ULYSSES pp. 71-75 “The Lotus Eaters”


Have you wondered why you feel tempted to yawn when you see someone else yawning? Scientists term this “contagious yawning,” and suggest it may have something to do with one’s capacity for empathy. Depending on how empathetic you feel toward Leopold Bloom, you may be doing a lot of yawning this chapter. Like its Homeric parallel, The Lotus Eaters episode evokes drowsy complacence, escapism and intoxicating laziness. We’ll get to how this all intertwines with Leopold’s imagination, his marriage, his thoughts on religion and his epistolary infidelity with Martha Clifford.

But first, tag-twreading!

  • 71. LB takes circuitous route to post office. Distracted by copy of tea ad. Imagines the far east, land of “big lazy leaves,” idleness.
  • 72. LB tries to recall high school physics before sending his letter & receiving one, addressed to “Henry Flower.” Bloom’s pseudonym.
  • 73. LB about to read letter when M’Coy interrupts him. LB not good at small talk. Spots a woman getting into her cab, starts fantasizing.
  • 74. LB completely tunes out M’Coy, hopes for a glimpse of leg. Blocked by tram. Paradise and the peri: so near to paradise, but not quite.
  • 75. LB now distracted by potted meat ad. Husbands talk about wives, both singers. M’Coy asks LB 2 write his name in funeral register.

It’s ten o’clock when the chapter starts, an hour before poor Dignam’s funeral: “Slack hour.” Bloom is wandering, physically and mentally. He’s taking a roundabout way to the post office, which we’ll soon realize is due to his secret correspondence with a woman named Martha Clifford. Note the many descriptors which emphasize laziness. A small girl “listlessly” holds a caskhoop. Leopold’s eyes are under “dropped lids.” He imagines the far east, land of the Oriental Tea Company, as “the garden of the world, big lazy leaves to float about on.” The Cinghalese, an ethnic group of Sri Lanka, lob (lounge) around in the sun all day,

Sleep six months out of twelve. Too hot to quarrel. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flower of idleness. The air feeds most. Azotes. Hothouse in Botanic gardens. Sensitive plants. Waterlilies. Petals too tired to. Sleeping sickness in the air.

Yeesh. Pardon us while we go take a three hour nap.

We also discover that Molly is not the only Bloom writing and receiving love letters outside the bonds of marriage. Leopold has assumed the name “Henry Flower” (Bloom = Flower) for his literary indiscretions with Martha. We don’t get to see what Martha’s letter says because Leopold runs into M’Coy. As Lizaanne noted in “Calypso,” Bloom doesn’t handle distractions well. His first thought when he sees M’Coy is to “get rid of him quickly.” When that doesn’t happen, he diverts his attention to the woman across the street getting into her cab, hoping, praying he’ll catch a glimpse of her leg. ( “Watch! Watch! Silk flash rich stockings white. Watch!”) A tram passes, blocking Bloom’s view, which causes him to curse its “noisy pugnose.”

Bloom and M’Coy wrap up their conversation by talking about their wives, both singers. Leopold thinks back to the morning scene of Molly in bed, which sends his thoughts to the “torn strip of envelope,” i.e. Molly’s looming infidelity with Blazes Boylan. But the “torn strip of envelope” could also describe what’s in Leopold’s pocket, as he crumbled Martha’s envelope there just before running into M’Coy.

Interesting sidenote: According to Ulysses Annotated, “to pot one’s meat” is crude slang for copulation. Sex always sells.

Some questions we’d like you to consider:

BEN: Is it acceptable to write love letters outside marriage?

ERIN: Why would you ask a question like that?

BEN: I’m just trying to get at the difference, if any, between thoughts of infidelity and acts of infidelity.

ERIN: What you’re trying to get at is a bed downstairs on the couch tonight.

BEN: Fine, you ask a better question.

ERIN: All right. How do I look in my eye patch?

BEN: I told you. I think you look lovely. How many times do I have to say it?

ERIN: One more.

BEN: You’re the hottest thing in an eye patch since Kurt Russell in Escape From New York.

ERIN: Aww, you’re so sweet. All right, final question: If this whole chapter is about languor and laziness, how come we haven’t seen the Bloom’s cat yet? What says “drowsy complacence” better than a cat?

Tomorrow: Pages 76-80!


One Response

  1. In Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology, he describes contagious yawning as a function of mirror neurons, the neurons that fire for someone when they observe the actions of someone else. In the brain, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the observed’s action, as though the observer were itself acting. Thus contagious yawning, as well as the thrill from watching action movies, and hunger when we see others eating. It is this neurological phenomena that marketers and advertisers manipulate repeatedly and with increasing sophistication. Beware of your reaction to ads portraying people doing stuff…you’re getting played.

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