DANIEL R. SCHWARZ: A few facts about Bloom. He is married to Molly, but he hasn't slept with her since a month before the birth of their son, Rudy, who died 11 years ago, 11 days after his birth. His daughter, Milly, is about to turn 15. And he mourns for his father who has committed suicide towards the end of June, some years ago.
He has a sexual pen pal named Martha Clifford, whom he has never met. He incorrectly suspects Molly of multiple affairs and correctly suspects that on this very day, June 16, 1904, Molly is going to sleep with "Blazes" Boylan. Joyce redefines the traditional concept of hero to emphasize not only pacifism, but commitment to family ties, concern for the human needs of others, sense of self, tolerance and decency.
Joyce thought Jews embodied the aforementioned qualities. He sees in those values an alternative to the bellicosity of Irish patriotism and intolerance of Irish Catholicism. Neither circumcised not the son of a Jewish mother, Bloom is technically not a Jew.
But Joyce understands that Bloom has a Jewish identity because as the son of a Jewish father who emigrated to Ireland, he is regarded as a Jew, an outsider by his fellow Dubliners. We realize that he has no choice as to whether he is a Jew or not. Because he is always other to the Dubliners with whom he interacts.
Bloom is not only what Stephen requires, but what Dublin requires. That Bloom may be the solution to Stephen's problem is suggested by the opening of the episode "Calypso," with its emphasis upon the nominalistic world of experience. Quote, "Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crust crumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all, he like grilled mutton kidneys, which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine," unquote.
That we are in a radically different world from Stephens is indicated by the syntax with its straightforward bright and vibrant progression from subject to predicate to object. While Stephen interprets or reads the world in terms of his abstractions, Bloom responds in terms of what he has learned from his experience. Bloom is not interested in theories and abstractions for their own sake.
Bloom's imagination and emotional resilience enable him to face the disappointments and frustrations of his life. Yet as we become aware of his sexual life and Molly's adultery, we understand how partial a loaf Bloom is accepting. Nevertheless, in contrast to Stephen's obsessive preoccupation with the old woman of Ireland, figured in his imagination by the milk woman whom Stephen imagines with "old shrunken paps and wrinkled finger," the midwives on the Strand and the old woman of his parable and [? Aeolus, ?] Bloom, after similarly perceiving an old woman as the personification of his people, rejects the metaphor in favor of enriching personal memories and fantasies.
No sooner does reality intrude on his fantasy of reviving the Holy Land, quote, "No no, not like that. [? Barren ?] land, bare waste, volcanic lake, the Dead Sea, no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the Earth, no wind would lift these waves. Dead, an old woman's, the great sunken cunt of the world," unquote. Then he turns to thoughts of the warmth of his sharing his bed with Molly, quote, "Be near our ample bed-warmed flesh, yes, yes," unquote.
What Bloom, this modern Odysseus must do is cast off his thralldom to Molly as Calypso, and by displacing her suitors, restore himself to the position of husband of Penelope. For Bloom, however, Calypso is not so much an external person as a state of mind. The thralldom he must and indeed does, for the most part, overcome, is an obsessive preoccupation with three concerns, his personal and racial past, his mortality, and his wife's and 15-year-old daughter's sexuality.
"Lotus Eaters," the fifth episode, is the first of the three public episodes which takes place between breakfast and lunch. As we make our way through "Lotus Eaters," "Hades" and "Aeolus," we realize that most Dubliners seem to have very little work to do. Ironically, Bloom's sexual reveries throughout the day are the lotus leaves which retard his journey.
That Joyce calls the technique of "Lotus Eaters" quote, "narcissism," unquote, indicates, among other things, that a certain amount of self love is necessary to survive in the modern city. One has to be on guard against petty swindlers like M'Coy, potential adulterers like "Blazes," and alert to the small pleasures of a public bath or a covert dalliance by correspondence. Befitting an episode whose technique is narcissism, Bloom thinks rather more of his own interests than he does in "Calypso" and "Hades," the preceding and subsequent episodes.
Bloom's pride and rationality enable him to resist the narcotics of sloth, gambling, male camaraderie, and Catholicism. While Stephen's sexual revelries are adolescent, incomplete, narcissistic and abstract, quote, "Touch me, soft eyes, soft, soft, hand. I am lonely here. Oh, touch me soon, now," unquote. Bloom's memories of passion, drawing upon the first intercourse with Molly on the house, are personal and vibrant.
