DANIEL R. SCHWARZ: As Joyce's schema indicates, each of the episodes between 10 and 14 has its own characteristic style, Wandering Rocks dramatizes the spiritual and cultural sterility, and the moral cannibalism that Ulysses must address. By presenting and implicitly discarding the church personified by Father Conmee, and the secular authority personified by the viceroy, the Earl of Dudley, Joyce is establishing the need for Bloom, the contemporary Elijah figure, whose humanistic values offer hope, the need for Stephen, the putative artist whose creative imagination and prophetic vision will redeem Ireland, and in particular, Dublin, its morally paralyzed urban wasteland. And the need for Molly, who will redeem Ireland through her sexuality, passion, and the enjoyment of the physical.
In its 19 vignettes, Wandering Rocks shows the specific effects of Ireland's position as a servant to England and Roman Catholicism. The city of Dublin is the major character of Wandering Rocks. An episode with only the most indirect parallels to The Odyssey. The fragmented episode emphasizes the purposeless movement of the city's population at 3 o'clock, a time when the day's work ought to be reaching a climax.
At the very center of the epic, the major characters are relegated to minor roles, as if to stress that no man in the modern world can be continually foregrounded as if he were an epic hero. But even here, Bloom's focus on Molly overcomes Joyce's structural condescension to engage the reader. The 11th episode, sirens tests and, on the whole, discards the possibility that language can use the techniques of music. According to Joyce's schema, the organ is the ear and the symbol is music, that he called the technique, fuga per canonem, has generated some abstruse commentary analyzing the chapters fugal structure. But that need not concern us here.
Joyce, who in 1904, was still thinking of a singing career, explores whether the universal language of music can tell us something about the paradigmatic family relationships-- father and son, husband and wife, that he believed were common to all cultures and civilization. Bloom's anxieties, fantasies, and evasions, rather than external figures, are the most important sirens that keep Bloom from returning to Molly, and his proper sexual role in his home.
Internal sirens takes the form of his imaginative transformations of external sexual stimuli. The letter from Martha Clifford, the playful anonymous sexuality of the bargirls, Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy, the pornographic sweets of sins, and the approach of Blazes' and Molly's rendezvous. His imaginative transformation is a version of misreading that Joyce's wanting us readers to avoid, even while knowing such misreading, in terms of our own hopes and fears, is inevitable.
The second half of the chapter confirms Joyce's interest in and respect for Bloom's humanity, for Bloom thinks, because he has not had intercourse with Molly since Rudy died, of Blazes and Molly in association with the son he lacks. Quote, "he bore no hate. Hate, love, those are names. Rudy, soon I am old." unquote.
The next episode, Cyclops, is the climax of the public theme of the novel. The 12th episode, it is sandwiched between sirens and Nausicaa. Two episodes in which Bloom is in danger of being diverted by sexual reveries and self-pity, not only from his private mission to return home, and to re-establish his conjugal relationship with Molly, but also from demonstrating his humanness to community values. It takes place at 5:00 PM in Barney Kiernan's pub, which is presided over by an anonymous boor called the Citizen. And quote, "that bloody, mangy, mongrel," unquote, dog, Gary Owen.
The pub is inhabited by a group of bigoted, xenophobic, self-styled patriots, whose violent, aggressive behavior contrasts with the humanism and androgyny of Leopold Paula Bloom. It's art is politics, and its technique is gigantism. After this chapter, the book returns to its emphasis on the interrelationships among the three characters, and between them and the narrative presence. In this chapter, the Irish are not only intolerant of any nation other than their own, but are lost in a welter of ineffective rhetoric.
Joyce might have expected the reader to recall Homer's descriptions of the Cyclops in section 9 of The Odyssey, as quote, "an overweening and lawless people who did not so plants with their hands and who do not plow, they have neither assemblies for holding councils nor laws. Each one dispenses the laws for his children and his wives, and is not concerned for the others." unquote.
The Citizen is the most obvious Cyclops figure, a polyphemus who would physically attack Bloom. When, in his characteristically bitter cynical tone, the Citizen says of Bloom, quote, "a new apostle to the Gentiles," unquote, and quote, "that's the new messiah for Ireland," unquote, he is unwittingly announcing Bloom's importance.
As we shall see, Molly's acceptance of Bloom in the final paragraph, as our menstruation begins, makes possible the birth of a male child, who might be the messiah in the form of a figure either hero or artist who would effectively espouse the humanistic Bloomian values on which Ireland's redemption depends. Bloom's articulate, eloquent, and courageous response gives an affirmative answer to John Wise's question, quote, "why can't a Jew love his country like the next fellow?" unquote.
