The Books: “Ulysses” – the Ithaca 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

This episode, the Ithaca episode, was Joyce’s favorite in the whole book – and I find that very illuminating. Kinda like how “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” was his favorite story in Dubliners. Not the obvious one … but the one that many people, to this day, find confusing, difficult … and yet ultimately so rewarding once you crack the code. The Ithaca episode is as though we, the reader, are suddenly circling the earth – in a satellite – listening in on a conversation from thousands and thousands of miles below. It’s omniscent. Or kind of like an inter-galactic lecture hour. At first it’s tough-going, reading the episode … but once I got the hang of it, it became one of my favorites in the book, too. One of the things that is often missed about Joyce, because of his reputation as the most important author of the 20th century, is how funny and ultimately silly he is. He’s not interested in big world-shaking moments. There’s not a ONE in any of his books. He’s not interested in making a statement about “How We Live Now”. He couldn’t be less interested in the generalized “we” of the human race. He’s more microscopic than that. There is great wit in Joyce. Great silliness. And it can be seen most clearly in this chapter, where we are catapulted out into space, staring down, way way down, on Bloom and Dedalus, stumbling home to Bloom’s house at 2 in the morning. Because wouldn’t any conversation seem a bit silly if you were out in the cold reaches of space, listening in on it?

What is happening here is that Joyce is cataloging what is said – in an omniscent professor-ish tone … and cataloging the similiarities and differences between Bloom and Dedalus, our two heroes. Or anti-heroes, as the case may be.

And the omniscent voice asks questions. And another omniscent voice answers. And it’s as detailed as it can be – as minute as it can be … and yet we never stop having the sense that we’re on a space station, or on a far-away star … staring down at earth, at the puny humans doing their thing, wandering, drinking, eating, talking … what on EARTH are those pipsqueaks going on about? You’ll see what I mean when you read the excerpt.

Bloom takes him inside and makes him a cup of cocoa. They sit in the kitchen talking about … God, every topic in the book.

It’s hypnotic, the language … and extremely technical, almost like you’re in a physics lecture, or a biology lecture … something scientific. Yet what is being discussed is the human animal and the ups and downs on a specific conversation taking place at 2 a.m. on June 17, 1904. The omniscent lecturing voice – cataloging all of the topics covered, summing up the relationship being formed down on earth – gives us an odd sense of how important we are. It’s that thing that you can get when you try to contemplate the vastness of space. Sometimes it makes you feel infinitesimally small. And sometimes it can make you feel transcendent, and miraculous … that life has even formed, and flourished. Jodie Foster, in her monologue at the end of Contact expresses that perfectly:

I had an experience. I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever. A vision … of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how … rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone! I wish… I could share that… I wish, that everybody, if only for one… moment, could feel… that awe, and humility, and hope. But… That continues to be my wish.

Tiny and insignificant and also rare and precious.

That’s the realm we are in in the Ithaca episode.

The Ithaca episode in The Odyssey involves Odysseus’ return home to Ithaca – where he slays all of Penelope’s suitors. Hmmm. So Bloom has returned. After a long day. Molly has had a rendesvous with a lover. But we are no longer back in ancient Greece, where the rules are clear. Bloom does not kill Blazes Boylan. He passively thinks about divorce, maybe he’ll have to go that route … we’re in the 20th century now. The rules are different. Bloom also is the kind of guy who can’t help but see the other side of things. And so, in a weird way, he even understands why Molly has strayed. He sees her point. Bloom is (and has been) passive. He is sad, yes, he loves Molly … but no suitors will be slayed. He will figure out what to do later. In the meantime, there is Dedalus to consider. Maybe he could sleep on the couch … would Molly mind?

