“I May Be Blind”

Note from James Joyce to Nora Barnacle, on June 15, 1904. She was a waitress. He had asked her “out” – which, in Dublin, in those days, just meant going for a walk. She had blown him off. He sent her this follow-up note.

60 Shelbourne Road

I may be blind. I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me — if you have not forgotten me!

James A. Joyce 15 June 1904

And apparently – they went out the next night – June 16, 1904. Years later, Joyce would pay tribute to this moment in his life by setting the entire plot of “Ulysses” on one day: June 16 1904. He told Nora later that on that day, he became a man. They fled Ireland together, an unmarried couple, a couple of months later, leaving a wake of debt and scandal behind them. They lived “abroad” for the rest of their lives together, and were rarely parted from one another, ever.

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“I’d like a language which is above all languages, a language to which all will do service. I cannot express myself in English without enclosing myself in a tradition.”

— James Joyce

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You had best believe that I am well prepared for the all-day celebration I am going to today. I’ve got the essential Bloomsday prop.

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Geek.

[Ulysses] is the epic of two races (Israel – Ireland) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life). The character of Ulysses always fascinated me ever since boyhood. I started writing it as a short story for Dubliners, fifteen years ago but gave it up. For seven years I have been working at this book – blast it!

— James Joyce

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“I wish, for my own sake, that I had not read it… Joyce has single-handedly killed the 19th century.”

— T.S. Eliot

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I was on the platform, my heart going like the locomotive, as the train from Dijon came slowly to a standstill and I saw the conductor getting off, holding a parcel and looking around for someone — me. In a few minutes, I was ringing the doorbell at the Joyces’ and handing them Copy No. 1 of Ulysses. It was February 2, 1922.

— Sylvia Beach (publisher of “Ulysses” – shown in the photo above, standing in the doorway of her bookstore in Paris with Joyce)

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That’s James and Nora – on their wedding day in 1931, when they finally decided, after decades of life together, after 2 children, etc., to make it official.

“Sure, if you’ve been married to the greatest writer in the world, you don’t remember all the little fellows.”

Nora, after Joyce’s death, when asked what writers she liked.

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Nora Barnacle, Galway girl – Joyce loved the symbolism inherent in her name. Barnacle, the creature clinging to the rock. And Nora – the heroine of the play by Ibsen – who was James Joyce’s main inspiration as a writer.

Joyce said he wanted to end the book with “the most positive word in the English language”. He also had always noted that when Nora wrote him letters, she never used punctuation. Every year, at whatever Bloomsday fiesta I attend, there are vast swathes of people who know this section by heart. My heart is full!

the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

God bless James Joyce!

This, as always, is mainly for my father. Which is appropriate since Father’s Day is nigh. My father helped me through Ulysses – it’s one of my favorite memories of our relationship – reading that book, and calling him up with questions – beautiful – and he has always loved my Bloomsday posts, sending me notes or small corrections – or commenting on the posts himself. Most of what I do, in this regard, is for him. So Dad … whenever you get to read this … thank you. And this is for you.

My post about the plot of the book is below. I post it every year and I’ve received letters from random strangers – telling me that they used it as a guide. Which is kind of scary, yet also totally flattering. And then there’s coming across things like this. You know. The universal Joyce family. So here, again, are my notes on the journey of this great book.

And happy happy Bloomsday.


THE PLOT.

Chapter I “Telemachus” episode … it is early morning, June 16, 8 am.

We start off with the character of Stephen Dedalus – who was also the lead character in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ulysses doesn’t quite pick up the strand from where that book left off – but it’s close enough.

Stephen is rooming with a couple of friends in an old round square tower (“stately plump Buck Mulligan, et al). He awakens. He has broken his glasses. It is June 16. He starts off for work.

Chapter II “Nestor” episode … it is now 10 a.m.

Stephen teaches in a school. After class, he has a long conversation with Mr. Deasy, the headmaster – who is, basically, the wise Nestor in “The Odyssey”. Their conversation is about history. Irish history. Deasy asks Dedalus if he could drop off a couple of things he had written at 2 Irish newspapers.

Deasy says to Dedalus at one point:

— You think me an old fogey and an old tory, his thoughtful voice said. I saw three generations since O’Connell’s time. I remember the famine. Do you know that the orange lodges agitated for repeal of the union twenty years before O’Connell did or before the prelates of your communion denounced him as a demagogue? You fenians forget some things….I have rebel blood in me too … On the spindle side. But I am descended from sir John Blackwood who voted for the union. We are all Irish, all kings’ sons.

