Thursday, March 15, 2007

Joyce's Ullysses

The Dublin Questers:

A Modernist Adventure through Existential Crisis

By Jonah Manning

The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stands this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.

-Joseph Campbell

On June 16th, 1904 two men casually wander in and about Dublin. Their names are Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus; they don’t know one and other but seem destined to meet. Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, is the story of how their two paths cross, then intermingle for a while, before separating indefinitely. Nothing apparently changes—there is no great drama or noteworthy occurrence throughout the long day and night. Molly is making breakfast for a change: Perhaps Leopold’s great heroic victory? The story is weighted heavily by its name: Ulysses. “What’s in a name?” Stephen retorts Bloom in the wee hours of the morning (p. 509).[1] For Joyce, and the readers of his novel—there is quite a bit. The name “Ulysses” demands the reader to consider an older literary tradition with mythological implications that today are rarely employed. With a name like Ulysses, our minds are drawn to Odysseus and Telemachus, to heroes and great journeys there and back again. Joseph Campbell has said about Ulysses that “there is a direct calling-in of myth, using intentionally and with direct reference the mythology of the hero’s voyage into the world of darkness, the abyss, and the return.”[2] This is indeed a great part of Joyce’s project, but Campbell meant not only allusions to the Odyssey, but also the wealth and breadth of the world’s religious and mythological figures. Allusions and symbols appear in every line and few representations will remain in static 1:1 relationships with their signifiers; they are compounded and shared. Campbell continues: “While Joyce and Mann were descending into the mythological realm, in exactly those same years, Frazer was undertaking the same exploration in anthropology, and Freud and Jung in psychology, and all of them were interpreting mythology in psychological terms.”[3] Myth was awakening, opening itself as a great vehicle of knowledge and potential self-understanding: the myths of gods and heroes are not about gods and heroes—they are about us. They discovered that myths are the “masks of god,”[4]—but we are the gods. The masks differ in time and place, to the specific needs and temperament of the culture that produces them. Gods are merely externalized projections of our own human qualities. Zenophanes said:


Man made his gods, and furnished them

With his own body, voice and garments.


If a horse or lion or a slow ox

Had agile hands for paint and sculpture,

The horse would make his god a horse,

The ox would sculpt an ox.[5]

What sort of god would Joyce create?

Freud and Carl Jung noticed an innate similarity between the structures of myth and dream, which both represent the unconscious. Jung, by studying the dreams of his patients, discovered universal mythic symbols that appeared independently from that person’s contact with that symbol in their own personal experience. He called these patterns archetypal forms and they resemble Platonic ideals except that they exist in what Jung called the collective unconscious, a sort of ground of being, as opposed to a Platonic transcendent realm. [6] The Madonna is an archetypal image of the mother. Reynard the fox is the archetype for the trickster. Campbell was particularly interested in the archetype of the hero. He saw the hero as the representation of human greatness. Where heroes, in the case of Heracles, can teach lessons such as excess, fundamentally they are stories of growth, accomplishment, and the attainment of self-knowledge. These myths are stories of our human spiritual potentialities.[7]

Ulysses brings the classic mythology back into modernity. Joyce creates a conglomerate of myth and tradition, a syncretic anomaly which aims at raising the dead cultural subconscious of our modernity into the conscious sphere and awakening it in a new way. Since the Enlightenment, the West has done what Saul Bellows called, “a housecleaning of belief.” Myths, particularly Christian mythology became antiquated, concretized, objective, and isolated from individual experience: we can’t experience the cross, but we should. Jesus becomes something separate from our experience. He is no longer a man, but a transcendent god. This paper is an exploration into Joyce’s usage of mythic patterns, particularly the heroic pattern, and how he remythologizes them for modernity. Is modernity capable of heroism? Are adventures possible in Dublin? Old archetypes become renewed and redefined for modern readers. The Homeric monsters Scylla and Charybdis are transformed into the swirling of Stephen’s thought, and the library where they meet becomes Joyce’s mind.[8]


Mythic and Existential Crisis

“God is dead”[9]

The first and arguably the primary mythic model for this novel is Homer’s Odyssey. As readers this prepares us for an epic, a heroic tale (though the Odyssey is technically a romance), and there is a basic mythological pattern which heroes follow and we therefore expect Stephen and Bloom to follow. In studying myths from around the world, Joseph Campbell articulated three basic stages of the heroic journey:

  1. The hero is separated from his familiar surroundings and goes on a journey alone.
  2. He undergoes a mysterious initiation, during which he grapples with supernatural powers and gains a new understanding of himself in relation to his community and to the gods.
  3. He returns to share the new vision with his fellows.[10]

Ulysses hardly follows this pattern at all, perhaps obliquely, and there are two possible reasons why. First, this is a modern novel; everything has been cut and fragmented, including the natural movement of a hero through a story. The immediate story takes place in one day making dramatic transformation difficult, although significant historical context is injected throughout. The second reason is more interesting: what if Stephen and Bloom are not heroes? What if Joyce is in fact writing a “mock-epic”, a distorted farce of a heroic journey? He makes a mockery of most everything else, why not his own model? I won’t argue this point either way, but instead will show how Stephen and Bloom both fit and stretch the heroic pattern.

