Ulysses 3: Scylla and Charybdis – Oxen of the Sun
Scylla and Charybdis brings us back to Steven’s story and, as such, back into Steven’s mind. The whole chapter is an exploration of Steven’s idea about Hamlet and Shakespeare, both through the narrative, which has him explaining his idea to a group of people, and through his inner-monologue, through which we see that his ideas about Shakespeare stem from his own insecurities, which is where he claims Shakespeare found inspiration for his plays. We see him picking up where we left him, thinking of Aristotle at the beginning, “Horseness is the whatness of allhorse.” But he takes this idea of ineluctable modality to the very limits when he ponders a debt he owes, and thinks that maybe he shouldn’t have to pay it because, “Wait. Five months. Molecules all change. I am other I now. Other I got pound.” But he realizes this doesn’t equate because he can remember the debt, “am I by memory because under ever-changing forms.” That’s it, he decides, memory allows one to identify a self, via the allself.
Then Steven is back on his monologue, “The greyeyed goddess who bends over the boy Adonis, stooping to conquer, as prologue to the swelling act, is a boldfaced Strattford wench who tumbles in a cornfield a lover younger than herself.,” claiming Shakespeare’s ability to write Venus and Adonis came from his own securities of an unfaithful lover, which leads him to think, if my love could be unfaithful, maybe my mother could be unfaithful, which leads to the preoccupation of the rest of the chapter, ones insecurity – at least Steven’s and Shakespeare’s and Hamlet’s insecurity – about themselves springing from insecurities about their lineage. As Steven says, “So does the artist weave and unweave his image.” Who were we created by? is Steven’s preoccupation in the chapter: by what type of father and what type of god-the-father? “Fatherhood in the sense of conscious begetting is unknown to man,” he claims, because we can never be sure of our partner’s fidelity. And thus comes the leap of faith, “Paternity may be a legal fiction,” he says. Law taking the place of faith, but Steven argues that this is illogical faith. “The playwright who wrote the folio of this world wrote it badly,” he argues, and says, look instead to Shakespeare, who created his own father with his work. And that is what Steven is doing in this chapter: he looks for his father in his name, again, in Aristotle, in Blakean history, and many other places, but never in the body. He never mentions his body in the whole chapter, but bodily Bloom is not held out completely, he sneaks in through Buck Mulligan saying, “Bloom: he knows you. He knows your old fellow,” in a chapter obsessed with knowing ones father, this phrasing cannot be taken lightly.
The next three sections – Wandering Rocks, Sirens, and Cyclops – depart from the focalization on the inner-monologue of Bloom and Steven, and play more with the classic-reinterpretations, while filling out the picture of Dublim, Bloom, and Steven, with views from the outside. In the Odyssey, Wandering Rocks is a story that takes place outside of the narrative: Odysseus never goes there, instead navigating between Scylla and Charybdis, only hearing second hand how Jason once passed through the rocks, aided by the music of Orpheus. Joyce takes this narrative opportunity to depart from his main characters and look at the scenes going on in the rest of his epic Dublin. In doing so he picks up on many of the ideas that have been building in the book. First, on a religious note, from the priest who contemplates a woman who has committed adultery with her husband’s brother, and purged herself clean by his ears. Instead of creating the insecurities Steven would from this, the father merely thinks, “The ways of God which are not our ways.” The first view of Bloom that we get in this chapter is from the outside, when two men mentally ogle his wife, saying, “Hell’s delights, she’s got a fine pair, god bless her, like that./ He held his caved hands a cubit from him.” But even in this vein they recall how good of a salesman he is, “He’s dead nuts on sales,” and how knowledgeable he is about astrology, “Bloom was pointing out all the stars and comets in the heavens,” recalling Steven’s search for his importance in his name and astrology, and Lenehan even goes so far as to say, “There’s a touch of the artist about old Bloom.” We then get a scene of bodily Bloom himself, relishing in his bodily functions as he picks out pornographic literature for his mistress; and two sections later we see Steven with his sister, ashamed of her interest in the body, thinking, after seeing a somewhat sexual book she has chosen, “Show no surprise, quiet natural.” But he is surprised, surprised again by his, “Agenbite of Inwite.” Bringing us to an outside view of Steven as Buck Mulligan says to Haines, “That is his tragedy. He can never be a poet.” Implying that he can never be a poet for the same reasons bodily Bloom has a touch of the artist in him.
