else going on here rather than Food=Sex or Food=hunger=sex.  Take this:

“This is the very worst hour of the day. Vitality. Dull, gloomy: hate this hour. Feel as if I had been eaten and spewed.”

The appetite we encountered during Bloom’s introduction in Section 4 has transformed to something entirely unpleasant. He searches for food and finds the unappetizing and the symbolic.

A bit more about that Tower

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Any readers out there may recall my indifference at the prospect of the Joyce Museum reopening in the Martello Tower in Dun Laoghaire, (in American: Dun Leary) near Sandy Cove. However, this did not prevent me from visiting during last spring’s visit to Ireland. A hangover from the wedding I’d just finished attending a few hours earlier and getting to bed at 5 a.m. did prevent me from getting to the tower before it closed for the day.  I guess I’ll have to wait until my next visit across the ocean to peer lovingly at Joyce’s death mask.

In the meantime, a good part of me is glad the Museum was closed by the time I got there. I’d likely have been disappointed to walk in and not see Stephen and Buck Mulligan bickering, Haines condescending, or at the very least, a re-created bachelor pad.

Instead, I got to hang out with these people…

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And enjoy the highly uncharacteristic sunny, balmy weather, as well as pick up an apple cider (with whiskey) at the nearby farmers market. All in all, a perfect afternoon.

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Intermission

And we’re back!

After nearly a year break, I’ve returned to my self-imposed Ulysses challenge. The book has been read, and finished nearly a year ago, at the time of my last post in October 2012. In the wake of the challenge of finishing the book, having something intelligent to say about it fell by the wayside. Given this blog has been a public diary for myself more than anything else, I didn’t feel too much guilt in quitting it, or motivation to return to the subjects of James Joyce, Bloom, Steven, Molly, Dublin… until recently.

Last Spring I made a Ulysses pilgrimage when I visited Ireland and took myself on an outing to one of the famed Martello Towers.
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Upon returning, I began re-reading sections of the book, and decided it was time to return to the Challenge, this time of finishing the blog. The actual book took a total of 7 months to read.  Blogging about Ulysses is currently at 7 months + 1 year. New goal: get this thing done by Christmas.  Why? Who knows, it maybe pointless, but if so this is in keeping with half the theme of Ulysses.