Sunday, June 26, 2016
Late for Bloomsday: Two More Thoughts on ULYSSES
There's a kind of 'wit of the staircase' that affects only Joyceans. It happens in late June when we recall, a week or so after the fact, something we meant to mention on Bloomsday. I've just had the experience twice in as many hours. First, back on the seizieme I should've wondered aloud why Joyce titled the novel Ulysses instead of the more philologically correct Odysseus. The true reasons are probably banal: Joyce's greater fluency in Latin relative to Greek; the historical privileging of Latin in Western European literature and education, which likely led Joyce to call the character 'Ulysses' from his early schooldays. But the decision for Latin, even if unconscious, resonates meaningfully with Joyce's intention to Buckishly Hellenize the Irish isle, to translate the events of the Odyssey into a language Catholic Dublin might understand. (And even as I type that thought, another occurs: In the bawdy Buck's mouth, the word 'Hellenize' would also punningly mean "to treat like Helen," that is, to take the island, fuck it up, and then fight a senseless war over it--which was exactly what the Irish were doing while Joyce was in Paris putting the finishing touches on his book.) Second, the "crustcrumbs" in the funeral carriage in 'Hades,' an enigma that even the seemingly exhaustive Ulysses Annotated passes without explication, are not the remnants of a picnic, as Mr. Power at first suggests. Rather, as Simon Dedalus and Martin Cunningham quickly perceive--and Bloom does not, hence the enigma--the passengers are sitting on crumbs of dried semen. Someone has used the carriage for a romantic rendezvous--or an equally alliterative hasty handjob--and forgotten to clean up afterward. Hence the Dedalean verdict, "it's the most natural thing in the world," a sentiment that blends perfectly with Bloom's memory-thought earlier on the same page, "Give us a touch, Poldy. God, I'm dying for it. How life begins." These seminal crumbs, like Bloom's memory, also sound one of the section's (and the novel's) master motifs, the presence of life in the midst of death.