— Alas, Stephen said.

The generational difference. A major propelling force in Dedalus, who must strike out on his own. Must fight against artifice.

Chapter III “Proteus” episode … This is around 11 am, it takes place on the Strand – I’ve quoted from it already here and here .

Stephen goes for a walk on the beach. He is blind, his glasses have broken. And so all impressions come to him through sounds, all colors blur together … which is a perfect reflection of his own state of mind. He has not yet broken free yet, he has not yet separated himself from his inspirations, his tradition, his world. It’s very Hamlet-esque – which makes sense, because Stephen (and Joyce) were obsessed with Hamlet.

Quote from this section:

Jesus wept: and no wonder, by Christ.

And the Proteus episode ends the “Telemachia”. After the “Telemachia”, the actual “Odyssey” begins. And we now enter the world of Leopold Bloom.

In the Odyssey, Ulysses must leave Calypso – the female, the nymph. He travels, he visist with the Phaenicians – he tells them all the long tale of his travels, his misfortunes, etc. They transport him back to Ithaca. Back home. That’s the arc of the book (so simplistic!!) But simplicity is good. It helped me out, in reading Ulysses to remember that fact: It’s just a journey. It’s the journey of two men through one day.

Their paths start out as separate. And eventually they converge.

Part II of Ulysses is the section of the actual Odyssey.

Chapter IV The “Calypso Episode” – This takes place in Leopold Bloom’s house – at 8 a.m. – the very same moment that Stephen Dedalus is waking up across town in his Tower

Leopold Bloom has breakfast. Then he takes a dump. That is basically the “plot” of the section. However: you get a couple of clues. He’s worried that Molly (his wife) is cheating on him. The thought torments him. He goes upstairs – and she’s lying in bed. Bloom gets ready to go to a funeral of a friend. Molly is waiting for him to leave, basically, so that she can go meet up with her lover. This is a strange chapter – it’s all about the innards of things. What people eat, what people excrete … it’s body without any redeeming soul.

Chapter V “The Lotuseater” episode

Leopold Bloom leaves his house … it’s around 10 am. He wanders the streets of Dublin, window-shopping. He goes to the post office. He turns left, he turns right, he walks a block, he stops, he turns left, he turns right … This is one of those chapters where you could re-construct a map of Dublin from the prose.

I am sure there are people right now, in Dublin, walking around, holding Ulysses up in front of them – following the commands of this chapter. The chapter ends with Leopold Bloom visiting the baths, lying down in the water.

Enjoy a bath now: clean trough of water, cool enamel, the gentle tepid stream. This is my body.

He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyellow: his navel, bud of flesh: and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.

Obviously, Bloom is a troubled man.

Chapter VI “The Hades” episode

This is where Bloom attends the funeral – an obvious parallel to the journey through Hades. Stephen Dedalus is at the same funeral – but their paths do not cross yet. Not really. Bloom is in the same carriage as Dedalus’ kinda deadbeat father – as well as some other people. It is 11 a.m. The mourners all crowd into carriages, and travel to the graveyard. They stare out the windows, and talk about what they see – another microscopic glimpse of the world of Dublin. It’s a gossipy chapter, filled with different and conflicting voices.

They drove on past Brian Boroimhe house. Near it now.

— I wonder how is our friend Fogarty getting on, Mr Power said.

— Better ask Tom Kernan, Mr Dedalus said.

— How is that? Martin Cunningham said. Left him weeping I suppose.

— Though lost to sight, Mr Dedalus said, to memory dear.

The carriage steered left for Finglas road.

The stonecutter’s yard on the right. Last lap. Crowded on the spit of land silent shapes appeared, white, sorrowful, holding out calm hands, knelt in grief, pointing. Fragments of shapes, hewn. In white silence: appealing. The best obtainable. Thos. H. Dennany, monumental builder and sculptor.

Passed.

On the curbstone before Jimmy Geary the sexton’s an old tramp sat, grumbling, emptying the dirt and stones out of his huge dustbrown yawning boot. After life’s journey.

Gloomy gardens then went by, one by one: gloomy houses.

After the graveside service, they pile back into carriages again. They leave Hades.

The gates glimmered in front: still open. Back to the world again. Enough of this place. Brings you a bit nearer every time.

Chapter VII “The Eolus” episode

This is when Stephen Dedalus goes to the newspaper office to drop off Mr. Deasy’s letters, and Leopold Bloom is there to sell advertisements. Their paths almost cross here … but they just miss each other.

