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
Episode 5: The Lotus Eaters Episode
Episode 6: The Hades Episode
Episode 7: The Aeolus Episode
Episode 8: The Lestrygonians Episode
Episode 9: The Scylla and Charybdis Episode
Episode 10: The Wandering Rocks Episode
Episode 11: The Sirens Episode
Episode 12: The Cyclops Episode
Episode 13: The Nausicaa Episode
Episode 14: The Oxen of the Sun Episode
Episode 15: The Circe Episode
As I mentioned in the last post – Circe is the final episode of the “Odyssey” section of the book. Its hallucinogenic Jean Genet-esque style – of role-playing, transformation, descendence into bestiality, sexual fantasy, unsure of what is real and what is not – is where the Odyssey itself ends. Bloom and Dedalus must go through that – in order to be allowed to return. Because, of course, in Homer’s epic – the “odyssey” is just a series of challenges, thrown into the path of Odysseus … on his way home. Whirlpools, monsters, shipwrecks … It is the ultimate story of eternal return. What is one thing we all, as a human race, have in common? Well, we’re all human, of course – and that is no small thing. It may SEEM like other people are from a different species altogether, due to cultural differences, language differences – but that is just a problem of perception on our end, a fear of what is different or strange. We are all human. So there’s that. And then: what is one of the driving forces of humanity – a force that expresses itself sometimes in great horrors like war, genocide, refugee camps? The need for a HOME. Fighting for your home, trying to get home, trying to clear an entire country of people so you can make it home … whatever. Great tragedies and great triumphs are all under this umbrella. Homer’s epic expresses this human drive, and taps into what is most … uhm … human. About all of us. Times change, eras move on, progress occurs … but throughout history, people have loved, and strived, and missed their loved ones, and yearned for the quiet home surrounded by family. Even the galloping Mongol hordes probably had a nice matted-haired wife at home, in an animal-skin yurt, keeping the goat milk warm. And men (because historically, it’s the men who go off, and the women who stay) need to either earn the right to go home, or fight for their lives in order to remove obstacles to home. It’s never easy. We all have our “whirlpools” to struggle against, on whatever journey we are on. Even if we already live at home, and do not gallop with a Mongol horde … we have these obstacles to ease, comfort, a feeling of belonging. The journey does not have to be far. The journey can be internal as well.
No wonder Joyce – with his themes of exile, and separation – was so obsessed with The Odyssey. It was his life. He had to leave Ireland in order to live the kind of life he wanted. But his gaze was always turned back to the homeland. He was a “continental”, through and through. He spoke many languages, he lived in Trieste, Paris, elsewhere … moving his family from place to place. He only returned to Ireland once or twice after the original departure. Amazing. But it wasn’t like he left and never looked back. All he did was look back. Not one of his stories or novels takes place in any other nation than Ireland. He did not write of the ex-pat community on the Left Bank, or the multi-lingual world he lived in in Trieste. It was Ireland. And only Ireland.
All of this is to say: The final section of Ulysses is a three-episode section – a mirror-image of The Telemachia – the 3-section part that opens the book. In The Telemachia, we follow Stephen Dedalus through his morning … from home to the beach … getting ready to begin the journey of the day. And now, in The Nostos (or “return”) – the final 3-part section – Bloom and Dedalus are now together, it is 1, 2 o’clock in the morning … and it is time to slowly make their way home. Bloom to his sleeping wife – and Dedalus to the tower on the outskirts of London where he lives with his dissipated buddies.
