Seminar, 11 June – ‘Sirens’, 895-916

We resumed on Gabler p.230, checking that we had understood lines 1:893-4. ‘They like sad tale at end’ probably means ‘women like letters to tail off sadly at the end’ (thus the author can play on their sentiments), though it has ambiguous traces of ‘women like a written character – like “H” – to have a sad tail at the end’, or ‘people like music that tails off sadly’. The primary meaning seems corroborated, though, by Bloom’s provision of a ‘sad tail’ to the letter with his ‘P.P.S’: ‘I feel so sad today. So lonely’. He is trying to play on her feelings and gain favour, but also perhaps being sincere: he does after all have reason to feel sad and lonely, even if he’s been dining with Richie Goulding. All this doesn’t entirely explain his ‘La la la ree […] La ree […] Dee’. Is this a mental echo of the music that he is still hearing Bob Cowley play? Or an internal mental music that soundtracks his ‘sad’ piece of writing?

‘He blotted quick on pad of Pat’ (11:895): Bloom places his handwritten letter on the blotting pad that Pat the waiter brought earlier, to remove excess ink. ‘Envel. Address’ is probably a compressed interior monologue: next the envelope, and to write the address. ‘Just copy out of paper’ also seems to be thought, not spoken, though it describes something that he won’t actually do: Bloom is ‘method acting’, thinking his way through the character of Henry Flower. ‘Murmured’ signals something that he actually says, making the deception more overt for Goulding’s benefit: ‘Messrs Callan, Coleman and Co, limited’. This sounds like a firm to which he’s applying for a job; in fact it’s the names of people he’s seen in the Freeman’s Journal obituary column on the previous page (11:857). The level of ingenious deception here amuses. ‘Henry wrote’ emphasises the method-acting idea: Henry isn’t really writing anything, as he doesn’t exist, but ‘Henry wrote’ corresponds to what is written, Martha’s address, as the letter to Martha in effect constructs a fiction of Henry.

We didn’t linger on ‘Miss’ Martha’s address – though note that she uses a post office to collect mail, as Bloom does, thus preserving secrecy or security. ‘Blot over the other so he can’t read’ (11:901): we thought that this meant ‘put the envelope, too, on the blotting pad, thus covering up and confusing any traces of the text of the letter’. ‘There. Right’ conveys the action. This leads Bloom to think about what could be gleaned from such an item: ‘Something detective read off blottingpad’ (11:902). We wondered if this reflected an existing, earlier detective story, from Poe or later (some Joycean critic has probably already investigated this), and noted that references to the detective genre are relatively rare in Ulysses (apart from ‘Sherlockholmesing’ as a verb in episode 16). All this comes to Bloom as the germ of a story for Tit-Bits: ‘Idea prize titbit […] Payment at the rate of guinea per col’ (11:901-3). This directly echoes ‘Calypso’ (4:502-4): Bloom recalls the opening line of ‘Matcham’s Masterstroke’, leading him via the association of the name Philip Beaufoy to ‘Poor Mrs Purefoy’ (11:903). It’s droll and quite mimetic of Joyce to repeat this motif of the misremembered name and auditory association. Thinking of Mina Purefoy leads to ‘U.P: up’ simply, we thought, because he and Josie Breen spoke of both topics earlier (Gabler p.130).

‘Too poetical that about the sad’ means that Bloom is already regretting his P.P.S. of a minute earlier. ‘Poetical’ is a generous name to give it. ‘Music did that’: he blames the influence of Cowley’s playing, or maybe the preceding musical atmosphere in general, for putting him in the mood to overdo the emotion. ‘Music hath charms’ comes from William Congreve in 1697, but we might not blame Bloom for idly thinking that ‘Shakespeare said’ it – but again it’s very droll of Joyce to introduce a thought that’s simply erroneous. ‘Quotations every day in the year’: Shakespeare can provide them (and ‘Music hath charms …’ might be one, if Shakespeare had written it), and did, in 19th century diaries, as Don Gifford notes. ‘To be or not to be’ isn’t much of a quotation on its own, but Bloom may be imagining more of the soliloquy being included, or just idly remembering a Shakespearean phrase (this one actually by Shakespeare). ‘Wisdom while you wait’ amusingly implies the processing of Shakespearean verse, understood as ‘wisdom’, into a commodified, portable form, closer to Bloom’s understanding of Shakespeare than to that of Stephen Dedalus. We considered the origins of ‘while you wait’ – a phrase that essentially means you won’t have to wait very long, and can thus afford to hang around on the spot (as when having keys cut).

