Ulysses Funmary # 9: Scylla & Charybdis

Ok– it is long past time for me to write this funmary, but admittedly I’ve been bogged down in the minutie of academia (not unlike our librarians here).  So, after far too much ado and many apologies, through the twin dangers we must sail.

Now, in The Odyssey, Odysseus knows what dangers await him.  He has advanced warning from Circe (remember her?) and chooses to lose a few crew members to the many-headed monster Scylla rather than to lose his entire ship to the whirlpool of Charybdis.  We see just an echo of this as Steven Daedalus sails cautiously into the librarian’s discussion: “A hesitating soul taking arms against a sea of troubles, torn by conflicting doubts” (184).  We also get our first hint of how heavily Shakespeare and Hamlet are going to feature.  Despite his hesitations, though, Stevie soon jumps into the argument with both feet (and several other body parts as well).

In fact, take a moment to Brush Up Your Shakespeare and your Hamlet, ladies and gentlemen.

Don’t we all feel better about things now?

Odysseus and his crew spend their time gawking at the revolving, churning, spewing, and generally attention-seeking Charybdis.  Meanwhile, Scylla sneaks up behind from her cliff and grabs up 9 of the sailors for a snack.  Our Joyce has pulled a similar trick with this section.  He has us all gaping agog as Stevie argues round and round about Shakespeare, Hamlet, Anne, and assorted other personages{few of Stevie’s arguments are new ones, and most are terribly outlandish, but doesn’t he describe them well!}, so we nearly fail to notice the crucial things happening in the background.

What exactly is happening behind the scenes, you ask?  Well…

I’m sensing a list coming on:

1. Our characters are all gathering: Stevie, Buck, and Leo are all together at the same time, and young Kinch has just been and gone.

2. We are finally getting to see Stevie away from the world that makes him so uncomfortable.  While firmly entrenched in his murky library, he feels like the master puppeteer– manipulating minds with his words.  It is only at the end of the section that he reemerges “into a shattering daylight of no thoughts” (215).

3. Stevie, though he claims not to believe in his own argument, is living proof of his own “ghosting” theories.  Having left Ireland as a young man, he has returned to its shores to act out his scenes without truely experiencing them.  He cannot connect with the world around him, and instead lives in foggy flashbacks of his mother, his father, and his regrets.

4. Though he feels most comfortable in their company, we get the distinct feeling that the librarians are mocking Stevie– winding him up and watching him go through his dance.

Yet, for all the foaming verbiage of this chapter, despite its hushed reading room setting, Our Hero (well… our boyo at any rate) navigates himself safely and ends the section in a peaceful place, free from any foreboding omens, and on his way to the nearest pub.

Up next… Our Namesake!

ULYSSES Funmary #8: Lestrygonians


We’re back with Bloom, who is for the most part alone here. Sensual guy he is, his concern for food is central. Especially since he’s looking for lunch. Unlike the narcotic somnolent effect food has on us (as depicted in the postprandial “Lotus Eaters”) we’re preprandial here. His mind is alert. He’s on the hunt.

So “Lestrygonians” is told in food. So if we follow the food, we get a pretty good idea of what’s going on.  Cherchez l’aliment, as no one would ever say.

We begin with candy. Bloom sees a candystore sell “pineapple rock, lemon platt, butt scotch” to a teacher. These are those gross hard candies your grandma could not give away. Not an appetizing start. I’m sure the kids were thrilled. Bloom, a man with taste, does not stop.

Mmm...pineapple candy...

Mmm...pineapple candy...

And then we’re on to the lamb blood and burnt offerings of the evangelical flier Bloom gets handed and at first misreads as his own name. The misreading suggests the identification of Bloom with Christ, himself a big piece of meat or bread or fish or lamb or whatever (however a divine miracle).

And there’s a bit with food as trick, as Bloom tries to get gulls to mistake the flier he balls up as food. (Bloom’s own failed attempt at–or a Joycean slagging of–the Eucharistic miracle?)

Guilty for his shenanigans, he buys the birds cake from the apple cart. Food is everywhere.

But also from all the food thoughts, we see how much our physical, emotional, social, professional, political lives are tied up with food. All Bloom’s reflections are food-associated. Whether it be the mutton and chutney he served to Molly during happier days (possibly the night Rudy was conceived). Or the strange tastes Molly had when pregnant are linked to Mina Purefoy’s troubled third day of labor. The Plumtree’s Potted Meat ad poorly placed on the obituary page gives us insight into Bloom’s marketing acumen. That Plumtree placement is about as bad as this one…

Picture 125 Or this one…

Picture 126Or my favorite…

Picture 127

Along with food and eating, there are also the execratory parts. Enough said.  Poop happens.

