Printer Friendly

The mimesis of metempsychosis in Ulysses.

Like Keats's Grecian Urn, Ulysses is a work of art that does "tease us out of thought / As doth eternity." Indeed, the novel boldly foregrounds the "difficulties of interpretation" (790) : "Let some meinherr from Almany grope his life for deephid meanings in the depth of the buckbasket" (263). (1) At the level to be investigated in the present study, the challenge of interpretation posed or invited by Ulysses concerns not just the meaning of the text and what Richard Kain terms its "richness of reference," but also the meaning of life or, to adopt the formulation in the "Ithaca" chapter, "the solution of difficult problems in imaginary or real life" (791). (2) In this context, A. E. Russell's mot in the "Scylla and Charybdis" chapter gains significance: "The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring" (236). Here art is valued in terms of its profundity--a quality construed to vary according to the depth of the life or, more precisely, of the understanding of life proper to its author. In the novel, this view is both challenged and expanded. On the one hand, life can never rival the perfection of art: "University of life. Bad art" (585). But on the other hand, "life is a great teacher" (43), whose lessons can provide the content or inspiration for great art, as in Stephen's account of Shakespeare: "A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery" (243). S. L. Goldberg has commented on this idea in Ulysses: "The development of the soul is thus the sequence of the epiphanies it discovers." (3) Here instead of art for art's sake, there is life for art's sake. Conversely, as Stephen indicates, the art thus produced is for humanity's sake: "the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man in literature" (777).

At bottom, considered as a mimetic project, the task of Ulysses is not just to represent "human life" (642, 819), or to provide "an epitome of the course of life" (546), or "to make up a miniature cameo of the world we live in" (750), but more importantly to illumine "the basis of human mentality" (817). Of course, when addressing the issue of "human mentality" in Ulysses, critical tradition is accustomed to draw--often with extremely illuminating results--on the theories of established psychological theoreticians, among whom the most celebrated is Freud. (4) But our own approach will follow cues in the text itself. As the quotation containing the phrase, "the basis of human mentality," indicates, the novel posits fear as the factor underpinning human mentality: "catastrophic cataclysms which make terror the basis of human mentality" (817). Yet the "cataclysms" occasioning this terror are not uniformly external, but pertain also to the inner process of "vital growth" through which life passes in its transit from birth to death: "the fact of vital growth, through convulsions of metamorphosis from infancy through maturity to decay" (817 [my emphasis]). This conception, of course, entrains the doctrine of metempsychosis or "transmigration of souls" (77), reinterpreted in the novel to signify the sequential changes of circumstance, perspective, and condition undergone by the individual in the course of a lifetime--changes so extreme that their only adequate metaphor is the transition of the same soul from incarnation in one body to another. Many critics, however, consider Joycean metempsychosis primarily in terms of an Ovidian metamorphosis of classical figures. For example, to Suzette Henke, "Molly is the seductive Calypso and 'Big Mamma' to Ulysses--Bloom." (5) To Patrick McCarthy, the notion of metempsychosis relates "the world of Ulysses to ancient Greece." (6)

Our own approach to the implications of the Joycean notion of metempsychosis or "convulsions of metamorphosis from infancy through maturity to decay" can be most efficiently introduced by brief reference to the notion of "soul" formulated in the Aristotelian-Thomist synthesis, which Stephen invokes: "it is a simple substance and therefore incorruptible" (732). In its widest definition, the term, "soul," signifies the act or principle of operation and function of an organized body. That is, the soul not only animates the body, but is also the singular and abiding principle whereby a body has individual form as this body, with its own life and modes of operation. Aquinas elaborates:

The first thing by which the body lives is the soul. And as life appears through various operations in different degrees of living things, that whereby we primarily perform each of these vital actions is the soul. For the soul is the primary principle of our nourishment, sensation, and local movement; and like wise of our understanding. Therefore this principle by which we primarily understand, whether it be called the intellect or the intellectual soul, is the form of the body. (7)

In this dispensation, not only is there no life without the soul; there is also no body without the soul. For in the Aristotelian-Thomist schema, unlike the Cartesian one, the body comes into being as a body only through the soul, which is construed as its formative and animating principle. Etienne Gilson clarifies:

We must not regard a living being as a machine inert in itself but with a soul as its motor. This is what Descartes wanted to substitute for Aristotle's notion of a living being. For St. Thomas, following Aristotle, the soul does not first make a body move, it first makes a body. A corpse is not a body. The soul is what makes it exist as a body. It is the soul which assembles and organizes what we call today the bio-chemical elements ... in order to make a living body from them. (8)

