Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:
Ulysses- by James Joyce.
So here’s where we are at so far:
2. (The Odyssey)
Episode 4: The Calypso Episode
We are now at Episode 4 (the Lotus-eaters episode). In The Odyssey Homer and his men come to the land of the lotus-eaters. The lotus-eaters offer the men food (flowers) that somehow causes them to forget the journey they are on. Kinda like the poppy field in Wizard of Oz. Some of the men do eat the flowers and have to be dragged off by Odysseus and others who resist. It’s like you eat the flower and boom – you are deep in a dream-state, stoned out of your mind, no ambition or drive or direction left.
So it’s interesting that here – in this chapter – we first see (at least in this book, it shows up quite a bit in Dubliners) Joyce’s obsessive chronicling of the streets of Dublin. He walked here, took a left, went in the store there, walked across the street to THAT store … all totally accurate, a map of Dublin encapsulated in his words. This is why on Bloomsday people can wander around Dublin, holding copies of Ulysses in their hands, following in Leopold Bloom’s footsteps. Anyway, it’s interesting that the thrust of the chapter is … movement, direction, a journey … because the lotus-eaters, in their kindness and helpfulness, try to stop the journey of the men. Not out of any malevolent impulse – but because they have these awesome flowers, they taste good, they make you feel good … try them, try them!! The journey Leopold Bloom takes, in this chapter, has a circuitous feel to it. He is, actually, going somewhere – but it feels like he is on a treadmill. He has some errands to do – he is going to go to the public baths – and eventually he is going to Dignam’s funeral. But Joyce, obviously, felt like Ireland was a trap … Ireland itself was the land of the lotus-eaters. If you have a journey to go on, Ireland will make it her business to keep you at home. By any means necessary. Guilt, or … by hospitality – which Ireland has in spades. It’s known for its hospitality (that becomes a big thing in “The Dead”). The lotus-eaters, to Joyce, were the Catholic Church – which had basically put the entire nation under a spell. And of course – sex … which could not be expressed in an open or a natural way in such a rigid country. So Irish people are slaves to sex, and the repression thereof … and all of that makes them go into a collective coma. Not trained (by their church, by education) to question things, or rebel … they circle the streets of Dublin in a trance.
Hence – the dreamy clip-clop almost surreal prose of this particular chapter. It’s dizzying. You can’t keep track of where Leopold Bloom is going … you hear what he hears – snippets, fragments of conversation on the street – which, taken out of context, lose their meaning … You get fragments of his thought process – he is worried about his wife, and jealous … he thinks about their daughter Milly – but at the same time, he can’t complete a thought. It’s all broken up. This is what Ireland (land of the lotus-eaters) does to its sons.
The last image in the episode is of Leopold Bloom submerging himself under the water in the public baths:
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.
As always, in this book, there are multiple levels of meaning here. Obviously, he’s staring down at his “limp” penis – and that gives an image of impotence, passivity. He’s fearful of his wife cuckolding him. He feels like he cannot satisfy her. (None of this in the text explicitly – it’s all in the image – that image at the end of the chapter tells us all we need to know). Also, his penis being “the limp father of thousands” calls up the ancient history of the Jews, the chosen people, the exodus … additionally, the “flower” itself has multiple meanings, and I’m only scratching the surface here. Most obviously, is the lotus-eaters who try to offer Odysseus and his men flowers that will make them forget their journey. In the chapter he goes to a chemist’s to pick up some lotion for Molly and is bewildered and bedazzled by the array of products (most of which have flower-like components, or began as some sort of plant form). He is dazed. This is Bloom’s version of the Lotus-eaters episode … the soap he sniffs, the chloroform he looks at … these are all the lotus-eater flowers being offered to him.
The chapter is so deep and detailed I know I’m not getting most of it – and some of it isn’t coming back to me. Bloom also references (in his head) Hamlet – which prefigures Stephen’s long discourse on Hamlet in the Scylla and Charybdis Episode – far in the future. Bloom already has Hamlet (with his themes of passivity, frustration, impotence, powerlessness, and fatherlessness) on his brain. Bloom’s father committed suicide.
Bloom’s main wish is to escape. Escape the responsibilities of being a husband … he is considering having an affair himself (with a woman named Martha – Biblical connotations up the wazoo there, figure it out for yourself) – but that, too, is too much responsibility. He wants oblivion. The fact that he contemplates the gelded horses in the streets – and wonders if perhaps they are not happier that way … his ruminations on Hamlet (that Hamlet might have been a woman) … his thoughts about eunuchs in the Catholic Church …
All roads lead to sex.
Sometimes it’s best not to talk about Joyce too much. It all starts to sound academic and pretentious. When the reading itself could not be further from that! The reading launches you into the REAL world … of smells, and impulses, and fragments of thoughts, and what we overheard, what we see, our sex drive, our losses … life, basically.