For Bloom, the Odysseus of the story, the three-part movement of the hero is followed in physical terms. That is, he (1) wakes with his wife, (2) leaves and wanders around Dublin, struggling to reconcile their marital problems, but (3) finally makes his way back home to his wife and bed. It is doubtful whether Stephen makes it home at all. Bloom’s major symbolic figure is clearly Odysseus, but he also has many others; however, they are mostly situational. In “Aeolus” for example, he is Moses (as he is also Odysseus) and won’t quite enter into the promised land or get his ad in the paper. Odysseus almost made Ithaca only to have his crew open the bag of winds. In “Cyclops,” Bloom is Elijah leaving in a whirlwind of glory after his triumph over the citizen. Like Odysseus, Bloom thinks mostly of his wife, Molly. He is not only physically separated from her for the day, but has been emotionally and “psychologically” separated from her since the loss of their son Rudy nearly eleven years ago. He is bothered by the possibility of his wife Molly having an affair this afternoon with a man named Boylan. Parallels can be drawn to Odysseus here, the suitors and his virtually unknown son, but it feels like Bloom is just a simple man with a lot on his mind and not all that suitable for heroic comparison.

What is more important than the obvious physical movement of the heroic pattern is the psychological reality of the story which the pattern validly represents. Both men have already experienced separation before the novel begins: Bloom became separated from Molly after the death of Rudy, and Stephen became separated from God in Portrait. In this way, Ulysses begins as the Odyssey did, in medias res. Both characters start the novel in the doldrums, in a psychological hell, separated and searching for a way back, and both without a key—physically and allegorically. This is the beginning of second stage of the hero’s quest from which the heroes never apparently excavate themselves.

Because of the stagnation of the heroes in their own exasperation, Campbell labeled Ulysses an Inferno. For the hero, there is always an obligatory trip to the underworld, Hades, Hell, the belly of the whale, the subconscious—it is a place of death and subsequent renewal (assuming the hero lives to return from it). This is where our “heroes”—if we deem to call them that—are, but there is still an important distinction that is yet to be made between our heroes and the classic models which they emulate. In classical mythology and in the pattern of the heroic adventure above, gods always had a vital role: where would Odysseus have been without Athena?—one of Circe’ swine! But today we have no more gods to aid would-be heroes; we have no more monsters to triumph over. The closest thing modernity has to a Cyclops is a narrow-minded conservative fundamentalist “citizen.” Science and reason have brought light to the dark portions of the rational world and tamed it to principles and laws. Nietzsche was the first to loudly proclaim that god was dead:

The Madman. Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place and cried incessantly: ‘I am looking for God!’. . . ‘ Where has God gone?’ he cried. ‘ I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How ere we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? . . . [11]

Is this not the state of modernity: what to make of a diminished thing? Early in Portrait Simon Dedalus proclaims, “away with God, I say”[12] In Ulysses, “he’s dead. The man upstairs is dead” (p. 195). What then will take his place? For Nietzsche, and indeed for Stephen, this is the greatest, most pressing question.

“God is dead” was not meant as a metaphysical claim to the existence or non-existence of god, but a statement of its practical efficacy in ascribing meaning to a new and changing world. God no longer functioned for modernity. This realization opened the possibilities for individual freedom and expression to imperceptible horizons like no time before in history, but this was also terrible freedom. Nietzsche’s model for the ideal modern man, a man to harness such freedom, was the ubermensch, or the superman.

The superman is the godless hero, the Odysseus without Athena. Nietzsche was concerned with the path and the mind that leads to a satisfying life in the world. His path, as opposed to the classic model, is explicitly psychological, but it still mirrors the traditional movement of the archetype minus god. I understand it this way.

1. He experiences a profound loss or disillusionment which separates him from himself and his world.

2. He works through nihilism to attempt to cut away any other false illusions. He reaches the bottom of his nihilism where little remains of the self until he gains a new equilibrium and foundation [will to power].

