The Books: “Ulysses” – the Cyclops episode (James Joyce)

Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:

ulysses67.bmpUlysses (The Gabler Edition)– by James Joyce.

Episode 1: The Telemachus Episode
Episode 2: The Nestor Episode
Episode 3: The Proteus episode

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

Episode 16: The Eumaeus Episode
Episode 17: The Ithaca 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. Totally confusing – who is this new speaker? He’s telling a story about a man referred to as “The Citizen”, an angry loquacious bombastic Irish patriot. Our brand-new chatty Kathy narrator tells his friends the story about a run-in between The Citizen and Leopold Bloom, who has stopped by for a drink. Things get ugly. It’s anti-Semitic. Openly so – that which has been beneath the surface in many of the episodes is now out in the open. Not to mention the fact, that Bloom knows that everyone knows he is a cuckold. That knowledge is out in the open, too. So he is scorned and ridiculed – and The Citizen tells him he doesn’t think he’s Irish at all (even though Bloom was born in Ireland, and is also a ‘citizen’). This is a highly political chapter.

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!!” He has a very distinctive voice, too – one of his phrases is “says I” – whenever he has spoken. Because he was part of the conversation with The Citizen and Bloom, he uses “says I” in almost every line of his story.

The writing of this episode is actually totally clear – it’s in a slang vernacular, Irish, but also very everyday language – not “literary”. So it wasn’t that I didn’t understand what was happening … it’s that I didn’t know what Joyce was DOING. Why the new voice? What was its purpose?

I didn’t get it at ALL. So I 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 – he didn’t have time, he just glanced at the page. So I said, “How do you know that?” (Or perhaps I should say, “says I”)

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

I looked at the page – and suddenly all I saw was the letter “I”. Little vertical slash marks all across the pages … I I I I I I I I I (eye eye eye eye eye eye eye eye) Cyclops’ eye is built into the text itself. (And remember: it is not labeled in the actual book as “Cyclops episode”. You know it’s a new section because of how the text breaks up, and the change in style … but you have to figure out where you are in Homer’s epic – and there are guides and “keys” you can use … which could be quite helpful. Or you could just call my dad. Or me, now, too.) But when I saw the plethora of “I”s across the page, I got goosebumps.

It all unfolded before me. 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’. Also: that’s the reason it’s written in 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.

There are also, interspersed with our first-person tale, long discourses on old medieval and earlier knights, warriors, gladiators … an obvious connection between the patriots of old, and the patriots of today.

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. The Citizen is based upon Michael Cusack, an Irish nationalist who was behind the big Gaelic sports movement in Ireland during the Irish Revival – as a way to separate itself from England. We already know how Joyce feels about such things, and he pours all of that into the characterization of The Citizen (as seen through our new narrator’s eyes). In The Odyssey, Odysseus and his men are trapped in a cave by the Cyclops – a giant cannibal from Greek myth. The pub in this episode becomes the cave. And Bloom (who is there with a bunch of other characters from earlier – at the funeral – Martin Cunningham and others) becomes Odysseus – trapped in the evil gaze of this Irish patriot who refuses to believe that this Jew is also Irish. What does a JEW know about nationhood? In The Odyssey – Odysseus and the men escape. Odysseus got the Cyclops drunk – and then blinded him by shoving a hot stake through the Cyclops’ one eye. The long hot stake is important to remember (and also it might be helpful to read Ulysses with a Cliff Notes version of The Odyssey nearby – or hell, the whole damn thing if you can deal with it … but I sat there with the Cliff Notes version. As I moved through Ulysses, and would get to a new episode – I’d go to my Cliff Notes, and see what the next episode in Homer’s epic was. I’d read the brief description of the events – and then read the brief listing of all the themes and leitmotifs and symbols in each episode … and then keep all that in mind when I went back to Ulysses. There are so many connections to be made that I am sure I only got one or two levels – and Greek scholars would obviously see so much more. But still: it is helpful. Because – if you read the Cyclops episode – you will see the overwhelming number of references to long thin objects (which, obviously, is the stake Odysseus used against the Cyclops). Joyce, naturally, is not LITERALLY putting Bloom with a LITERAL Cyclops. No. But he weaves it into the writing. We hear of telescopes, and cigars, and erections – a ton more … If you haven’t read the book, and you want to – have fun with finding all of the connections, because there are a million. The stake used to blind the Cyclops is in the text, hidden – but there. Marvelous. And at the end of the episode in The Odyssey – the Cyclops, enraged, throws a boulder after Odysseus and his men as they run away. At the end of the episode in Ulysses, the Patriot, enraged at Bloom having the gall to just get up and walk away – who does he think he is?? – throws a biscuit tin after him, narrowly missing him.