The Eumaeus episode, which we are now in, takes place after the psychedelic visit to the brothel, described in the encyclopedic Circe episode. Bloom has rescued Dedalus from the whores, Dedalus has cut his hand – and he had a freak-out at the brothel, where he saw his dead mother’s face in the ceiling, and tried to crash down the chandelier. Bloom intervened on his behalf. All of Dedalus’ friends have disappeared … so now Bloom and Dedalus are together. It’s late late at night – 1 a.m. Instead of going straight home – or saying goodbye to one another and separating … they decide to go take the edge off of their drunken states of mind – and get a cup of coffee, a bite to eat. They go to a cabman’s shelter in Dublin – which also doubles as a coffeehouse, an all-night venue (which, even today, is rare in Dublin. It’s not a 24-hour kind of town). The coffeehouse is full of “cabmen” off-duty. Bloom and Dedalus sit there, amongst the cabmen, and talk. For the first time, really.
One thing to make clear: Joyce, in a funny way, is not a romantic. Even though he was obviously a positive person. For example, in regards to Molly’s famous run-on sentence that ends the book -he said, “I wanted to end the book on the positive word in the English language.” (“Yes.”) But the meeting of Bloom and Dedalus is NOT about kindred spirits, or finally finding someone who understands … it is pretty clear that after this particular day, Bloom and Dedalus will go their separate ways. They will not become lifelong friends. There is too much of a gap between them. Joyce does not make them merge. Which is fascinating – because, in a way, that is what we, the readers, are looking for. After all that, after that whole day … shouldn’t they have a sense of recognition towards one another? Like: “you are what I have been searching for”? Joyce does not go that way, at least not explicitly. The Eumaeus episode is NOT about “mutual understanding” – as a matter of fact, it is just the opposite. It is about MISunderstanding. The language of the episode is fractured, fragmentary, lots of run-on sentences that trail off with no resolution. This is a brilliant mode for this episode which happens at 1 in the morning, when everyone is exhausted, still drunk, and yet unwilling to go home yet. The sharpness of thought in, say, the Scylla and Charybdis episode, is not in evidence at all here. Bloom and Dedalus talk, but exhaustion threatens to fog up the clarity. They discuss religion, different languages … and in each case, Bloom and Dedalus are not on the same page. Ironically, Bloom sees Dedalus as an orthodox Catholic, whether he believes in the dogma of the church or not. We have seen Dedalus’ disdain for organized religion – but regardless: Bloom’s perception is that Dedalus is devout. Dedalus tries to talk about his ideas of God and simplicity to Bloom – but Bloom is not an intellectual. He is also not an artist. He just can’t understand what Dedalus is talking about. And that would be a huge gulf between the two men. Bloom deals much more with reality – and what is right in front of his nose. Dedalus, with his broken glasses, and his bad eyesight – cannot, physically, even SEE what is right in front of his nose. So his mind is unleashed, far-flying, Icarus with his wings. Bloom is earthbound. It’s a gulf that will not be crossed.
Bloom and Dedalus talk about politics and Ireland. Bloom is a socialist, and dreams of an Ireland where the workers are paramount. He does not realize that in saying so he is excluding the intellectual non-worker Dedalus from the new world order. Or at least he doesn’t realize it immediately. Bloom (as we have seen in other episodes – primarily The Cyclops episode) can be a bit of a know-it-all. He pontificates on the way things should be, he knows the answers … he lectures others, without realizing that blanket statements are fine if they remain ideas – but when you try to put them into practice, you’ll run into trouble, like despotism, dictatorship, bigotry. Bloom realizes his mistake and tries to reassure Dedalus that “poets” would also be considered workers in his dream Socialist state. But it’s too late. Again, that is a gulf between them that cannot be crossed. Dedalus doesn’t care about politics – at least not in a practical way – and he doesn’t care about the fate of Ireland. Or, let’s say: he is not personally invested in Ireland – since he feels that Ireland is not personally invested in him.
