Tag Archives: emanation

Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 10

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This episode corresponds with the Wandering Rocks, or Planctae, in Homer’s Odyssey.

In the Odyssey of Homer, the sorceress Circe tells Odysseus of the “Wandering Rocks” or “Roving Rocks” that have only been successfully passed by the Argo when homeward bound. These rocks smash ships and the remaining timbers are scattered by the sea or destroyed by flames. The rocks lie on one of two potential routes to Ithaca; the alternative, which is taken by Odysseus, leads to Scylla and Charybdis. Furthermore, in the Odyssey of Homer, it was Hera, for her love of Jason, who sped the Argo through the Symplegades safely.

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Joyce’s book, this episode is broken into 19 subsections, each symbolic of a wandering rock. Each of the subsections focuses on one of the characters in the book while that character makes his or her way through Dublin. Throughout each of these parts, glimpses of other characters pop up. These out-of-place paragraphs represent the danger of trying to navigate the episode and having dangerous, unforeseen shards of text suddenly appear, causing you to crash. The final subsection is a complete chaotic mashup of all the characters, which culminates the final thrust of effort needed to clear the chapter.

The following section provides a good example of the text in this episode. Individuals are depicted as wandering around, having haphazard collisions with other people while chucks of text from other subsections suddenly appear.

A onelegged sailor crutched himself around MacConnell’s corner, skirting Rabaiotti’s icecream car, and jerked himself up Eccles street. Towards Larry O’Rourke, in shirtsleeves in his doorway, he growled unamiably

For England . . .

He swung himself violently forward past Katey and Boody Dedalus, halted and growled:

home and beauty.

J. J. O’Molloy’s white careworn face was told that Mr. Lambert was in the warehouse with a visitor.

A stout lady stopped, took a copper coin from her purse and dropped it into the cap held out to her. The sailor grumbled thanks and glanced sourly at the unheeding windows, sank his head and swung himself forward four strides.

He halted and growled angrily:

For England . . .

Two barefoot urchins, sucking liquorice laces, halted near him, gaping at his stump with their yellow-slobbered mouths.

He swung himself forward in vigorous jerks, halted, lifted his head towards a window and bayed deeply:

home and beauty.

(p. 225)

The last thing I would like to mention about this episode is that I believe there is hidden number mysticism woven in, which is unseen, just as the wandering rocks. The episode is comprised of 19 subsections. In Jewish kabbalistic number mysticism, this would be combined as 1 + 9 to give us the number 10. Ten is the episode number and it is also the number of sephirot in the kabbalistic Tree of Life. An explanation of the sephirot is far beyond the scope of this post, so I will simplify for those who need and say that according to Jewish mysticism, the sephirot are the building blocks of all existence. Everything that exists is a result of God’s emanation through the sephirot. Again, this is a very simplified version, but it’s my belief that Joyce hid number mysticism throughout Ulysses and the fact that the primary character in the book is Jewish would lead me to suspect that the hidden numeric symbolism is Jewish in nature. I will expand on this idea in future posts, when the time is right.

For those of you interested in learning more about the symbolism in the kabbalah, I recommend On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism by Gershom Scholem.

My next post on Ulysses will cover Episode 11 which ends on page 291 in my book with the phrase “Done.”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section10.rhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planctae

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 3

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This episode is a little more challenging than the first two. Stephen Dedalus is walking along the beach and everything that happens is stream of consciousness thoughts in his mind stirred by recent events and by the things he observes. There is only one single line of spoken dialog which occurs outside Stephen’s mind, and that is when a person on the beach calls to his dog.

This episode corresponds to Proteus in the Homeric epic.

According to Homer (Odyssey iv:412), the sandy island of Pharos situated off the coast of the Nile Delta was the home of Proteus, the oracular Old Man of the Sea and herdsman of the sea-beasts. In the Odyssey, Menelaus relates to Telemachus that he had been becalmed here on his journey home from the Trojan War. He learned from Proteus’ daughter, Eidothea (“the very image of the Goddess”), that if he could capture her father he could force him to reveal which of the gods he had offended, and how he could propitiate them and return home. Proteus emerged from the sea to sleep among his colony of seals, but Menelaus was successful in holding him, though Proteus took the forms of a lion, a serpent, a leopard, a pig, even of water or a tree. Proteus then answered truthfully, further informing Menelaus that his brother Agamemnon had been murdered on his return home, that Ajax the Lesser had been shipwrecked and killed, and that Odysseus was stranded on Calypso’s Isle Ogygia.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Proteus is the perfect symbol for Stephen’s subconscious mind, which is the source of his fluid, streaming thoughts. The unconscious mind, like the sea, is fluid and constantly moving and changing, with thoughts rising, falling, and swirling like waves and ripples upon the surface.

In modern times, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung defined the mythological figure of Proteus as a personification of the unconscious, who, because of his gift of prophecy and shape-changing, has much in common with the central but elusive figure of alchemy, Mercurius.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Early in the episode, Stephen closes his eyes as he walks along the shoreline. The shore symbolizes the threshold between his waking conscious state represented by the land and the fluid unconscious represented by the sea. Once his eyes are closed, the sounds and rhythms of the sea begin to affect his mind as he starts to shift into a state dominated by his unconscious. Joyce employs onomatopoeia to mimic the crackling sounds which Stephen hears as he slips deeper into his unconscious.

Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush cracking wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o’er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick. Wild sea money. Dominie Deasy kens them a’.

Won’t you come to Sandymount,
Madeline the mare?

(p. 37)

At one point deep in Stephen’s reverie, his thoughts drift to the Martello tower and he vows not to sleep there that evening. As this happens, he experiences a moment of connection with his soul. I interpreted this in several ways. First, it is an expression of the conscious mind becoming aware of the unconscious mind, as he teeters on the shore between states of consciousness. Next, it is a reference to the Platonic concept of the form, which is the archetype from which all subsequent incarnations are emanated. It’s worth noting here that on page 38, Joyce incorporates a reference to Adam Kadmon, which in Jewish kabbalistic thought is the form from which man is created. Finally, the mention of Elsinore in this passage implies a connection between Stephen and Hamlet, Hamlet being the literary expression of Stephen’s inner-self. Since the soul is ineffable, it is only through art that one can come close to expressing the hidden part of ourselves, hence the connection to Hamlet.

Turning, he scanned the shore south, his feet sinking again slowly in new sockets. The cold domed room of the tower waits. Through the barbicans the shafts of light are moving ever, slowly ever as my feet are sinking, creeping duskward over the dial floor. Blue dusk, nightfall, deep blue night. In the darkness of the dome they wait, their pushedback chairs, my obelisk valise, around a board of abandoned platters. Who to clear it? He has the key. I will not sleep there when this night comes. A shut door of a silent tower entombing their blind bodies, the pathersahib and his pointer. Call: no answer. He lifted his feet up from the suck and turned back by the mole of boulders. Take all, keep all. My sould walks with me, form of forms. So in the moon’s midwatches I pace the path above the rocks, in sable silvered, hearing Elsinore’s tempting flood.

(p.44)

During his walk on the beach, Stephen encounters the carcass of a dead dog: “A bloated carcass of a dog lay lolled on bladderwrack” (p. 44). I had to look up bladderwrack and learned it is a type of seaweed that was originally used to make iodine. Anyway, although Joyce makes a connection in the text to “Gautier’s prose,” I personally could not help envisioning Baudelaire’s “A Carcass.” The rotting carcass as a symbol of decay, both physically and spiritually, seems to tie in with Stephen’s current state of mind.

Near the end of the episode, the imagery of water as a symbol for the unconscious becomes prominent. In addition, seaweed is used as a symbol for fragments of thought, which are swirled about in the currents of the subconscious, strands which move about making what seem to be random connections, almost like the synapses from the brain’s neurons.

Under the upswelling tide he saw the writhing weeds lift languidly and sway reluctant arms, hising up their petticoats, in whispering water swaying and upturning coy silver fronds.

(p. 49)

Next week I’ll cover Episode 4, which ends on page 70 in my book with the phrase “Poor Dignam!” See you then.


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:


 

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proteus

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section3.rhtml

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Black Science: Issue #3

BlackScience_03

In this third installment, the writer introduces a cool name for the inter-dimensional travelers: dimensionauts. Very nice! I like that a lot.

Anyway, I had expected (based upon how Issue 2 ended) that this one would focus on the techno-shaman, but not so much. There was a little with the shaman, but not a lot. This issue’s emphasis is on building the back story, which works well. Much of the issue is a flashback to where Grant McKay shows his kids the Pillar, which is the name for the inter-dimensional transport device that he built.

There is a great section where McKay describes how the device works.

“So here it is. The tool we will use to acquire, well—anything. The cures for cancer. Rare minerals. Unimaginable technology. Anything you can imagine exists on some layer of the Onion.”

“The Onion?”

“The building block of infiniology. The theory that anything you can imagine exists in some layer of the eververse. We call this construct ‘The Onion.’ Layer upon layer of parallel dimensions. The Pillar is the tool that pushes through these layers, allowing us to travel to these other worlds.”

“Wow.”

“Each layer represents an immeasurable number of realities, each created from the choices made by every living being in the universe. Once we map them, we can find the solution to every problem mankind faces.”

“If it is like that, layers built upon layers—what’s at the center of it?”

“That’s a damn good question, Nate. We all have our theories, but it’s just speculation. One day, some dimensionaut will travel deep enough into the Onion to find out. Maybe it will be you. Whatever is at the core, it’s the first dimension, the first life that made the first decision that then broke off into other dimensions.”

“So it’s like God?”

As I read this, I could not help thinking about Plotinus’ theory on emanation. Simplified, the theory posits that the divine source (or God if you will) exists as the center of all creation. Everything that exists is emanated from the divine source, becoming more fragmented and less divine the farther out it is emanated. The metaphor of the Onion in this comic is a great representation of Plotinus’ idea. If the center of the Onion is the divine source, then every creative thought or emanation from the first being has added a layer of reality. This is then compounded by the thoughts and actions of every living thing that came after, exponentially adding layers of reality to the universe.

So far, I really love this series. As someone who is fascinated by mysticism but at the same time loves science and technology, this comic offers the perfect blend of both. If you’re a comic geek, I highly recommend that you take the time to explore this series. Check back for my review of Issue 4 in about a month.

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“A Descent into the Maelström” by Edgar Allan Poe

DescentIntoMaelstromThis is one of my favorite short stories by Poe. I remember feeling overwhelmed the first time I read it. The imagery is so vivid and the symbolism so powerful that it made a lasting impression on me. It was over 20 years ago that I read this story last, so I decided to read it again today. I have to say; it was even more intense this time than when I read it all those years ago.

The tale is actually a story within a story, where an old man tells a younger man about an event that occurred while he was fishing. A hurricane came upon his boat while at sea and the ship was pushed into a vortex. They were drawn down into the swirling whirlpool and he was the only survivor.

In this story, the maelström is the central symbol, although there are many other symbols that Poe incorporates; such as storm, the moon, mountains, just to point out a few. For me, there are several things that the maelström represents. On one level, it is a symbol for the subconscious mind. It also represents the passage between dimensions, such as the tunnel connecting this life with the afterlife, or the passage between Heaven and Hell. Finally, on a grander scale, the maelström is God: powerful, terrifying, and beautiful all at the same time.

Water and the ocean are common symbols for consciousness: fluid, undulating, shifting. In this story, Poe uses the whirlpool as a metaphor for spiraling downward into the unseen depths of one’s consciousness. It is a terrifying experience when one loses the connection with normal reality and descends into the uncharted regions of the mind.

It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in a new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek—such a sound as you might imagine given out by the water-pipes of many thousand steam-vessels letting off their steam all together. We were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss, down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we were borne along.

Once inside the maelström, the protagonist describes the images he sees while suspended. Above, the full moon emanates rays of light; below, darkness and mystery. The words conjure images of an Heironymus Bosch painting. He is suspended between two worlds, or two realms of existence. Floating between the two worlds, he has a unique vantage of each realm.

Never shall I forget the sensation of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

When faced with the manifestation of God, the protagonist becomes aware of his insignificance in the cosmic scale of existence. He is awed by God’s power and experiences what could almost be described as rapture, as his fear is replaced by the wonder of gazing into the unfathomable depths of the Divine.

It may look like boasting—but what I tell you is truth—I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the great sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see.

While in college, I was introduced to Plotinus while taking a course on Yeats. One of Plotinus’ concepts which continues to fascinate me is that of emanation. He asserts that the Divine source is the center of all existence. Emanating from the source are concentric circles, each populated with forms emanated from the source. As forms are emanated farther and farther away from the Divine center, they become more and more fragmented. Poe includes this imagery in his depiction of the maelström, where fragments are caught in the concentric circles of the vortex.

Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building-timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company.

Poe was undoubtedly a master in the art of the short story. Sadly, though, I feel that this story is eclipsed by his more popular works. I hope that you take the time to read this story, if you have not done so already, because it truly is a masterpiece of short fiction.

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“Footnote to Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

In my last post I talked about “Howl.” At the end of that post, I promised that I would read and write about the “Footnote to Howl” next, so here we are. As a bonus, I’ve included a video of a Patti Smith performance where she reads the poem onstage with musical accompaniment. It’s excellent. Take the six minutes or so to watch it. This poem was meant to be heard, not just read.

This poem reads like a chant or an invocation, with repetition is used to reinforce the poem’s main tenet—that everything which exists in this world is holy. Everything in existence is an emanation from the divine godhead. If you hold this belief to be true, then everything that exists must be part of the divine being and therefore must also be divine. Ginsberg brilliantly juxtaposes images to force us to look at our preconceived notions of what is holy and what is not. Is the soul more holy than the genitals or asshole? Are the educated and the middle class more holy than the beggars in the street? Are the residents of one place more holy than the residents of another? Ginsberg’s answer is “no… everything is holy.” I’m inclined to agree.

There really isn’t much more to say about this poem. For me, it’s a celebration of life. It is the acceptance of people and diversity. We are all part of the divine creation, and that is a beautiful thing.

Now watch Patti Smith and be inspired! And for those of you who celebrate, have a blessed Solstice.

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“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

GolemJinniI first heard of this book on the Huffington Post. They compared it to The Night Circus, which I loved. Later, I was perusing the shelves of a local bookstore and noticed it was one of the staff recommendations. The book itself was beautiful: quality pages, stunning cover, fine quality. I was hooked. I went ahead and splurged for the hardcover edition.

The story takes place in New York City in the late 1800’s, where two mystical beings attempt to survive and avoid being discovered. They meet and as the story unfolds, they learn the secrets of the magical bond that connects them to each other. The book is very well-written with rich imagery and engaging characters. In fact, for me, I found some of the secondary characters to be the most interesting, particularly Yehudah Schaalman, the Jewish kabbalist who creates the golem.

I love books that weave mysticism and the occult into an engaging work of fiction. It’s like searching for kernels of hidden truths within a fable. This book accomplishes that magnificently. It’s an easy read, but below the surface are some thought-provoking ideas that warrant contemplation.

One of the ideas addressed in the book is the existence of the soul, particularly whether a golem can possess a soul.

On the surface, the answer was a simple no. Only the Almighty could bestow a soul, as he had ensouled Adam with His divine breath. And the Golem was a creature of man, not God. Any soul she could have would be at most partial, a fragment. (p. 157)

I’m also fascinated by the concept of fragmentation, particularly as it relates to Plotinus’ theory of emanation. The short version is this: Everything is emanated from the source, which is the Godhead. From each emanation, other emanations are put forth, expanding the act of creation. But, at each level of emanation, the thing in existence becomes more fragmented and separate from the Godhead. Hence, the golem, being removed several times from the divine source, must be more fragmented.

Throughout history, drugs have been used to alter consciousness and evoke mystic visions. I personally do not recommend this path, since the dangers far outweigh the benefits. That said, there is an interesting passage in the book where Schaalman smokes opium and envisions the world as an illusion.

He now saw that the material world was only an illusion, thin as a cob web. (p. 326)

I like the use of cob web to describe the illusion of the material world. On one level, it is woven, just like the constructed illusion which many of us have come to accept as reality. But a cob web is also diaphanous, allowing one the ability to glimpse through it. With practice, one can learn to see through the web of “reality” and glimpse visions of the infinite.

The section of this book that had one of the most powerful impacts on me is near the end. Schaalman taps into a form of the collective unconscious and is overwhelmed by the experience. While I am fascinated by the prospect of connecting with the divine consciousness, I’m also scared, for the exact reason described in this book, that a human mind can only handle so much of the collective unconsciousness before it becomes overwhelmed and possibly damaged.

The human mind is not meant to house a thousand years of memories.

At the moment of contact with the Jinni, the man who’d known himself as Yehudah Schaalman had burst apart at the seams. He became a miniature Babel, his skull crowding with his many lifetimes’ worth of thoughts, in dozens of warring languages. Faces flashed before him: a hundred different divinities, male and female, animal gods and forest spirits, their features a blurred jumble. He saw precious gilded icons and crude carved busts, holy names written in ink, in blood, in stones and colored sand. He looked down, saw that he was clothed in velvet robes and carried a silver censer; he wore nothing but chalk, and his hands were clutching chicken bones. (pp. 439 – 440)

This really is an amazing book and I recommend it to everyone. I read a fair amount of books and I can say that this is the best book I have read in quite a long time.

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