Here’s an excerpt. There’s no narrator here. We clip-clop along inside Bloom’s head, the world jostling before us through his eyeballs. We see what he sees, hear what he hears – nothing less, nothing more.
EXCERPT FROM Ulysses- by James Joyce – the Lotus-eaters Episode
He tore the flower gravely from its pinhold smelt its almost no smell and placed it in his heart pocket. Language of flowers. They like it because no-one can hear. Or a poison bouquet to strike him down. Then, walking slowly forward, he read the letter again, murmuring here and there a word. Angry tulips with you darling manflower punish your cactus if you don’t please poor forgetmenot how I long violets to dear roses when we soon anemone meet all naughty nightstalk wife Martha’s perfume. Having read it all he took it from the newspaper and put it back in his sidepocket.
Weak joy opened his lips. Changed since the first letter. Wonder did she write it herself. Doing the indignant: a girl of good family like me, respectable character. Could meet one Sunday after the rosary. Thank you: not having any. Usual love scrimmage. Then running round corners. Bad as a row with Molly. Cigar has a cooling effect. Narcotic. Go further next time. Naughty boy: punish: afraid of-words, of course. Brutal, why not? Try it anyhow. A bit at a time.
Fingering still the letter in his pocket he drew the pin out of it. Common pin, eh? He threw it on the road. Out of her clothes somewhere: pinned together. Queer the number of pins they always have. No roses without thorns.
Flat Dublin voices bawled in his head. Those two sluts that night in the Coombe, linked together in the rain.
O, Mary lost the pin of her drawers.
She didn’t know what to do
To keep it up
To keep it up.
It? Them. Such a bad headache. Has her roses probably. Or sitting all day typing. Eyefocus bad for stomach nerves. What perfume does your wife use? Now could you make out a thing like that?
To keep it up.
Martha, Mary. I saw that picture somewhere I forget now old master or faked for money. He is sitting in their house, talking. Mysterious. Also the two sluts in the Coombe would listen.
To keep it up.
Nice kind of evening feeling. No more wandering about. Just loll there: quiet dusk: let everything rip. Forget. Tell about places you have been, strange customs. The other one, jar on her head, was getting the supper: fruit, olives, lovely cool water out of the well stonecold like the hole in the wall at Ashtown. Must carry a paper goblet next time I go to the trottingmatches. She listens with big dark soft eyes. Tell her: more and more: all. Then a sigh: silence. Long long long rest.
Going under the railway arch he took out the envelope, tore it swiftly in shreds and scattered them towards the road. The shreds fluttered away, sank in the dank air: a white flutter then all sank.
Henry Flower. You could tear up a cheque for a hundred pounds in the same way. Simple bit of paper. Lord Iveagh once cashed a sevenfigure cheque for a million in the bank of Ireland. Shows you the money to be made out of porter. Still the other brother lord Ardilaun has to change his shirt four times a day, they say. Skin breeds lice or vermin. A million pounds, wait a moment. Twopence a pint, fourpence a quart, eightpence a gallon of porter, no, one and fourpence a gallon of porter. One and four into twenty: fifteen about. Yes, exactly. Fifteen millions of barrels of porter.
What am I saying barrels? Gallons. About a million barrels all the same.
An incoming train clanked heavily above his head, coach after coach. Barrels bumped in his head: dull porter slopped and churned inside. The bungholes sprang open and a huge dull flood leaked out, flowing together, winding through mudflats all over the level land, a lazy pooling swirl of liquor bearing along wideleaved flowers of its froth.
He had reached the open backdoor of All Hallows. Stepping into the porch he doffed his hat, took the card from his pocket and tucked it again behind the leather headband. Damn it. I might have tried to work M’Coy for a pass to Mullingar.
Same notice on the door. Sermon by the very reverend John Conmee S. J. on saint Peter Claver and the African mission. Save China’s millions. Wonder how they explain it to the heathen Chinee. Prefer an ounce of opium. Celestials. Rank heresy for them. Prayers for the conversion of Gladstone they had too when he was almost unconscious. The protestants the same. Convert Dr. William J. Walsh D. D. to the true religion. Buddha their god lying on his side in the museum. Taking it easy with hand under his cheek. Josssticks burning. Not like Ecce Homo. Crown of thorns and cross. Clever idea Saint Patrick the shamrock. Chopsticks? Conmee: Martin Cunningham knows him: distinguished looking. Sorry I didn’t work him about getting Molly into the choir instead of that Father Farley who looked a fool but wasn’t. They’re taught that. He’s not going out in bluey specs with the sweat rolling off him to baptise blacks, is he? The glasses would take their fancy, flashing. Like to see them sitting round in a ring with blub lips, entranced, listening. Still life. Lap it up like milk, I suppose.
The cold smell of sacred stone called him. He trod the worn steps, pushed the swingdoor and entered softly by the rere.