Joyce is a genius. I love his genius – because he seemed to have a lot of fun with it. He’s not a morbid guy, or a self-involved guy – not a navel-gazer at all – even though he is one of the most personal writers who has ever lived. He has FUN with his own talent for writing. You can really see that in the Cyclops episode. The long thin hard objects which make up the bulk of the chapter are also, of course, phallic … because Bloom’s cuckolded state is well-known … and very much on his mind.

Now to the levels of the Cyclops himself: It is no accident that Joyce has made the Cyclops a raging Fenian. Such people, such politicized people, have blinders on – and can only see, so to speak, with one eye. There is ONE way, ONE way to think … The Citizen is “blind” to any other opinions. He also hates England so much that it blinds him to his own hypocrisy. The Citizen is intellectually and spiritually blind. Joyce hated people like that. The Citizen’s response to Leopold Bloom is grotesque. It’s blatant bigotry. It is as though if you only have one eye … all you can see is the stereotype. I’m reading a book about Stalin now – and the “Kulaks” were Enemy #1 for a while – they must be destroyed (even though economically – there really were no such thing as “kulaks”.) The kulaks were so demonized that they were not even thought of as people. Even the children. They were referred to as “vermin”. To have the potential to see other human beings in such a distorted light is one of the ugliest parts of human nature. I see it with many people in politics – example is those who refer to “the left” with contempt and disgust … their rhetoric is full of strawmen and dehumanizing generalizations – that I honestly don’t know WHO these people are referring to. It’s identity politics at its worst: a group made to seem not human. Enemies. And it doesn’t have to be acted upon – that’s the thing with dehumanization. It’s in the language itself. So The Citizen cannot even see, first of all, that Leopold Bloom is a human being. He is just a stereotype – in The Citizen’s one-eye. Bloom: a Jew. The Jews piggyback on other nations … they wander and have no home of their own. They push in where they are not wanted. The Irish are a homogenous people. What the hell is HE doing here? Bloom, at first, tries to be polite and ignore the attack – but eventually, he cannot. And he asserts himself in the argument, standing up to The Citizen, who – in the end – even with all his big rhetoric about Irish Renaissances – is just a bigot. That’s all. (Reminds me of the guy who wrote to me so amazed that I was a woman – since I wrote so well!! He couldn’t believe it! As far as he was concerned, all women writers were shit. He used the phrase “Fried Green Tomatoes” a lot, as though that is the book all women writers should be judged by. Not Jane Eyre. Not Middlemarch. Not Wuthering Heights. Not Pride and Prejudice. Fried Green Tomatoes. He said to me, and it was amazing – because he was so OPENLY a douche-bag, which was awesome – since he walked right into my trap: “You must think I’m a Neanderthal! haha” I wrote back, “Nah. Just a good old-fashioned bigot.” Then I gave him a reading list. Funny: I never heard from him again. But that guy had dehumanized women to such a degree that he couldn’t even SEE how wrong he was, on every count, how his own bigotry kept him from living in the light of truth … women were THIS, he had decided.)