At the start of the episode, as Bloom and Dedalus approach the coffeehouse, they run into Corley – a drunken mess of a man (who is one of the “stars” in Joyce’s story “Two Gallants” from Dubliners – that’s another thing: Ulysses is full of the same characters we met in Dubliners and Portrait – which is indicative of how claustrophobic Joyce found Irish society – where everyone knows everyone. You can’t get away with ANYthing in Ireland. Reinvention is impossible). Anyway, they run into Corley – and chat with him – and Dedalus mentions to him that there is a position open at Deasy’s school – and maybe Corley would like the job. We realize, even though he did not give notice in The Nestor episode – that Stephen will be leaving that job. He has already decided to decamp. He’s done. Again, we don’t know at one point during the day Dedalus made that decision – but by 1 a.m., it’s final.
Bloom, meanwhile, has no idea of this – and begins to almost fantasize about how Dedalus will fit into his life. It’s a bit self-serving (but that’s okay – we’re all self-serving). He thinks that maybe Dedalus could help him get published. Dedalus is also a tenor (just like Joyce was) – and Bloom has a dream of starting an opera company in Dublin (perhaps to impress Molly, perhaps to stick it to Molly’s lover Blazes Boylan) – and perhaps Dedalus could be of help in that venture.
So again: misunderstanding is the key to the Eumaeus episode. And not bitter misunderstanding, as we saw in the Cyclops episode – it’s more of a common human failing. We see what we want to see. We assume that other human beings will be on the same page as us … and when they behave in ways that do not “fit” with our preconceptions – we are baffled. But that is OUR failing, not the other person’s. Bloom thinks the friendship with Stephen will continue past June 16-17. It obviously will not.
In the meantime, though, they are together. Bloom thinks he will take Stephen home with him, at least just for the night. It’s so late, and Bloom is concerned at the thought of drunken cut-hand Stephen trying to make his way back out to Sandymount, where he lives. Bloom worries that maybe Molly will not like having a houseguest. Bloom feels protective of Stephen – at the same time that he feels Stephen will be of use to him. Again, very human.
The connection with The Odyssey is: Odysseus meets Eumaeus, a swineherd – in his return to Ithaca. And then, first order of the day, Odysseus joins up with Telemachus to kill all of Penelope’s suitors – who have clustered around her during his absence. An obvious parallel with Bloom’s anxiety about Molly’s unfaithfulness. Can he slay Blazes Boylan?
Oh, another really really interesting thing they talk about in this episode is Parnell – the man who haunts Ireland (almost to this day). The great hope … who was murdered … and discredited because of an extramarital affair. For years, the rumor was that Parnell had NOT died and that the coffin said to be carrying him was full of rocks. This goes along with the Christ-like feeling that you get when Parnell is discussed. Will Parnell “return”? Ireland waits. The void left by Parnell was never filled. They are still waiting for him, for a savior. Now we know, from the first chapter of Portrait how Parnell’s death affected Stephen. We also remember Joyce’s story “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”, from Dubliners – a vision of post-Parnell Irish politics, and their hollow cynical quality. Parnell is the key to so much. He’s not only one of the keys to understanding Dedalus, but he’s also crucial to our understanding of Bloom. Bloom, as we know, feels impotent when it comes to his wife. It wasn’t always that way, and he has wonderful memories of their intimacy in their early courtship and marriage. But that has long since passed. Parnell, who risked all to have an affair with the married Kitty O’Shea (wife of a Captain) – is seen as a virile reckless sexual hero. Kinda akin to Alexander Hamilton, who had the same risk-taking masculine energy, when it came to politics and when it came to sex. So Bloom, in talking of Parnell, has an uneasy feeling … as though Parnell somehow threatens him … who could resist a Parnell? What woman would turn that down? Blazes Boylan, her lover, is also seen as a virile stallion. Bloom cannot compete. Captain O’Shea decided to ignore his wife’s infidelity – and stay with her … and Kitty O’Shea agreed to denounce Parnell … leaving Parnell undefended. The parallels are clear. Bloom, as much as he wishes to be a sexual athlete, is not. He is Captain O’Shea, a man willing to look the other way as his wife screws someone else.