3. He begins the upward, restorative movement, rebuilding himself on a new foundation of understanding and experience [give style to one’s self, eternal recurrence] and returns to selfhood and the world.

The three-part movement is the same: (1) a separation (nihilism), (2) a plunge into the depths until something is overcome, then (3) a recovery. This is Stephen’s pattern—Dedalus the pagan.

Stephen Dedalus’ name represents the paradox of his crisis: the name is in conflict with itself. Stephen is the first Christian martyr and Daedalus is the “Great pagan artificer.”[13] This paradox represents his movement from his youth toward his goal, from god toward art—which is his desire, but he is stuck in inaction. The first character Stephen is compared to is Hamlet, and he remains my favorite representation of Stephen: there is something rotten in the city of Dublin. Hamlet is the existential philosopher who cannot make sense of himself or the “absurdity” of the world around him. There are no priests in Hamlet—no metaphysicians. They are both young men who cloth themselves in mourning-black cloths; they are unhappy with themselves. Hamlet is an outsider in his own court as Stephen is in the artistic circle of Dublin. They feel their lives have been usurped unjustly and want to rebel but don’t. Why do they procrastinate?—who knows? They are both called to a project which neither acts upon.

With the youth of Stephen, the age of Bloom, and the juxtaposition of this story with the Odyssey, it is easy to see the current of a father-son myth occurring concurrently with the other multitudinous themes. Father-son myths are about careers, which is to say that Stephen is subconsciously looking for a role model, someone whom he can relate to that can help him move forward. This is another point at which we must consider the possibility that Joyce has written a mock-epic. Bloom and Stephen are “poles apart,” and when they do get to converse, it is none to smooth (p. 524). Bloom is not a great artist—he is a piddler, “a cultured allround man” (p. 193). What could Bloom offer to Stephen who ostensibly isn’t looking for any help to begin with? Bloom is a representation of the feminine. He has his best conversations with women. Molly is presumably his best friend. Stephen fears women. Bloom is kind, soft-spoken and compassionate. Stephen is a mocker. Bloom is prudent and employed; Stephens is soon to be broke and unemployed. Stephen and Bloom are either diametric opposites or far points on a continuum. They represent opposite poles of consciousness, namely the metaphysical vs. the phenomenonal, the divine vs. the earthly.

Bloom has his son constantly on his mind. He is the one who notices Stephen and singles him out. In “Circe,” at the end, Bloom sees Rudy in the mien of Stephen and Rudy doesn’t see him, as Stephen doesn’t pay Bloom any attention throughout the novel. However, there is a connection—they share similar thoughts and visions throughout the day, random things both happen to notice. What do they share with one another?

This state of oppression and crisis is where we begin to draw a similarity between Stephen and Bloom. Both spend the day distracted and depressed. Stephen is “a servant of two masters, . . . , an English and an Italian (p. 17). He is referring to English rule and the Catholic Church. He speaks as an Irishman whose people have been oppressed. Bloom has much more personal matters that cloud his day. His wife and his son, Rudy, are much closer to home. Rudy’s death has put Bloom off of full sexual intercourse ever since. This, presumably, is the inciting factor of Molly’s infidelity—though this remains ambiguous.[14] What both men have in common is that they are each oppressed by themselves. In the end it is Bloom who blames himself for Molly’s adultery, not Boylan or Molly; it is Bloom who takes the blame for the death of Rudy. And he cannot move on. Stephen is more mired than Bloom in his frustrations because his mind is that much deeper and he can continue to spiral deeper and deeper until he loses himself. “Proteus” is a quintessential existential rhapsody in the vain of Hamlet, despairing and questioning the reality of this “mortal coil.” Stephan, in Joyce’s Portrait, has already lost his faith in the Christian transcendent god. Stephen is himself lost, “drifting amid life like the barren shell of the moon.”[15] Haines says, “It seems history is to blame” and the idea is repeated throughout the novel (p. 17). Stephen steps back from blaming himself and blames the world which has come before him: “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” (p. 28).