Unlike the body, which has being only through the soul, the soul itself is a principle of being, and therefore, once created, cannot not be. In other words, as Stephen notes, the soul is incorruptible, and never ceases to be what it already is. Yet, thus considered, in ontological terms, as a principle or form which, as Gilson indicates, is "indestructible by definition," the soul is immune to alteration or change. (9) As such, the soul (as defined in the Aristotelian-Thomist system) concerns a principle antithetical to the Joycean view of life as sequential "convulsions of metamorphosis." If the soul is the principle of life, then life cannot change--or, more precisely, change in life cannot be made intelligible. Alfred North Whitehead provides a superb formulation of the opposition between the notion of the soul, just explicated, and the reality of change or novelty in life: "The doctrine of the enduring soul with its permanent characteristics is exactly the irrelevant answer to the problem which life presents. That problem is, How can there be originality?" (10)

The enduring self-identity characteristic of Aristotelian-Thomist soul is epitomized by "the gentleman off Sandymount Green that Cissey Caffrey called the man that was so like himself" (461 [my emphasis]). But such self-identity does not pertain to the Joycean notion of self, as depicted through Stephen and Bloom in Ulysses. The ruptures and dislocations imposed by metempsychosis create a fissured self, not a self-identical one--a condition epitomized by Stephen's reflection in Buck Mulligan's "cracked looking-glass" (6) : "Stephen bent forward and peered at the mirror held out to him, cleft by a crooked crack, hair on end. As he and others see me" (5, my emphasis). The image in the mirror is "cleft," corresponding to the split in identity registered by both Stephen and Bloom, accompanying the passage through metempsychosis--the "convulsions of metamorphosis" which separate the present self from its past instantiations: "I am another now and yet the same" (12). For Stephen, the crack in the mirror--the factor separating him from the past and holding him back from moving freely toward his future--is guilt regarding an action (or refusal of action) in the past, which then seemed necessary for his freedom to become what he could be in the future: "You wouldn't kneel down to pray for your mother on her deathbed when she asked you. Why?" (8). For Bloom, the fissure separating two identities of himself, past and present, is grief concerning the death of his son, Rudy, at the age of eleven: "I was happier then. Or was that I? Or am I now I?" (213).

The irony of metempsychosis is that the fissure which it creates between past and present selves inhibits movement toward the next transformation. Regarding Bloom and Stephen respectively, the present self yearns vainly to return to the time before the most recent change ("Would you go back to then?" [213]; "looking for something lost in a past life" [57]), and broods obsessively on the pain suffered during the aftermath: "Are you not happy in your home your poor little naughty boy?" (95, 213); "Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart" (4). The introspective pull of the past--of "memories which are hidden away by man in the darkest places of the heart" (552)--tends to encourage self-absorbed inwardness, epitomized by the "image of Narcissus" (834) and formulated explicitly in "Ithaca": "He reflected that the field of individual development and experience was regressively accompanied by a restriction of the converse domain of interindividual relations" (778). That is, in the course of the "individual development and experience" entailed and enabled by metempsychosis, the self risks progressive isolation from others--a condition epitomized, in "Circe," by Stephen's violent hallucination of his spectral mother ("Repent, Stephen" [682]) and Bloom's enrapt vision of the posthumous Rudy, as "a fairy boy of eleven" (702). Yet, as the ambiguity of Bloom's vision suggests, metempsychosis also activates the pull of the future, and opens the individual to deeper communication or communion with another. For at that moment, Rudy is both a reification of memory and an adumbration of the imminent bonding between Stephen and Bloom, in the mode of spiritual father and son, evidenced in their respective perceptions of each other in terms of "the accumulation of the past" (807) and "the predestination of a future" (808).

The ambiguous effect of metempsychosis on "individual development and experience" (778), entailing contrary pulls toward past and future, as well as toward isolation and communication, can be clarified through further consideration of the mirror motif. In discussing "the cracked looking-glass" (6), we related the fissured reflection in it to the "convulsions of metamorphosis," when the unity of selfhood splits into two parts, past and present. Bloom's most concise formula for this predicament is "Me. And me now" (224). But on a deeper level, the looking glass is itself a reflection of the self looking into it. That is, whereas according to Hamlet (and requoted by Lynch in "Circe"), art holds "the mirror up to nature" (Hamlet 3.2.22; Ulysses 671), in the novel selfhood is itself a mirror, and the remembered past self is "a mirror within a mirror" (540), as when Bloom recalls his own adolescence:

He is young Leopold, as in a retrospective arrangement, a mirror within a mirror (hey, presto!), he beholdeth himself. That young figure of then is seen, precociously manly, walking on a nipping morning from the old house in Clambrassil street to the high school, his booksatchel on him bandolierwise, and in it a goodly chunk of wheaten loaf, a mother's thought. (540, my emphasis)

Explication of the Joycean notion of the self as a mirror, and the relation of this notion to the interpretation of metempsychosis, must proceed in stages.