But it’s not to be. Dedalus, after his cocoa, does end up leaving, and making his way home … and Bloom reluctantly crawls upstairs and gets into bed with Molly. There is an imprint of a man;s body in the sheets – showing where Blazes Boyland had lain that day. Bloom and Molly sleep head to feet … Bloom puts his head at the foot of the bed, next to Molly’s feet (in the next chapter, Molly ruminates ruefully about how he has almost kicked her teeth out on occasion, in his sleep).

A couple of more notes on the language:

Not only is it like a question and answer session – but it’s even more reminiscent (to Catholics, anyway) of the catechism – and Joyce loads the episode with religious language. It’s just a conversation between two drunk men. But in Joyce’s world view – even with his contempt of organized religion – it is THERE that God can be seen, felt, experienced. Joyce was a humanist. A Renaissance man. Man is the center. God is in man. Anyone who looks elsewhere is just an ignorant sheep.

There’s another level here, too: Of all the episodes in the book, this is the one that could be called “objective”. We’re looking thru a telescope AND a microscope – at the same time. Bloom is about to face the pain of getting in bed with his wife, whom he fears he has lost (we realize in the next episode that all is NOT lost – but Bloom doesn’t know that). So the objective language reminds me of the painful scene in Taxi Driver when Travis Bickle (Robert Deniro) calls up Cybill Shepherd and asks her out on another date, after their tragic one – where he takes her to a porno movie. She obviously doesn’t want anything to do with him anymore, so in this phone conversation – and we only hear his side of it – she turns him down. But Scorsese does an interesting thing with his camera as Travis hears the news that she has said “No”. He slowly pulls back, down the corridor, away from Travis, at the pay phone … until Travis is quite small … and then Scorsese pulls his camera around a corner, so we can’t even see Travis anymore. We hear his voice, soft and solemn, but we no longer see him. The effect on me, the audience member, is even more acute than if we were in deep closeup seeing Travis’ rejected face. It’s almost like the pain Travis feels is so deep that Scorsese needs to give him privacy … let him be, let him be. So the objective voice in Ithaca, is almost a protective measure against Bloom’s devastation. It is the only way he (and we) can face the pain of the destruction of his marriage. Bloom is so upset that Joyce gives him his privacy, and pulls his “camera” way way way back … to make him small, to leave him alone … It’s a fascinating device and works extremely well, I think. We have Bloom’s memories of the death of his son here as well – a tragedy. But the quiet omniscent voice just keeps asking questions: “What was his first response to the death of Rudolph Bloom?” The equally omniscent voice answers – in a cataloging scientific way … which is a shield against the devastation. Don’t we do that sometimes when we are truly grieving? Joan Didion, in her marvelous book The Year of Magical Thinking, about her year following the death of her husband, is all about that sort of nonsensical cataloging and overly rational thinking that can follow in the wake of true and eternal loss. I have to do this, this, this and this … and I will be safe. Well, no you won’t. We are never safe. But grief is not rational. It is, in a horrible way, “magical”.

Joyce even goes intergalactic – at the point that Dedalus departs. Dedalus leaves and there are stars above – ‘celestial signs’ – it is almost as though Stephen leaves, via a pathway of stars. As he departs, the church bells ring – another indication of Joyce’s religious outlook. The entire episode has the feeling of a Latin mass. The intoned questions, the intoned answering of the flock … only here we are with just two men, on Eccles Street in Dublin, talking about food, and drink, and life … urinating together in the garden … a sort of communion.

It is only now that Bloom is really ready to be home. To go upstairs to his Penelope (Molly), and let the day – the long long day he has just had – recede.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Here’s an excerpt. Have fun with it. It’s not normal language, but what he describes is quite prosaic, as you will see. But to Joyce, nothing was prosaic. That is one of the reasons why I love him so much, why he is such (to me) an emotional writer, passionate and beautiful, with a love of his fellow man that is unparalleled in modern literature.

Just so you can decipher what is going on here: Bloom takes Dedalus into his kitchen. He lights a candle (like the beginning of a mass). He fills the kettle with water, and puts it on to boil. It is 2, 3 in the morning.