Odyssey of Self-Becoming

“Who am I”[16]

God has always served humanity as a grounds for existence: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” [17] God is also the ground for morality. The very foundations of culture are built on Christian ideals, so without god, what do we believe? Nietzsche and Stephen both undertake a great nihilism to investigate the existential problem. Stephen says, ‘I believe Lord, help my unbelief,” meaning he has still been unable to shed all of his Christian heritage that was taught to him in his Jesuit upbringing (p. 174). He is frightened by the thought of nothingness. He remembers Mulligan’s comment about his mother, that she was “beastly dead” (p. 7). This is not a Christian death, but a gross biological one. Stephen is no longer protected by heaven—not that he had any security in his admission there anyhow. So death becomes a nightmare. “Damn death, long live life,” he proclaims to a British soldier, meaning that it aught to be his country’s duty to protect him from death as opposed to him dying to save his country (p. 482). Campbell explains that “the secret cause of all suffering is mortality itself, which is the prime condition of life. It cannot be denied if life is to be affirmed.”[18] Nietzsche came to the same conclusion by means of a parable: the eternal recurrence:

The Greatest Weight—What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest solitude and said to you: ‘this life, as you live it now and have lived it, you will have to live again and again, times without number; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and all the unspeakably small and great in your life must return to you, and everything in the same series and sequence—and in the same way this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and in the same way this moment and I myself. The eternal hour-glass of existence will be turned again and again—and you with it, you dust of dust!’—Would you not throw yourself down and gnash you teeth and curse the demon who spoke? Or have you experienced a tremendous moment in which you would have answered him: “You are a god and never did I hear anything more divine! If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?’ would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?[19]

Only Nietzsche’s superman could conceivably affirm such an idea—it is not meant as reality, only as a kind of litmus test. The result is that the only time that matters is now. This time will continue and continue—there is no more value in the future than the present. This idea is in stark contrast to the ideology Stephen was brought up with: “think only of last things:” Stephen was told in school, “one thing alone is needful, the salvation of own soul. What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world if he suffer the loss of his immortal soul!”[20] Remember Mr. Deasy here: “All human history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God” (p.28). This is the Dantean/orthodox Catholic ideology that Stephen rebels against. Ulysses places itself diametrically opposed to Dante’s Divine Comedy with regard to its goal-driven divine metaphysical aim. Dante’s love for Beatrice is only fruitful in that it points toward heaven; she is his personal Madonna, a finger pointing toward the moon. His worldly love for her is nothing. Dante’s life is nothing but a vehicle to heaven, a means of promoting the Lord through his artistic call.

Nietzsche called this nihilism as it devalued life. Joyce wrote in a letter: “my mind rejects the whole social order of Christianity,” in response to his mother’s death; “I curse the system which made her a victim.”[21] These are strong and emotional words, but we see how he works out some of his disgust with the church by positing a variant, mystically oriented cosmology and eschatology: we are in the middle, beginning and end.

Amor fati—love your fate was Nietzsche’s great affirmation of life. We have to be present now and love the things we have: this is all we can be sure of. When Nietzsche himself came to this realization he wrote:

--thus I shall become one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: may that be my love from now on! I want to wage no war against the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers. May looking away be my only form of negation.[22]

Nietzsche affirms the present life which is something that Stephen struggles with. Bloom on the other hand, has had a cleaner break from his Jewish heritage. Judaism, however, doesn’t place the same weight on the afterlife as does Christianity. Bloom doesn’t speak about it. What matters to him are the stars or the sea or any number of worldly curiosities.

Life exists now—in this present moment—not in the possible futures of heaven or hell.

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.[23]

Heaven and hell are experiences of life, they are psychological states of being that exist here and now, just as we see Stephen and Bloom muddling through the fires of Dublin.

When Nietzsche reached the bottom of his nihilism, he found he could destroy everything but fear and “a desire for power,” but he found that fear was only an absence of power, so he had a single unified principle: the will to power.[24] This realization is the hero’s “initiation” or coming out of the underworld back into reality: I want to live life, hence Amor fati. The horizon is again open. But the upward movement is back to the self, self-discovery, and it is “the hardest of all tasks.”[25] But having seen death and suffering, you have been strengthened and changed by it—you have experienced the initiation, and you understand life in these new terms. There is a heaven, but it is only won through the work of self-empowerment. To strengthen the will to power is to, as Joseph Campbell called it, “follow your bliss.” Nietzsche said it two ways: (Like Pindar) You must become the person who you are by “giv[ing] style to one’s character—a great and rare art!” And here is the trick—“ a great and rare art.” The epigraph of Portrait is from Ovid: “et ignotas animum dimittit in artes,” or “he applies his mind to obscure arts.”[26] Nietzsche, with Blake and others, believed that artistic creation was the path to the true self, the superman, like Blake’s Creative Genius. Gods are the masks of ourselves and the primary function, the first great task of the gods is creation: “Los Demiugos,” Nobodaddy, Yahweh, Marduk, Vishnu, Jupiter. The superman is the classic hero sans gods and demons. Twice, once at the end of the first two chapters, Joyce refers to Stephen as “ubermensch” (ps.19 &42).