Quote, "Lips kissed, kissing, kissed, full gluey women's lips," unquote. After Stephen's effort to escape the demands and responsibilities of his life by living in literary and personal abstractions, Bloom says yes to life. Thinking of the day Rudy might have been conceived, he thinks, quote, "How life begins," unquote.
Then reluctantly accepting Milly's adolescence and the potential of her having sexual experience with a young student named Bannon, he thinks, quote, "Yes yes, a woman too. Life, life," unquote. Are we not to contrast Bloom's worldly acceptance of sexuality and the phases of human life with Stephen's life-denying fixations, which have been shaped by his pride, willed isolation, and his rigid Catholic upbringing?
While Bloom accepts his body, takes pleasure in bathing, and is fascinated by the possibility of a woman washing his navel, Stephen is repelled by the idea of someone else giving him a bath. Quote, "Bath, a most private thing. I wouldn't let my brother, not even my own brother, a most lascivious thing. Green eyes, I see you," unquote.
In "Hades," the sixth episode, Bloom uses the occasion of Paddy Dignam's funeral to come to terms with his own mortality. A crucial issue for a post-christian world is how one comes to terms with death. In the "Hades" episode, we see that for Joyce the stream of consciousness is not merely a technique, but a value, a value that affirms the interior space of the mind in contrast to the external world of the Homeric source.
We recall that Odysseus descends into hell in search of Elpenor's ghost after the ladder has fallen off a roof in a drunken stupor. That Bloom's descent into hell delves into his memories shows how the modern hero functions in interior psychological space. Haunted by memories of the dead, guilt, morbid associations, and feelings of social alienation from his companions, Bloom's hell is his own consciousness.
And the means of extricating himself must also be found there. The emblem of mortality in "Hades" is the obese gray rat that Bloom sees in the graveyard at the end of the chapter. Quote, "An obese gray toddled along the side of the crypt, moving the pebbles. An old stager-- great grandfather, he knows the ropes, the grey alive crushed itself in under the plinth, wriggled itself in under it. Good hiding place for treasure," unquote.
Death is the antagonist of Hades. Not only does the chapter mention various kinds of death, suicide, drowning, sudden death in one's sleep, infant death, even the death of a bird, but the texture of the language as in Joyce's The Dead, is imbued with death. Quote, "Dead side of the street, this," unquote. Quote, "Give us a touch, Poldy. I'm dying for it," unquote.
In "Aeolus," the seventh episode, Joyce uses the perspective of modern journalism to present the moral anatomy of Dublin. He builds on the satire of Dublin life in "Lotus Eaters" and "Hades." In these three chapters in which Dublin becomes a character in the novel with its own collective personality, the organs, genitals in "Lotus Eaters," heart in "Hades," lungs in "Aeolus," are those necessary for life to continue from moment to moment and from generation to generation.
To understand this chapter, it may be helpful to think of Stephen as the protagonist and Ireland as the antagonist. Dublin, as a character in the novel, is suffering from moral paralysis. Its citizens speak of Ireland, an empty and hyperbolic rhetoric, including an oft-invoked supposed parallel between the Irish and the Jews.
The episode ends with Stephen using his wittily cynical Parable of the Plums to debunk pathetically the hyperbolic Irish rhetoric that glibly compares the Irish with the Jews and the Egyptians with the English. Joyce wants us readers to understand that because Stephen's art is progressing here towards the mythic method, that it is essential to the art of Ulysses. And because he now takes public themes as a subject, he has perceptibly developing into the narrative presence who is telling Ulysses.
Moreover, Stephen's parable educates us to read the novel metaphorically. In Stephen's bit of parable, the mid-wives, his ironic version of the old women of Ireland, spit plum pits on the barren ground. While fascinated with the statue of Lord Nelson, quote, "They put the bag of plums between them and eat the plums out of it, one after another, wiping off with their handkerchief the plum juice that dribbled out of their mouths and spitting the plum stones slowly out between the railings," unquote.
What Ireland needs is fertility and renewal. What these women do is spit seeds upon concrete where they cannot grow. Ireland [? sears ?] the heirs to the [? pisca ?] side of paradise, are two self-indulgent old women.