‘In Gerard’s rosery of Fetter lane he walks, greyedauburn’ (11:907) is an image of Shakespeare in London, forged by Stephen Dedalus at 9:651-2. Stephen never spoke this aloud; the novel has retained his imaginative piece of interior monologue and repeats it, with variation, here, well beyond Leopold Bloom’s ken. The lines ‘One life is all. One body. Do. But do’ (11:907-8) directly repeat those from episode 9. This paragraph is an interpolation from outside the scene, which stitches together two episodes. It has one further element of significance: the ‘Scylla & Charybdis’ paragraph ends ‘Afar, in a reek of lust and squalor, hands are laid on whiteness’ (9:654), a line with at least rough relevance to events in Eccles Street. Bloom has an idea of those events, but not of Stephen’s earlier thought, to which Joyce, conceivably, means to send us back.

‘Do. But do’ is bathetically picked up by Bloom’s ‘Done anyhow’ (11:909), meaning ‘I’ve written the letter, anyway, regardless of whether it became too poetically sentimental at the end’. ‘Postal order, stamp’ are what he’ll acquire from the ‘Postoffice lower down’ the quay. ‘Walk now’ is what he’ll do imminently: ‘Enough’ calls time on his time at the Ormond, with Goulding. ‘Barney Kiernan’s I promised to meet them’ is information (which we haven’t previously received, but plainly sets up episode 12): ‘Dislike that job’ refers to his role in visiting the Dignams’ ‘House of mourning’ on financial business. It’s conceivable, as Hugh Kenner once said, that he dislikes it because it places him in a stereotypically Jewish role, but here that would be a speculative reading from very little evidence. ‘House of mourning’ is from Ecclesiastes in the Bible, and might slightly remind us of Stephen’s ‘Houses of decay’ (3:105), which referred to Goulding among others. ‘Walk’ is again what Bloom means to do – but he won’t even begin to leave the Ormond for another two pages. ‘Pat!’ is called aloud, despite not being preceded by an em-dash: we know, because Pat ‘Doesn’t hear’, being a ‘Deaf beetle’. (Gifford thinks that ‘beetle’ or ‘beetlehead’ is ‘slang for blockhead’.)

‘Car near there now’ (11:912) refers to Blazes Boylan’s jaunting car nearing Eccles Street. (Is Bloom underestimating Boylan’s speed? At the top of the page Boylan was already passing Bloom’s local butcher shop. The question of when exactly Boylan arrives or anything happens remains ambiguous.) ‘Talk’ sounds like an echo of Bloom’s much earlier ‘Talk. As if that mend matters’ (5:76-7) – that is, ‘as if talking things through with Molly would repair our marriage’. But then why repeat ‘Talk’? Does Bloom imagine the ‘Talk’ quite possibly going on between Boylan and Molly at the start of their rendezvous? Or does, say, the second ‘Talk’ refer to the murmur of conversation in the Ormond? Bloom calls for ‘Pat!’ again, who ‘Doesn’t’ hear, again. Pat is settling napkins on tables; Bloom thinks of how much ground he ‘must cover in the day’, even while just walking around the Ormond, but is less kind than usual in imagining the bald waiter with a face painted on the back of his head: ‘then he’d be two’. Perhaps the meaning is just that, being deaf, he could do with an extra face in order to see those behind him whom he can’t hear. ‘Wish they’d sing more’, though he didn’t seem greatly enthused by the singing at the time: because it would ‘Keep my mind off’. (But did it, while they sang?)

Into a paragraph that becomes pure textual process. ‘Bald Pat who is bothered mitred the napkins’ (11:915): we noted once more that ‘bothered’ means deaf, and this time via Gifford picked up on the word’s Irish root; and we noted the precise elegant shape in which Pat arranges napkins. ‘Pat is a waiter hard of his hearing’: the move into present tense already indicates a shift of emphasis, from describing action to a more archetypal notation of the character. This will involve plenty of redundancy: after all we already know that Pat is a waiter, and that he’s hard of hearing – but ‘hard of his hearing’ is mainly for scansion. ‘Pat is a waiter’ – that’s plain – but ‘who waits while you wait’ picks up on the phrase in ‘Wisdom while you wait’, above. Pat waits on you (does his waiter’s job of fetching and carrying) while you wait (that is, wait for him to deliver food, take dishes away and so on). He also sometimes ‘waits’ in the same, simple sense (that is, he waits for custom, or waits for a customer to finish before clearing away), though perhaps he doesn’t do that ‘while you wait’. We’ll pick up the paragraph with ‘Hee hee hee hee’ (11:916) on Friday 9th July 2021.

