Overweening Generalist

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bloomsday/Father's Day: A Berkeleyite Navel-Gazes

1.) To loyal OG readers (4?) : sorry to have taken so long to get a blather out. OR: Bless me Father, for I have not been persistent, but a recent study shows we learn persistence from our Fathers, so whattya gotta say fer yourself, hmmmm? (I hesitate to commit the Genetic Fallacy and discount their findings simply because they's a buncha Mor-mons...Or are they?)

2.) As I read Ulysses, one of the themes that continues to ricochet-echo through my life are the ideas - mine and my culture's, or mine versus my culture's - of genetic inheritance. When we first meet Stephen alone, he's thinking about this, influenced by his reading in Theosophy and many, many other sourcebooks. Hermeticism and related ancient ideas - including Plato - placed the astral "soul" or epicenter of self-consciousness or the seat of eternal divine light...in the navel. Yep! Your belly-button. Yourself as something re-incarnated? Your omphalos is Ground Zero. Joyce publishes Ulysses in 1922, so he's pre-pre-pre modern genetics, knowledge about which has exploded since then. It will be a long time before we have a Grand Synthesis of how DNA-RNA epigenetic megacomplexity actually works. Gosh, it may take another seven years, at the rate we're going!

                                            Jim Gavin's portrait of James Joyce's father, 
                                                  John Stanislaus Joyce

3.) One of the corollaries of Stephen Dedalus's and Joyce's thinking is that: maybe I'm not as much of my father's son as my culture is pressing me to believe. The biological link was for Joyce undeniable; it's the - for lack of a better word - spiritual link that he wonders about. And he has his reasons. Look at Simon Dedalus in Ulysses. He's a minor character, Stephen's father, known around Dublin as a raconteur of wit, a fun guy to be around and a fine tenor, is modeled on Joyce's own father (who did not like Ulysses, but was proud of his son's success). John Stanislaus Joyce (James Joyce's biological father) was also a loudmouth about politics and religion, a mismanager of money, a drunk, and...now the less said the better.

4.) The hermetic idea of the bellybutton/navel as a linked source to all of the soul or consciousness's previous incarnations? What a wonderful idea, eh? As Stephen walks alone along the beach in the late morning of June 16, 1904, after teaching his class, we're in his stream of consciousness, and, at one point, we read:

The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: Nought, nought, one.

I loved this bit the first time I read the book. Not only wonderful portmanteau words like "strandentwining" (oddly: seems like a precog-inkling of the double-helical structure of DNA, not discovered by Watson and Crick [the latter was probably influenced by LSD] until 1953), but the idea that the umbilical cord could be used like a telephone, to call back to Eden. Navel-gazing by the introspectives, meditating throughout all of all history: maybe they can get in touch with their origins? In the early years of the telephone, numbers were much shorter, and you called a switchboard operator to patch you through. Stephen imagines the number for Eden is 11-001, which reminds me of the digital code sequence I'm using right now to communicate with you. It also reminds me of the neurogenetic archival material that mystics and some imaginative scientists have thought we could access, if only we use the correct techniques or ingest the appropriate molecules...

                              I liked Milo O'Shea as Leopold Bloom in Joseph Strick's
                              daring 1967 film. But when I read Ulysses I don't picture
                              O'Shea in my mind when Bloom's perambulating. YMMV

5.) As you know, the other main male character in Ulysses is Leopold Bloom. Ever since his son Rudy died 11 days after birth, he and his wife Molly have not had sex. When we read the entire book, we find that thoughts of Rudy impinge on Bloom's mind at odd intervals, and the scene at the end of the "Circe" episode (where Bloom rescues a drunken Stephen in the red light district, late at night), where Bloom sees an apparition of Rudy as a boy reading Hebrew...is one of the most profoundly moving passages in all of literature for me. I get choked up just writing about it here.

In the famous internal monologue of Molly, at the end of the book, we see she has not emotionally reconciled with Rudy's death either.