The Cyclops episode has a feeling of gloom and violence in it. It takes place in a bar – just like the Sirens episode – but the Sirens episode, with its airy language, and its ‘bronzegold’ imagery … makes the bar seem like a sunny lively place – quite a different environment from the dark cave-like pub of The Cyclops episode, where it is clear that people are, basically, raging alcoholics, first of all … People are not just drinking and singing in a jolly manner. They are on a binge. Bloom walks into this atmosphere, mild-mannered Bloom – and the contrast is great between him and the others. Bloom tries to temper some of the conversation – with his more humanistic outlook. Like The Citizen going off on the English treatment of her sailors, and how cruel it all is. Bloom says that navy discipline is the same everywhere. Ahhhh, it reminds me of comments I used to make on blogs – before I got the rules of the game. There was one time on one particular site when everyone was going OFF on The Vagina Monologues – just ranting and raving about the downfall of society, and blah blah-dee-blah. I’m not into the downfall of society viewpoint anyway, I think it’s deeply stupid and ahistorical. I’m also not wacky about The Vagina Monologues myself, but I know they have helped a lot of people (I read one of Eve Ensler’s books) – so I made the huge mistake of saying (in a totally polite way – not an attack): “I read this one anecdote from a woman who saw the Vagina Monologues … and her life had changed … ” or whatever. Not trying to be contrary – but it’s a blog I read regularly (or, I don’t anymore, not after the treatment I got on that day) – and the response was VICIOUS, almost animalistic: as in: that which is different must not just be shunned, but killed. Especially from this one fucking bitch – who made her comment into a personal attack on me and any sexuality that wasn’t identical to hers. No compassion with those who have struggled in ways that she has not. Zero. It’s pathetic, when you think about it – her response to a different opinion was an attack of that nature? What a weird little world she lives in! Fragile, actually. A house of cards. Especially because this was about sexuality. I have my opinions on politics, but when it comes to sex? I know in my heart it is all personal, and I can only speak for myself. I know that her behavior is typical (at least I know it now) – and most blogs have a homogenous readership, and everyone complains about the same things, in the same tone … and they are all “safe” from outside opinion that might not be in lockstep with theirs. And I made my comment in a really moderate tone. Just a, “Yeah, what you say might be true … but there is another side to it …” I was a semi-regular on that blog. It wasn’t a ‘driveby’ comment. What I did not realize was that to these people there is only ONE side. Cyclops-es, every last one of them.

So Bloom’s mild-mannered comment about discipline being the same everywhere, and England being no worse than other nations in that regard – is seen as treachery, plain and simple. Especially since it’s from the JEW. But Bloom – when attacked (the Cyclops starts grilling him about “nationhood” – “Do you know what a nation is?”, etc.) finally fights back. He is Irish AND he is Jewish. He stands his ground. You want to cheer for him (especially because he has seemed so passive thru the other chapters). The issue of “race” is involved – as it usually is in Europe (especially) – when speaking of nationhood. And Bloom, for really the first time, trumpets his Jewishness, and the persecution of the Jews thru the centuries – and yes, he is a part of that race. And, as is obvious, from the exchange he is having at “this very instant” – the persecution continues.

Go, Bloom!!!

Here’s an excerpt.

Oh, and The Cyclops episode is also famous for its almost two-page list of names … every Bloomsday celebration I’ve ever gone to has had SOMEONE read that out … and it is surprising how hilarious it is, when you hear it all together. I describe one such Bloomsday celebration here.

The episode is hard to excerpt – since it’s so much of a whole … but I’ll start with when we first meet the citizen. Notice how he is rubbing his eye in our first glimpse of him. And also, look for all the “I”s.

EXCERPT FROM Ulysses (The Gabler Edition) – by James Joyce – the Cyclops episode

So we turned into Barney Kiernan’s and there sure enough was the citizen up in the corner having a great confab with himself and that bloody mangy mongrel, Garryowen, and he waiting for what the sky would drop in the way of drink.

There he is, says I, in his gloryhole, with his cruiskeen lawn and his load of papers, working for the cause.

The bloody mongrel let a grouse out of him would give you the creeps. Be a corporal work of mercy if someone would take the life of that bloody dog. I’m told for a fact he ate a good part of the breeches off a constabulary man in Santry that came round one time with a blue paper about a licence.

— Stand and deliver, says he.

— That’s all right, citizen, says Joe. Friends here.

— Pass, friends, says he.

Then he rubs his hand in his eye and says he:

— What’s your opinion of the times?

Doing the rapparee and Rory of the hill. But, begob, Joe was equal to the occasion.

— I think the markets are on a rise, says he, sliding his hand down his fork.

So begob the citizen claps his paw on his knee and he says:

— Foreign wars is the cause of it.

And says Joe, sticking his thumb in his pocket:

— It’s the Russians wish to tyrannise.