[Blog by Joe]

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Seminar, 7 May – ‘Sirens’, 878-894

At the May seminar, we began by noting the indebtedness to Thom’s Directory of the style as much as the substance (though that too) of the next paragraph. Barton James did live at the given address, but if he was a cab driver, with this license number, that wouldn’t be available to Joyce through Thom’s. Is it possible he just happened to know this? If it is factual, of course: how could we check? Or was somebody living on “Harmony avenue” chosen simply for the musical qualities of that name, perhaps? A “fare” is how a cabbie would perceive Boylan, though we also noted the play on ‘affair’. There is a change in register at that point: the turn to an interest in fashion made us think of ‘Nausicaa’, but also of Douce and Kennedy, and at least one way in which they might perceive Boylan. Is he “young”? He is certainly living the life of a “young gentleman”, but if we consider some real-world models for Boylan, early to mid-thirties would seem to be right. Roughly the same age as Bloom, in other words, who is also a customer of Mesias and Plasto both, details of these businesses coming straight from Thom’s.

We wondered who says “Eh?” The narrator, of course, but there’s something new to this, we thought. At one point in the drafts this was ‘See?’ and we took the change to enhance the auditory qualities, framing it as speech ahead of writing (though it’s all writing). If the reader is still in any doubt as to the identity of the “very dressy” young gentleman in the cab (which that ‘eh’ might then be querying), then the jingle tips them off, the recurring motif here given in nursery rhyme form. Boylan is very close to Eccles Street now and the references to “porkshop”, “bright tubes” and so on take on a carnal quality, though we noted “Agendath” as disrupting the flow, while “gallantbuttocked mare” reminded us of the next door girl (whom Bloom will recall in the next paragraph) and the connexions between Molly and horses – Boylan’s connexions, indeed – in ‘Penelope’. ‘Gallant’ is a loaded word, then. But we also noted something interesting in the way this line seems to be actively reading ‘Calypso’, not merely referencing it. Dlugacz sells much more than pork, yet this detail – the significance of it left for the reader to tease out in ‘Calypso’ – approaches the quality of commentary, on Bloom’s eschewal of Jewish dietary practices.

“Answering an ad?” The ruse has worked: Richie’s not that “keen” (unless he’s pretending for the sake of politeness). Bloom proceeds to provide the details: he is applying for a job (he is not). “Town traveller” also comes up in ‘Calypso’, associated there with scamming, as a product is hawked around a particular locale (George Gissing’s novel of 1898, The Town Traveller, was mentioned here). It is Richie’s eyes that are doing the asking – though the question has to be spoken aloud to elicit the response – so we continued to wonder how suspicious he is (is it merely that Bloom has not spoken for a while?) “Nothing doing” is also found in ‘Calypso’ (4.200), in reference to the Agendath Netaim scheme: all these parallels and cross-references serve as reminders that Boylan is now where Bloom was.

“Bloo mur” recurs (see line 860) as Bloom continues to pretend to apply for this imaginary job. “But Henry wrote”: what Bloom is actually doing, we decided, is continuing to press Martha to write this word which will excite him; and “You know how’ could then apply to lots of things. “In haste” is actually written, in signing off a dashed-off letter, and then signing it “Henry” with the “Greek ee”; but “Better add postscript” is a reminder of the performed nature of all of this, the ensuing P.S. and P.P.S. contradicting the feigned haste (I have no time to go on, but I cannot bear to stop, as it were). Bloom can still hear Cowley playing, and satisfies himself that he is improvising rather than playing anything in particular, in which case “Intermezzo” rather elevates what is being heard, though there is a song to come (and this aside is itself coming between two parts of Bloom’s own improvisation as he composes the letter and its postscripts).