I was completely BAFFLED by this chapter until I got what Joyce was doing – and then had to go back and read it again. The entire episode, which Joyce wanted to be symbolic of lungs, air, rhetoric – a lot of “windbags”, actually – is all talk talk talk talk – and because it takes place in a newspaper office, the text is interspersed with wacko headlines.

It was a lot of fun to read, once I got the structure. It made perfect sense.

Like Joyce said himself, “With me, the thought is always simple.”

The form may be complex, convoluted – but the thought never is.

Everyone’s full of a lot of hot air in this chapter. Yak yak yak yak

LOST CAUSES
NOBLE MARQUESS MENTIONED

— We were always loyal to lost causes, the professor said. Success for us is the death of the intellect and of the imagination. We were never loyal to the successful. We serve them. I teach the blatant Latin language. I speak the tongue of a race the acme of whose mentality is the maxim: time is money. Material domination. Dominus! Lord! Where is the spirituality? Lord Jesus! Lord Salisbury. A sofa in a westend club. But the Greek!

See what I mean? Yak yak yak.

Chapter VIII “The Lestrygonians” episode

This has as its parallel the episode with Ulysses and the cannibals. In this episode, Leopold Bloom goes to get lunch. And again – we’re back with the old disgust at the body, disgust at what it must do – how it must chew, how it must digest … How can anyone ever rise above that and find anything spiritual or refined?

Leopold Bloom’s anxiety increases … as he gets closer and closer to the time he suspects Molly will be meeting with her lover. He becomes consumed by thoughts of her – as he sits and has his lunch. He imagines everyone talking about him, he is paranoid.

The chapter is a cornucopia of grossness. Images of childbirth splitting someone open, of a throat clogged, of the nastiness of food in general …

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.

Ha!

Chapter IX “The Scylla and Charybdis” episode

Okay. Love this chapter. This is the chapter where Joyce basically sounds off about all of the things he has been thinking about – putting them in the mouth of his alter-ego Stephen Dedalus.

It is 2 pm, and Leopold Bloom, after having his lunch, comes to the library. He basically hides behind a statue, and eavesdrops on a long conversation between Stephen Dedalus and his friends. In it, Dedalus talks about his theory of Hamlet, and his ideas about Shakespeare.

To me, this chapter is FOOD FOR MY BRAIN.

There’s also the brilliance of the parallel: the rocks of Scylla and Charybdis – the whirlpool in between … Dedalus caught – between traditions, geography, trying to navigate his way through.

The entire chapter is a vibrant literary discussion. Eventually, they see Leopold Bloom sneaking away from them … and they gossip about him, about his wife’s obvious infidelities. This chapter, too, is Dedalus (who eventually – we know – because he is Joyce – will get the hell OUT of Ireland) emerging from un-knowingness – and from the pre-language ramblings of the Proteus episode – into articulation. He speaks. And speaks, and speaks.

The birth of the writer.

It is in this chapter that Stephen says the famous line: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”

Chapter X “The Wandering Rocks” episode

Joyce now takes us out of the interiors (the library, the pub, the baths, the carriages) – and out into the raucous streets of Dublin. It’s a melee – a mish-mosh – a montage – We see everyone, snippets, bits, pieces, behavior, incomprehensible and comprehensible … exactly as one does on city streets anywhere. You get glimpses of other passersby – you see things – you move on – everyone walking in their own direction, passing each other by.

Joyce saw this chapter as moving away from the obvious BRAIN of the chapter before, and into the blood-stream.

Everyone is circulating in this chapter, Dublin is on the move.

This section, actually, is missing from Homer’s account of the Odyssey. But Joyce wasn’t just copying the structure, he was transforming it, melding it, molding it … and he couldn’t leave out the Wandering Rocks.

Because it, to him, was the perfect opportunity to SHOW us Dublin, and Dubliners. When they don’t know that anyone is watching them.

There’s some kind of parade going on – or a motorcade or something. And that is the structure that Joyce uses, to take us through the blood-stream (or the “wandering rocks”) of Dublin. The motorcade passes this, it passes that … all of the citizens of Dublin are the rocks through which the motorcade passes.

In the last section, it’s like the car speeds up – and we see everyone we have just met – in increasing speed – just glimpses – like you would get from out of the window of a car.

Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are not seen. And by this point, I wondered: Hm. Where the hell are those two?

Chapter XI “The Sirens” episode

It is 4 pm, by this point. 4 pm is the time of Molly’s rendesvous with her lover. Leopold stops by a hotel bar/concert hall to have a drink, and to listen to the singers.