Indeed, it is in this chapter, that Bloom publicly affirms his identity as a Jew, something he deliberately refrained from acknowledging when he encountered his fellow Jew, the pork butcher. Quote, "and I belong to a race, too, that is hated and persecuted, also now, this very moment, this very instant." unquote.
Bloom is acknowledging his Jewish identity in such a way that it becomes a return to his racial heritage. That Bloom asserts himself and his values in a hostile environment is part of his growth. His answer also affirms the potential of language in the face of the attacks on meaning and coherence by the two principal narrators in this episode to communicate values and feelings.
Bloom's self-respect, concern for others, courage, and tolerance, undermine the twin mockery of the snarling bitter society's vigor and the hyperbolic blarney of the Irish folk legend. Both of them are the narrators of this episode. He presents a humanistic alternative to the sterility and paralysis of Dublin, despite the mockery of the begrudging petty denizen of the Citizen's pub and the romantic speakers pathetic grandiloquent style, Bloom emerges as a vessel of value.
His language and values are strikingly different from the two narrators and the other characters. In his dialogue with The Citizen and his cohorts, Bloom's syntax and diction affirm the value of a language of direct statement, a language that reflects the speaker's attitude and values, in this case Bloom's humanity, integrity, and sincerity with clarity and precision.
Let us turn to the 13th episode entitled Nausicaa, where Bloom encounters Gerty McDowell, a 22-year-old woman on the strand, and they mutually masturbate while sexually fantasizing. The exaggerated third person feminine style of Nausicaa, anticipating Molly's breathless, digressive self-immersed first person narrative of Penelope, is the counterplot of the reductive masculine styles in Cyclops. The third person's style is appropriate for Gerty's mind.
Unlike Molly, whose sexual pride enables her to transcend cultural stereotypes, and retain an independent identity, Gerty's mind is so steeped in cultural stereotypes that it has lost its capacity for independence. 22, like Stephen, the virginal, but very sexual Gerdy is desperate for sexual experiences, and lacking them, substitutes her own poignant fantasies.
Yet Gerdy is a far more sympathetic figure than most critics allow, for what she refuses to be confined by the cliches of her style, and subconsciously, by asserting her right to her fantasies, comes to terms with, even if she does not quite overcome, the restraints of her Catholicism. Notwithstanding, the severe limitations of her perspective, she gradually becomes more complex as she strays from her virginal romantic ideals in the first paragraphs, and begin to express her real emotions, and in her first act of defiant exhibitionism, her sexual needs.
Roman Catholicism is one of the novel's major antagonists, in part, because it makes sex and the physical body a problem. In contrast to Gerdy and Stephen, the 15-year-old Millie and her father except sexuality and the body. In Joyce's epic, the bodily functions and the physical life are celebrated. In the second half of Nausicaa, the narrator gradually restores Bloom to his stature as a character.
For one thing, Bloom's perspective makes his masturbations seem natural, human, and harmless. He rationalizes that, quote, "might have made a worse fool of myself, however." unquote. For another, he now seems to be able to resume his focus on the problems of others, especially Mrs. Purefoy and on Molly.
When, in the next episode, Oxen of the Sun, Bloom is visiting his friend, Mrs. Purefoy, who is having a baby in the hospital. Bloom sees Stephen carousing with his housemate, Mulligan, and some other fellows. At the conclusion, Bloom follows Stephen into the bawdy district of Dublin, because he is worried that Stephen's companions will lead him astray. That Joyce conceived the episode in part as one in which Bloom metaphorically fertilizes Stephen as an artist is clear from a letter written to Frank Budgen by Joyce.
Quote, "I'm working hard at Oxen of the Sun, the idea being the crime committed against fecundity by sterilizing the act of coition, Bloom is to spermatozoen, the hospital, the womb, the nurse, the ovum, Stephen, the embryo." unquote. The very self-consciousness of the chapter calls attention to the relationship between the 1922 teller and the 1904 artist. We realize that the 1904 Stephen might have been able to have written the pastiche of styles, but it is the fictionalized Joyce of later years who could have appreciated Bloom's stature.
In Oxen of the Sun, Bloom's humanity triumphs over the self-conscious artistry of the narrator's ventriloquism, and resists the attempts of the diverse styles to deprive him of stature. Bloom's concern for Mrs. Purefoy and Stephen strikingly contrast with the chapter's obsessive interest in stylistic matters.
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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 5 of 9 in the Reading James Joyce's Ulysses series.