“The rum tum tum” (cf Stephen’s “rum tum tiddledy tum” at 3.492) ties together the two acts of improvisation then (and it made us think of Bloom drumming his fingers again, accompanist to his own act of writing). The postscript seems to contain the part that most excites Bloom, in the absence of that unwritten word he is requesting, in wanting to know how he will be “pun”, “punish”, punished (a nod at punning, but also slowing down here so as to foreground the physical act of writing, the movement of the eye across the page, in the same way that the “O” might be the actual “o” of “know”, this continuing on into the rest of this paragraph, as thinking and writing weave in and out of each other). The excitement takes the form of this recall of the next door girl from ‘Calypso’ (4.150-51, 164), which memory excited him there too, a visual stimulus then as now (and nothing to do with Martha, of course, who is entirely non-visual). We noted that “Course if I didn’t …” makes “Tell me I want to” rather redundant: the feigning of haste has given way to padding, as the stratagem of the postscripts requires.

Cowley’s switch to the minor key – nicely caught in “La la la ree” – prompts a question from Bloom – “Why minor sad?” –  that we did spend some time considering, and we also wondered if this prompts Bloom’s addition of the post-post-scriptum (“Sign H” is entirely in keeping with the form and with the tailing off), or merely determines the content of it, the final note of sadness. Bloom does indeed go on to blame it on the music at line 904, considering it made him “Too poetical”, yet here he assures himself that they “like sad tail at end”, ‘tail’ punning on ‘tale’, but also suggesting a tail between the legs (very unlike Boylan, in other words). So is Bloom sad, or is he performing sadness? We tailed off ourselves a little here (see the next blog for more on these lines) though not before wondering whether the “Dee” might be the terminal “d” of “sad”.

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Seminar, 16 April – ‘Sirens’, 865-877

On the 16th of April, our online seminar considered lines 865 to 877 of ‘Sirens’.

After considering “On” as a famous Beckettian word, we reminded ourselves that Bloom is still play acting for Goulding. “Know what I mean” we had difficulty seeing going directly into the letter at first (we actually didn’t quite know what Bloom meant at first sight); but if we postulate a missing ‘I’m sure you know …’ preceding it (‘you know what I mean when I say it is impossible to write’, as it were), then it makes more sense (and the “ee” would then be the ‘e’ in “mean”). We know that the last “litt pres” was stamps, and the querying of this by Martha (4.243) will be why it’s now going to be a postal order instead, perhaps. Is Bloom’s concern that she will not reply unless he funds her? Either way, he’s not going to ask, he’s just going to send (and we noticed that he will not be replying to her question about the stamps, nor the subsequent one about his wife’s perfume).

Bloom proceeds to work out his daily budget so far, the elisions and compressions carrying straight over from composing the letter, the order a reminder of previous episodes. Here as with the later budget in ‘Ithaca’, Bloom needs to get his story straight, but also to figure out what he can afford. It really is a “poor litt pres”, a postal order for “two and six” which he will get when he goes to the post office (“p.o.” might signify either). Still, is this an instinct of generosity, or simply Bloom squaring things so he doesn’t feel himself to be indebted in some way?

The next part seemed a mix of Bloom and the narrator (who must be responsible for “Jingle”, for instance); so where quotations from Martha’s letter appear – “Write me a long” – the source might be either of these, and what is actually going into the letter being written – “So excited”, say – also becomes harder to determine. Another interpolation: the “sluts in the Coombe” and the song about “Mairy” (5.279-85), which appears shortly after Martha’s letter in ‘Lotus Eaters’, with a “string” here where it is a pin everywhere else (Gabler points to the Rosenbach MS for this choice, but it does seem an odd one). “Bye for today” seemed to us a bit lame, and it is conspicuously followed by a double “Yes, yes”, always associated by the reader of Ulysses with another woman altogether. What Bloom wishes to keep up – alongside the obvious innuendo – is the back and forth of the correspondence (so “To keep it up” can be both quotation and a thought in the here and now). Bloom’s pedantic attention to the mistakes of Martha’s letter cuts across the amorousness. “Believe” and “tank” and the insistence that “It” is true take us back to lines 816-20.

Bloom is then struck by the folly of what he is doing, but perhaps in the sense of danger as well as mere foolishness. What it is that “Husbands don’t” do might be a range of things, but writing this sort of letter in the first instance – a less than masculine form of subterfuge – because their wives are present (there is an Odyssean note in this idea of being absent, of course). Or wives hold their husbands back from doing what they’d like? “Suppose” she found out, presumably – by finding the card in the “high grade ha” as one possibility – but then “She must” is confusing: Molly must do what she is doing? To keep young? (To keep both of them young, even.) Or she must find out (and this turn of events would keep them both young).