The cabman’s shelter is full of noise and talk … the kind of conversations you hear between drunk men (no women) at around 1 a.m. They argue, but they are too tired to fight. So the arguments are fine, because it will never go too far. But there’s a leftover hallucinatory feel here – the kind of surreal vision you get when you are over-tired. Another important character here is the sailor in the shelter – who has not been home in 7 years, I think – and he is nervous that his wife will not recognize him, or that she will have completely moved on in his absence.
Dublin, in the Eumaeus episode, seems frayed, unconnected to reality, and intensely depressing.
It’s time for Bloom and Dedalus to move on, to the final leg of their journey.
Here’s an excerpt from the Eumaeus episode. The sailor is pontificating on the glory of Ireland, and how Irish men should stay home and develop their country. Stephen, naturally, has his own feelings about that. It is as though his consciousness has already departed. Anyway, watch how the episode meanders … it’s intellectually rigorous, but everyone’s exhausted, and nerves are frayed. (Just had to get that in there … because the Eumaeus episode is the “nervous system”, in Joyce’s iconography. We have been moving throughout the body, for the entire novel – each episode representing another function, or system – and now, at the very end of the day … we are in the nerves themselves. It’s not relaxing. Synapses fire – sometimes misfire … it’s all connected.)
The excerpt ends with one of my favorite lines in the whole book.
EXCERPT FROM Ulysses- by James Joyce – The Eumaeus episode
Skin-the-Goat, assuming he was he, evidently with an axe to grind, was airing his grievances in a forcible-feeble philippic anent the natural resources of Ireland, or something of that sort, which he described in his lengthy dissertation as the richest country bar none on the face of God’s earth, far and away superior to England, with coal in large quantities, six million pounds’ worth of pork exported every year, ten millions between butter and eggs, and all the riches drained out of it by England levying taxes on the poor people that paid through the nose always, and gobbling up the best meat in the market, and a lot more surplus steam in the same vein. Their conversation accordingly became general and all agreed that that was a fact. You could grow any mortal thing in Irish soil, he stated, and there was Colonel Everard down there in Cavan growing tobacco. Where would you find anywhere the like of Irish bacon? But a day of reckoning, he stated crescendo with no uncertain voice – thoroughly monopolising all the conversation – was in store for mighty England, despite her power of pelf on account of her crimes. There would be a fall and the greatest fall in history. The Germans and the Japs were going to have their little lookin, he affirmed. The Boers were the beginning of the end. Brummagem England was toppling already and her downfall would be Ireland, her Achilles heel, which he explained to them about the vulnerable point of Achilles, the Greek hero – a point his auditors at once seized as he completely gripped their attention by showing the tendon referred to on his boot. His advice to every Irishman was: stay in the land of your birth and work for Ireland and live for Ireland. Ireland, Parnell said, could not spare a single one of her sons.
Silence all round marked the termination of his finale. The impervious navigator heard these lurid tidings undismayed.
— Take a bit of doing, boss, retaliated that rough diamond palpably a bit peeved in response to the foregoing truism.
To which cold douche, referring to downfall and so on, the keeper concurred but nevertheless held to his main view.
— Who’s the best troops in the army? the grizzled old veteran irately interrogated. And the best jumpers and racers? And the best admirals and generals we’ve got? Tell me that.
— The Irish for choice, retorted the cabby like Campbell, facial blemishes apart.
— That’s right, the old tarpaulin corroborated. The Irish catholic peasant. He’s the backbone of our empire. You know Jem Mullins?
While allowing him his individual opinions, as every man, the keeper added he cared nothing for any empire, ours or his, and considered no Irishman worthy of his salt that served it. Then they began to have a few irascible words, when it waxed hotter, both, needless to say, appealing to the listeners who followed the passage of arms with interest so long as they didn’t indulge in recriminations and come to blows.