The pinnacle scene in this book, is of course Bloom’s peak into the Burton. The Burton is a restaurant filled with this guy…

This intimately depicted gross eating recalls the man barbeque the Lestrygonians had of Odysseus’ fleet. And Bloom’s revulsion to the scene demonstrates a bit of his own snobbery. This is not a man we’ll find in line at the China Buffet. And it also shows the limits of his generosity. His nightmare vision of some kind of dystopia where we all somehow end up eating at the China Buffet suggests Bloom’s sensibly restrained politics. This is no socialist. Sure, he’ll help a dirty blind dude across the street, but don’t touch his potatoes.

Ulysses attempts to contain an entire life in one day. Here we get the full treatment of food’s role in our lived. How and what we eat/drink also says a lot about who we are.

The 6th beer that I’m having today says that I am an awesome dude.

A “Lestrygonians” Preview and 13 Good Reasons


There are many reasons I’ve gone astray the last few weeks and haven’t been administering to full capacity. Here are 13 good ones…

1. I moved.
2. To a fixer-upper.
3. I got a metal shared in my eye.
4. It rusted.
5. It infected my eye.
6. I assembled these chairs.

They sort-of work, too.
They sort-of work, too.

7. I also painted them.

I mostly painted them.
I mostly painted them.

8. My cat is an unrelenting attention magnet.

How could you resist this pussens?
How could you resist this pussens?

9. I’ve been downturned by the Great American Downturn.
10. I’ve been working on upturning.
11. I’ve upturned.
12. I weeded this yard.

I haven't weeded in a decade.
I haven’t weeded in a decade.

13. Hey, I freaking moved!

But this is all behind us…all but for the infection and the cat. I am now able to focus my sophomoric scholarship and feeble wit on the next episode in Ulysses, “Lestrygonians”!

If you remember from my fun summary of the relevant episode from The Odyssey, this was the apex of Odysseus’ douche-y-ness. Peeved because 2 crew members let the air out of the Aeolus bag, he basically sets up his entire fleet to be shish kabob’d by a bunch of giants.

Turning to Ulysses, we’ll be thinking about who gets (metaphorically) eaten. And get ready for Bloom’s erotic musings!

Much thanks to Brendan for ably taking on the “Aeolus” episode. Tweets start tomorrow!

ULYSSES Funmary #7: Aeolus (plus pp. 134-150)

By Brendan

Jaysis, there were a lot of windbags in this episode – windbags talking about windbags. We see again that there’s not enough room for Bloom – after being “tight” in the carriage, he’s bumped into by the Gallant Lenehan. And verbally dissed by Crawford.. And pretty much ignored by everyone else.

Another example of the immediacy of Ulysses: while pondering the ad of Keyes, Bloom thinks ahead to the Horse Show in August. Guess what’s happening in Dublin this month? The Horse Show!

It was good to see Gabriel Conroy mentioned (he of “The Dead,” who passed Daniel O’Connell’s statue, the same statue passed by Bloom in a previous episode and by me last month). Daniel (and Parnell) died before reaching the promised land of an Irish Free State. Joyce, writing about a location near the General Post Office would have known the events that transpired there – the eye of the revolutionary storm that fateful Easter. His book reconstructs the buildings and personalities that only existed before 1916.

I was struck that Gone with the Wind and “Tara” are mentioned on the same line. Coincidence? Perhaps. 

Familiarity with Shakespeare is valuable when reading Ulysses – the thrill of a recognized reference. As someone who would recite Hamlet’s soliloquies when drunk, this aspect of Ulysses is vastly appealing. “Lay on McDuff!”

What did you think of Stephen’s Parable of the Plums? Frankly my dears, I thought it a bit of a stretch. Two spinsters spilling their seed onto Dear Dirty Dublin streets. I get tired of getting jerked around by Joyce. The frigger is taking the mickey, so he is. Poor old Jamesy would get a laugh out of the fact that the powers that be in Dublin put a giant “spire” where Nelson’s Pillar once stood. This most phallic of structures was incomplete for a time and earned the nickname “pointless.” Much like the “Aeolus” episode.


Nah, Jamesy, I’m only slagging.

What I liked about this episode: Bloom’s humanity shining through. From “poor papa” to not telling Nannetti his business to noticing Stephen’s boots, this most human of humans hopes all things, endures all things, never fails, strides on jerkily.