Bloom would not tell all, and the card would hardly give it all away in any case; and for all the idea of “Useless pain” there’s not much to tell; we wondered whether Molly would care anyway. The “pain” led us down the traditional route of wondering what would come of Bloom returning to Eccles St at this point, and the idea of his own subliminal acceptance that what happens (is about to happen) must happen, any intervention also causing “Useless pain”. He cannot name Molly – “Woman” (see line 641) – but he cannot generalise either. Except that he finds that he can, with an old cliché about sauce and geese.

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Seminar, 5 March – ‘Sirens’, 847-864

On the 5th of March, our online seminar considered lines 847 to 864 of ‘Sirens’.

The monosyllables of the first four sentences pose a challenge to the reader (in reading out loud, anyway). We began with the intriguing and impressively developed theory – illustrated by a graph, no less – that the seven different vowel sounds here are equivalents of the solfa system of musical notation; looked at in this way, the four sentences are not really music as such (short of a performance), but they evoke and imitate a system of music. We noted the dominance of Pat (tonic); the presence of plosives as a feature of musical speech; and of “took” and “plate” as non-recurring vowel sounds. The word “quite” is the tricky one here, though it’s perfectly correct if taken to be indicating that ink pads are not quite flat (they’re only quite flat). If this is just the one trip to the table on Pat’s part, with pad and ink, we thought it strange that a pen isn’t mentioned. Stepping back from the music still further, we noted how Pat is reduced to a servile position, the sum of his motor functions: his limited hearing betokened by limited words, perhaps.

“It was the only language”: meaning Italian – Goulding and Bloom have reflected on it previously, and it is the subject of further reflection in many places in Ulysses, from Bloom and Stephen in ‘Eumaeus’ especially – given the ‘only’ it is ironic that Simon did not sing ‘M’appari’ in that language. Referring to his boyhood prompted us to remember Simon as the praiser of his own past from A Portrait, while Ringabella and Crosshaven have already functioned in ‘Wandering Rocks’ as shorthand for local knowledge of Cork (10.400, between Ned Lambert and J. J. O’Molloy). We were reminded that Stanislaus Joyce discusses the argot of Cork sailors (native rather than Italian) in My Brother’s Keeper: this is a more romanticised version of the sounds of that locale, with its musical play on the repetition of the already musical “Ringabella”, a call and response between passing gondoliers as they sing their “barcaroles” for the tourists.

In “Queenstown harbour full of Italian ships” we detected an echo of the Citizen’s complaint about empty Irish harbours in ‘Cyclops’ (12.1296-1310), but here the note is of a welcome internationalism, a savour of the cosmopolitan. The scene evoked is an odd one in lots of ways and we detected a trace of Garibaldi in this romantic image of Italian ships, a romanticism which continues with the idea of walking in the moonlight. We weren’t at all sure about “earthquake hats” and Gifford’s annotation did not reassure us: these hats are difficult to picture, as though this is a form of headwear lost to common knowledge? “Blending their voices”, singing harmonies: the last four words blend and harmonise amongst themselves, in a rearrangement and reordering of what has gone before.

Simon proceeds to pretend to be one of his Italian sailors calling, a theatrical (and typical) gesture serving as excuse to launch into a performance which is also the memory of a performance. The “anear” and “afar” were words much played with earlier in the episode, attached to Kennedy and Douce, here cast in different roles. The coo is that of a lover calling? There are no voices blending here, of course, nor any near and far; just Simon, playing both parts, it would seem (we noted the presence of this cooing in the overture also: “A moonlit nightcall: far, far”).

The “baton” casts Bloom as conductor, though “your other eye”, Miss Douce’s punchline from earlier on in the episode (11.148), suggests something phallic about this rolled-up newspaper. Bloom wasn’t in the Ormond for the delivery of that line (though nor was anyone else, just Douce and Kennedy alone), so we noted that what must be third-person narration is followed by interior monologue (“scanning for where did I see that”): voices really are blending here, as if following Simon’s cue. Bloom has scanned these names from the funeral notices already, in ‘Hades’ (6.157-58) and the “Heigho! Heigho!” comes from the end of ‘Calypso’, in proximity to “Poor Dignam! (4.551). This is the start of what will be quite a performance, for Goulding’s benefit, in which Leopold Bloom will be covering for the activities of Henry Flower; here he is making it seem as though he has found what he was looking for in the paper and is ready to begin.