The simplest way to introduce this notion of specular selfhood is through reference to Stephen and Bloom's respective accounts of it. According to their formulations, what the self encounters are reflections of its own sense of identity. "Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves" (272 [my emphasis]); "Think you're escaping and run into yourself' (492 [my emphasis]). On this level, consciousness is confined within the nutshell of its own preoccupations: outer experience (awareness of external reality) mirrors inner concerns--a condition ironically epitomized, in "Scylla and Charybdis," by Mr. Best's citation of Mallarme's mot on Hamlet: "il se promene, lisant au livre de lui-meme ... reading the book of himself" (239). In Ulysses, to be conscious is to perceive in reality reflections of one's own perspective: "thought through my eyes" (45)--and ultimately to move beyond the limitations of that perspective. This progression, as we shall see, is at the root of metempsychosis. Before continuing with this explication, we should note that one well established critical view, exemplified by David Hayman, attributes a version of self-reflection through perception to Stephen, but explicitly denies its applicability to Bloom: "Throughout his day Stephen behaves as though everything is an aspect of his self.... Bloom, on the other hand, sees himself in relation to the world...." (11) Stephen's self-perception is construed, by one critical school, as involving the notion that, as Margaret McBride states, "Stephen produces Ulysses"--not as Joyce the author, but as "a purely literary construct, the central character of a surfiction" (a term invented by Raymond Federman, in reference to metafiction or fiction which concerns the world of fiction or act of creating it). (12)

The present study approaches self-reflection from a different angle. In order to avoid misconception, it is important to distinguish the specular notion of selfhood from the subjectivist view in philosophy which, according to Alfred North Whitehead, maintains that "the nature of our immediate experience is the outcome of the perceptive peculiarities of the subject enjoying that experience." (13) Obviously, the subjectivist principle applies to character in Ulysses. The same object can be invested with different attributes and meaning, according to the mood and circumstances of the perceiver at a given moment, as when Bloom alternately views the nocturnal sky in terms first of "[t]he heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit" (819), when in Stephen's company, and later in terms of "[t]he cold of interstellar space" (827), when he is once again alone. Yet the Joycean notion of specular selfhood entails both more and less than the subjectivism just defined. It entails less, because character recognizes the distorting effect of its own condition, on that which it sees, as when Bloom compensates for his sudden vision of "[d]esolation": "Morning mouth bad images. Got up wrong side of the bed. Must begin those Sandow's exercises" (73). Stephen too acknowledges that his perception is conditioned by his own obsessions: "History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" (42). The Joycean notion of specular selfhood also entails more than subjectivism. For in this schema, to retrieve Whitehead phrases, "immediate experience" is not merely "the outcome of the perceptive peculiarities of the subject enjoying that experience" [my emphasis], but also the reflection of those perceptive peculiarities, in certain cases.

Consider Stephen first. His immediate experience recurrently reflects his own sense of identity. In "Telemachus," for example, his perception of Mulligan and Haines becomes a reflection of his own sense of inadequacy: "In the bright silent instant Stephen saw his own image in cheap dusty mourning between their gay attires" (21). The tendency to see others as mirrors reflecting his own deficiency also informs Stephen's perception of the student, Cyril Sergent, in "Nestor": "Like him I was, these sloping shoulders, this gracelessness. My childhood bends before me" (34). Here, to see the reflection of his childhood is to aggravate his guilt about rejecting his other's dying wish: "She had saved him from being trampled under foot and had gone, scarcely having been" (33). Similarly, in "Wandering Rocks" Stephen sees his own sister, Dilly, as a reflection of himself: "My eyes they say she has. Do others see me so? Quick, far and daring. Shadow of my mind" (312). At first the reflection seems positive, but it soon entails the image of himself as a drowning man, overwhelmed by remorse of conscience: "She will drown me with her, eyes and hair. Lank coils of seaweed hair around me, my heart, my soul. Salt green death. We. Agenbite of inwit" (313). In immediate context, Stephen's remorse concerns inability to help his impoverished sister. But more profoundly, his helpless immersion in moral "misery" (313) pertains to guilt about his mother--an obsession already, in "Telemachus," associated in his mind with the sea, whose "mirror of water" (9) suddenly reflects his mother's appalling death agony, when he obstinately refused to kneel in prayer by her bed: "The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting" (4).