ULYSSES Funmary #6: Hades


Okay, so Saturday turned into Sunday (which is rapidly turning into Monday…) But! we are done with Hades in all of it’s gloominess. The good news is, friends, that we are out of hell. One can only assume that it’s just going to be kittens and rainbows from here on out!

I hope I’m not wrong! Anywho, back to “Hades.” So much has come to light about Bloom throughout this chapter. First I’m going to touch on how it related to its Homeric parallel. There are many bridges you can draw between the two. First of all and most obvious are the four rivers and Odysseus and crew must cross on the way to Hades and the four rivers the Dubliners cross on their way to the cemetery. In “The Odyssey” they are the Archeron, Pyriphlegethon, Cocytos and Styx and in “Ulysses” there is the Dodder, Grand Canal, Liffey and Grand Canal.

Odysseus finds out from Theban Theiresias that  there are a pack of men at his house trying to get there grubby little hands on his stuff and his woman. Right as Bloom is thinking of just such a man, Blazes Boylen passes by. But, unlike Penelope, Molly has (allegedly) accepted his advances.

There are characters from the two chapters that (the internet tells me) directly correspond. But what I find more interesting is the way that the dead appear to both Odysseus and Bloom but in different ways. Down in the real Hades, the dead approach Oddyseus, drink from the pool of blood and address him directly. For Bloom, they appear in his mind. Memories of those who have gone before him are triggered by images on his ride through Dublin and when he contemplates the whole idea of cemeteries and burial. Odysseus’s mother comes to him in Hades and Bloom’s father comes to him in his thoughts. And while Odysseus inquires about what has become of his son, Bloom wonders what would have become of Rudy, had he lived.

Another idea that we know going into this chapter (well, if you looked it up like I did) is that the organ of choice is the heart. Bloom thinks of it repeatedly as a part of the bodies machinery, pumping blood throughout and when it stops, game over. That was how Paddy Dignam died. In fact, Cunningham just says that singular word as an explanation, “Heart”. But there was another fleeting reference to the heart in the way that it relates to Catholic Ireland in their devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This brings us to another theme in the book that was really driven home in this chapter and that is Bloom’s alienation from those around him. The greatest factor in this is religion. He is surrounded by (supposedly) practicing Catholics. Not only is he non-practicing but he is ethnically Jewish. And even though his mother is Irish, it seems it is his otherness that people see. There doesn’t seem to be any malicious intent to exclude him, he just exists on a different plane. Death means something completely different to him than it does to the other men. He can not give nor accept the condolences that they do. And the whole action of this chapter, the ride to the cemetery and the perfunctory activities of the requiem mass and burial, are meaningless to him. He believes it is of no consequence to the dead because they have ceased to exist and it is of no consolation to him as one of the living. He is at complete odds with the culture of Ireland in this way. It is also against his nature as a pragmatist. Mush of the chapter is spent with him thinking about how this is all a waste of money, land and other resources and how it could be done in a way that is more beneficial to those who are left on the earth above.

This is not to say that he is not a compassionate individual, though. I think we see just the opposite in this chapter. He notices the people around him, be they the family of the deceased or the people they’re passing in the carriage, and empathizes with them. And even when his first reaction is judgemental, after a moment of reflection, he can be more compassionate. When Simon goes on his Mulligan-induced rant, Bloom initially sees him as loud and pompous. But he turns on a dime when he realizes that, had only Rudy lived, he would probably be just as protective.

So there it is folks. There’s more I could write and I’m sure there’s much I’ve missed. Please fill in my blanks and discuss below. For now, I will leave you with a classic from the band Styx, named after the aforementioned river on the way to Hades. I dare say our friends Odysseus and Bloom might have been singing a tune like this to themselves as they were passing through those glimmering gates, on their way out of the underworld.

NEXT: Sail away with Brendan (new contributor!) as he sets sail for Aeolus!

ULYSSES pp.87-93 “Hades”


Let me just begin by saying that I am enjoying being inside Leopold Bloom’s head far more than Stephen’s. I find him a much more sympathetic, empathetic and accessible character.  In the first pages of this chapter, the subtext and the… well, obvious text give us insight into these two men.  Let me share my tweets:

87. We meet Martin Cunningham, Mr. Power, Simon Dedalus (in person) getting into the carriage in front of Dignam’s with LB in last.