From inside information extending over a series of years Mr Bloom was rather inclined to poohpooh the suggestion as egregious balderdash for, pending that consummation devoutly to be or not to be wished for, he was fully cognisant of the fact that their neighbours across the channel, unless they were much bigger fools than he took them for, rather concealed their strength than the opposite. It was quite on a par with the quixotic idea in certain quarters that in a hundred million years the coal seam of the sister island would be played out and if, as time went On, that turned Out to be how the cat jumped all he could personally say on the matter was that as a host of contingencies, equally relevant to the issue, might occur ere then it was highly advisable in the interim to try to make the most of both countries, even though poles apart. Another little interesting point, the amours of whores and chummies, to put it in common parlance, reminded him Irish soldiers had as often fought for England as against her, more so, in fact. And now, why? So the scene between the pair of them, the licensee of the place, rumoured to be or have been Fitzharris, the famous invincible, and the other, obviously bogus, reminded him forcibly as being on all fours with the confidence trick, supposing, that is, it was prearranged, as the lookeron, a student of the human soul, if anything, the others seeing least of the game. And as for the lessee or keeper, who probably wasn’t the other person at all, he (Bloom) couldn’t help feeling, and most properly, it was better to give people like that the goby unless you were a blithering idiot altogether and refuse to have anything to do with them as a golden rule in private life and their felonsetting, there always being the offchance of a Dannyman coming forward and turning queen’s evidence – or king’s now – like Denis or Peter Carey, an idea he utterly repudiated. Quite apart from that, he disliked those careers of wrongdoing and crime on principle. Yet, though such criminal propensities had never been an inmate of his bosom in any shape or form, he certainly did feel, and no denying it (while inwardly remaining what he was), a certain kind of admiration for a man who had actually brandished a knife, cold steel, with the courage of his political convictions though, personally, he would never be a party to any such thing, off the same bat as those love vendettas of the south – have her or swing for her – when the husband frequently, after some words passed between the two concerning her relations with the other lucky mortal (the man having had the pair watched), inflicted fatal injuries on his adored one as a result of an alternative postnuptial liaison by plunging his knife into her until it just struck him that Fitz, nicknamed Skin-the-Goat, merely drove the car for the actual perpetrators of the outrage and so was not, if he was reliably informed, actually party to the ambush which, in point of fact, was the plea some legal luminary saved his skin on. In any case that was very ancient history by now and as for our friend, the pseudo Skin-the-etcetera, he had transparently outlived his welcome. He ought to have either died naturally or on the scaffold high. Like actresses, always farewell – positively last performance then come up smiling again. Generous to a fault, of course, temperamental, no economising or any idea of the sort, always snapping at the bone for the shadow. So similarly he had a very shrewd suspicion that Mr Johnny Lever got rid of some #. s. d. in the course of his perambulations round the docks in the congenial atmosphere of the Old Ireland tavern, come back to Erin and so on. Then as for the others, he had heard not so long before the same identical lingo, as he told Stephen how he simply but effectually silenced the offender.
He took umbrage at something or other, that much injured but on the whole eventempered person declared, I let slip. He called me a jew, and in a heated fashion, offensively. So I, without deviating from plain facts in the least, told him his God, I mean Christ, was a jew too, and all his family, like me, though in reality I’m not. That was one for him. A soft answer turns away wrath. He hadn’t a word to say for himself as everyone saw. Am I not right?
He turned a long you are wrong gaze on Stephen of timorous dark pride at the soft impeachment, with a glance also of entreaty for he seemed to glean in a kind of a way that it wasn’t all exactly .
— Ex quibus, Stephen mumbled in a noncommittal accent, their two or four eyes conversing, Christus or Bloom his name is, or, after all, any other, secundum carnem.
— Of course, Mr Bloom proceeded to stipulate, you must look at both sides of the question. It is hard to lay down any hard and fast rules as to right and wrong but room for improvement all round there certainly is though every country, they say, our own distressful included, has the government it deserves. But with a little goodwill all round. It’s all very fine to boast of mutual superiority but what about mutual equality? I resent violence or intolerance in any shape or form. It never reaches anything or stops anything. A revolution must come on the due instalments plan. It’s a patent absurdity on the face of it to hate people because they live round the corner and speak another vernacular, so to speak.