This is perhaps the most spectacular example, in Ulysses, of the specular self, whose immediate experience is the reflection of its own perceptive peculiarities. Ironically, the death agony of Stephen's mother, here so violently recollected, functions as an analogue of the "convulsions of metamorphosis" (817) by which he himself will progress to the next stage of his own "vital growth" (817), and leave behind the welter of remorse in which he is now floundering. In Stephen's case, in order for metempsychosis to achieve a new self, the old one must suffer agonizingly convulsive demise: "A drowning man. His human eyes scream out to me out of horror of his death. I ... With him together down ... I could not save her. Waters: bitter death: lost" (57). Yet, later in "Proteus," Stephen progresses from this image of himself as the drowning man to the image of the drowned man which, in turn, is associated with the notion of effortlessly sequential transformation and "seachange":

God becomes man becomes fish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountain. Dead breaths I living breathe, tread dead dust, devour ruinous offal from all dead. Hauled stark over the gunwhale he breathes upward the stench of his green grave, his leprous nosehole snoring to the sun. (63)

The drowning man and the drowned man epitomize the contrary perspectives on metempsychosis presented in the novel--the same object (in this case, metempsychosis) perceived "from two different points of observation" (777), entailing perhaps the most profound version of parallax in Ulysses. The drowning man foregrounds the desperate struggle of the prior or inveterate self to survive and maintain its mode of awareness. In contrast, the drowned man symbolizes the supersession of the "perceptive peculiarities" (Whitehead's term) of the inveterate self by the new perceptive orientation of the ensuing or metamorphosed self, for whom the past is a reflection, not of its own anguish regarding what was lost or cannot be undone, but of its willingness to accept the "[i]neluctable modality" of change (45). At bottom, the engulfing guilt, symbolized by the drowning man, concerns not remorse per se, but the need to perpetuate emotional identification with the past. That is, the deepest motive for Stephen's guilt concerns responsibility not for what he did, but for what he is going to do, in terms of guiding his "soul," his sense of identity, beyond the reaches of past preconceptions: "Now where the blue hell am I bringing her beyond the veil?" (61). Doubt about his ability to navigate the incertitude of the future is expressed through obsessive guilt regarding the consequences of action in the past. In effect, that guilt about his mother itself becomes a surrogate mother, protecting him from the unknown responsibilities entrained by metempsychosis into manhood. Indeed, in "Scylla and Charybdis," Stephen opposes the certainty of maternal love to the "incertitude" of "the world, macro- and microcosm": "Amor matris, subjective and objective genitive may be the only true thing in life" (266). Nevertheless, in "Ithaca," Stephen's potential successfully to resolve his quandary is unambiguously affirmed: "Confidence in himself, an equal and opposite power of abandonment and recuperation" (786).

The hallmark of Joycean metempsychosis concerns the co-existence of contrary tendencies in the same character: (a) the prior or inveterate self, which resists rupture with the past and (b) the ensuing or emergent self, which accepts, and even seeks, movement toward a different future. The convulsive nature of Joycean metempsychosis ("convulsions of metamorphosis" [817]) stems from desperate refusal of the prior or inveterate self to accept the change or rupture which renders its own "perceptive peculiarities" (Whitehead's term) extinct. From the perspective of that self, change is deadly, and, in order to deny change, time must be made to run toward the past, not the future, as exemplified in Stephen's formulation: "Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past" (238). This perspective is the contrary of that which (in the "Dead breaths I living breathe" passage, quoted above) views the past as the precondition for transformation in the future. The great pathos of Joycean metempsychosis concerns the agonized refusal of the inveterate self to accept loss of the past in which its own identity is grounded. Instead of acceptance, there is resistance, expressed through excruciating modes of attachment to the past: for Stephen, in terms of guilt; for Bloom, in terms of grief. Yet, despite the agonies of resistance attending it, the process of metempsychosis does ineluctably unfold. Though Bloom, like Stephen, is currently stranded in period of painful transition, he has successfully passed through another which corresponds to that in which Stephen now writhes. In a moment of calm reflection, Bloom recalls his own adolescent rebellion against parental religious custom, with a mature understanding which Stephen, regarding his own recent adolescent rebellion regarding religion, cannot yet achieve: "Because in immature impatience he had treated with disrespect certain beliefs and practices" (853).

The co-existence of opposed tendencies, respectively pertaining to the inveterate and the emergent selves (as we have provisionally termed the nexuses of perspectives and concerns which they reify), applies vividly to Bloom. On the one hand, he obsessively rememorates the past before Rudy's death ("Happier then" [196]), regrets the loss of sexual intimacy with Molly ("Could never like it again after Rudy" [213]), and models his present on the pattern of the past, through the inertia of "habit" (655). But on the other hand, he yearns for novelty ("The new I want" [491]), muses about the possibility of fathering another child ("Too late now. Or if not? If not? If still?" [367]), and acknowledges the forward movement of "irreversible time" (858): "Can't bring back time. Like holding water in your hand" (213), "What now is will then tomorrow as now was be past yester" (631). Yet even here Bloom is ambivalent; for to him the irreversible movement of time can also provoke resistance to dreaded inevitability, as with respect to his daughter's impending loss of virginity ("Will happen, yes. Prevent. Useless: can't move" [81]) and Molloy's adultery: "Woman. As easy to stop the sea. Yes: all is lost" (351).