Both of our “heroes” dream about being artists but neither is acting on those impulses. Neither can free themselves from the infernos of their minds, can’t move forward in life, can’t get access to the pathways out of chaos to be able to reflect on it, write on it perhaps. Hell is worth writing about.



For Ulysses is an inferno. As Homer sent his Ulysses wandering through the inferno of Greek mythology and Virgil his Aeneas through one of Roman mythology so Dante himself voyaged through the inferno of the mediaeval Christian imagination and so Mr. Joyce sent his hero through the inferno of modern subjectivity.[27]

In the tradition of Homer, Virgil and Dante, Joyce’s heroes must make a trip to the underworld. I have already described why this is, that it is a physical manifestation of psychic confusion, change and overcoming; it is the heroic turning and climax. To settle this analogy, Joyce has a chapter posthumously titled “Hades,” where Bloom attends the funeral of Paddy Dignum. Of course Bloom can’t help but think of both little Rudy and his dead father who killed himself after the death of his wife (this is implied by a letter by his father in Bloom’s drawer) (p. 595). This chapter is hardly as terrifying as Odysseus’ visit with Tiresias and Achilles, or Dante’s journey toward Dis. Death is the only semblance between them. Death isn’t such a terrifying thing for Bloom as it is for Stephen; it is as natural as anything else. After Mr. Kernan makes a remark about, touching “a man’s inmost heart,” Bloom postulates on the heart, “a pump after all,” “old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead. That last day idea. Knocking them all out of their graves. Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job.” (p. 87). The concept of “metempsychosis” Bloom uses to make sense of the world—but not necessarily meaning the transmigration of souls. “Love among the tombstones. In the midst of death we are in life” (p. 89). For Bloom, there is a natural cycling of form: “blood sinking in the earth gives new life”—it is that simple to Bloom (p. 89). He doesn’t speak much of “essence” which is generally inferred by the term. Stephen doesn’t share Bloom’s ambivalence toward death or his simple understanding of metaphysical terminology.

“Hades” is not the psychological hell of the novel however. The real experience of hell comes in “Circe,” ch. 15, the very bottom of the novel, the nadir and the turn. Blamires points out that the bestializing of the characters in the Odyssey, is representative of the withdrawal of the rational element.[28] Indeed, in Joyce’s version, nothing makes rational sense. All of the people Bloom sees throughout his day return in transmogrified form, often taunting him, drawing at his insecurities. After the loss of his “potato” (moli) he is then vulnerable to being vulgarized himself and is turned grotesquely into a pig and a woman and then abused. He cries, “O, it’s hell itself! Every nerve in my body aches like mad” (p. 435). Dante nor Odysseus ever participated in anything quite as terrifying as the treatment that Bello gave to Bloom.

If Joyce had stopped with only the “Hades” chapter it would have appeared as a mockery, I think, of the epic pattern. The parody is funny, but “Circe” provides the energy, fear and perspective that is as necessary to this book as it is to each of the other epics.

True to Joyce, “Circe” has its transcendent moments as well, when Bloom gives his “stump speech,’ imagining himself in positions of power (p. 390). The reader here encounters both the positive and negative aspects of Bloom’s subconscious: both his dreams and his nightmares; we see the oppression of his father and wife, as well as his highest social aspirations. The chapter ends with an act of compassion. Stephen gets beat-up and Bloom looks after him. The heroes survive and leave the underworld, coming back into the light. It is important to note that Joyce uses mirrors to reflect Bloom’s consciousness. The connection between mirrors and consciousness will become more important as we go.

What is their initiation? Have they changed? Or is this a joke?—Stephen takes one punch and Bloom becomes a pig. The moment that stands out to me is the moment of compassion Bloom has for Stephen. It is the first time anyone all day has shown Stephen any kindness. Does this affect him, maybe in the morning when he sobers up? The novel doesn’t go that far, so the reader can never know. Joyce gives so few clues to follow. If nothing changes today, why should it tomorrow? But heroes are supposed to change and this is supposed to be a story about modern heroes—and as a reader, we know that Joyce (Stephen, perhaps) does grow up to write a supreme artistic work. So there must be a change, but we don’t know if it takes place on June 16th. There is a story that one time Joyce was beat up in a park for talking to an “accompanied” woman. The friend he was walking with stepped back and it was a strange man that came and helped him up and took him home. If this incident was the impetus for the character of Bloom and this novel, then it seems safe to say that the man’s compassion had a great effect on Joyce and therefore on Stephen as well.

