ULYSSES Readalong ch 17: Ithaca


“What caused him consolation in his sitting posture?
The candour, nudity, pose, tranquility, youth, grace, sex, counsel of a statue erect in the centre of the table, an image of Narcissus purchased by auction from P.A. Wren, 9 Bachelor’s Walk.” (U17.1426) from Joyce Images

Oh, fellow #TCUlysses readalong-ers, how I have dragged my feet on writing this post! I actually finished not only chapter 17, Ithaca, but also 18, Penelope, and thus the whole megillah (Judaism reference!) last Friday, and was just basking in the feeling of finished-ness.

A few days ago I steeled my resolve and went back to the notes. I read the pages about Ulysses in Joseph Campbell’s Mythic Words, Modern Worlds. They were interesting, especially the comparison to Dante’s hell, and the descent and return. A few too many “of course” and “obviously”s. Then I read the chapters in Blamire’s New Bloomsday Book. As usual, they gave a good reading of what I’d just read, helping me to understand, even if I did not always agree with the interpretation. Also, some “of course”s. If you write, don’t include “of course” because whatever you’re talking about is either obvious or in dispute, and if you write “of course” then you sound like a pompous blowhard. Then, as per my usual, I went to Ulysses Annotated, and friends, I got lost. It was as if I’d descended to hell, and could not slog through those 60 pages.

I found it interesting that I read chapter 17 rather quickly, and found it very accessible, not just in comparison to some of the more abstruse chapters. But the 60 pages of detailing a 70 page chapter exhausted me, and left me not much more enlightened, and certainly with more ill-will toward the book. Then I read the summary and analysis at schmoop, and those were a walk in the park, though as usual not entirely accurate.

Now that I’ve written ad nauseum about my experience of reading 17 and about 17, let me talk a bit about the chapter itself.

In 17, Bloom and Stephen go to Bloom’s house. They’re locked out, Bloom sneaks in, let’s Stephen in, they talk and drink cocoa. They’re revealed again as both similar and different. Bloom offers Stephen a place to stay, and is declined. They go outside to micturate before Stephen leaves. Bloom goes upstairs and hits his head when he enters the room because the furniture has been moved around. This is a callback to when Ulysses gets a stool thrown at him by one of the suitors when he returns to his home, disguised as an old man. There is other evidence of Blazes Boylan, including a dent in the mattress and flakes of potted meat. Poldy thinks about revenge but in the end works his way through it to forgiveness and understanding, both of Molly and the men she’s loved. He crawls into bed with Molly, head to foot, (69 position, I thought), and the chapter ends with a big fat black dot.

What was your interpretation of that black dot? The ones I read suggested it was Poldy’s place in the world, or other things. I can’t help feeling that it illustrates the wet spot from the earlier sex that poor Poldy has to sleep in.

Would I have EVER thought such a thing about a book before reading THIS book? I don’t know.

The chapter is written as a series of questions and answers, in the catechism style of Catholicism, which Poldy converted to in order to marry Molly. There is a reference to something in Judaism itching at my brain, some particular work that is structured also in question and answer, just as in the Passover hagaddah book, e.g., “Why is this night not like all other nights?” I thought it might be the work of Moses Maimonides, who is mentioned in the chapter. He wrote a book with one of my favorite titles ever: Guide for the Perplexed, but did not find evidence of such. Is it the Talmud? The Mishnah? Some other resource I can’t remember that is commentary on the Torah or the Talmud? If anyone knows, please enlighten me.

This little paragraph, in the section about Poldy finding Molly intellectually deficient, provides a great segue to our next, final chapter, 18:

What compensated in the false balance of her intelligence for these and such deficiencies of judgment regarding persons, places and things?

The false apparent parallelism of all perpendicular arms of all balances, proved true by construction. The counterbalance of her proficiency of judgment regarding one person, proved true by experiment.

Basically, Molly knows Poldy, and he knows that she knows him.

Join us here next week for the last post from the #TCUlysses read.

There is no punctuation in the chapter so it can be hard to parse. If you’re struggling, take a look at part 1 and part 2 of this, recommended by Ulysses vet Wilson Varga and see if it helps.

6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18 and the whole thing!
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13
Week 11: book 14
Week 12: book 15 part 1/3
Week 13: book 15 part 2/3
Week 14: book 15 part 3/3
Weeks 15: book 16

9 Responses to “ULYSSES Readalong ch 17: Ithaca”

  1. crystal Says:

    For me episode 17 is Joyce’s summation and a bibliography of sorts blatantly( book shelf) and not so blatent(thoughts on isness) seem to be dited; an account of what inspires Joyce.