If the “rat” is Goulding, we thought this unduly harsh on Bloom’s part. The paper is now held in one hand, so obscuring Goulding’s view, while Bloom writes with the other, which we judged not easy to do, though we could just about picture it. There follows the first reference to the adoption of “Greek ees”, presumably as a way of disguising the handwriting: not a terribly good disguise, the result of a poorly thought through and slightly paranoid strategy. Or is Bloom presenting himself as somehow more literary to Martha? Bloom dips into the ink and then  murmurs “dear sir” in lieu of what he is actually writing: on more than one level “Bloo mur” is the blue murder with which he is trying to get away, as well as suggesting a mistake (and, in “mur”, even the wall he has built to hide the letter).

“Dear Henry” is Martha’s address, the interpolation suggesting Bloom getting into character. “Mady” struck us as even a little overfamiliar; it is repeated at line 1188, but nowhere else (yet, clearly, this is what Bloom writes). Bloom himself lets flow with “lett[er]” and “flow[er]”. If he can’t remember, we could: the letter was placed in his heart pocket in ‘Lotus Eaters’. The truncations appear in Bloom’s interior monologue – “pock or oth” – just as they do in his rehearsal of the letter (though presumably not in the letter itself). It clearly isn’t impossible to write today and we wondered why Bloom has chosen to write the letter here, since Martha specifically asked for a long letter next time (5.251). We concluded it had something to do with Boylan’s synchronous progression to Eccles Street and Bloom’s awareness of this. Here, he might even write “imposs” to stress the haste, underlining it for emphasis (but taking up more time in doing so): underlining rather than italics (as would have been the case in the manuscript, for what it’s worth). The word is close to ‘imposter’, which has various resonances.

“Bore this”: Bored, but also bearing something; and obviously performing boredom for Goulding’s benefit. The tambourining is also part of that fakery (we imagined Bloom tapping his fingers in a wave-like form, not quite like drumming). We admired the adjectival form of “I am just reflecting fingers”. The last four words did not bring us quite in a circle for the session, since the pad is no longer ‘quite flat’ – it has been rendered properly and entirely flat by the drumming? And thinking back to the notation we considered at the start, those four words – “flat pad Pat brought” – sound the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth.

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Next Seminar – 7 May, 6-8pm

I keep telling myself I’ll wait for the blog to be ready before I post about the next seminar and … well, here is the date and time of the next seminar, to be held online this Friday, at 6-8pm (GMT+1), at the usual site, courtesy of Joe: https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/c49cbc86f6f84ac390f91ad0252aa9d3. We are at line 878 in the Gabler (having read rather further but not having taking our time with it last time): “A hackney car, number three hundred and twentyfour, driver Barton James”.

After which, the next seminars will be the 11th of June and the 9th of July; there is also something planned (exact details tbc) for Bloomsday.

Blogs for March and April to follow – hope to see seminarians on Friday.

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Seminar, 12 February – ‘Sirens’, 834-846

On Friday 12th February 2021, the group convened online to read 13 lines of ‘Sirens’.  ‘Musemathematics’ (11: 834) largely seems to reproduce the theme already discussed, the common ground of music and mathematics, but we also wondered if the ‘Muse’ was signalled. It’s a suitably Homeric term (‘Tell me, O Muse …’), and there is a fair amount of ‘musing’ in the chapter, though the Nine Muses of classical myth are artistic and don’t include one for mathematics; this word might call for an addition.

‘And you think you’re listening to the etherial’ (11: 834-5; the i in the last word is altered to an e by Rose and O’Hanlon’s 2017 online edition, rightly or not) means: you think you’re hearing something transcendent but it’s really just numbers. Though it could be said that numbers themselves are, if not etherial, then at least ideal and conceptual, rather than mundanely material. In ‘But suppose you said it like: Martha, seven times nine minus x is thirtyfive thousand’, the ‘But’ continues to contradict the starting premise that music feels ‘etherial’: you could put it differently and it would ‘Fall quite flat’ (11: 836). ‘Martha’ refers to a song that Leopold Bloom has recently heard, but we wondered about the sum. ‘seven times nine minus x is thirtyfive thousand’ suggests that x is a huge minus number: – 34, 937. This element makes the sum seem daft, which is probably the intention. Bloom is primarily trying to indicate the fanciful nature of such sums, their arbitrariness and lack of relation to the music we hear. Some members of the group, though, did try to parse the sum differently, for instance proposing that we should read ‘seven times nine’ as seven times nine thousand’, with x becoming 28,000. It was also noted that the postal order that Bloom sends to Martha Clifford is 2 shillings and 8 pence (17:1468), though as there were 12 pence to a shilling this does not add up to the possibly relevant number of 28 pence, but rather 32.