Two barmaids stand there, chattering.

Because the parallel of this is the Sirens episode in the Odyssey – which is all about SOUND – we get none of Leopold’s inner thoughts. We just hear what he hears. And because of his increasing anxiety and paranoia – it all comes to him as meaningless jibber-jabber.

It’s a brilliant device.

Again, once I knew what Joyce was up to – it became great fun. Here’s an excerpt – it is going to read like gibberish, and it’s supposed to. It’s the way other people’s jabbering conversations may sound to you – when your mind is elsewhere, when you are deep in thought.

Jingle. Bloo.
Boomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War! War! The tympanum.
A sail! A veil awave upon the waves.
Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now.
Horn. Hawhorn.
When first he saw. Alas!
Full tup. Full throb.
Warbling. Ah, lure! Alluring.

Of course they’re alluring. They’re the sirens.

Bloom through the bardoor saw a shell held at their ears. He heard more faintly that that they heard, each for herself alone, then each for other, hearing the plash of waves, loudly, a silent roar.

Bronze by a weary gold, anear, afar, they listened.

Her ear too is a shell [Ed: He’s thinking about Molly now], the peeping lobe there. Been to the seaside. Lovely seaside girls. Skin tanned raw. Should have put on coldcream first make it brown. Buttered toast. O and that lotion mustn’t forget. Fever near her mouth. Your head it simply. Hair braided over: shell with seaweed. Why do they hide their ears with seaweed hair? And Turks their mouth, why? Her eyes over the sheet, a yashmak. Find the way in. A cave. No admittance except on business.

The sea they think they hear. Singing. A roar. The blood is it. Souse in the ear sometimes. Well, it’s a sea. Corpuscle islands.

Chapter XII “The Cyclops” episode

The action moves now to a tavern – it’s around 5 p.m. I found this entire chapter opaque, until – again – my dad came to the rescue.

Suddenly, we have a brand-new narrator – and he is speaking in the first-person – and he is not Leopold Bloom, and he is not Stephen Dedalus – and he appears to be regaling a group of his friends with a tale of what had happened in the Tavern earlier that day.

It is a run-in. A run-in by a windbag old Irish radical referred to as “the Citizen” – and Leopold Bloom, who has stopped by for a drink. Things get ugly. It’s anti-Semitic. It’s nasty. Bloom knows that everyone knows he is a cuckold.

However: the whole thing is told in the voice of someone else – saying to his friends at the pub later that night: “So let me told you what I saw today!!”

I didn’t get it at ALL. Held the book out to my dad and said, “What the HELL is going on here?”

He took one look at the page and said, “It’s the Cyclops episode.”

Er … my dad didn’t even have a chance to READ any of it – I said, “How do you know that?”

Dad held the book out to me and said, “Look at how many times the word ‘I’ appears on every page.”

And then … it all unfolded. Sense came. I got the music, I got the sense of it.

The episode is the parallel to the monstrous CYCLOPS episode. And so – the episode in Joyce’s book is filled with ‘I’. hence – the first-person.

“says I, says I, says I…”

And it is true: once you know the sense, the reasoning – you can tell just by looking at the page which episode you are in.

The Citizen – old windbag – hostile – is the Cyclops. He’s a broken old patriot, living on the glories from the past – No one can tell him anything, he brooks no opposition, he is always right. Out of this Irish patriotic vibe comes his sudden verbal attack on Leopold Bloom, sitting nearby. Bloom insists that although he is a Jew, his country is Ireland, because he was born here.

You can smell the hostility in the room, you can feel the contempt all have for Bloom – not just because he is Jewish, but because his wife is blatantly cheating on him, sleeping with her lover at that very moment.

Everyone laughs at Bloom. Poor guy.

Chapter XIII “The Nausikaa” episode

An extremely creepy and bizarre chapter. It takes place on the rocks, down by the beach, at about 8 pm. Leopold Bloom is avoiding going home to his adulterous wife. He sits on the rocks, brooding. He sees 2 young women, also on the beach. He hides behind the rocks and masturbates.

This all sounds very simple – but the weird thing is is that the entire chapter is written in the overblown overly romantic turgid prose of a bad romance novel.

Joyce chose this for … well, I can guess why: Leopold Bloom, in that moment, in that moment of avoiding going home, and in the moment of sunset-time, looking at the fresh young women on the beach … is filled with the yearning of a romance novel. He is almost adolescent in his praise of their purity, their beauty.