    Had a wild ride.  Read garden scene three times.  On first time through I could swear that after peeing together Stephen and Bloom had sex (opening and closing of doors) in the garden and then Bloom knocks someone out and contemplates if he’s killed them.  But on second go I see that I have imagined part and Bloom has imagined part.  Third go, they pee Stephen leaves and Bloom knocks his own head then chills in the room imagining and contemplating things.

    (He doesn’t wear such a high hat now, does he?)

    He lays homage to life itself leaves proverbial footnotes of the goodness of life -as bread bits along his path; food, sex, drink, education, friendship, art, parenting, literature, poetry, music, community, and progress.

    Still thinking quite a bit on this episode.

    Seeing the world through/in Bloom colored glasses.

    Fave lines:

    …pallor of human being. (p.700)

    I’ll just list one since I Highlighted so many it was hard to pick.

    On the dot: maybe it is symbol for both finite(punctuation) and infinite(circle/black hole). Or… Maybe he bumped his head and woke up dead?

    On p.731 I made a note that he enters the bed as into a coffin: “of sleep and of death.”

    Also, is it coincidence that this episode begins on p.666? I think not.

  2. Beth Says:

    Ahhh! Question overload! The continued use of this device didn’t maintain my attention very well, but I have a few choice bits I enjoyed before wearying!

    My favorite anagram of Leopold Bloom: Bollopedoom (678).

    Favorite questions:
    “What advantages attended shaving by night?” (674)
    “What events might nullify these calculations?” (679)
    “Which example did he adduce to induce Stephen to deduce that originality, though producing its own reward, does not invariably conduce to success?” (684)

    Though this section reminded Heidi of Catechism, by the end I was getting a trial vibe. Anyone else?

  3. V Says:

    Here’s something interesting: No dot in my version. I feel like I should say it as: Why is there no dot in my edition?

  4. V Says:

    Hmmm: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_spectator/2011/04/is_ulysses_overrated.html

  5. Heidi Says:

    Penultimate Episode!

    I’m w/ Crystal, still thinking a lot about this episode. Reviewing my notes, I realized I took more than for most of the other episodes. Interesting. Liked the catechism Q & A style, though it gave me wicked flashbacks to my Lutheran childhood.

    Many many passages to enjoy; many many examples of modern literature styles. “From inexistence to existence he came to many and was as one received: existence with existence he was with any as any with any: from existence to nonexistence gone he would be by all as none perceived.” [ML 1946, p. 652] Anyone else go, “oh hey there Gertrude Stein.”?

    Trying to decide which vision is sadder: Poldy contemplating pi and the cold of interstellar space? Or Poldy pondering “Bloom Cottage” with all the modern conveniences of his era — a telephone, indoor plumbing, lav for the servants, lawnmower… All his dreams, the acquisition of which boil down to speculation, windfalls, and schemes.

    Then the ultimate question troubling his restless mind, one all too close to home given his father Virag’s “exit” and yet another Hamlet-esque choice: by decease (change of state), by departure (change of place). (ML p.710)

    Poldy stays. Equanimity and resignation prevail. “Where was Moses when the candle went out?”

  6. Amy Says:

    Heh, Crystal. My edition doesn’t even have 666 pages–the book ends on page 644. So I’m gonna have to go with coincidence.

  7. Heidi Says:

    Heh. Vince that Slate article is GOLD.

    Haven’t yet conducted my final analysis of which episode I found The Best of Ulysses; Ithaca is definitely way up there. Hey, maybe that’s a good discussion for our meet-up on Bloomsday: fave Ulysses episode and why.

    Love this from Sunday Telegraph via Rosenbaum, “Only a ‘modern classic’ could condense one man’s day into an experimental epic that takes years to plough through. If the early description of the protagonist going to the lavatory doesn’t make your eyes swim, the final 40 pages, untroubled by punctuation, will.”

    “Untroubled by punctuation.” Too funny. Also Rosenbaum’s caution, “I find that men should refrain from commenting on the Molly Bloom soliloquy…”

    Observation 1: Rosenbaum mentions the Scylla and Charybdis episode and Joyce’s tender tribute to Shakespeare–playing the ghost of Old Hamlet crying out to his son Hamlet/Hamnet. Though Rosenbaum doesn’t say so, we’re no doubt meant to think of Poldy and Rudy here too. Historically heartbreaking/metaphorically true.

    Observation 2: Rosenbaum is entirely on point re: transcendently beautiful prose of Bloom’s meditations. I’d add achingly poignant to that description. The reflection on dreams unrealized, that ultimate “to be or not to be”, the resignation. Yes.

    Btw, Crystal my pagination also differs. So, coincidence.

  8. girldetective Says:

    did anyone else besides Vince not have that spot at the end of Ithaca?

  9. Heidi Says:

    No black spot, large or otherwise. Cf. foto posted to Twitter w/ hashtag #TCUlysses