And not to sway you one way or another, but I think Joyce’s long description of water in the following excerpt is one of the most brilliant passages in the whole book. And the last line of the excerpt I have chosen shows Bloom’s ultimate humanism, something that is difficult for many of us to LIVE, let alone comprehend. To not live in bitterness, to not hold grudges, to “be the better person” – and for REAL – without looking for anything in return … Perhaps Bloom, earlier in the day, would not have perceived this in himself. But now he does, ministering to Stephen. He does, because it’s so late, and he’s near-sleep – and certain things, certain uglinesses fall away, when we are so close to unconsciousness. The Ithaca episode could only happen in the middle of the night.

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

Did the man reappear elsewhere?
Alter a lapse of four minutes the glimmer of his candle was discernible through the semitransparent semicircular glass fanlight over the halldoor. The halldoor turned gradually on its hinges. In the open space of the doorway the man reappeared without his hat, with his candle.

Did Stephen obey his sign?
Yes, entering softly, he helped to close and chain the door and followed softly along the hallway the man’s back and listed feet and lighted candle past a lighted crevice of doorway on the left and carefully down a turning staircase of more than five steps into the kitchen of Bloom’s house.

What did Bloom do?
He extinguished the candle by a sharp expiration of breath upon its flame, drew two spoonseat deal chairs to the hearthstone, one for Stephen with its back to the area window, the other for himself when necessary, knelt on one knee, composed in the grate a pyre of crosslaid resintipped sticks and various coloured papers and irregular polygons of best Abram coal at twentyone shillings a ton from the yard of Messrs Flower and M’Donald of 14 D’Olier street, kindled it at three projecting points of paper with one ignited lucifer match, thereby releasing the potential energy contained in the fuel by allowing its carbon and hydrogen elements to enter into free union with the oxygen of the air.

Of what similar apparitions did Stephen think?
Of others elsewhere in other times who, kneeling on one knee or on two, had kindled fires for him, of Brother Michael in the infirmary of the college of the Society of Jesus at Clongowes Wood, Sallins, in the county of Kildare: of his father, Simon Dedalus, in an unfurnished room of his first residence in Dublin, number thirteen Fitzgibbon street: of his godmother Miss Kate Morkan in the house of her dying sister Miss Julia Morkan at 15 Usher’s Island: of his mother Mary, wife of Simon Dedalus, in the kitchen of number twelve North Richmond street on the morning of the feast of Saint Francis-Xavier 1898: of the dean of studies, Father Butt, in the physics’ theatre of university College, 16 Stephen’s green, north: of his sister Dilly (Delia) in his father’s house in Cabra.

What did Stephen see on raising his gaze to the height of a yard from the fire towards the opposite wall?
Under a row of five coiled spring housebells a curvilinear rope, stretched between two holdfasts athwart across the recess beside the chimney pier, from which hung four smallsized square handkerchiefs folded unattached consecutively in adjacent rectangles and one pair of ladies’ grey hose with lisle suspendertops and feet in their habitual position clamped by three erect wooden pegs two at their outer extremities and the third at their point of junction.

What did Bloom see on the range?
On the right (smaller) hob a blue enamelled saucepan: on the left (larger) hob a black iron kettle.

What did Bloom do at the range?
He removed the saucepan to the left hob, rose and carried the iron kettle to the sink in order to tap the current by turning the faucet to let it flow.