88.On their way thru town to funeral.LB points out Stephen to Simon.Simon asks if BM is w/him. Rants about how much BM sux.LB thinks of Rudy

89. LB reflects on Milly growing. Men express disdain for crumbs in carriage. They get stopped at the grand canal.

90. LB thinks of his father’s death and the dog, Athos, he inherited. Men chat about weather, mock a few mutual acquaintances, read obit

91. LB tries to remember what he did with letter,passes Blazes Boylen just as he’s thinking of him, examines nails and tries to ignore him

92. LB talks of Molly’s tour w/the finest musicians, dwells on Power calling her Madame, thinks of her then of Powers alleged mistress

93:Men spot Dodd a jewish money lender all have been to but LB. LB tries to tell funny story about Dodd & his son but MC keeps interupting

This chapter beings around 11am with the men are getting into the carriage which will take them to Paddy Dignam’s funeral, in front of Dignam’s home. We are introduced to Martin Cunningham, Jack Powers and Simon Dedalus who we finally meet in person. They enter the carriage with Bloom pulling up the rear setting the stage to portray Bloom as an outsider.

The carriage carries the men through town in the funeral procession.  Bloom recognizes Stephen Delalus and points him out to his father. This is where we gain some insight into Stephen’s relationship with his father. I can’t really see the warm and fuzzies between the two.  And it seems Simon could benefit from some anger management or, at the very least, thinking before he speaks.

Simon is concerned as to whether Buck Mulligan is with Stephen. This launches him into a rant about Mulligan’s character on par with the Real Housewives of New Jersey . The colorful language and lack of restraint paint him to be a bit of a loose canon. His threats go as far as a strongly worded letter to his mother or aunt and the promise to “tickle his catastrophe”, catastrophe being slang for buttocks, or so the internet tells me. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall for that one.

To me it seems this is well-meant paternal concern gone awry. It seems Bloom sees it the same way. At first, he’s put off by the tirade but it leads him to thinking of his own son’s death, what it would have been like to have had him grow up, the day of his conception and he concludes Simon is right to be upset.

But it seems Simon snaps more than he speaks showing us something about his temperment.  “It’s as uncertain as a child’s bottom” he blurts out in regards to the weather, which one of my personal faves. I’m hoping to add that one to my repertoire and work it into conversation as much as possible.

The theme of fathers and sons is touched on again when Bloom thinks of his own father’s premature death. This thought is triggered when he sees the Gasworks while they are stopped at the grand canal (the first of four rivers they cross on their way to the cemetery which symbolize the four rivers of Hades). Bloom is now fatherless and has lost his son; he is the end of his lineage, isolated.

What we see of this carriage ride so far shows us that he is isolated amongst his aquaintances as well, an outsider. There are small hints, Dedalus cutting him off from reading the obituary they mentioned (presumably because it was inappropriate), Power’s veiled insult in calling Molly “Madame” alluding to something promiscuous about her. Then right as Bloom’s thoughts wander to Blazes Boylan, they pass him on the street. He can’t understand why everyone is so taken with the “Worst man in Dublin”. He mentally disengages my concentrating on his nails.

The awkwardness really gets dialed up when they pass by Rueben J. Dodd, a Jewish money lender. The three Irishmen share an obvious disdain for him and alientate Bloom from the pack in mentioning that he’s the only one who hasn’t borrowed money from him. The obvious division here is one of religion.

Bloom tries to chime in with a (not so) humorous story aout Dodd’s son nearly drowning. Cunningham interrupts him repeatedly and ends up telling the story instead (no doubt because he’s Irish and has the gift of  the Blarney) putting him in his place once again.

There’s an obvious ‘you vs us’ vibe happening. I’m not quite sure (this being my first read) if Bloom is fully aware of how the others view him. He picked up on the ‘Madame’ comment and had a hard time letting it go. But he seems to remain fairly jovial, even after Cunningham railroads his story.  Do you think he has just accepted that is how he is viewed in Ireland, that he will always be somewhat of an outsider and has comes to peace with that? Or is he mildy oblivious to that fact? I’m sure this carriage ride to Hades will reveal more as we go along.

Throughout all of this we get hints that Bloom is an empathetic creature. He puts himself in the shoes of crazy talkin’ Simon Dedalus and determines he would be defensive of his son too. I was struck by something he thought in regard to a man he saw working the rails:

“Couldn’t they invent something automatic so that the wheel itself much handier? Well but that fellow would lose his job then? Well but then another fellow would get a job making the new invention?”