Ulysses is one of the two or three most closely-scrutinized-by-scholars works of fiction in history, and it's difficult to write about it without boring the hell out of people who have turned considerable personal energies towards it exegesis. But for those who've always wanted to "get to the book but haven't yet found the time," I'll just state that Bloom is, in some ways, the spiritual father of Stephen. Bloom takes Stephen home with him, and they share a cup of eucharist...errr...hot cocoa. Bloom listens to the young intellectual Stephen and realizes he's an odd egg...like himself. He even fantasizes that Stephen can move in with he and Molly. Molly can give him singing lessons while Stephen can teach Molly italian. Why, Stephen might even end up marrying his teenage daughter Milly, and become his son-in-law! But it will not happen. Bloom is an outsider in Dublin, and Stephen realizes he can't find himself as an artist unless he gets out of his hometown.

6.) One of my favorite passages illustrating how these two seemingly very different characters are like Father and Son comes in the section, late at night, back at Bloom's house, and it's a section that suddenly appears in the style of a 19th century scientific textbook, but more likely is a parody of the Catholic catechism:

Did Bloom discover common factors of similarity between their respective like and unlike reactions to experience?

Both were sensitive to artistic impressions musical in preference to plastic or pictorial. Both preferred a continental to an insular manner of life, a cisatlantic to a transatlantic place of residence. Both indurated by early domestic training and an inherited tendency of heterodox resistance professed their disbelief in many orthodox religions, national, social and ethical doctrines. Both admitted the alternately stimulating and obtunding influence of heterosexual magnetism.

This catechismal flow also discusses their differences, but the thrust of the thing? They're like father and son, although not related by blood at all.

And with this I'll cut it short. I know you really wanted to see what 7.) had to say, but I will leave this off here: the book ends at the address 7 Eccles Street.

Let us, on this Bloomsday and tomorrow's Father's Day, reflect not only on our biological fathers, but on our spiritual ones as well?


Eric Wagner said...

Great job, as usual. Or as Joyce might say, Great Job! as you sue Al. (Sorry you had to suffer through that.)

I have Paul McCartney's Run Devil Run on I celebrate his seventieth birthday today, contemplating the role of cricket in Pynchon and Joyce and Wodehouse.

michael said...

How did you know I was suing Al? Dr. Alan Maneshewitz, who botched my pec implant-job; now I look like Lou Ferrigno on one side, sorta Pam Anderson-ishly on the other. Should I curse "God" and die?

You are frikkin AMAZING with your psi abilities, Prof. Wagner.

I'm listening to old bop stuff, learning a passable version of Yardbird Suite for guitar.

Eric Wagner said...

That makes me think of my favorite book on jazz, Rafi Zabor's novel The Bear Comes Home. I have Monk and Trane playing right now as I prepare to do a bunch of paperwork.

Man, I haven't played bop for a long time. I think about how Bob Wilson dug jazz in his youth, although it didn't seem to play as big a role in his later life. I just got Quantum Psychology off the shelf. I hope you plan to participate over at the esteemed Rawillumination.net next week.

michael said...

I'll see what I can manage with QP. I've worked through it once, then again in pieces...the exercizes, I mean.

On page 13 of my edition, RAW says he's going to offer an "historical glossary" and then discusses a bunch of epistemologies. Honestly? Anyone who REALLY wants to follow the stuff mentioned pp.13-20 - do the reading on existentialism, phenomenology, Stirner, Huizenga, phenomenological sociology, ethnomethodology, pragmatism, Dewey and Instrumentalism, Operationalism, various interpretations of quantum theory, Korzybski and General Semantics, Buddhism and Transactional Psychology...I mean...why pay for college? Why show up for Their lectures and Their times?

And that's just pp.13-20.

I've had ELO going lately.

PQ said...


Really enjoyed this piece, Michael. A great and concise overview of Ulysses and the "contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality" of father and son at its core.

The navel-gazing through "strandentwining cable of all flesh" is one my favorite lines too.

As you put it, "Your omphalos is Ground Zero" and that's also why Joyce made that navel tower (Martello) the starting point for the epic journey of Ulysses.

michael said...

@PQ: I'm glad I could say something of interest to a Joycean such as yourself.

Where was it that Joyce said "Jewgreek and greekjew"? I know he thought both strandsources of Western thought could be combined, leaving out the unsavory aspects.

Then again, as RAW pointed out, "is" Bloom a Jew? It's not as easy as we'd think. I think the essay was called "Schrodinger's Jew," p.84 of TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution

I like the image of Martello as omphalos.