Did it flow?
Yes. From Roundwood reservoir in county Wicklow of a cubic capacity of 2,400 million gallons, percolating through a subterranean aqueduct of filter mains of single and double pipeage constructed at an initial plant cost of #5 per linear yard by way of the Dargle, Rathdown, Glen of the Downs and Callowhill to the 26 acre reservoir at Stillorgan, a distance of 22 statute miles, and thence, through a system of relieving tanks, by a gradient of 250 feet to the city boundary at Eustace bridge, upper Leeson street, though from prolonged summer drouth and daily supply of 12 1/2 million gallons the water had fallen below the sill of the overflow weir for which reason the borough surveyor and waterworks engineer, Mr Spencer Harty, C.E., on the instructions of the waterworks committee, had prohibited the use of municipal water for purposes other than those of consumption (envisaging the possibility of recourse being had to the importable water of the Grand and Royal canals as in 1893) particularly as the South Dublin Guardians, notwithstanding their ration of 15 gallons per day per pauper supplied through a 6 inch meter, had been convicted of a wastage of 20,000 gallons per night by a reading of their meter on the affirmation of the law agent of the corporation, Mr Ignatius Rice, solicitor, thereby acting to the detriment of another section of the public, selfsupporting taxpayers, solvent, sound.

What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier returning to the range, admire?
Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level: its vastness in the ocean of Mercator’s projection: its umplumbed profundity in the Sundam trench of the Pacific exceeding 8,000 fathoms: the restlessness of its waves and surface particles visiting in turn all points of its seaboard: the independence of its units: the variability of states of sea: its hydrostatic quiescence in calm: its hydrokinetic turgidity in neap and spring tides: its subsidence after devastation: its sterility in the circumpolar icecaps, arctic and antarctic: its climatic and commercial significance: its preponderance of 3 to 1 over the dry land of the globe: its indisputable hegemony extending in square leagues over all the region below the subequatorial tropic of Capricorn: the multisecular stability of its primeval basin: its luteofulvous bed: Its capacity to dissolve and hold in solution all soluble substances including billions of tons of the most precious metals: its slow erosions of peninsulas and downwardtending promontories: its alluvial deposits: its weight and volume and density: its imperturbability in lagoons and highland tarns: its gradation of colours in the torrid and temperate and frigid zones: its vehicular ramifications in continental lakecontained streams and confluent oceanflowing rivers with their tributaries and transoceanic currents: gulfstream, north and south equatorial courses: its violence in seaquakes, waterspouts, artesian wells, eruptions, torrents, eddies, freshets, spates, groundswells, watersheds, waterpartings, geysers, cataracts, whirlpools, maelstroms, inundations, deluges, cloudbursts: its vast circumterrestrial ahorizontal curve: its secrecy in springs, and latent humidity, revealed by rhabdomantic or hygrometric instruments and exemplified by the hole in the wall at Ashtown gate, saturation of air, distillation of dew: the simplicity of its composition, two constituent parts of hydrogen with one constituent part of oxygen: its healing virtues: its buoyancy in the waters of the Dead Sea: its persevering penetrativeness in runnels, gullies, inadequate dams, leaks on shipboard: its properties for cleansing, quenching thirst and fire, nourishing vegetation: its infallibility as paradigm and paragon: its metamorphoses as vapour, mist, cloud, rain, sleet, snow, hail: its strength in rigid hydrants: its variety of forms in loughs and bays and gulfs and bights and guts and lagoons and atolls and archipelagos and sounds and fjords and minches and tidal estuaries and arms of sea: its solidity in glaciers, icebergs, icefloes: its docility in working hydraulic millwheels, turbines, dynamos, electric power stations, bleachworks, tanneries, scutchmills: its utility in canals, rivers, if navigable, floating and graving docks: its potentiality derivable from harnessed tides or watercourses falling from level to level: its submarine fauna and flora (anacoustic, photophobe) numerically, if not literally, the inhabitants of the globe: its ubiquity as constituting 90% of the human body: the noxiousness of its effluvia in lacustrine marshes, pestilential fens, faded flowerwater, stagnant pools in the waning moon.

Having set the halffilled kettle on the now burning coals, why did he return to the stillflowing tap?
To wash his soiled hands with a partially consumed tablet of Barrington’s lemonflavoured soap, to which paper still adhered (bought thirteen hours previously for fourpence and still unpaid for), in fresh cold neverchanging everchanging water and dry them, face and hands, in a long redbordered holland cloth passed over a wooden revolving roller.