Bloom's particular mode of perseverating the past and resisting the forward movement of time can be clarified by returning to the drowning man image. With Stephen, as we have seen, the drowning man represents the desperate conflict between needing to repudiate the past and needing to remain engulfed by the past in order thereby to postpone responsibility for forging a future. With Bloom, the drowning man is replaced by the buoyant man, unable to drown: "Where was the chap I saw in that picture somewhere? Ah, in the dead sea, floating on his back, reading a book with a parasol open. Couldn't sink if you tried: so thick with salt" (87). Bloom's immunity to drowning is his preference for the past. His buoyancy is his sameness of habit: "O Poldy, Poldy, you are a poor old stick in the mud!" (571); "I suppose there isn't in all creation another man with the habits he has" (917). Whereas Stephen struggles with the conflict of having repudiated his past, without yet knowing how to find his future, Bloom clings longingly to the past, even though he knows that renewal of happiness can come only in the future: "Something new to hope for not like the past she wanted back, waiting. It never comes" (128). For this reason, his totem is Rip van Winkle: "Then I did Rip van Winkle coming back" (492). On the one hand, he recognizes that fulfillment can found only by awakening to the future: "The new I want" (491). But on the other hand, he lingers in the past, because he fears the challenge of facing the transformed present: "All changed. Forgotten. The young are old" (492). To return from preoccupation with the past is to risk the dislocation and disorientation caused by the progression of time: "And the coming back was the worst thing you ever did because it went without saying you would feel out of place as things moved with the times" (757).

In this phase of his life, Bloom does not want the future to happen. He is as frightened of the future as Stephen, in his hallucination of his mother's ghost, is terrified of the past. Bloom's deepest "wounds that wanted healing" (466) concern not grief for the past, but fear of the future--and especially aging: "Nadir of misery: the aged impotent disfranchised ratesupported moribund lunatic pauper" (855). Without a son "for an heir," Bloom is unarmed against time: "Leopold that had of his body no manchild for an heir looked upon him his friend's son and was hut up in sorrow for his forepassed happiness ..." (510). In this condition, death for Bloom means not just personal, but dynastic, extinction: "I too last of my race" (367). Ironically, Bloom's anguish regarding Molly's adultery reinforces this fear of the future and the futile wish to stop the advance of time--a condition symbolized by the fortuitous stopping of his watch at the very moment when Blazes and Molly presumably consummated their afternoon tryst: "Funny my watch stopped at half past four .... Was that just when he, she? O, he did. Into her. She did. Done" (482). In this context, the deepest motive for Bloom's agonized tolerance of Molly's adultery concerns the opportunities it gives him to heighten his resistance to the movement of time. Indeed, his own resistance to the movement of time is highlighted by the eagerness of his adulterous rival, Blazes Boylan, for its advance: "Boylan with impatience" (343). As Bello suggests in "Circe," the threat of Boylan makes Bloom a Rip van Winkle who resists awakening to the present situation, lest he be forced to confront its adulterous changes: "No, Leopold Bloom, all is changed by woman's will since you slept horizontal in Sleepy Hollow your night of twenty years. Return and see" (653).

Bloom's fear of the future can be clarified though investigation of the moment when, in response to the covering of the sun, "slowly, wholly," by a cloud, he suddenly succumbs to "[d] esolation":

Grey. Far. No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth.... A dead sea in a dead land, dead and old.... Desolation, Grey horror seared his flesh.... Cold oils slid along his veins, chilling his blood: age crusting him with a salt cloak. (73 [my emphasis])

Just as Stephen, on looking at Dublin Bay, suddenly reflected the bowl holding the bile vomited from his mother's rotting liver, here Bloom, in the shadow of a cloud, suddenly reflects the image of "A dead sea in a dead land, dead and old." Whereas for Stephen, the present is haunted by excruciating guilt, for Bloom the present is menaced by fear of aging: "age crusting him with a salt cloak." Indeed, this "salt cloak" of age corresponds to the "Salt green death" (313) associated with Stephen's drowning man image, discussed earlier. Bloom's drowning man is the ultimate consequence--or, more precisely, the nemesis--of his reliance on habit: "Always the same year after year" (72-73). On the one hand, as we have seen with the image of the buoyant man, floating under a parasol in the Dead Sea, habit secures Bloom's connection with the past, and defers the need to deal with subsequent change. But on the other hand, to cling to the past is to do no more than age in the future. For to cling to the past is to identify with memories which have become "dead and old."