‘It’s on account of the sounds it is’ (11: 836-7) is a bathetic statement that amused us. Theorisation about music that ends up saying ‘It’s on account of the sounds’ appears to have sunk into tautology, though it may also be called accurate. The ‘it is’ at the end of the sentence also looks rather feeble, as the sentence started the same way (‘It’s’); but we thought that ‘it is’ was a Hiberno-English touch.

‘Instance he’s playing now. Improvising’ (11: 838): that is, Bob Cowley is currently improvising at the piano in the other room, doodling away in the background after Simon Dedalus’s triumphant performance. (Note 11:799: ‘Father Cowley, who played a voluntary, who nodded as he played’.) This is an ‘Instance’ of a larger principle, which we tried to identify. ‘Might be what you like, till you hear the words’ (11: 838-9), we thought, means either: ‘The musical piece might be anything, until you hear the words, and then you can identify it’; or: ‘The musical piece might be something you enjoy, until you hear the words and they take away your enjoyment’. The former seems a little more likely, but we’re not certain. ‘Want to listen sharp’ (11: 839) seems to say: you need to listen closely to identify such a piece of (improvised, unknown) music, especially without words to identify it. ‘Sharp’ is a musical pun, almost twinned with ‘Fall quite flat’ in the paragraph above – and ‘sharp-eared’ is a recognisable idiomatic phrase. Nonetheless ‘listen sharp’ doesn’t sound quite right (as ‘look sharp’ does), so Bloom corrects himself to ‘Hard’. The sense is ‘Listen hard’, meaning ‘Listen carefully’ – though a sense also develops of listening as hard, that is, difficult.

‘Begin all right: then hear chords a bit off: feel lost a bit’ (11: 839-40) describes an experience of listening. An unproblematic start is followed by hearing ‘chords a bit off’ – meaning played wrongly? Probably not: probably this means that the chords are unexpected and take the listener away from, for instance, the key they thought they’d stay in. Hence the listener will ‘feel lost a bit’. Bloom extrapolates listening to a sentence-long metaphor: ‘In and out of sacks, over barrels, through wirefences, obstacle race’ (11: 840-1). Listening (never mind playing) here is akin to an assault course. It seems that we have to imagine such a course including the task of getting in and out of a sack, jumping over barrels, and climbing through a wire fence. Some readers wondered if the elements of the course were supposed to resemble musical instruments: for instance the ‘wirefences’ could be guitar strings, or even a stave of written music. ‘Time makes the tune’ (11: 841) is a resonant phrase that sounds proverbial. Joyce wrote the phrase in a notebook, which suggests that it could possibly be from an external textual source. It was suggested that the phrase is in fact used by music teachers to emphasise the importance of timing and rhythm in playing. The obstacle race’ presumably involved time (one competitor racing against to finish in less time than the other), but time in this sentence has a different role: not something that you race against but a necessary component of accurate performance. The sense may be that tunes rely on timing rather than just the correct sequence of notes.

Leopold Bloom, we noted, is in the midst of a brief reverie which is almost like a lecture about music to an imaginary audience. ‘Question of mood you’re in’ (11: 841-2), he goes on: that is, whether you enjoy a piece of music depends on your pre-existing mood. This quite plausible statement would signal a radically subjective approach to criticism. (We noted also that ‘Time makes the tune’ could be recycled into this statement, if taken as ‘what sort of “time” the listener is having affects their enjoyment of a tune – but this secondary sense may not be relevant.) ‘Still always nice to hear’ withdraws the radically subjective approach, replacing it with something unusually bland: ‘It’s always nice to hear a bit of music!’. (It’s conceivable that ‘Still’ is another veiled musical pun.)

