Our last seminar before we take a break for the summer took place on the 28th of July. We made it to the end of ‘M’Appari’. This feels like an achievement.
Another line from ‘M’Appari’, with the “Ah” we noted last time, and then: “Quitting all languor” – Simon is building up to the big finish, though it is Lionel who “cried in grief”. Although “dominant” is a musical term, it relates to the two emotions here – passion dominating over grief – deepening on the one hand, rising on the other, with “love” here meaning Martha; the difference between what the voice and the piano are doing also feed into this doubling. There is an anagram to be seen in “lionel” and “loneli” (this is not just about hearing, it remains visual as well), and know and feel are distinguished from each other, just as they were with Bloom and Goulding previously, the phrases made to mirror each other. That “lionel” and “martha” appear without capitalisation transforms them from people into principles.
“Where?” We noted some time back how the questions contained within lines 690 to 692 anticipate this moment: those lines concerned Molly and Boylan – but where is Martha? The following sentence we took to be conveying the imagined effect on listeners, caught up in the music, that they must immediately rush out looking for her, in a flurry of questing conveyed by this sequence of monosyllables, though with rhythm and even chiasmus on display. (In the Little Review this line reads, simply: “Where? Somewhere.” We agreed that the effect is rather different.)
“Co-ome“: this is the only time a word from the song is altered to indicate how it should be sung. A line and a half from ‘M’Appari’ – right before the final three words, which are given – are not reproduced in the text (‘Thou alone can’st comfort me/Ah, Martha return!’), certain words from which appear in the ensuing paragraph. Martha it is who is the “One love. One hope.” A “chestnote” would be produced by the chest-voice: there is a sense here of practical advice being given, as though from a singing coach with a cultivated ear and some concern for the quality of the performance. Then “Come …!“: the first of the last three words.
“It” – the voice, the song – becomes a bird, which made us think of Daedalus, though a “swift” is a kind of bird; so begins this paragraph searching for ways of describing the indescribable (music) as Lionel’s “cry” returns. The soaring “silver orb” we found immediately odd. It is a metal to go along with the gold and bronze (and, earlier on, steel too); we noted too the royal connotations and then thought about drops of mercury. A breakthrough, however, led us to thinking about the musical score itself and the notation there, of minims especially, which, joined together, might resemble a bird as well (one of Sam Slote’s annotations suggested we were on the right track). The word “leaped” poses a problem of pronunciation, since the rhyme with “serene” – can leaping ever really be serene? – demands ‘leeped’ rather than ‘lept’. This flight is “sustained” (“held its flight”) – “to come” is a reminder of the song – so time moves forward and is yet static: we considered that this makes sense musically (pitch is sustained) and is only a paradox when rendered in words. The broader point in microcosm, then.
There is more coaching, or more anxiety on the singer’s behalf (whether we want to think of this as Bloom’s anxiety, or the narrator’s), in “don’t spin it out too long”. Breaths are also marked in musical notation, but we moved on to the life of the breath itself (as it is sustained) and noted the masculine emphasis in “he breath”. More “soaring” was related to Aquinas and integritas, consonantia and claritas, as expounded by Stephen in A Portrait: a verbal attempt at the praxis of this, in relation to that theory of the aesthetic.
The sense of height now brings the quality of light, and heavenly light in particular: “resplendent, aflame” (and “effulgence”, “etherial”, and “irradiation” all coming up). The word “crowned” links to “orb” as a symbol of royalty, but we were also informed here of the musical symbol for fermata (pauses) which resembles a dot crowned (see the accompanying illustration for four of these). We thought about the musical score as itself an exercise in looking for adequate ways of referring to music.
The OED has Milton as its first instance of “effulgence”, the quality of radiant light (we talked a little about Icarus here and only in retrospect does it seem odd to me that we didn’t talk about Lucifer, instead or as well as). That word did not detain us as long as “symbolistic”, which is a puzzler, explicitly referring, not to symbolism in general, but to Symbolism as artistic movement and practice: there were some interesting ideas put forward here about Rimbaud and synaesthesia as those relate to what is going on in this passage (so too the notion of pure sound in the avant-garde).
Another “high” and then the “etherial bosom” and heaven. Bosoms and music have already and recently been linked, of course – Bloom turning Molly’s sheet music at Matt Dillon’s – and we discussed warbling, and Swedish nightingales. The idea of this writing as in some way parodic was raised here (of a kind of symbolistic writing), but we eventually decided that it’s just not that good that it might be taken as parody: the main thrust remains the sense of exhaustion, an inadequacy to what is being described, the words running out of ideas, struggling in the face of the sublime.
Another word traditionally entirely to do with magnificently radiant light in “irradiation”, though we weren’t sure that its subsequent scientific sense – becoming dominant as Joyce was writing ‘Sirens’, certainly – was wholly absent, and the sun might be taken to combine the two as a figure. The “all around about the all” might be a nod back at the game of musical chairs, and we noted – again thinking about how this can’t really be taken as parody – the presence of words belonging to different registers (‘Nausicaa’ was instanced as a point of comparison).
We actually revisited “long life” and “don’t spin it out” here as a result of these reflections: Simon is not, after all, as young as he was; so is he overdoing it? Is this not actually the triumph we are assuming? (The others are going to applaud regardless.) We were reminded of Aunt Julia’s performance of ‘Arrayed for the Bridal’ in ‘The Dead’ (a post-seminar look yields: “To follow the voice, without looking at the singer’s face, was to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight”).
The “endlessnessnessness” seems to gesture towards or even stand in lieu of a genuinely endless word, in which the ‘ness’ can be reiterated for as long as is required. The seven dots likewise might be indefinitely extended (there are only three in the 1922 Ulysses, but seven in the Little Review, so the Gabler is presumably right): then again, seven is a prime, the perfect number indeed. And, with “To me!“, the song ends, as all things must.
“Siopold” brings Simon and Leopold together – we tangled with the pronunciation, but ‘sigh-opold’ seemed best – but can you tell whether Lionel is there also? This only matters, perhaps, if some play on the Trinity is going to be made. Subjectivity is dissolved in music in the way it has been at points throughout this performance, but is there something else here, given it is these two characters that are joined? “Consumed” led some of us (all right, me) to the idea of consubstantiality, that Simon and Bloom are here of the same substance (which, on one level, they literally are, but then so is everybody else) – is there some relation here to Stephen’s theory of paternity in ‘Scylla’? We also – perhaps belatedly – considered Bloom’s own Martha at this point (there will be time to come back to this). The word ‘consumed’ also conveys the sense of being spent, done, finished, as this relates to Christ’s last words on the cross: consummatum est. And … has Bloom finished consuming at this precise moment: the last forkful of mash, the last swig of cider?
We will return in due course – a date will be announced here, for some time in September – and we will then resume with: “Come. Well sung.” Thank you to all those who have kept us going through this crisis of presence and I hope you all find time for some downtime in the weeks ahead.