ULYSSES Funmary #3: Proteus

By JERRY GRIT

With “Proteus,” we come to the end of Ulysses‘ Part 1, its Telemachiad (the chapters focused on Dedalus-Telemachus). Although, it was a short chapter, it was long on confusing, headache-inducing obscurity. 

Not very much happens in the chapter. Stephen walks on Sandymount Strand along the polluted Dublin Bay, thinks about a bunch of stuff (past experiences, people he knows, philosophical and historical observations). He rests on a rock. Sees a floating dog’s corpse. Gets scared by another dog running nearby, owned by the gypsy cocklepickers picking cockles in the bay. Gets inspired and works out some poetic lines on a piece of paper ripped for Deasy’s letter. He (maybe) masturbates, pees, and picks his nose.

If we recall from the Odyssey, Proteus was a smelly, shape-shifting god who would tell you stuff only if you were able to pin him down. (He also had a thing for seals, but who doesn’t?)

The difficulty of the chapter has a lot to do with this homeric parallel. The reference to the Odyssey is not made with characters or plot, as it was primarily achieved in the first two chapters. Rather, the chapter’s style–Stephen’s internal monologue–is the Proteus. (This will not be the last time we’ll see the homeric reference in the chapter’s style.) And it is by pinning down this protean flux and flow of thought, memories, and observations are we able to gain some insight. This blog and your comments is our collective wrestling match with this chapter’s (and book’s) slippery mutability. Check out these takedowns…

Picture 17

Change is evident throughout. Stephen walking on the Sandymont Strand, along the flowing waters of Dublin Bay. It’s about noon, right at high tide time. Gypsy cocklypickers are a transitory people. So a lot about the physical setting Stephen finds himself is shared with his own fluctuating thoughts and inability to concentrate. (BTW…don’t mean to unnecessarily pathologize, but is Steve ADD or are we experiencing the typical flow of thought as best represented in text?)

Picture 19Another move. Fathers and sons. Before, the focus has been on moms. Here, we get introduced to Stephen’s dad through his not very kind thoughts and willful disowning of him. And there are other fathers and sons. You have Stephen’s thoughts about the bedridden Uncle Richie abusing his stuttering son Walter, and then there’s the absinthe-drinking forgotten Kevin Egan and his neglectful milk-drinking son Patrice. All of these display pretty awesome dad-son dynamics…No, they’re awful. We get a very clear sense of the directionlessness Stephen suffers in the absence of a father or even a father figure. 

Picture 22

Speaking of fathers, Bloom is once more foreshadowed in dream. This time, its Stephen’s dream (p. 47). While Haines was freaking out about stalking panther, Stephen was being led around a “street of harlots” by a melon-salesman to visit an unseen third person. You could see this as foreshadowing and/or as a manifestation of Stephen’s own unconscious desire for direction and/or melons. 

Picture 16Stephen ends his Telemachiad motherless, fatherless, and now homeless. He’s heading off to his 12:30 meet-up with Buck Mulligan at the pub called (not incidentally) the Ship. He’s still engaged in his art, however vampire-obsessed it might be. There’s still hope for Stephen, but the mast-crucifixes he sees on the horizon suggests he won’t be having it easy anytime soon.

We did it! We have made it passed where so many have fallen short. And now our efforts will truly begin to pay huge dividends. Next, we launch into the Odyssey where we follow Leopold Bloom and the fun really begins.

And find out how many more wrestling references I can make!

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3 Responses

  1. Eric, I don’t think Proteus had a thing for those seals.

    Now we just have to figure out how to take down these guys

  2. This same story came up on the Chicago Tribune. I posted a comment that we’re way ahead of these douche bags. I am causing a ruckus. Cause a ruckus with me. The Trib’s comment page is here…

    http://www.topix.net/forum/source/chicago-tribune/TM87P64GMJMPIPD06

  3. […] with his daughter Milly.  Now, we have previously heard a considerable amount about dysfunctional fathers and sons in Ulysses.  Here, though, Leo’s Milly is quite the “daddy’s girl,” and […]

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