Ironically, their beauty is what makes him masturbate in a frenzy. Filled with shame and loathing. It’s quite tragic, actually.

How moving the scene there in the gathering twilight, the last glimpse of Erin, the touching chime of those evening bells and at the same time a bat flew forth from the ivied belfry through the dusk, hither, thither, with a tiny lost cry. And she could see far away the lights of the lighthouses so picturesque she would have loved to do with a box of paints because it was easier than to make a man and soon the lamplighter would be going his rounds past the presbyterian church grounds and along by shady Tritonville avenue where the couples walked …

For Gerty had her dreams that no-one knew of.

The chapter ends with a bell chiming in the distance:

Cuckoo
Cuckoo
Cuckoo

An obvious and taunting reminder to Bloom of his marital condition. He is cuckoo, a cuckold.

Chapter XIV “The Oxen of Sun” episode

It’s now 10 o’clock at night. It appears that none of the men in Dublin want to go home, and are wandering about. (Having been to Dublin many times, I can say that that is still the case.)

All the men converge on a maternity hospital – where a friend’s wife has just had a baby.

And here – at last – Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom meet.

It makes perfect sense. Childbirth, something transforming, something coming to life … in a rather sterile and white atmosphere, actually. But what was once an embryo is now a full human life.

Paths converge.

The writing in this chapter is a precursor (I would say) of Finnegans Wake. A non-stop onslaught, a constant repeating of themes, a constant embellishment on the themes of the chapter (wombs, medicine, embryos, life)…The prose is like the development of a child inside a woman. Fingers developing, toes coming out, head forming itself, organs forming … a constant process of transformation, repetition, and growth.

Once you know that that’s what’s going on – it becomes quite easy to get through, actually.

Also: that it takes place in the waiting room of a maternity ward. A bunch of men, sitting around, aimlessly, in the world of women.

Therefore, everyman, look to that last end that is thy death and the dust that gripeth on every man that is born of woman for as he came naked forth from his mother’s womb so naked shall he wend him at the last for to go as he came.

The man that was come into the house then spoke to the nursingwoman and he asked her how it fared with the woman that lay there in childbed. The nursingwoman answered him and said that that woman was in throes now full three days and that it would be a hard birth unneth to bear but that now in a little it would be. She said thereto that she had seen many births of women but never was none so hard as was that woman’s birth. Then she set it forth all to him that time was had lived nigh that house. The man hearkened to her words for he felt with wonder women’s woe in the travail that they have of motherhood and he wondered to look on her face that was a young face for ny man to see but yet was she left after long years a handmaid. Nine twelve bloodflows chiding her childless.

The men sit, in the waiting room, and talk about all of this. Dedalus and Bloom recognize one another. Not just “Oh hey, I know your face” – but as kindred souls.

Dedalus is looking for a father. A spiritual father, a real father. Bloom appears.

Chapter XV “The Circe” episode

Dedalus and Bloom visit the red-light district in Dublin, known as Night Town.

This chapter is a psychedelic ride, I’ll tell ya. It’s all written like a script, with stage directions. It is completely unrealistic. People change shapes, shift into horrible visions –

Bella (the Madame of Night Town) is “Circe” – and she indulges Bloom in what we have seen, thoughout the day, in his masochistic fantasies. He is reduced to a snivelling snorting little piglet, licking her boot-soles.

Dedalus is suddenly tormented by the ghost of his dead mother – etc. All females represented to him as the death of this one important female.

It’s midnight. The whole thing takes on the feel of one mass hallucination.

There’s so much in this chapter, it’s immensely long – it’s about death, sex, Ireland, women, the search for meaning, life, fear, love of pain, patriotism …

Like I said, it’s quite a ride.

And the Circe episode ends Part II of this book. The journey out has ended – now it’s time to go back in.

Part III of Ulysses is the “Nostos” – the return.

Ulysses, in the Nostos, reveals himself to his son. They slaughter the suitors together, and he returns to his kingdom as a hero – to regain his country and also to regain Penelope.

In Part III of Joyce’s book, Bloom has to go home again. He has to go and face his “Penelope” – lying in bed now, waiting for him.

Chapter XVI “The Eumeus” episode

It’s now 1 a.m., and Dedalus and Bloom have escaped from the madhouse of the brothel, with their sanity barely intact. They still don’t want to go home. So they stop off at a midnight cafeteria where the carriage-drivers of the city hang out off-duty – to have a cup of soup.

