Ulysses by James Joyce: Part 3

by Paul Mathers


I have reached a point of great frustration with James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is this: that I can’t just sit and read it to the exclusion of work and all other responsibilities of life. I love books that demand that I throw myself into them. I love books that devour me and spit me out a different person than I was when I started. This is one such book. I just want to disappear into it.

Bloom enters the offices of his newspaper, which is his place of employment. This section is split up under bold headings (like a newspaper, you see). The men in the newspaper office are a bit like roughhousing horses in their banter, much like a group of men in a working environment. “The Professor” brings in more talk about links to the classical and the desperation over the dying Irish language. Also Hamlet. Also foot and mouth disease. There also seems to be a motif of Onanism. I think this last one speaks to the time, the modern world as separate, alienating, isolating, loveless in a way.

These motifs could be synchronicities or they could simply be what is boiling in the collective unconscious of that corner of space/time (if there really is a difference between the two). These are men in various places of their lives from The Professor’s place of intellectual headship, waxing elegiac over Greek as the language of the mind, to J.J. O’Molloy’s general process of decline to Mr. Simon Dedalus who seems bitter over the loss of his wife and the state of his son’s life. There is a point later when Hamlet is quoted again:

“Hamlet, I am thy father’s spirit

Doomed for a certain time to walk the earth.”

That’s Simon.

The narrative itself does not give many indicators of how we are supposed to feel about a certain person, so the few times when it does, it seems like we are called upon to take great notice.

We have another odd Modernist breach in Stephen Dedalus. He isn’t quite the hero, is he? At the very least he is not our protagonist (or main character might be more appropriate to describe Bloom). I know I can’t be alone in this, but I WANT to be following him. I think the Key that I read before starting commented on how Stephen jumps in and out like a flea and we are delighted when he shows up. This is definitely the case for me. I also find myself picturing Stephen as Joyce himself.

These newspapermen, his coworkers, seem to have little to no respect for Bloom. Such is life in the workplace I suppose. There always seems to be the type who decide to take a disliking to one of their coworkers for no good reason at all. ‘Twas ever thus.

Bloom wanders around a bit, taking us along in his consciousness stream. The memory of a crucifix nightlight to the Catholic tendency towards rampant childbearing.

I had another point of looking up something because I did a triple-take when I came to this line:

“Like getting L.s.d. out of him.”

Knowing this to have been first published in full in 1922. It isn’t acid. It is the abbreviations for pound, schilling, and pence. Funny how words and terms change.

There is so much to comment on, far more than I ever could, and I suppose that’s rather like a day. Bloom is still in his mourning clothes and this fills people he meets with an unease. A humorous unease. Some ask; some speculate behind his back. Bloom reflects on birth and mortality moments after feeding some bird:

“One born every second somewhere. Other dying every second. Since I fed the birds five minutes. Three hundred kicked the bucket. Other three hundred born, washing the blood off, all are washed in the blood of the lamb, bawling maaaaaa.”

Here is one of the moments of clarity and awareness of the immensity of existence- arguably one thesis of the piece. About a page later, Bloom remembers the old days and thinks on how he was happier then. Then he second guesses that. Is he happier now or was he happier then? That is the side effect of nostalgia.

Bloom goes to a reeking pub filled with disgusting men eating sloppily, but thinks better of it and goes to a humbler pub. He wanders in thought a bit more and then we find ourselves in the library. And in one of the most perfect chapters in the English language.

Stephen Dedalus is holding court, explaining his theory of Shakespeare to some of his intelligentsia friends. Again, this is one of my favorite things that I’ve read so far and I don’t just mean in this book. I mean as in ever. And as such I don’t feel like writing in too much depth about it as I am still in the glow of reading it, but I will make a few comments.

Dedalus and his friends also have a bit of that roughhousing horses energy to them. Stephen says that Hamlet is reading the book of himself… which is what Stephen is doing too, right? He says that Shakespeare works in local color, works in everything he knows and makes them accomplices. Which is what Joyce is doing, right?

He then proves to us that Shakespeare is Hamlet’s ghost, that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, and that all of Shakespeare’s characters are Shakespeare (a Jungian interpretation). There is so much more to leave unsaid, but I think this entry has probably gone on long enough.

More soon.