— Memorable bloody bridge battle and seven minutes’ war, Stephen assented, between Skinner’s alley and Ormond market.
— Yes, Mr Bloom thoroughly agreed, entirely endorsing the remark, that was overwhelmingly right and the whole world was overwhelmingly full of that sort of thing.
— You just took the words out of my mouth, he said. A hocuspocus of conflicting evidence that candidly you couldn’t remotely.
All those wretched quarrels, in his humble opinion, stirring up bad blood – bump of combativeness or gland of some kind, erroneously supposed to be about a punctilio of honour and a flag – were very largely a question of the money question which was at the back of everything, greed and jealousy, people never knowing when to stop.
— They accuse – remarked he audibly. He turned away from the others, who probably… and spoke nearer to, so as the others… in case they…
— Jews, he softly imparted in an aside in Stephen’s ear, are accused of ruining. Not a vestige of truth in it, I can safely say. History – would you be surprised to learn? – proves up to’ the hilt Spain decayed when the Inquisition hounded the jews out and England prospered when Cromwell, an uncommonly able ruffian, who, in other respects, has much to answer for, imported them. Why? Because they are practical and are proved to be so. I don’t want to indulge in any… because you know the standard works on the subject, and then, orthodox as you are… But in the economic, not touching religion, domain, the priest spells poverty. Spain again, you saw in the war, compared with goahead America. Turks, it’s in the dogma. Because if they didn’t believe they’d go straight to heaven when they die they’d try to live better – at least, so I think. That’s the juggle on which the p.p.’s raise the wind on false pretences. I’m, he resumed, with dramatic force, as good an Irishman as that rude person I told you about at the outset and I want to see everyone, concluded he, all creeds and classes pro rata having a comfortable tidysized income, in no niggard fashion either, something in the neighbourhood of #300 per annum. That’s the vital issue at stake and it’s feasible and would be provocative of friendlier intercourse between man and man. At least that’s my idea for what it’s worth. I call that patriotism. Ubi patria, as we learned a small smattering of in our classical day in Alma Mater, vita bene. Where you can live well, the sense is, if you work.
Over his untasteable apology for a cup of coffee, listening to this synopsis of things in general, Stephen stared at nothing in particular. He could hear, of course, all kinds of words changing colour like those crabs about Ringsend in the morning, burrowing quickly into all colours of different sorts of the same sand where they had a home somewhere beneath or seemed to. Then he looked up and saw the eyes that said or didn’t say the words the voice he heard said – if you work.
— Count me out, he managed to remark, meaning to work.
The eyes were surprised at this observation, because as he, the person who owned them pro. tem. observed, or rather, his voice speaking did: All must work, have to, together.
— I mean, of course, the other hastened to affirm, work in the widest possible sense. Also literary labour, not merely for the kudos of the thing. Writing for the newspapers which is the readiest channel nowadays. That’s work too. Important work. After all, from the little I know of you, after all the money expended on your education, you are entitled to recoup yourself and command your price. You have every bit as much right to live by your pen in pursuit of your philosophy as the peasant has. What? You both belong to Ireland, the brain and the brawn. Each is equally important.
— You suspect, Stephen retorted with a sort of a half laugh, that I may be important because I belong to the faubourg Saint Patrice called Ireland for short.
— I would go a step farther, Mr Bloom insinuated.
— But I suspect, Stephen interrupted, that Ireland must be important because it belongs to me.
— What belongs? queried Mr Bloom, bending, fancying he was perhaps under some misapprehension. Excuse me. Unfortunately I didn’t catch the latter portion. What was it you?…
Stephen, patently crosstempered, repeated and shoved aside his mug of coffee, Or whatever you like to call it, none too politely, adding:
— We can’t change the country. Let us change the subject.