— Arrah, give over your bloody codding, Joe, says I, I’ve a thirst on me I wouldn’t sell for half a crown.

— Give it a name, citizen, says Joe.

— Wine of the country, says he.

— What’s yours? says Joe.

— Ditto MacAnaspey, says I…

— Three pints, Terry, says Joe. And how’s the old heart, citizen? says he.

— Never better, a chara, says he. What Garry? Are we going to win? Eh?

And with that he took the bloody old towser by the scruff of the neck and, by Jesus, he near throttled him.

The figure seated on a large boulder at the foot of a round tower was that of a broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freely freckled shaggybearded wide-mouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero. From shoulder to shoulder he measured several ells and his rocklike mountainous knees were covered, as was likewise the rest of his body wherever visible, with a strong growth of tawny prickly hair in hue and toughness similar to the mountain gorse (Ulex Europeus). The widewinged nostrils, from which bristles of the same tawny hue projected, were of such capaciousness that within their cavernous obscurity the field-lark might easily have lodged her nest. The eyes in which a tear and a smile strove ever for the mastery were of the dimensions of a goodsized cauliflower. A powerful current of warm breath issued at regular intervals from the profound cavity of his mouth while in rhythmic resonance the loud strong hale reverberations of his formidable heart thundered rumblingly causing the ground, the summit of the lofty tower and the still loftier walls of the cave to vibrate and tremble.

He wore a long unsleeved garment of recently flayed oxhide reaching to the knees in a loose kilt and this was bound about his middle by a girdle of plaited straw and rushes. Beneath this he wore trews of deerskin, roughly stitched with gut. His nether extremities were encased in high Balbriggan buskins dyed in lichen purple, the feet being shod with brogues of salted cowhide laced with the windpipe of the same beast. From his girdle hung a row of seastones which dangled at every movement of his portentous frame and on these were graven with rude yet striking art the tribal images of many Irish heroes and heroines of antiquity, Cuchulin, Conn of hundred battles, Niall of nine hostages, Brian of Kincora, the Ardri Malachi, Art MacMurragh, Shane O’Neill, Father John Murphy, Owen Roe, Patrick Sarsfield, Red Hugh O’Donnell, Red Jim MacDermott, Soggarth Eoghan O’Growney, Michael Dwyer, Francy Higgins, Henry Joy M’Cracken, Goliath, Horace Wheatley, Thomas Conneff, Peg Woffington, the Village Blacksmith, Captain Moonlight, Captain Boycott, Dante Alighieri, Christopher Columbus, S. Fursa, S. Brendan, Marshal Mac-Mahon, Charlemagne, Theobald Wolfe Tone, the Mother of the Maccabees, the Last of the Mohicans, the Rose of Castille, the Man for Galway, The Man that Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, The Man in the Gap, The Woman Who Didn’t, Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon Bonaparte, John L. Sullivan, Cleopatra, Savourneen Deelish, Julius Caesar, Paracelsus, sir Thomas Lipton, William Tell, Michelangelo, Hayes, Muhammad, the Bride of Lammermoor, Peter the Hermit, Peter the Packer, Dark Rosaleen, Patrick W. Shakespeare, Brian Confucius, Murtagh Gutenberg, Patricio Velasquez, Captain Nemo, Tristan and Isolde, the first Prince of Wales, Thomas Cook and Son, the Bold Soldier Boy, Arrah na Pogue, Dick Turpin, Ludwig Beethoven, the Colleen Bawn, Waddler Healy, Angus the Culdee, Dolly Mount, Sidney Parade, Ben Howth, Valentine Greatrakes, Adam and Eve, Arthur Wellesley, Boss Croker, Herodotus, Jack the Giantkiller, Gautama Buddha, Lady Godiva, The Lily of Killarney, Balor of the Evil Eye, the Queen of Sheba, Acky Nagle, Joe Nagle, Alessandro Volta, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Don Philip O’Sullivan Beare. A couched spear of acuminated granite rested by him while at his feet reposed a savage animal of the canine tribe whose stertorous gasps announced that he was sunk in uneasy slumber, a supposition confirmed by hoarse growls and spasmodic movements which his master repressed from time to time by tranquillising blows of a mighty cudgel rudely fashioned out of paleolithic stone.