You see his pragmatism in wondering if they couldn’t be doing something more efficiently. Then you see his empathy in wondering how is would affect that particular man. Then it’s a mixture of both in that it could be beneficial for someone else and more practical. It leads me to think of how differently he relates to the physical world around him as compared to Stephen. Stephen has a hard time taking things in and processing them, he seems to be neither practical nor empathetic. He has a hard time connecting to the world around him and other people. He’s is stuck in this self-centered, cerebral space. That is his isolation. Blooms thoughts are so much more fluid. He associates things easily. And while he is isolated in a different way, he tries to relate to and empathize with other people instead of just thinking of himself. Can you think of other examples of how Bloom does this?

I think this is long enough, folks. I’ll hit you tomorrow with more from the carriage ride to Hades….

ULYSSES Funmary #5: The Lotus Eaters



Scooter Thomas, aspiring toward dolce far niente.


My owners have asked me to write The Lotus Eaters Funmary for reasons which I find both flattering and deeply offensive. On one hand, they know that my astute critical analysis could enhance “The Lotus Eaters” chapter in illuminating and perhaps unexpected ways. I’ll take that as a compliment. On the other hand, they think that I, being a cat, am amply qualified to address themes of lethargy, drowsy complacence and lazy intoxication. Would that this vile canard die a quick and sudden death! Yes, our napping skills are superior to most, but that’s hardly reason to engage in gross slander against the entire feline species. One suspects humans think us totally worthless creatures incapable of rigorous scholarship or even basic motor skills. Yet again, I must light the candle of truth in this den of lies my owners call a home.

One other issue before we start: I must confess to feelings of loathing toward Mr. Bloom, who cowardly remarked to his own cat in the “Calypso” chapter — and I quote —

I never saw such a stupid pussens as the pussens.

This is really repugnant. He is a contemptible man. I will do my best not to stoop to his level, but I cannot confess to being an unbiased commentator. This monster really boils my blood.

Ahem. On with it, then.

I trust that the Wandering Rocks readership is fully aware of the Odyssean parallel Joyce is using here. In his (quite rambling) epic poem The Odyssey, Homer describes Odysseus and his men escaping from Calypso’s island and being driven by a storm to the land of the Lotus Eaters, where the natives “live upon that flower,” the taste of which saps all desire to do anything except take a nice long nap. Odysseus “rescues” them, if that is the correct word, from this life of lazy idleness. (This Odysseus sounds like quite the nagging busybody, does he not?)

Thus Joyce employs similar motifs of intoxication and escapism in his reimagining of “The Lotus Eaters.” We are treated to a panoply of yawn-inducing images: Mr. Bloom’s tea-inspired daydreams about the far east, with its “big lazy leaves” and “flowers of idleness”; the “lazy pooling swirl of liquor” spilled out of train barrels; the chemist’s shop with its “drugs [that] age you after mental excitement. Lethargy then. Why? Reaction. A lifetime in a night.” And consider the hour of day this takes place: mid-morning (the “slack hour,” as Bloomie calls it), as the contents of breakfast settle and everything in sight (a bed, the floor, the coffee table, an empty cardboard box) becomes a potential resting spot.

Joyce is not merely suggesting physical idleness either. Mr. Pervert Bloom’s worship experience at All Hallows offers a glimpse of spiritual stultification with its placating routines and comfortable ritual. (Congregants “don’t seem to chew” the communion wafer, only “swallow it down.”) Seeing as cats have usually not been welcome inside a Catholic church, I cannot speak from personal experience as to the verisimilitude of Bloomer’s impressions, though I find the idea of rinsing wine chalices with Guinness (or, for my tastes, port) rather inspired.

Finally we have the marital laziness of the Blooms, both trading love letters outside marriage; the one who won’t act on his impulses of infidelity is the one whose head we are trapped inside during this chapter, thus another type of complacence. On the subject of human infidelity and multiple partners, I will abstain from comment. We cats are not monogamous by nature, though I never had a say in the outcome as I was viciously castrated shortly after birth. (My current owners are not to blame for this, though my residual post-traumatic stress comes to bear against them first and foremost.)

On this note, I felt quite sympathetic toward the eunuchs Mr. Bloom considers when he looks at the choir loft, though I received no side benefit from losing my manhood such as a prolonged stay in the Papal Choir. No matter. My vocal skills are quite unpleasant. I would’ve sounded pretty much like my friend Burger here.

If my owners ever put me in a cage and stick a video camera in my face, so help me God — I will bring the pain like it has never been brought before.

(And lest you think that it’s cruel for poor Burger to be in a cage like that, you should know that he’s undergoing court-ordered rage counseling after second degree assault on his elderly owner’s ankles.)

Thank you for reading. I invite everyone to a spirited back-and-forth of intellectual discussion in the comment forum.

And Godspeed to “Hades”!