What reason did Stephen give for declining Bloom’s offer?
That he was hydrophobe, hating partial contact by immersion or total by submersion in cold water (his last bath having taken place in the month of October of the preceding year), disliking the aqueous substances of glass and crystal, distrusting aquacities of thought and language.

What impeded Bloom from giving Stephen counsels of hygiene and prophylactic to which should be added suggestions concerning a preliminary wetting of the head and contraction of the muscles with rapid splashing of the face and neck and thoracic and epigastric region in case of sea or river bathing, the parts of the human anatomy most sensitive to cold being the nape, stomach, and thenar or sole of foot?
The incompatibility of aquacity with the erratic originality of genius.

What additional didactic counsels did he similarly repress?
Dietary: concerning the respective percentage of protein and caloric energy in bacon, salt ling and butter, the absence of the former in the lastnamed and the abundance of the latter in the firstnamed.

Which seemed to the host to be the predominant qualities of his guest?
Confidence in himself, an equal and opposite power of abandonment and recuperation.

What concomitant phenomenon took place in the vessel of liquid by the agency of fire?
The phenomenon of ebullition. Fanned by a constant updraught of ventilation between the kitchen and the chimneyflue, ignition was communicated from the faggots of precombustible fuel to polyhedral masses of bituminous coal, containing in compressed mineral form the foliated fossilised decidua of primeval forests which had in turn derived their vegetative existence from the sun, primal source of heat (radiant), transmitted through omnipresent luminiferous diathermanous ether. Heat (convected), a mode of motion developed by such combustion, was constantly and increasingly conveyed from the source of calorification to the liquid contained in the vessel, being radiated through the uneven unpolished dark surface of the metal iron, in part reflected, in part absorbed, in part transmitted, gradually raising the temperature of the water from normal to boiling point, a rise in temperature expressible as the result of an expenditure of 72 thermal units needed to raise I pound of water from 50° to 212° Fahrenheit.

What announced the accomplishment of this rise in temperature?
A double falciform ejection of water vapour from under the kettlelid at both sides simultaneously.

For what personal purpose could Bloom have applied the water so boiled?
To shave himself.

What advantages attended shaving by night?
A softer beard: a softer brush if intentionally allowed to remain from shave to shave in its agglutinated lather: a softer skin if unexpectedly encountering female acquaintances in remote places at incustomary hours: quiet reflections upon the course of the day: a cleaner sensation when awaking after a fresher sleep since matutinal noises, premonitions and perturbations, a clattered milkcan, a postman’s double knock, a paper read, reread while lathering, relathering the same spot, a shock, a shoot, with thought of aught he sought though fraught with nought might cause a faster rate of shaving and a nick on which incision plaster with precision cut and humected and applied adhered which was to be done.

Why did absence of light disturb him less than presence of noises?
Because of the surety of the sense of touch in his firm full masculine feminine passive active hand.

What quality did it (his hand) possess but with what counteracting influence?
The operative surgical quality but that he was reluctant to shed human blood even when the end justified the means, preferring in their natural order, heliotherapy, psychophysicotherapeutics, osteopathic surgery.