The parallel here is:

The Eumeus, in the Odyssey, is all about the navigation home, the sailors, the sea. Joyce’s chapter does the same thing. The men in the cabbie shelter become the sailors, the ones bearing Dedalus and Bloom towards home.

The men are also referred to as “wrecks” – They also become the shipwrecks out on the sea, the danger facing Dedalus and Bloom on this journey home.

They’re not out of the woods yet.

They all sit, it’s 1 a.m., and they discuss many things. Of course, they all start to discuss Ireland.

Stephen is exhausted. Testy. He says:

— We can’t change the country. Let us change the subject.

Love that line.

Dedalus, Bloom, and the sailors – huddled over their midnight snack – discuss women and marriage, too. Bloom worries, tormentedly:

Can real love, supposing there happens to be another chap in the case, exist between married folk?

It is throughout this episode that intimacy grows, unspoken, between Stephen Dedalus and Bloom. They realize the parallels in their lives, they have both had identical June 16ths …

Bloom thinks at one point:

Though they didn’t see eye to eye in everything, a certain analogy there somehow was, as if both their minds were travelling, so to speak, in the one train of thought.

Chapter XVII “Ithaca” episode

Bloom and Dedalus leave the homeless shelter – it’s now 2 a.m. They walk, exhausted, and yet also invigorated by discovering one another – they walk through the dark Dublin streets, talking. Endlessly. Bloom invites Dedalus into his house when they arrive – for a cup of tea.

Molly is asleep upstairs. Bloom approaching — we have been hearing about this woman all day — and now she is right up the stairs.

This chapter is written in extremely impersonal prose. Joyce saw this chapter or episode as a “skeleton”. It was meant to be, literally, bare bones.

It is the kind of raw and open and absolutely honest conversation that one can only have at 2 o’clock in the morning. Do you know what I mean?

It is TRUTH.

But it’s not messy or emotional – they’re too tired for that. It’s a cut to the chase thing, an intellectual and philosophical and “what is the meaning of life” conversation that, again, could only happen when half the planet is asleep.

It’s done in a series of questions and answers.

To me, it is the most brilliant thing in the book. We get distance now. It is as though we are far far back, and studying Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom from the perspective of centuries of distance.

It’s like a lecture series on Bloom and Dedalus. And people in the class ask questions about these 2 characters, and the professor answers. It goes on and on and on – and I cannot tell you how riveting it is, and moving it is – once you have read the entire book.

There’s scope. There’s galaxies of distance. Human beings are so small, so unimportant … and yet also so miraculous, and so beautiful. Connection is still possible. Even though usually galaxies separate us.

That’s what the “Ithaca” section makes me think of.

Here’s an example of how the entire chapter goes:

Was there one point on which their view were equal and negative?

The influence of gaslight or electric light on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees.

Had Bloom discussed similar subjects during nocturnal perambulations in the past?

In 1884 with Owen Goldberg and Cecil Turnbull at night on public thoroughfares between Longwood avenue and Leonard’s corner and Leonard’s corner and Synge street and Synge street and Bloomfield Avenue.

It’s encyclopedic. We have been inside the story with Bloom and Dedalus, and now we are way out.

One other example (but truly, the chapter is cumulative … it’s so powerful when you read it all the way through):

What was Stephen’s auditive sensation?

He heard in a profound ancient male unfamiliar melody the accumulation of the past.

What was Bloom’s visual sensation?

He saw in a quick young male familiar form the predestination of a future.

James Joyce, in the end, believes that it IS possible for human beings to connect. Even those as different from one another as Bloom and Dedalus.

The two of these nocturnal creatures sit in Bloom’s kitchen, where the Odyssey began, and talk long into the night. Molly is upstairs, in bed. Bloom offers Stephen a bed for the night (still putting off going up the stairs) – Stephen declines, and leaves.

Now there’s no more putting off.

By the end of the Ithaca chapter, we are ready to join Molly.

Chapter XVIII “Penelope” episode

In bed with Molly. Her interior monologue. A female. Inside the mind of the female. Her boredom, her horniness, her body betraying itself, her love for Leopold, her humor, her menstruation, her boredom with her lover, she re-lives an erotic moment with Leopold, she masturbates, but … truly … to try to sum it up is RIDICULOUS. It’s a 40 page run-on sentence.

Joyce always said that he wanted to end his book on “the most positive word in the English language”.

And so he did.

yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

The end.

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2 Responses to “I May Be Blind”

  1. sheila says:

    Roger – sounds wonderful. Wish I could attend!

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