That the phallic statue of the adulterous Nelson, Britain's hero, dominates Dublin, emphasizes Ireland's illicit relationship with England. And a sensationalized and corrupt diction deliberately reminiscent of the excesses of yellow journalism, the final headline in this newspaper episode stresses the lewd implication of the scene. Quote, "Diminished digits prove too titillating for frisky frumps. Ann Wimbles, Flo Wangles, yet can you blame them?", unquote.
Joyce took his one model, the Passover haggadah. The word haggadah means telling. And the reading of the haggadah celebrates the continuity of the Jewish experience and the optimism for the future.
The technique of the Jewish haggadah is to focus on the essence of the Jewish experience, the Passover narrative with the stress on the flight from Egypt, while using allusions to place the Passover narrative at the center of concentric circles, which evoked the entire Jewish experience. Including the diaspora, for which the 40 years in the wilderness can be taken as a prefiguration.
Indeed, the haggadah traditionally has assimilated to its telling new trials. The Holocaust, pogroms, the establishment of the state of Israel, the persecution of the Jews in Russia, or in any other place. Joyce draws upon this elastic and protean tradition to imply that Ulysses is to be regarded as the haggadah of the Irish experience.
In the eighth episode, "Lestrygonians," Bloom recalls his first intercourse on the Howth with Molly. The very scene she recalls in her final reverie, as she turns her passionate attention to Bloom, quote, "Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweet sour of her spittle.
Joy-- I ate it-- joy. Young like, her lips that gave me pouting, soft, warm sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons, a nanny goat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed, warmfolded.
Wildly I lay on her, kissed her eyes, her lips, her stretched neck, beating, woman's breast full in her blouse of nun's veiling, fat nipples upright, hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding, she tossed my hair, kissed. She kissed me," unquote. Recalling a moment of shared passionate intimacy and tender love, the above recollection gives new meaning to a series of thoughts that Bloom has had.
For one thing, it is a kind of ironic Arcadia that momentarily pacifies his anxieties about social violence and allays his fixation on Molly's adultery. Moreover, he has associated satisfying his hunger with sexual fulfillment. In "Calypso," quote, "To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pans, sizzling butter, be near her ample bedwarm flesh, yes yes," unquote.
Since warmth is something his intimate life still retains, does not the memory of sharing a bed with Molly help him to overcome gloom in "Hades?" Quote, "Feel live warm beings near you. Let them sleep in their maggoty beds. Warm beds-- warm full-blooded life," unquote.
In her final reverie, Molly remembers Bloom's calling her, quote, "My mountain flower," unquote. Yet Bloom's memory of the goats defecating anticipates the analism of his hallucinations and his practice of licking Molly's behind. And finally, Bloom has trouble sustaining his reverie of better days and poignantly returns to the copulating flies, his metaphors for the copulation of Molly and "Blazes."
Quote, "Me and me now, stuck. The flies buzzed," unquote. Bloom's imagination and emotional resilience enable him to face the disappointments and frustrations of his life, including Molly's adultery with "Blazes" Boylan this very day. Joyce contrasts Bloom's characteristic Jewish turn toward tomorrow and acceptance of today, even while being fully conscious of the frustrations and disappointments of the past with the Irish preoccupation with a romanticized version of the past and the Catholic obsession with dwelling on past sins and measuring every action according to a strict and narrow barometer of sin and grace.
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A Professor of English and the Stephen H. Weiss Professor of English, I am the Joyce specialist at Cornell where I have taught generations of students for 35 years. I have taken particular pleasure teaching Ulysses at Cornell not only because of the world class Joyce collection in the Rare Book room of Olin Library, but because Ithaca is the place to which Ulysses yearns to return and name of the episode in Joyce's novel in which Bloom returns home.
Because of its difficulty, Ulysses is best read in a community, whether it be a class or a reading group. It is also best read over the course of a semester as the one book in a course, so that students can wrestle with it, savor it, learn the how to read it, reread it, and have it become part of their lives. Read this way, Joyce's masterwork will accompany them as long as they are sentient. Using Molly Bloom's response "O Rocks . . . .Tell us in plain words" -- to Leopold Bloom's explanation of metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls), I shall stress that Ulysses is a readable novel rather than an elaborate puzzle or a Rosetta Stone or a hieroglyph.
This video is part 3 of 9 in the Reading James Joyce's Ulysses series.