Homeric link: Calypso
Place: The House
Hour: 8 a.m.
Body part: Kidney
With episode 4, the second part of Ulysses begins. In the first part – the first three episodes – we were introduced to the poet-philosopher Stephen Dedalus and his keen mind. Stephen is a young man of thought rather than of action, of mind rather than body, and Joyce’s use of language and style in these episodes reflects this. As Proteus (episode 3) ends, however, Stephen has evolved. He is gaining awareness of the world beyond his isolated (not-embodied) self, and begins to open to the “exterior.” His initial defiance wavers as he turns to check whether anyone might have witnessed his nose-picking, and, in the distance, he sees a ship, the Rosevean, moving silently upstream.
Now we shall meet Joyce’s voyaging hero, the advertising canvasser Leopold Bloom, middle-aged husband of Marion (Molly) Bloom and father of a 15-year-old daughter, Milly, and a son, Rudy, who died as an infant 11 years before. Bloom is a non-practicing Jew in Catholic Dublin. His wife was born in Gibraltar, daughter of an army officer, Major Brian Cooper Tweedy, and a Spanish Jewess, Lunita Laredo. The voluptuous Molly is now a soprano of some talent, but whenever the reader of Ulysses encounters her, she will be in bed, as she is here in episode 4.
After three episodes at large in young Stephen’s brilliant thought-realm of words and ideas, Joyce now brings us down to earth with the mature Bloom and the everyday marvels of the world of the flesh. Bloom’s very name – translated from his Hungarian father’s name, Virag, which means flower – is emblematic of what he represents: “something remarkable but unpretentious springing out of common earth,” as Anthony Burgess writes.
Homer’s Calypso is a nymph who keeps Odysseus captive in her cave for seven years, indulging in the pleasures of the flesh rather than continuing on his way home to his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus. The name Calypso comes from the Greek for hidden or veiled. Joyce chose to have Molly embody different female aspects: In this episode, she is Bloom’s Calypso, and later she will be his Penelope. Bloom is perhaps “captive” to the “nymph” who presides over his household, Molly, in the “yellow twilight” of their bedroom, although the two have not had sex for 11 years. Yet he is more captive in Ireland, a wandering Jew among the Catholic Dubliners. And in a larger sense, he, like Stephen, is seeking to be complete, and is thus captive to his partial self. For now, he is the “hidden“ father sought by Stephen, who is Bloom’s “hidden” son.
Within the structure of the book, this episode (4) corresponds to episode 1, as episode 2 corresponds to 5 and 3 to 6. As was episode 1, episode 4 is concerned primarily with space as opposed to time. We are immersed in the concrete world of form and particularly in the body and its functions. Because Stephen is not “embodied,” Joyce did not assign body parts to the first three episodes. Bloom, however, is a man of the body. From now on, each episode has its related body part, each functioning on its own and yet also as an integral part of the greater One Body that is Ulysses. In a more general sense, if Stephen is the mind (and the absolute, the ethereal), Bloom is the heart (and the relative, the concrete).
The organ of this episode is the lowly kidney, and kidneys are very much “in the mind” of the hungry Bloom in the opening sequence. (In an earlier schema of Ulysses, Joyce also listed the vagina as a body part for this episode.) It is 8 a.m., and Bloom is moving “softly” about the basement kitchen in his house at No. 7 Eccles Street, preparing breakfast for his wife, who is still asleep upstairs. Bloom, we learn, “ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls,” and on this morning of June 16, 1904, he is imagining just such a delicacy for his breakfast. A kidney is a utilitarian organ, yet also an agent of transformation, acting as a filter through which our liquid waste passes. Throughout the episode, allusions to inner organs and flesh abound, for we are now truly in the body.
The place is the Bloom house, the action moving from the basement kitchen (a cave) to the bedroom (another cave, where a picture of a nymph hangs over the bed in which Molly, a nymph of sorts, is waking) to the outhouse (another cave). In this house, the stairs creak, the closet doesn’t open and close quite right, the breakfast tray is “humpy,” the brass rings on the bed are loose and therefore jingle: This is the real (im/perfect) world of things just as they are. Bloom emerges from the house (and later from the outhouse) into the bright daylight, as he sets off to fetch his kidney from the Jewish butcher Dlugacz (also an exile).
At the same moment, in episode 1, Stephen, Mulligan and Haines are breakfasting in the Martello Tower a few miles away. But while the young men eat eggs, Bloom decides eggs are not good this time of year and opts for the kidney. Bloom, who lives anchored in his body and in a house with his wife, has an acute sense of nature and its movements and seasons; Stephen, who is living as a bachelor in a tower and in his mind, is missing this awareness. Where Bloom is grounded, Stephen is unearthly. Where Stephen is negative and denying, Bloom is positive and affirming.
Bloom prepares his and Molly’s breakfasts, and he gives milk to the cat; Stephen feeds no one, and he eats only because breakfast was prepared by Mulligan. Bloom shits, taking great pleasure in the act while reading a popular magazine, Titbits; Stephen pees (a function of the kidneys!), wanting to finish the business quickly, with lofty Aristotle on his mind. Feces are solid and substantial; urine is fluid and fleeting.
