Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 17

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

This episode corresponds to Odysseus’ return home to Ithaca in Homer’s Odyssey. According to SparkNotes, it is “narrated in the third person through a set of 309 questions and their detailed and methodical answers, in the style of a catechism or Socratic dialogue.” Since I’m not a Catholic, I can’t really say that it was like a catechism, but I will say that for me, the style resembled the method of scientific inquiry, where one seeks to get to the truth or prove a theory by posing a series of questions. It is strange reading, since much of what takes place in the episode is discussion between Bloom and Stephen, and then later Bloom telling Molly about his day, yet there is noticeably no dialog whatsoever in this episode.

In Joyce’s novel, Bloom also returns home, but it is not a triumphant return such as with Odysseus. He realizes he does not have his key and is locked out. After Stephen leaves, Bloom bumps his head on furniture that has been moved, adding to the sense that although he is home, it does not feel like home. He then gets into bed with Molly who is asleep at that point and notices signs that Blazes Boylan had been there and had sex with Molly in their bed. I can’t help but feel sad for Bloom.

As with all the episodes in this book, this one is also packed with lots of symbolism, so I am just going to focus on a few passages that were key for me on this reading.

Bloom is depicted as feeling dejected. He had hopes of doing significant things with his life, but he feels as if he never did.

Why would a recurrent frustration the more depress him?

Because at the critical turningpoint of human existence he desired to amend many social conditions, the product of inequality and avarice and international animosity.

(p. 696)

As Stephen is leaving, both he and Bloom step outside and together they look up at the stars. Bloom has an epiphany as he realizes his connection to the universe. He envisions universes within himself, universes within each atom that composes everything in existence. It seems as if he grasps the connection between the scientific and the mystical, as symbolized by astrology. It is a fairly long passage, but it warrants including here.

With what meditations did Bloom accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?

Mediations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Major) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Acturus: of the procession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Were there obverse meditations of involution increasingly less vast?

Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratifications of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in the cavities of the earth, beneath removable stones, in hives and mounds, of microbes, germs, bacteria, bacilli, spermatozoa: of the incalculable trillions of billions of millions of imperceptible molecules contained in cohesion of molecular affinity in a single pinhead: of the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible components bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

(pp. 698 – 699)

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

Bloom’s epiphany continues as he realizes that god is ineffable. It is impossible for any human to understand and know the divine source, we can only use symbols as a way to allow us a glimpse of the true essence of the divine.

His (Bloom’s) logical conclusion, having weighed the matter and allowing for possible error?

That it was not a heaventree, not a heavengrot, not a heavenbeast, not a heavenman. That it was a Utopia, there being no known method from the known to the unknown: an infinity, renderable equally finite by the suppositious probable apposition of one or more bodies equally of the same and of different magnitudes: a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in air: a past which possibly had ceased to exist as a present before its future spectators had entered actual present existence.

(p. 701)

Bloom then gazes at the moon. As he does so, he recognizes the lunar orb as a symbol for the goddess.

What special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?

Her antiquity in preceding and surviving successive tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising, and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant implacable resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.

(p. 702)

After getting into bed with Molly and noticing the signs of Boylan having been there, Bloom seems to resign himself and kisses Molly’s buttocks, which wakens her. It is revealed that they have not been intimate for 10 years, which would explain Molly’s affairs. After Bloom finishes telling her about his day, they lay in silence. Above them, the light from the lamp casts concentric circles on the ceiling, representing the eternal cycles of life-death-rebirth, and also the cycles of myths as represented in stories.

What moved visibly above the listener’s and the narrator’s invisible thoughts?

The upcast reflection of a lamp and shade, an inconstant series of concentric circles of varying gradations of light and shadow.

(p. 736)

Molly is then depicted as the Earth Goddess from which all life is born and to which all life returns. Bloom becomes the archetype of the weary traveler, at the end of his journey, returning to the womb of the divine female source from which he was created, thus ready to begin the cycle once again.

In what posture?

Listener: reclined, semilaterally, left, left hand under head, right leg extended in a straight line and resting on left leg, flexed, in the attitude of Gea-Tullus, fulfilled, recumbent, big with seed. Narrator: reclined laterally, left, with right and left legs flexed, the indexfinger and thumb of the right hand resting on the bridge of the nose, in the attitude depicted on a snapshot photograph made by Percy Apjohn, the childman weary, the manchild in the womb.

Womb? Weary?

He rests. He has travelled.

(p. 737)

The episode ends with an unanswered question.

Where?

BlackDot

(p. 737)

The question is left unanswered because the tale is eternal. Bloom has returned to his point of origin and the cycle must begin again, and the myth, like all existence, must continue in the never-ending circle.

This is, in fact, the end of the tale for Leopold Bloom. The final episode is Molly’s famous internal soliloquy, which I will cover in my next post.


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

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1 Comment

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One response to “Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 17

  1. Pingback: Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18 | Stuff Jeff Reads

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