What lay under exposure on the lower middle and upper shelves of the kitchen dresser opened by Bloom?
On the lower shelf five vertical breakfast plates, six horizontal breakfast saucers on which rested inverted breakfast cups, a moustachecup, uninverted, and saucer of Crown Derby, four white goldrimmed eggcups, and open shammy purse displaying coins, mostly copper, and a phial of aromatic violet comfits. On the middle shelf a chipped eggcup containing pepper, a drum of table salt, four conglomerated black olives in oleaginous paper, an empty pot of Plumtree’s potted meat, an oval wicker basket bedded with fibre and containing one Jersey pear, a halfempty bottle of William Gilbey and Co’s white invalid port, half disrobed of its swathe of coralpink tissue paper, a packet of Epps’s soluble cocoa, five ounces of Anne Lynch’s choice tea at 2/- per lb. in a crinkled leadpaper bag, a cylindrical canister containing the best crystallised lump sugar, two onions, one the larger, Spanish, entire, the other, smaller, Irish, bisected with augmented surface and more redolent, a jar of Irish Model Dairy’s cream, a jug of brown crockery containing a noggin and a quarter of soured adulterated milk, converted by heat into water, acidulous serum and semisolidified curds, which added to the quantity subtracted for Mr Bloom’s and Mrs Fleming’s breakfasts made one imperial pint, the total quantity originally delivered, two cloves, a halfpenny and a small dish containing a slice of fresh ribsteak. On the upper shelf a battery of jamjars of various sizes and proveniences.

What attracted his attention lying on the apron of the dresser?
Four polygonal fragments of two lacerated scarlet betting tickets, numbered 887, 886.

What reminiscences temporarily corrugated his brow?
Reminiscences of coincidences, truth stranger than fiction, preindicative of the result of the Gold Cup flat handicap, the official and definitive result of which he had read in the Evening Telegraph, late pink edition, in the cabman’s shelter, at Butt bridge.

Where had previous intimations of the result, effected or projected, been received by him?
In Bernard Kiernan’s licensed premises 8, 9 and 10 Little Britain street: in David Byrne’s licensed premises, 14 Duke street: in O’Connell street lower, outside Graham Lemon’s when a dark man had placed in his hand a throwaway (subsequently thrown away), advertising Elijah, restorer of the church in Zion: in Lincoln place outside the premises of F. W. Sweny and Co (Limited) dispensing chemists, when, when Frederick M. (Bantam) Lyons had rapidly and successively requested, perused and restituted the copy of the current issue of the Freeman’s Journal and National Press which he had been about to throw away (subsequently thrown away), he had proceeded towards the oriental edifice of the Turkish and Warm Baths, 11 Leinster street, with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the secret of the race, graven in the language of prediction.

What qualifying considerations allayed his perturbations?
The difficulties of interpretation since the significance of any event followed its occurrence as variably as the acoustic report followed the electrical discharge and of counterestimating against an actual loss by failure to interpret the total sum of possible losses proceeding originally from a successful interpretation.

His mood?
He had not risked, he did not expect, he had not been disappointed, he was satisfied.

What satisfied him?
To have sustained no positive loss. To have brought a positive gain to others. Light to the gentiles.

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6 Responses to The Books: “Ulysses” – the Ithaca episode (James Joyce)

  1. kelly says:

    Just so you know, I love these James Joyce entries. Someday soon I’m going to read this one. You’ve got me going in that direction.

  2. red says:

    Kelly – ha!! My work here is done!

    No, just kidding. But it is great to know that my posts are being read (and a couple people have emailed me as well to let me know they like them) … so I hope you will let me know when you’ve started (whenever it is that you do).

  3. The Books: “Ulysses” – the Penelope episode (James Joyce)

    Next book in my Daily Book Excerpt – on my adult fiction shelves: Ulysses – by James Joyce. So here’s where we are at so far: 1. (TELEMACHIA) Episode 1: The Telemachus Episode Episode 2: The Nestor Episode Episode 3:…

  4. Kathy says:

    Thought you’d be interested – if you’re not already aware of it – that Bloomsday on Bway for 2008 (at Symphony Space in NY) has scheduled reading the complete Ithica episode, instead of their usual format of reading selections from all the episodes. Not sure what this will mean for another complete Penelope, but the incandescent Fionnula Flanagan is slated to be there again, so anything’s possible.

  5. John O'Sullivan says:

    Is there a commentary on the “Penelope” section- Molly Bloom’s soliloquy? I can’t seem to find it.

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