“The court of conscious is now open”
Ulysses 4: Circes
The narrative method of Ulysses dramatically and comically explodes in Circes. From section one, the book has asserted that the true drama of this day in Dublin lies in two places: the inner-workings and dilemmas of its main characters, and the literary framing thereof. In episodes one through six we rarely depart from the inner-monologue of Steven Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, then in Aeolus, the arranger plainly asserts himself, alternatively reverently and flippantly addressing his own creations with headings, and arranging thoughts and actions without linear or proximate coherence. From this point on, the arrangement and styles of the episodes heavy-handedly re-frames much of the drama to draw out thematics, literary techniques, and the replaying of the novel’s classic predecessor – in other words, the author’s story, not the characters’ story; and the author’s method, which is indeed, the mythical method.
So when beginning Circes, it is not surprising that the author of the novel has stepped in and imposed the structure of a play, and when considering the two assertions of Joyce’s narrative method – the importance of inner-drama and mythical framework – it makes perfect sense. With true Joycean humor, he turns the inner-drama he has been recording throughout the novel, into real, outer-drama; and staging it with all the mythical elements of a classic. This is perhaps the greatest example of dramatic irony in all literature, where we know something the characters seem not to: we are aware of the fact that the drama being acted out by the characters in the episode is not real: that they are dealing with inner-conflicts, in a fashion which the book imposes on them – of actual, physical conflict, and it is an incredibly telling tactic, illuminating elements of the characters and narrative more potently than could be done any other way.
So when Bloom is confronted by the women he has mentally ogled, we are not to assume this is actually happening; instead it is the dramatization of the inner-drama he is going through while confronted with the outer-stimulus of nighttown. And when Steven is confronted with the assaults of his dead mother, we are to see it as his fearful relationship with women embodied in such a way that he must deal with it. This is the essence of nighttown, the perfect place to bring out both bodily Bloom and cranial Dedalus’ deepest insecurities. In a book with very little confrontational action, taking place almost wholly in the mind of the characters and narrator, this is the episode where we see how the characters would act in their character-defining moments and confrontations, that other writers would chose to write about, and we see how Joyce would frame these events.
First Bloom IS confronted with the women he has defiled in his mind. Whether he actually wrote the notes and committed the atrocious acts he is accused of in this trial matter not in this episode or this novel, because the fact that he has thought them makes them real. We know of at least three of them, as they have been discussed in the book, and can see that they have been altered to most damnably display Bloom: Gurty reappears, and though his mental treatment of her is one of the most haunting an appalling views we get of Bloom’s interior, he did not physically disgrace her, as the trial would have us believe. We also see Molly and his fellow-letter-voyeur, portraying him as more sexually deviant than he has been in the book. But we must see that this is Bloom’s own framing of his sexuality – he is in some way disgusted with it himself, so that when Beaufory calls him, “A low cad! Who ought to be ducked in the horsepond. Just look at the man’s private life! Leading a quadruple existence! Street angel and house devil. Not fit to be mentioned in mixed society. The arch conspirator of the age,” we must assume that this is one of the many ways he sees himself and his acts. “One of the many” is of the essence of this episode as well, as the test of ineluctable modality of the physical is passed by Bloom, who can mentally redress himself for every situation of the trial, even becoming a “charming soubrette with dauby cheeks.”
But Bloom, in his character defining moment, stands up to these transmutations of his character and asserts both the inhumanity of too-harshly condemning one for the sins of the flesh – invoking Parnell – and asserting his personal greatness. “He’s as bad as Parnell,” the mob of Bloom’s mind insists. And Blooms realizes he is like a Parnell, a martyr like Parnell, even in his own mind, leading to his depression and death; but he, like Parnell, is, “more sinned against than sinning.” And in this Bloom finds comfort and even an apotheosis. He becomes the king at this point, and asserts his ideas about life with authority: “Man and woman, love, what is it? A cork and a bottle,” “Laughing witch! The hand that rocks the cradle…silence does not mean consent,” and “Instinct rules the world. In life. In death.” And from this comes Bloom’s most piercing vision, in which he again perceives what is going on to him in the episode as framed by the narrator, as he has done throughout the book, conjuring his dead grandfather and the idea of mnemotechnic. This technic is, “A book that tells you how to act with all particulars,” and thus justifies all of Bloom’s particulars, to himself, to us, and as we shall see, to the novel.
And this takes us to Steven, who goes through the same process as Bloom, being dramatically confronted with his inner-drama. This is, of course, done on three fronts: home, country, and religion, harkening back to Portrait, with the appearance of Father Dolan, who says, “Any boy want a flogging? Broke his glasses? Lazy idle little schemer. See it in your eyes.” But Steven does just as well as Bloom in this trial, finally flying by those three nets that held him back, and accepting many of the ideas he’s been struggling with throughout Ulysses. First he accepts a Blakean idea of time, saying of history, “It all moves to one great goal.” And the papacy is vanquished from his hallucination. Then Shakespeare appears in this mirror of his mind, but before he can hone in on Shakespeare’s life, as we imagine him wanting to do, he instead gets consumed with his guilt about the whores, infidelity, and his insecurity about fatherhood, but to this, he cries, “No, I flew. My foes beneath me. And ever shall be. World without end. Pater! Free!” completing the reversal of father and son in the Dedalus myth. But we see that this does not help him to escape his fear of femininity, and his own suppression thereof, as his mother comes before him from his recollection of Buck Mulligan’s insensitive comment, “She’s beastly dead,” to which she becomes beastly alive in the novel, showing us his fear, as he puts it, “They say I killed you, mother. He offended your memory. Cancer did it, not I. Destiny.” Plagued by this abstract idea of being able to kill someone with lack of presence and words, he demands to know how to escape this dilemma, “Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.” But she continues on the ethereal path, telling him he is damned for his actions, and it is he who must speak the word, who must return his thoughts to grounded reality, as he triumphantly yells, “Shite,” and reasserts his claim of “non serviam,” to home, state, and church.
Then, after smashing the ashplant and causing the pursuit, he speaks his most prophetic drunken words, “I seem to annoy them: green rag to a bull.” The rag is green, not red, because Steven has thrown off the red of the church, and he is indeed the green that annoys them: his deepest level is that of an Irish man, the state Bloom strives to, the great martyr symbol for them both, and this portrayal of that ideal of Ireland, through these two characters, does annoy the crowd, just as it annoys the Irish and Catholic crowds that have read the book since.
The visions cease for Bloom and Steven’s escape after this, and we see Joyce’s framing clearly as Bloom fatherly passes his insights about being on this type of trial on to Steven – this is Joyce telling the tale of two races, the Irish and the Jewish. This is what Steven has to gain from Bloom – a justification for the instincts of the body – and for careful readers this has been clear for a while; but there is something deeper here, something new, as Joyce shows us the reversed father relationship, giving us a vision of what Steven can give to Bloom, in Bloom’s vision of Rudy:
Metaphorically, Bloom has given Steven the wings with which he can fly by the nets that have tried to trap him. And though Bloom’s conceived son died, in this rare moments, his intellect supercedes his bodily acts, and the intellectually conceived son (Steven) becomes a replacement for his physically conceived son (Rudy), and Bloom, with the aid of Steven, overcomes the insecurities of fatherhood ever-present in the book, consciously begetting in the literal sense, in the same way Bloom begets Rudy at the end, Steven and Bloom dramatically beget themselves in Cerces, and Joyce begets them both with Ulysses: with the power of the mind and literature, which Circes shows is just as powerful as real drama.
In Penelope, past is present and thought is body.