In this context, the supreme irony of Bloom's voyeuristic tryst with Gerty MacDowell, in "Nausicaa," emerges. She incarnates or is, at least, closely associated with the fantasy of the idealized past: "Art thou real, my ideal?" (474). More precisely, she is obsessed with the fantasy of "the love that might have been" (453)--a fantasy with which Bloom himself is much engaged, as with respect to Rudy: "I could have helped him on in life. I could. Make him independent" (110). Though she seeks, through romantic attraction, to "make [Bloom] forget the memory of the past" (466), she herself is consumed with regret for the past--the the sense that "the years were slipping by for her," as a result of "an accident coming down Dalkey hill," which lamed her (474). A significant development appears to unfold in Bloom after the masturbatory consummation of his voyeuristic connection with Gerty. He achieves a higher awareness, co-ordinated with the flittering of the bat, "hither, thither, with a tiny lost cry" (473). In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the bat is associated with the awakening of self-awareness: "a batlike soul waking to the consciousness of itself in darkness and secrecy." (14) In "Nausicaa," this awakening into "consciousness of itself" is connected with the advent of metempsychosis, whereby the ensuing self supersedes inveterate one. This suggestion is reinforced by many factors. To begin with, on noticing the bat ("Bat probably"), Bloom immediately reflects on "[m]etempsychosis" (492), and then thinks of the bat in terms that suggest a winged infant, just embarked on rebirth: "Like a little man in a cloak he is with tiny hands. Weeny bones" (493).

The notion of "waking to the consciousness of itself' applies to Bloom's self-contemplation, near the end of the chapter, in the "dark mirror" of a tidal pool (498). Here he concludes that his experience with Gerty will never happen again ("It never comes the same" [498]), nor would he want it to: "Returning not the same" (491). Yet, despite this recognition of the futility of clinging to the past, Bloom remains defined by and under the influence of long established habit. After giving up the attempt to write in the sand, Bloom flings away the stick he had been using: "The stick fell in the silted sand, stuck" (498 [my emphasis]). Bloom notes the instance of "[c]hance" ("Now if you were trying to do that for a week on end you couldn't"), but of course he does not note the deeper irony. He himself, in virtue of unchanging habit, is the stuck stick: "O Poldy, Poldy, you are a poor old stick in the mud!" (571). Moreover, in "Sirens," as he focuses longingly on the memory of the first consummation with Molly, he is stuck in present regret for an unattainable past, just as the flies, on the pane of an adjacent window, are stuck in the vain effort to reach the other side: "Me. And me now. Stuck, the flies buzzed" (224). In virtue of this inability to move beyond regret for the past, Bloom's inveterate self is as lame psychologically as Gerty is lame physically. Indeed, lameness or claudication in Bloom is implied by the "slow boot" with which he erases the words written earlier in the sand (498).

The "convulsions of metamorphosis" which characterize Joycean metempsychosis combine gradual emergence of new forms with long-term continuities of old ones. There is no decisive moment when the transformation is complete. But there is, in Ulysses, a moment when Stephen and Bloom jointly achieve a new self-perception, through which each now sees himself, not in terms of the isolation imposed by his respective wound, but in terms of that which links each to the other, and, through that bond, to others. The moment, of course, occurs when Bloom and Stephen look at each in the garden behind Bloom's house at #7 Eccles Street, just before Stephen's departure: "Silent, each contemplating the other in both mirrors of the reciprocal flesh of their his not this fellowfaces" (824). Here, through seeing the other, each sees himself as a "fellowface"--one defined in terms of likeness and relatedness, not difference and estrangement. This reciprocal perception encourages the opposite of the shrinking reflex earlier displayed by both Stephen and Bloom, as when Stephen worried about spectators when depositing "dry snot" on a rock ledge ("Behind. Perhaps there is someone" [64]), and when Bloom scurried away from the iterant Boylan: "Not see. Not see. Get on" (234). But the deepest implications of the self-perception which Stephen and Bloom achieve through perception of each other emerge through examination of their function as "mirrors."

As noted at a prior stage of our investigation, in Ulysses selfhood displays a specular dimension, in virtue of the tendency to turn perception into a reflection of the self perceiving: percipi (that which is perceived) reflects percipere (the perceptive peculiarities of the perceiving agent). But during the moment of reciprocal reflection in Bloom's garden, the relation between percipi and percipere (that which is perceived and that which perceives) is reversed. For here, that which is perceived (the "fellowface" of the other) reflects and enables a new sense of identity for the perceiver, instead of simply reflecting and confirming the sense of identity already there. Whereas the dominant principle of the inveterate sense of identity was exclusion or isolation, the dominant principle of the emergent one is inclusion or togetherness. These antithetical principles--exclusion and inclusion or isolation and relatedness--constitute the core of the Joycean image of man, and achieve precise formulation when Bloom, after Stephen's departure, again contemplates his own reflection--this time "[i]n the mirror of the giltbordered pierglass," in the front room of his home: "What composite asymmetrical image in the mirror then attracted his attention? The image of a solitary (ipsorelative) mutable (aliorelative) man" (831). But, according to the notion of specular selfhood which we have explored, the mirror in this instance not only reflects an image of man, but is also itself an image of man--an image or objective correlative, that is, of the predisposition to convert perception into self-reflection: a tendency epitomized by "the statue of Narcissus" in Bloom's home (859).

