You’re not gonna believe this. (Unless you’ve read the book or have enough general cultural knowledge to be familiar with the story, in which case you’re like “Well DUH, woman, of course this was coming.”)
There I was, happily plodding my way up the Khumbu Icefall, one careful step at a time, starting to feel pretty good about myself. “Ooh, I’ve got the hang of this now,” I thought. “Joyce really isn’t so bad once you get going,” I thought. “Oh look, he’s introduced a new character in episode 4. Leopold Bloom, what a nice name, it’s like a flower,” I thought.
And then all of sudden, Leopold Bloom, who is strolling home from his purchase of a kidney for breakfast (um, gross), notices a cloud passing over the sun.
And I’m like, hmm, this scene looks familiar.
And then I’m like…oh, crap on a stick.
It’s not a similar cloud passing over a similar sun; it’s the SAME cloud passing in front of the SAME sun as in episode one. Dearest, darlingest Jim Jam has REWOUND the day and started ALL OVER AGAIN at EIGHT O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING with a DIFFERENT PROTAGONIST.
Slipped and fell on my butt. Slid all the way down that darned glacier back to base camp. (Maybe I need to switch to a “Chutes and Ladders” metaphor.)
Turns out the first dude, Stephen, wasn’t Ulysses. He was Telemachus. Leopold Bloom is Ulysses. I feel dumb. The allusions were there; I should’ve caught them. Stephen thinks to himself “Usurper,” when his frenemy Mulligan takes over his little tower. That’s what happens to Telemachus.
All those lovely, complex, intricate parallels I was drawing between Stephen and Ulysses are–invalid, maybe? They’ll at least need to be questioned and re-examined.
I’m already having trouble keeping my eyes focused on the wandering prose. The Lotus-Eaters episode is (no doubt intentionally) soporific. I wanted to cry, to give up.
But then, I was listening to this sermon about the phrase “under the sun” in Ecclesiastes. The preacher said that it meant the earthly, temporal, tangible life. Reality in its most concrete form. And I remembered a lone image from Ulysses–Leopold wishing he could head eastward just ahead of the sun, moving constantly around the globe so that he would never grow a day older. It wasn’t just fear of aging that Joyce was depicting with this image; it was a desire to escape the manacles of life “under the sun.” That oppressive daily-ness, that ceaseless striving that Solomon says is vanity (meaning “mist” or “vapor”; essentially, nothing-ness). To be a part of the world where the sun rises and sets is to be its subject, its slave.
Leopold’s journey is toward agency, away from subjectivity.
Chills! Happy literary shivers up the spine!
So, with a big sigh, I forge ahead. Put on the crampons. Organize the carabiners. Pull the balaclava over my head. Ready the pickax. (Wait, am I getting ready for hiking Everest or for becoming a serial killer?)