Economics, the art of this episode, is the practical science of household management. It is also the study of the production and consumption of the stuff of the material world. Bloom is at home, cooking, eating and shitting, and shopping in the neighborhood. He is occupied with managing the “household” of his body as well as the domestic household on Eccles Street that he shares with Molly. She is much on his mind this morning, as is the “management” of the “household” that is their relationship: When he brings in the mail, he discovers a letter addressed to her in a “bold” hand, which he will learn is that of Blazes Boylan, her manager and one of her many suitors.
Some of the book’s key themes are introduced in this episode, and they will recur throughout “Ulysses.” There is the cave motif and the notion of emerging from darkness (the hidden) into light (the seen). The darkness of our shackles is constantly contrasted with the sunlight of freedom from our limited selves. This recalls Stephen’s Protean struggle with the “visible” and the “invisible.” Again and again, Bloom’s thoughts turn to the East, to the marvels of the Orient, to its warm sunlight and cool shadows, where he imagines wandering “through awned streets.” Thoughts and images of the Orient, and Buddhist notions, will continue to emerge throughout the book.
Carried over from previous episodes, there are inconspicuous references to such unremarkable things as a key, hat, potato or tea, to cattle and melons, and they will return in later episodes. Both Stephen and Bloom go out keyless, the former having given his key to Mulligan, the latter having left his in another pair of trousers. Stephen wears a “Latin Quarter hat,” which is floppy and formless, unlike Bloom’s firm bowler. A bowler in French is a chapeau melon; a stranger from the East offered Stephen a melon in his dream; Bloom envisions “melonfields” in the Agendath Netaim promised land of abundance. Yet Bloom is missing something in his hat: the last letter in the last word on the label inside. He also has tucked in the band inside a scrap of paper, which will reappear in later episodes. Both Stephen and Bloom see the same cloud pass before the sun at the same moment, 10 miles apart. Both drink tea and have breakfast at the same moment, as do Molly, Mulligan and Haines, and any number of Dubliners and others in innumerable places. Both have thoughts about women, Bloom focused on the specific and on the body, up-close – the “hams” of the neighbor’s young housekeeper, Molly’s “ample bedwarmed flesh” and her “large soft bubs, sloping within her nightdress like a shegoat’s udder” – and Stephen focused on the idea of women in general, from a distance.
Joyce is introducing the interconnections manifest in all of life at every moment, offering subtle glimpses of the functioning of the parts and the whole, the relative and the absolute, the interdependence of all phenomena. He invites us to see beyond an isolated, individual reference point, expanding our awareness of what transcends space and time. Introducing Bloom and Stephen separately, he is bringing them together.
In this organic episode there are constant reminders of fertility and infertility, growth and change. Bloom eats and shits. He imagines the abundant fields in fertile Agendath Netaim and considers his parched back garden (Dublin is in a drought) on his way to the outhouse (where he will produce fertilizer). “Dirty cleans,” he thinks. “Reclaim the whole place.” Nothing is wasted, everything is important, everything grows, flowers, dies. Reading the letter from his daughter, Bloom feels “a soft qualm regret” at the thought of her becoming a woman, one of “those lovely seaside girls.” With quiet wisdom he then thinks, “Will happen, yes. Prevent. Useless: can’t move.”
In typically Joycean fashion, one of the book’s most important themes is presented in a somewhat offhand manner in this episode. (This is a reminder that we must pay attention to everything in Joyce, and, likewise, in our daily lives.) Molly asks Bloom about a word in the book she has been reading, Ruby: the Pride of the Ring. (The novel leaves her dissatisfied, she complains, because “there’s nothing smutty in it.” She prefers the works of one Paul de Kock; “Nice name he has,” she says.)
“He leaned downwards and read near her polished thumbnail.
– Yes. Who’s he when he’s at home?
– Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It’s Greek: from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls.
– O rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.” (p77)
Another word for the transmigration of souls, or metempsychosis, is reincarnation, which is a fundamental notion of Buddhism. How can that which has no fixed identity be limited in space or time? Ulysses itself is an illustration of this notion, with the Greek Homer’s wandering Mediterranean “souls” alive and afoot in the Irishman Joyce’s 20th-century Dublin. Joyce gives us “life’s little day,” filled with infinite manifestations of ordinary eternal recurrence. It is likewise with every moment, the same anew again and again. “Ulysses is, of course, a day in a life,” Joyce said, “but it could even be the life of a second.” And yet, each moment is just as it is. “The color of the day changes with the passing of time,” Joyce said. “The chapters of Ulysses are illuminated in different ways.” This is because human life is measured by time, the marvelous, unending dance of the hours, all across the universe.
Appropriately, then, the episode ends as Bloom hears the bells of George’s church tolling the hour, “loud dark iron”: quarter to nine. This reminds him of “poor Dignam,” whose funeral he is soon to attend. “Still true to life also,” Bloom had thought moments before. “Day, then night.” He then girds up his trousers and comes forth “from the gloom into the air.”
– Amy Hollowell Sensei, Montreuil, April 2007