Further examination clarifies the emphasis on self-reflection in Ulysses. The ultimate consequence of self-reflection and ipsorelation is insular self-containment--a condition with polar extremes, one positive, the other negative. In the negative mode, the insular self-containment of self-reflection (wherein that which is perceived is contained within the perceiver) is epitomized by Stephen's terrifying hallucination of his mother, in "Circe": "Her face drawing nearer and nearer, sending out an ashen breath" (682). The positive mode of the insular self-containment of self-reflection is epitomized in the passage mentioning the statue of Narcissus: "the statue of Narcissus, sound without echo, desired desire" (859). Here awareness is a closed system, where the object of desire is the subject desiring it--or contained within the desiring subject. On the one hand, this condition epitomizes internal harmony, as typified, for example, in Paul Frankl's celebrated account of late Gothic architecture: "a harmony of movement within itself, a living vibration from within, a current which always returns to its own beginning." (15) But on the other hand, though such harmony might apply to a building or to God, it cannot, for more than a moment, apply to a human being. Bloom approaches this ideal of self-contained harmony when entering the bed, warmed by Molly: "The anticipation of warmth (human) tempered with coolness (linen), obviating desire and rendering desirable ..." (859). But he knows that his own entry is but one term in an unfolding process: "To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one" (863).

This is a critical recognition or anagnorisis in Ulysses--one which involves matters far more profound than the issue of Molly's adultery. For Bloom here acknowledges that he participates in a larger process or continuity than that encompassed by his own awareness. In "Circe," the greatest threat to Bloom's manhood is the temptation to follow the Nymph "in nun's white habit," and enter a world free from sexual desire: "No more desire.... Only the ethereal" (661). But a greater threat is the Narcissistic temptation to be self-contained and self-reflecting, as epitomized in the bath fantasy concluding "Lotos Eaters": "He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved" (107). Here the "womb of warmth" ultimately concerns the fantasy of the closed system, where the subject is wholly enclosed by the object of desire--a state of self-contained harmony analogous that involving Bloom's entry into bed, discussed above. A related womb image occurs near the end of "Ithaca," when Bloom falls asleep: "the manchild in the womb" (870). Yet here the womb image of self-containment is pregnant with implication, regarding the final "convulsions of metamorphosis" (817) which enable rebirth into the next stage of "individual development and experience" (778), where the contraries of ipsorelation and aliorelation will be realigned.

At bottom, this realignment concerns relation to time. In contrast to ordinary or parturitional birth, which occurs at a definite point in time ("Child born every minute somewhere" [302]), the metempsychosis in which Bloom and Stephen are respectively involved itself concerns awareness of time. Indeed, this is a deeper meaning of the nostos or return home which the link between Ulysses and The Odyssey implies. For Odysseus, nostos concerns the return to his island kingdom of Ithaca and reunion with his wife, Penelope, after an absence of twenty years. On the immediate level of plot, nostos in Ulysses traditionally concerns the return of Leopold Bloom to proper conjugal intimacy with his wife, Molly. Yet, at a deeper level, nostos in the novel concerns return to the present--recovery, that is, of the ability to feel at home or centered in the present. Neither Stephen nor Bloom feels at home in the present--a condition symbolized by the exclusion from home applying to each on the day (June 16, 1904) which the novel concerns. Stephen decides not to return to the Martello Tower ("I will not sleep here tonight" [28]), and Bloom absents himself from home until after midnight, to avoid intruding on Molly's assignation with Boylan. A consequence of the inability to feel centered in the present concerns their tendency to view the present in terms of desiring its expiration, so that the discomfort it causes might thereby elapse. Stephen does this, for example, during his disputation in the Library, in "Scylla and Charybdis": "Life is many days. This will end" (275). Earlier, he had similarly foregrounded the notion of desired expiration, in "Proteus": "Tuesday will be the longest day" (63). Likewise, Bloom focuses on the desired expiration of a present moment, during the carriage ride to Glasnevin cemetery, when suddenly examining his fingernails after spotting Blazes Boylan near "the door of the Red Bank": "Mr Bloom reviewed the nails of his left hand, then those of his right hand" (115).