Sirens relishes even more in re-writing its classical predecessor, dealing with the artistic difference between music and writing. It is said that Joyce is trying to break down this barrier by writing most of the section phonetically. But by continuing to progress his themes it seems that he is saying that while writing can be musical it doesn’t need to aspire to music’s ability to be immediately affective, because it can do much more when it admits a narrative progression. Or, as Bloom says, “Numbers it is. All music when you come to think. Two multiplied by two divided by half is twice one. Vibrations: chords those are. Musemathematics. And you think you’re listening to the ethereal. But suppose you said it like: Martha, seven times nine minus x is thirtyfive thousand. Fall quite flat. It’s on account of the sounds it is,” He not only thinks about the numbers, forms, sounds, but about Martha – a character whose part of a narrative. And so we get a perspective of the characters in this chapter, framed by their relationship to music. Steven is, “That ponderous pundit,” who, “Keeps very select company these day.” Blazes Boylen is, “The essence of vulgarity,” In contrast to Bloom, who romanticizes the music of the body when musing about two girls playing with a seashell, realizing they are not listening to the music of the ocean, but the music of their own bodies, “Flood of warm jimham lickitup secretness flowed to flow in music out, in desire, dark to lick flow, invading. Tipping her tepping her tapping her topping her…Now! Language of love.”
And then, Cyclops relishes in its literary predecessor with endless little puns, such as, “Did you see that bloody chimney sweep nearly put my eye out,” and, “Don’t be afraid, I won’t eat you,” but also by being very binocular in a way the Cyclops of Joyce’s tale and Homer’s is not. While recording the conversation of the racist citizen, Joyce continually jumps into past story the citizen obviously doesn’t know, retelling grand scenes that lead to his flippant remarks. His remarks are of course about Bloom – about his shabby race, and his sexual wife – and just like the Cyclops in Homer’s story underestimated Odysseus because of his shabby appearance, Joyce’s Cyclops underestimated Bloom because of his poor view of history. But the narrative shows that there is more to this Bloom than can be seen. The racehorse whose victory Bloom unknowingly prophesized is brought up just after J.J. says, “That’s the new messiah for Ireland. Island of saints and sages.” And indeed Bloom preaches something like the messiah, when the conversation turns to Steven’s idea from Scylla and Charybdis, that persecutions and other negative forces make life what it is (make art, as Steven would say), to which bloom replies, “Force, hatred, history, and all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life. Love. I mean the opposite of hatred.”
Then, in Nausicca, we see Bloom loving a woman on the beach. First, from Gerty McDowell’s perspective, we hear her very girlish ambitions to capture a boy she has been flirting with for months, convert him if he’s not of her religion – because he would surly convert if he loved her – and trying to stand apart from her childish friends. She wants to look adult and elegant, and the ogling of an onlooker makes her feel so. Of course this onlooker is Bloom, who masturbates to her image, thinking, “Glad I didn’t do it in the bath this morning to her silly I will punish you letter.” The human form is far more arousing for Bloom than the letter. His thoughts rarely depart from the curves of her legs for the rest of the chapter, and when they do, it is because he is in a hurry; he only stops to look at something for a moment, “What’s that? Might be money./ Mr Bloom stooped and turned over a piece of paper on the strand. He brought it near his eyes and peered. Letter? No. Can’t read. Better go.” The only letter we know of left on the strand on this day, is Steven’s poem left there this morning. So Bloom picks up Steven’s discarded letter, but finds even that high style of writing trite next to the thought of a woman’s body.
We find out in the next chapter, Oxen of the Sun, what Bloom was rushing to: the delivery of a child, where he will be next to the writer of that letter, as both of them are viewed through all the lenses of middle English. This is an extremely interesting chapter because we see how this story of Bloom and Steven would be portrayed in the various styles that have dominated the history of Middle English. Some would be as direct in their characterizations as, “Thereat laughed they all right jocundly only young Stephen and sir Leopold which never durst laugh too open by reason of a strange humour which he would not bewray and also for that he rued for her that bare whoso she might be or whersoever,” and, “And now Sir Leopold that had of his body no manchild for an heir looked upon him his friend’s son.” Progressing to…