So anyhow Terry brought the three pints Joe was standing and begob the sight nearly left my eyes when I saw him land out a quid. O, as true as I’m telling you. A goodlooking sovereign.

— And there’s more where that came from, says he.

— Were you robbing the poorbox, Joe? says I.

— Sweat of my brow, says Joe. ‘Twas the prudent member gave me the wheeze.

— I saw him before I met you, says I, sloping around by Pill lane and Greek street with his cod’s eye counting up all the guts of the fish.

Who comes through Michan’s land, bedight in sable armour? O’Bloom, the son of Rory: it is he. Impervious to fear is Rory’s son: he of the prudent soul.

— For the old woman of Prince’s street, says the citizen, the subsidised organ. The pledgebound party on the floor of the house. And look at this blasted rag, says he. Look at this, says he. The Irish Independent, if you please, founded by Parnell to be the workingman’s friend. Listen to the births and deaths in the Irish all for Ireland Independent and I’ll thank you and the marriages.

And he starts reading them out:

— Gordon, Barnfield Crescent, Exeter; Redmayne of Iffley, Saint Anne’s on Sea, the wife of William T. Redmayne, of a son. How’s that, eh? Wright and Flint, Vincent and Gillett to Rotha Marion daughter of Rosa and the late George Alfred Gillett, 179 Clapham Road, Stockwell, Playwood and Ridsdale at Saint Jude’s Kensington by the very reverend Dr Forrest, Dean of Worcester, eh? Deaths. Bristow, at Whitehall lane, London: Carr, Stoke Newington, of gastritis and heart disease: Cockburn, at the Moat house, Chepstow.

— I know that fellow, says Joe, from bitter experience.

— Cockburn. Dimsey, wife of Davie Dimsey, late of the admiralty: Miller, Tottenham, aged eightyfive: Welsh, June 12, at 35 Canning Street, Liverpool, Isabella Helen. How’s that for a national press, eh, my brown son? How’s that for Martin Murphy, the Bantry jobber?

— Ah, well, says Joe, handing round the boose. Thanks be to God they had the start of us. Drink that, citizen.

— I will, says he, honourable person.

— Health, Joe, says I. And all down the form.

Ah! Owl! Don’t be talking! I was blue mouldy for the want of that pint. Declare to God I could hear it hit the pit of my stomach with a click.

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15 Responses to The Books: “Ulysses” – the Cyclops episode (James Joyce)

  1. nightfly says:

    I have a friend who sounds a little like what you describe here – one-sided opinions and all – this one class of people are, to him, “athiest, wife-beating, coke-snorters.”

    The rest of us know these unhappy people as the New York Mets.

  2. red says:

    Well, being a sports fan is a socially acceptable way of safely (for the most part) letting out your hatreds and bigotry.

    It’s a bit more serious when it’s your fellow countrymen, or an entire gender, or an entire race, or an entire sexual orientation.

    The typical rejoinder when you point this stuff out to the dipshits who talk that way is them protesting, “Yeah, but the other side does it, too!”

    Which, as far as I’m concerned, proves my point perfectly.

  3. red says:

    To every person who has emailed me, thanking me for the Joyce posts – thank you so much!! I have worked really hard on them.

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  5. nightfly says:

    Oh, it’s totally tongue in cheek. He’s from near Philly. Of course, he’s fully aware that they built a courthouse and jail block in Veteran’s Stadium specifically to book and prosecute disorderly Eagles fans. All part of the fun!

  6. red says:

    Of course I realize it’s tongue in cheek. I say the same crap about Yankees fans.
    My point is: there’s a deeper issue in such generalizations, in Joyce’s book, which is what my post is about.

  7. red says:

    And I’m sure you realize my point as well… I just feel the need to reiterate because I am working really hard on these posts, for those who are either curious about Joyce, or are Joyce fans.

  8. nightfly says:

    And count me among the happy, hooked readers of the Joyce installments. ¡Víva Obsessión Centrál!

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  15. Shifani says:

    Love the humor and tone of your analysis, very helpful to someone who’s just entering the world of Joyce.

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