ReJoyce Project: Bloom’s day begins (Mrkrgnao!)

Joyce_Ulysses_MMr. Leopold Bloom would not be most people’s choice for an Odysseus of the modern era. He is certainly a very different specimen from Stephen, whom, despite Joyce’s protests, everyone sees as an autobiographical stand-in for Joyce. I’m glad that Joyce didn’t make himself the hero of his own mammoth book, although he certainly had the hubris to pull off Homer’s hero.

IV. Calypso

Even though Leopold “Poldy” Bloom is ostensibly the head honcho of this narrative, his wife gets the chapter title. Calypso meant to keep Odysseus in her bed forever with sex and splendor, as you do in the Greek myths. Poor guy misses his wife and baby child–still remains happily on the island for seven years. Anyhoo. Bloom isn’t nearly so lucky. His wife is having an affair with Blazes Boylan (doesn’t that just sound like an Irish swear? “By Blazes Boylan, you’ll not see the last of me!”). And, as the story pans out, it seems that everyone is aware of Molly Bloom’s escapades. But she’s still exhausted in her rumpled bedsheets, a recently finished romantic novel on the floor. We really won’t hear from her for about 700 pages. So what does Bloom get up to of a sunny morning? Normal stuff really. Too normal. Jimmie Joyce is making a choice, namely to grant us a sad-comic character who thinks excessively natural things. And oh, we hear every tangent. It’s not so bad really–Bloom goes to a butcher’s, evokes all his senses for us, and then jaunts off to the bathroom with a newspaper thinking of manure and garden improvement. Just a few lines after thinking, “Hope it’s not too big bring on piles again,” Joyce puts this nice sentence in Bloom’s head: “Print anything now.” It’s in reaction to a prize story in the paper, but I think we all needed to hear that sentence after reading what must be one of literature’s first classic crap scenes. Our hero wipes his nethers with a half sheet of the story and departs.

Favorite Lines

“Mrkrgnao! the cat said loudly.” (That is a bit of linguistic genius.)

“Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub.”

“Full gluey woman’s lips.”

V. Lotus Eaters

A portrait of Bloom as drawn by Joyce himself. I like the curl of his moustache.

A portrait of Bloom as drawn by Joyce himself. I like the curl of his moustache.

Bloom has some errands to do. He goes to the post office, gets a teasingly romantic love letter from “Martha Clifford” addressed to his pseudonym, “Henry Flower.” Think phone sex lines, but circa 1904. I’ll give Bloom his credit–he thinks much more like the average person, i.e. not like the bookish run-ons of Stephen Dedalus. Bloom is more or less narrating his own life, thinking about actions as he does them. Stephen’s voice is much more abstracted. Bloom nips into a church for the fun of it (he is Jewish, after all). He has a funeral to get to later in the day, friend Dignam has passed unexpectedly, so we can credit him with some profound thoughts, even though most of what he thinks is rather methodical and undeterred by outpourings of grief. Buying a cake of lemon soap for use at the Turkish baths, Bloom intends to “mix business and pleasure” by having a bathtime wank. Yep. That’s the lotus flower of forgetfulness in our culture: masturbation. Just read this sentence with its implied sighs:

Favorite Line

“He saw his trunk and limbs riprippled over and sustained, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyellow: his navel, bud of flesh: and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.”

VI. Hades

Bloom and his buddies catch a carriage to the funeral. There is some conversation about death and its methods, including suicide. The mens’ knees compliantly bump together at corners. Bloom thinks about his son, Rudy, who died young. In an excerpt that pretty much defines the tone of this section, Bloom guesses the moment of Rudy’s conception: “Must have been that morning in Raymond terrace she was at the window, watching the two dogs at it by the wall of the cease to do evil. And the sergeant grinning up. She had that cream gown on with the rip she never stitched. Give us a touch, Poldy. God, I’m dying for it. How life begins.” Charming and, one imagines, quite shocking when the book was published in 1922.

Favorite Line

“A corpse is meat gone bad. Well and what’s cheese? Corpse of milk.”

VII. Aeolus

Aeolus1Here Joyce is toying with a satire of newspapers whilst Bloom is trying to place an ad in the Freeman’s Journal. Bloom is an advertising canvasser and, bad for him, he isn’t very successful. The Greek title signifies the winds of the world, and the media must be the modern equivalent for Joyce’s purposes. But god this is plodding. Much groaning humor and the only real attempts to create a newspaper style are the bold headlines every few paragraphs. And puns. Joyce was  a fan. Stephen also pops in to place an opinion piece for his boss, but the two main male characters miss each other. I suggest you miss this chapter, too.

Favorite Line

“Hailfellow well met the next moment.”

“Bladderbags.”

VIII. Lestrygonians

Davy Byrne's pub, the site of a finicky gorgonzola sandwich eating exhibition--seriously, Bloom had a methodical process for eating his sandwich.

Davy Byrne’s pub, the site of a finicky gorgonzola sandwich eating exhibition–seriously, Bloom had a methodical process for eating his sandwich.

Lunchtime. Disgusted by the animalistic munching of his fellow man, despite the fact that meat-loving Bloom probably looks the same way when he’s eating “grilled mutton kidneys” for that “fine tang of faintly scented urine,” our man heads off to a pub for a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a burgundy. He is in a consciously vegetarian mood. All very suiting, as the Lestrywhatnows of the title were cannibals. Prior to his meal, every stray thought lead to food–a sign of the hungry ad man. This section was actually quite nice. Everyone says Ulysses is about two guys walking around Dublin for a day, but this was the first time Bloom’s walking thoughts developed like mine do. Prompted by visual nothings, Bloom just spins out thoughts on pregnancy, pigeons pooping, and policemen. All related to food. And Joyce invented the word “womaneyes.” That combined word is necessary, because a woman’s eyes do seem completely different from a man’s eyes. At least this is the way a man sees it. Plus, “womaneyes” is just such an easy expression–it gives me a host of connotations without Joyce having to describe a woman’s eyes at all.

Favorite Lines

Bloom muses on a pigeon’s thought process: “Who will we do it on? I pick the fellow in black.” (Bloom concludes that it “must be thrilling from the air.”)

“Poached eyes on a ghost.”

 

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