As we have amply reviewed, the fundamental reason for Bloom and Stephen's discomfort with the present concerns obsession with the past--the tendency to live "rere regardant" (64). But discomfort with the present not only results from preoccupation with the past, but also serves the need for attachment to the past. The desire to have the present elapse is ultimately the wish to be in the past; for when the present ends, it will be the past. In this context, the concern is not what future will succeed the elapsed present, but that nothing will succeed the present but more past. The notion of the present as the field through which everything fades into the past, and nothing grows into the future, is epitomized by Bloom's view of the sand, near the end of "Nausicaa": "Hopeless thing sand. Nothing grows in it. All fades" (498). Bloom, of course, cannot see how his remark constitutes a "dark mirror" (498) of his own inveterate mentality. Nor can he see, as we have, the indications of his own emergent change.

These can be further clarified by closer consideration of the notion of fading. On the one hand, as just explained, fading expresses the futility of the present, through which everything succumbs to transience and disappears into the past. But on the other hand, with respect to the spectacular fireworks display, synchronized, in "Nausicaa," with Bloom's voyeurism and Gerty's exhibitionism, fading is associated with revivification of the present, after the climax or conclusion of a prolonged and absorbing experience: "Then all melted away dewily in the grey air: all was silent" (477). That is, fading is here linked with the sense of an ending that entails not only disappearance into the past, but also--and more importantly--refreshment and renewal in the present. The deeper implications of this moment emerge in connection with the reference to dew ("dewily"). For just a little later, Bloom associates "dew" with the awakening of Rip van Winkle, from his long slumber, and his realization of extended lapse of time between the past and the present: "His gun rusty from the dew" (492). The fireworks episode, co-ordinated with the interlude with Gerty, involves this second kind of fading, when the present is filled with awareness of the ending of that which is now in the past. It must, of course, be repeated that, in Ulysses, the indications of metempsychosis--the ending of one stage of "vital growth" (817) and the initiation of another--are cumulative, without a decisive instant when the transition is complete.

An analogous combination of accumulating change and persisting habit is superbly formulated in Alfred North's Whitehead's account of process or becoming: "There is the aspect of permanence in which a given type of attainment is endlessly repeated for its own sake; and there is the aspect of transition to other things ..." (16) In other words, to interpolate additional phrases from Whitehead, metempsychosis for Stephen and Bloom concerns an unfolding process, which entails both conservation and novelty--both "inheritance of aspects from their own past" and "continuous transition" to the future. (17) But though, in the Joycean schema, "vital growth" is indeed continuous "from infancy through maturity to decay" (817), it nevertheless entails convulsive transitional phases ("convulsions of metamorphosis"), involving psychologically turbulent oppositions between that which was and that which is coming to be. Bloomsday--June 16, 1904--concerns precisely such transitional phases.

The University of British Columbia


(1) James Joyce, Ulysses, rev. ed., intro. Declan Kiberd (London: Penguin, 1992). Parenthetical references are to this edition.

(2) Richard M. Kain, "The Position of Ulysses Today," James Joyce Today: Essays on the Major Works, ed. Thomas F. Staley (Indiana U. Press, 1966), 87.

(3) S. L. Goldberg, The Classical Temper: A Study of James Joyce's Ulysses (London: Chatto and Windus, 1969), 74.

(4) See, for example, Mark Shechner, Joyce in Nighttown (U. of California Press, 1974); Sheldon Brivic, Joyce Between Freud and Jung (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1980); and Eliot B. Gose, Jr., The Transformation Process of Joyce's "Ulysses" (U. of Toronto Press, 1980).

(5) Suzette A. Henke, Joyce's Moraculous Sindbook (Ohio State U. Press, 1978), 83.

(6) Patrick A. McCarthy, Ulysses--portals of discovery (Boston: Twayne, 1990), 104.

(7) St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (NewYork: Benziger Brothers, 1952), I, Q. 76, A. 1, resp.

(8) Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. L. K. Shook (New York: Random House, 1956), 187.

(9) Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, 188.

(10) Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, 2nd ed., ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne, corr. ed. (New York: Free Press, 1978), 104.

(11) David Hayman, Ulysses: The Mechanics of Meaning (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1970), p. 35.

(12) Margaret McBride, Ulysses and the Metamorphosis of Stephen Dedalus (Bucknell U. Press, 2001), 29; Raymond Federman, Surfiction: Fiction Now ... and Tomorrow, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Swallow, 1981), 7.

(13) Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Mentor, 1948), 84.

(14) James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (London: Penguin, 1992), 239.

(15) Paul Frankl, Gothic Architecture (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962), 187.

(16) Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (Cambridge U. Press, 1933), 105.

(17) Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: New American Library, 1925 , 100, 125.
COPYRIGHT 2002 University of Iowa
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:analysis of James Joyce's book
Author:Levy, Eric P.
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 2002
Previous Article:Jane Austen's "schemes of sisterly happiness".
Next Article:Books received.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters