Tag Archives: Platonism

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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Male/Female Duality in “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

TwelfthNightThis was my first time reading Twelfth Night and I loved it. It was very funny and enjoyable to read. Since Twelfth Night is January 5 and concludes the twelve days of Christmas, it seemed like the right time of the year to read this.

Anyone familiar with this play knows that transvestism and homosexuality figure prominently. Viola is dressed as a man most of the play and although she loves the Duke, she inspires the love of Olivia. The Duke, although he professes his love for Olivia, seems to have at least some interest in Cesario (who is actually Viola in drag). Then there is something going on between Sebastian (Viola’s brother) and Antonio, who is a sea captain who saved Sebastian after he was shipwrecked. And if all this wasn’t crazy enough, Sir Andrew is also in love with Olivia, and Maria (who is Olivia’s attending woman and just happens to be in love with Olivia’s uncle) tricks Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, into thinking Olivia loves him and wants him to come to her cross-gartered and wearing yellow stockings. All this combined sets the stage for some great scenes and some witty dialog.

The dialog is filled with sexual innuendos and double entendres. One of my favorites is when the Duke is addressing Viola in drag and tells her how her voice is like a woman’s because of “his” young age, but in words that imply that he has a very small penis which could be mistaken for female genitalia.

… Diana’s lip
Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe
Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman’s part.

(Act I: scene iv)

The homosexual and transvestite aspects of this play could certainly be explored more, but I found something that for me was much more intriguing, that of a male/female duality. This is something that has fascinated me for a long time—the idea that the human archetype, or Platonic form, encompasses both the masculine and the feminine. In fact, one of the most thought-provoking passages from the Book of Genesis is when god creates the first “man” who is both male and female, just as the godhead appears as a dyad which is both male and female.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

(Genesis: Chapter 1, verse 26-27, King James Version)

Now let’s look at Shakespeare’s text. When the Duke sees Viola and Sebastian together, he states:

One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons,
A natural perspective that is and is not!

(Act V: scene i)

There is an implied duality here, where male and female are as one. It reminds me of Carl Jung’s concept of the animus and anima, how the human consciousness has two aspects, a masculine and a feminine.

Shortly afterwards, an allusion is made to the symbolic division of the masculine and feminine.

How have you made division of yourself?
An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin
Than these two creatures.

(Act V: scene i)

This is a clear reference to the biblical myth of Adam and Eve. According to Jewish kabbalistic ideology, the original Adam (called Adam Kadmon) was the archetype for humans and was essentially godlike, containing both the masculine and the feminine. But then the unity was split and this division ultimately led to the fall from grace and expulsion from the Garden. By incorporating the metaphor of the apple, Shakespeare reinforces the connection between Viola and Sebastian and Adam and Eve.

The genius of Shakespeare is that his work can continue to be interpreted in myriad ways. Do I think that Shakespeare consciously made these allusions to Jewish and Platonic mysticism? I would have to say that he probably didn’t. But, he clearly tapped into something greater than himself that inspired his words, words that continue to inspire today.

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“Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats

YeatsOlder

Generally, I avoid including the full text from longer poems in my posts and will instead provide a link to the online version, but “Sailing to Byzantium” deserves to be included in full. I decided to include each of the four stanzas and offer my interpretation of each stanza before moving on to the next one.

I
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.

In the opening stanza, there are two things happening here. On one level, Yeats is expressing his disillusionment with the people of Ireland. The younger generations do not appear to appreciate Ireland’s ancient heritage, nor are they interested in the noble pursuit of poetry. But in addition to that, Yeats is hinting at something deeper and infinitely more mystical, which will be unveiled later in the poem. It has to do with resurrection mythology. For now, just keep the images of old men, young people, dying generations, and trees in the back of your mind.

II
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

Here Yeats asserts that an old man is worthless, unless that aged individual possesses the ability to create poetry. And it must be poetry infused with mystical power, poetry that comes from a source that is divine of nature. In order to tap into that source, Yeats plunges himself into his subconscious mind, symbolized by the “seas,” and navigates those seas of consciousness until he reaches the mystical realm represented by the city of Byzantium.

There is a reason why Yeats chose Byzantium as the symbol for the mystical source of his poetry. In addition to being the center of classical thought in the late Hellenistic period, Byzantium had adopted the occult symbol of the star and crescent moon as their emblem. This was a result of their devotion to Hecate, whom the Byzantines believed was protecting them. (source: Wikipedia) As a practicing member of the Golden Dawn, Yeats would have viewed this connection as important, since Hecate is the goddess who is believed to endow magicians with power and knowledge.

III
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

There is a lot happening in the third stanza. The holy fire is mentioned twice, so the importance is being stressed. There are layers of symbolism here. First, the holy fire represents the spark of life, creation itself. It is also illumination and enlightenment. Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, is the association with rebirth and regeneration, like that of the phoenix. The dying god spins within the gyre of flame, preparing to reemerge as a reborn god. As the god is dying and being consumed by the holy flames, the mystic bards sing the verses of the sacred poetry which will help bring about the rebirth of the dying god.

At this point, you may be thinking that my interpretation is a bit of a stretch, but reserve judgment until you read the final stanza.

IV
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

GoldenBoughHere we have the key to the poem, which is the golden bough. Yeats would certainly have been very familiar with Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Frazer’s book is the quintessential work exploring the mythology of resurrection and the dying god. So the god does not take his “bodily form from any natural thing,” but instead comes from the realm of forms as expressed by the Platonic school of thought. All the golden imagery in this stanza evokes the image of the sacred king, which is the term that Frazer uses regarding the archetypal image of the dying/reborn god. The cycle is eternal; it encompasses “what is past, or passing, or to come.” The imagery from the first stanza of the old men (dying god), young people (reborn god), and trees  (symbols of rebirth) are all brought together.

The last thing I would like to point out about the poem is the overall structure. The poem is divided into four stanzas. I feel that this was an intentional representation of the four seasons, which is also symbolic of the overall theme of the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

The first time I read this poem in college I didn’t get it, but I remember my professor saying that the more you read poetry, the more you will learn to appreciate Yeats. I’ve come to the point in my life where I feel like I can finally start to fully appreciate the scope of what Yeats accomplished as a poet.

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