But for today hell is inescapable. Indeed Joyce gets us and Bloom thinking about death in “Hades”, experiencing hell in “Circe,” but Campbell took it a step farther. He understood Ulysses as a whole to be an Inferno. In Dante’s Inferno, many of the figures Dante and Virgil visit with as they walk through the rings are Florentines. Dante has symbolically depicted Florence as hell, but, Campbell argues, in Ulysses, Dante’s model has been reversed, it is hell that is portrayed as Dublin: “Dante pitches us out of this world and into the mythological dimension. Joyce brings the mythological dimension into this world and shows it to us through the world.”[29] Dante goes on a journey to hell, but Bloom and Stephen live there; it is not only the psychological realm, but also their physical location and society.

Dostoevsky wrote: “Father and teacher, I ponder, ‘What is hell?’ I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”[30] (Will Bloom’s compassion teach Stephen something of the importance of love?) Theologically, hell can be understood as the complete absence of god. All of these various aspects of hell work in limited ways. God is certainly absent in the traditional transcendent Christian way. Though later we will see that god does occupy a more inconspicuous role. I have already shown how both Stephen and Bloom live in their separate spheres, both struggling to identify with the other. My understanding of hell is division. From the Gospel of Thomas, “if he is divided, he will be filled with darkness.”[31] Hell is a stage of experience and life where we separate ourselves and attempt to gain perspective. It is the same as the heroic archetype: union – separation – reunion, Blake’s innocence – experience – innocence. It is the separation from god that shows how glorious he/she is; it is the loss of love that demonstrates how cold the world can be without it. Both characters walk through Dublin burdened by their existential crises—this is psychological hell. Beyond Joyce’s language and form, nothing is beautiful.

Think of Dublin as emblematic of Ireland as a whole. Joyce has called Dublin “a general state of paralysis some call a city.” But couldn’t this also be said of Ireland? Through songs and particularly the old milk woman, we are shown Ireland as withered, once vital and fertile, but now dried up and fallow, as dying (p.12). In Portrait, “Ireland is the old sow who eats her farrow.”[32] Where is opportunity? What could be heroic here? We see men who are not family men, regardless of whether they actually have families or not, gambling, drinking, hardly working, caring for little other than their own “homosocial” activities. Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father, fights to keep from giving too much money to his daughter Dilly so that he might have a bit more for drinks (p. 196). It all seems like such a sad state of affairs. In “Sirens” Ben Dollard literally sings to the sad history of Ireland:

“We hold his house for our Lord and King,

And Amen! Say I, may all traitors swing!”

At Geneva Barrack that young man died,

And at Passage they have his body laid.

Good people who live in peace and joy,

Breathe a prayer and a tear for the Croppy Boy.[33]

Joyce has written a political and a religious critique all in one novel. Stephen is “a servant of two masters,” both Rome and England (p. 17). In this section we have seen how England has made a hell of his home and Rome has made a hell of his mind.


The Black Mass.

Tat twam asi[34]

June the 16th was a Thursday in 1904 and Thursday happens to be named after Jupiter or “Thor,” the God of Thunder. In Portrait, the transcendent god has already failed due to its ineffectability at describing modernity. God is conspicuous by his absence in this novel. The transcendent god is gone, hence we have a black mass, a mass with a missing divinity, a new mass, but what does it celebrate? Where is god in Ulysses? You may hear him when you slam your book shut.

Joyce may answer the question with one word:

“contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality” (p. 32).

Indeed, what a word! And the spiritual potentiality of the whole work is there imbedded, occasionally hinted at and alluded to throughout—one word to represent the whole of his project. The word is an amalgamation of several terms, and the various splintered parts are minor themes of the novel and together give what I understand to be a cohesion to Joyce’s post-Christian, modern ideology—the answer to Nietzsche’s god-killing, the upward turn from the post-Christian nihilism. The words are:






The idea of Trinitarian consubstantiality—the Father is equal to the Son in substance—is a question particularly prevalent in Stephen’s chapters, “Proteus” in particular, but the term’s meaning runs much deeper than the Christian hypostasis. Generally, the term means, “to have the same substance.”[35] Is the Christ equal to but different from God? From this theological speculation, the question spins down to fathers and sons or creators and creations. Is Shakespeare Hamlet or the entirety of his creative work? Are they equal? Must Stephen look up to his father although he feels superior to him?[36] In “Proteus” Stephen thinks about it metaphysically.

Wombed in sin darkness I was too made not begotten. . . . From before the ages He willed me and now may not will me away or ever. A lex eternal stays about Him. Is that then the divine substance wherein Father and Son are consubstantial? Where is poor dear Arius to try conclusions? Warring his life long upon the contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality. (p. 32)

Is there any greater being than ourselves, a transcendent god? Nietzsche of course says no: the superman is the pinnacle. Stephen wants to agree with him, but he wants proof. Bloom, always the opposite pole sees it more simply--equanimity: we all live; we all die; we are all the same--consubstantiality.

Transubstantiality is the opposite, what Arius argued for, of consubstantiality, meaning that the son is not equal to the father. However, transubstantiation refers theologically to the Eucharist and the movement of essence between separate and different matter—the body and blood of Christ into the bread and the wine. More broadly, it is also metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls, reincarnation, etcetera. Bloom gave little thought to anything as being consubstantial, but transubstantiation he notices at least obliquely through his organic understanding of death and subsequent life. When Whitman writes, “the smallest sprout shows there really is no death,” does this imply a movement of essence as well? Grass as “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.”[37] This would be Leopold’s idea. Does Bloom think about the soul? He says little if anything about “souls,” only in “Calypso” when defining metempsychosis for Molly and once in “Oxen of the Sun”: “what is the age of the souls of man?” but this is the narrator, not Bloom (p. 337). It is the placement of the idea in Bloom’s first chapter that adds to its weight and importance. The important characteristic of transubstantiation is flux, movement, change. Where consubstantiality emphasizes equanimity, transubstantiality promotes circular movement between life and death, just various stages and changes of the eternal sameness.

The section “Magnificand” ostensibly is a derivation of the Magnificat, which is “a Catholic prayer celebrating the words that the Virgin Mother Mary addressed to her cousin Elizabeth: ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ (Luke 1:46).”[38] God is inside her. Campbell reads it “as not solely [referring] to the condition of the Mother of God, two thousand years ago in Judea, but to every one of us, here and now.”[39] Immanent divinity.

Bloom is a jew—is that why this word appears in the “word of words” of this novel? Is Bloom then the ubermensch and his “jewishness” an important element of that? Yes and no. In the context of this book, to be Jewish was to be different and set outside: Jews as persecuted, Jews as underclass, Jews as special in some peculiar and strangely unidentifiable way. To be Jewish is to loathed and secretly admired or at least queried about. Jews are a mystery, a group always distinct anywhere in the world. I believe it is this mysterious element, this inherent division from social normalcy that is at the heart of its inclusion here. We see all of this in Bloom. He is so different, but somehow at ease in the midst of his ambiguous social status. To be a Jew is to be an individual, to be yourself.

BANG! “A shout in the street” BANG! The “hammerhurler.” Thor’s lightning rods cracking over head. As Stephen and Bloom doddle in the maternity ward and Molly lies in bed trying to sleep, a great thunder strike cracks over Dublin. Stephen is deathly afraid of thunder and is a bit shaken. Bloom notices and

spoke to him calming words to slumber his great fear, advertising how it was no other thing but a hubbub noise that he heard, the discharge of fluid from the thunderhead, look you, having taken place, and all of the order of a natural phenomenon. (p. 323)

But Stephen doesn’t share Bloom natural perspectivism. Stephen, as well as Molly, can’t help but think of “old Nobodaddy,” Blake’s Old Testament god, who speaks his decrees through thunder. Molly said,

that thunder woke me up God be merciful to us I thought the heavens were coming down about us to punish us when I blessed myself and said a Hail Mary like those awful thunderbolts in Gibraltar as if the world was coming to an end and then they come and tell you theres no God (p. 611).

Stephen might have said those same words, with a bit more pedantry perhaps. The difference between Stephen and Bloom is never more apparent than with this example. Molly and Stephen see god as communicating through natural phenomena where Bloom see only the phenomena itself. BANG! Bloom can understand the mechanics of the sound. But for Stephen the sound is god—the mechanics are irrelevant.

--The ways of the Creator are not our ways, Mr. Deasy said. All human history moves toward one great goal, the manifestation of God.

Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:

--That is God.

Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!

--What? Mr. Deasy asked.

--A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders. (p. 28)

Mr. Deasy is the antithesis to the Nietzschean, existential understanding of Joyce. He is orthodoxy—he is a “citizen.” History “moving toward” god is precisely the nihilism that Nietzsche protests, and Stephen “refutes him thus”: God is “A shout in the street.” God is present now and here, around and in, penetrating and participating—utterly immanent and impersonal: “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”[40] The truth Stephen wishes to believe in flows more easily from him when he has a fool for an antagonist who spouts the same jargon Stephen himself was brought up with.

BANG! is present all around us; it is our hearts beating within our chests. It is in us, equal to us, and beyond us. We must wander away from it to see it for what it is and then move back from wince we came. It moves through us and about us. It is our essence. It is our will. It is our bliss. It is nature and supernatural. Contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality!

We have a new god, but the god is essentially the world or permeates the world, the energy, the Tao, that flows through all things. When we look into a mirror, it is god that stares back at us. Mulligan, as he wakes to shave, is not bashful to make a mass of himself. What I see as the important element is not the cross, but the mirror. God=Dog. And dog has been for Stephen the symbol of biology, the natural world, the “beastly” world that he cannot come to accept. Mulligan has no trouble: “It’s a beastly thing and nothing else” (p. 7). But neither are exactly right—not nothing, not god, but us. The mirror. The universe is a reflection of what we are. Contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality is not only the “new” god—it is once again, as always, us. “Tat tvam asi”—you art that (thou). When we read myth, we are reading about ourselves. These are our archetypes. The “black mass” is a celebration of selfhood, ritualizing my life, making my life memorable, significant. Amor fati.

the secret of realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships out into uncharted seas! Live in conflict with your equals and with yourselves! Be robbers and ravagers as long as you cannot be rulers and owners, you men of knowledge![41]

Ulysses is a “dangerous” novel; no one had ever attempted anything like it before. It was created through boldness. This is the freedom of godlessness and the power of mythical understanding. Joyce built his masterpiece by incorporating himself and the world by knowing himself and the world:

When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, . . . then will you enter the kingdom.[42]


“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.”


[1] Joyce, Ulysses, Gabler Ed. (New York: Random House, 1986). All citations from this text will be made internally by page number only.

[2] Joseph Campbell, Mythic Worlds, Modern Worlds (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 12-13.

[3] Campbell, Mythic Worlds Modern Worlds, p.16.

[4] “Masks of god” is a phrase used by Campbell in many places, particularly as the title for his four-part mythological encyclopedic work.

[5] Stephen L. Harris and Gloria Platzner, Eds., Third Edition, Classical Mythology: Images and Insights, (Sacramento: Mayfield Pub., 2001.), p. 35.

[6] It is interesting to note that modern DNA studies show how we still carry all of man’s history and prehistory. The entirety of our past is still encoded n our DNA, though not “consciously” used. Would Jung perhaps propose a “biological” ground for his collective unconscious?

[7] Campbell p174, 39, xxiii.

[8] Campbell, Mythic Worlds Modern Worlds, 104.

[9] J. R. Hollingdale, “Introduction” to Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Middleessex, Eng: Penguin, 1969), p. 14.

[10] Harris and Platzner,p, 267.

[11] Fredric Nietzsche, The Gay Science sec, 125.

[12] James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, (New York: Penguin, 1993), p. 39.

[13] Joyce, Portrait, p. 278.

[14] In Molly’s soliloquy she blames her infidelity on Bloom: “its all his own fault if I am an adulteress” (p.641).

[15] Joyce, Portrait, p. 102.

[16] Joyce, Ulysses, p. 163.

[17] Gen. 1.1-3. New Revised Standard Version.

[18] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988), xiii.

[19] Nietzsche, Gay Science p. 341.

[20] Joyce, Portrait, ps. 118-9.

[21] James Joyce, Dubliners (New York: Penguin, 1993). p. ix.

[22] Nietzsche, Zarathustra, p. 18.

[23] John Milton, “Paradise Lost”

[24] Nietzsche, Zarathustra, p. 26.

[25] J. R. Hollingdale, p _________

[26] Joyce, Portrait, p. 1.

[27] Harry Blamires, The New Bloomsday Book: a Guide through Ulysses (New York: Routledge, 2002), xvi. Quoting McGreevy.

[28] Blamires, p. 159.

[29] Campbell, Mystical Worlds Modern Worlds, p. 19.

[30] Andrew Harvey, Journey to Ladakh, ______________________________

[31] James Robinson, Ed. “The Gospel of Thomas,” The Nag Hammadi Library (New York: HarperCollins, 1990 ), p. 133.

[32] Joyce, Portrait, p. 220.

[33] Gifford, Ulysses Annotated, p. 293. “The Croppy Boy” was a ballad about the Irish rebellion of 1798 by William B. McBurney.

[34] Sanskrit: “You art thou”

[35] Webster’s New World Dictionary.

[36] Joyce, Portrait, p. 102.

[37] Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass 1892 Edition (New York: Bantam, 1983), p.26 and 27.

[38] Campbell, Mystic Worlds Modern Worlds, p. 80.

[39] Campbell, Mystic Worlds Modern Worlds, p. 80.

[40] The Gospel of Thomas, p. 135.

[41] Nietzsche, Zarathustra, p. 18

[42] Gospel of Thomas, p. 129.

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