In his ongoing dialectic or interior dialogue, Bloom then immediately swings back again to a case where music is not, in fact, nice to hear: ‘Except scales up and down, girls learning’ (11: 842). That listening to scales played over and over is not enjoyable is a normal judgment. But why are the imagined players of these scales girls? Perhaps because Bloom has had a daughter he can remember practising scales; perhaps because more girls than boys learned the piano; perhaps because of a certain association of females with imitative, unimaginative performance. ‘Two together nextdoor neighbours’ heightens the idea: not one but two girls mechanically playing scales, making them both seem the more unimaginative. The sound would surely be worse still, as the two unrelated scales at once would likely produce discord. We were unsure, by the way, whether the ‘nextdoor neighbours’ are imagined as occupying adjacent houses, perhaps just through the wall from each other; or as playing on either side, left and right, of the house of the unfortunate listener. ‘Ought to invent dummy pianos for that’ seemed to us like a bad Bloomian idea (as with a dummy piano you couldn’t hear whether you were playing it right), but we were assured that the idea has, in fact, had some use in training pianists.

‘Milly no taste. Queer because we both I mean’ (11: 844) means: Milly has no musical taste, which is odd because both Leopold and Molly Bloom do. (We might think that in this sphere, at least, Molly is ahead of her husband.) ‘Blumenlied I bought for her’: Bloom bought Milly the sheet music of Blumenlied by the German composer Gustav Lange (1830-1889), possibly because he thought it was an appropriate piece, or possibly because he was guided by the coincidence of ‘The name’ (but the name might just have been a secondary pleasure). Milly, we assume, was ‘Playing it slow, a girl’, on a particular night that Bloom now remembers: ‘night I came home, the girl’ (11: 845). This looks quite innocuous; could ‘the girl’ be the same girl as ‘a girl’, who was Milly?

Apparently not. The James Joyce Digital Archive points us to a note, contained in the National Library: ‘bought Blumenlied for [Milly] found her playing it when home from whore’. This leads us to think that the night that Bloom remembers hearing Milly play the music was one when he had been out with a prostitute, who is ‘the girl’ at the end of the sentence. This is an unusual case of our reading being strongly guided by additional genetic material, rather than the finished text. Would we even suspect the presence of the ‘whore’ here without the note? But perhaps we would, as the paragraph goes on and ends: ‘Door of the stables near Cecilia street’ (11: 845-6). Cecilia Street is just south of the Liffey, in Temple Bar – not really far, in fact, from Essex Bridge and where Bloom is now. The sentence appears to imply that Bloom had a sexual encounter with the prostitute inside these stables, or up against their door – ‘near’, though not on, Cecilia Street, so we don’t know exactly where. We noted that Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music, so Joyce has been very deliberate in choosing a thematically relevant location for the memory.

Apart from being an unusual textual crux in which we were prompted by an unpublished note, the lines somewhat surprised us, making us wonder about Bloom’s fidelity to Molly and whether his use of a prostitute was typical or plausible. We think of him as very uxorious. But there is also evidence in the novel of some such encounters, including with a passing prostitute later in this very episode (11: 1252). A further issue is how this remembered sexual encounter shades his memory of Milly. She’s ‘a girl’ and the prostitute is ‘the girl’: does the shared noun create an uneasy likeness between them? More simply, is there something uneasy about coming home from an illicit sexual encounter to find your young daughter practising the piano piece you’ve bought her? If Bloom thinks this, we don’t find out, because the text immediately cuts away from his thoughts and doesn’t return for 9 lines. This is a subtle cut away from something sensitive: the switch of attention to other characters, while Bloom, perhaps, reminisces about the sexual encounter, is easy to miss – especially as in the finished text, the sexual encounter is almost invisible.

We will resume next time with ‘Bald deaf Pat brought quite flat pad ink’ (11: 847).

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Seminar, 15 January – ‘Sirens’, 810-834

On Friday 15th January 2021, the group met online for the first time in the new year, continuing with ‘Sirens’ and proceeding from the line: ‘Yet too much happy bores’ (in Gabler edition: 11: 810). This means either that being happy without disruption for too long becomes boring (an odd thing to propose at such a moment of personal unhappiness), or, a more nuanced thought, that narratives should not be this way but need variation. As Henry de Montherlant’s aphorism declares: ‘Happiness writes white’. The thought of ‘happy’ leads Bloom to Martha Clifford’s query, ‘Are you not happy in your [home]?’, which is salient as he intends to write to Martha next. Meanwhile he continues to stretch his cat’s cradle of rubber band, until ‘Twang. It snapped’. Here Bloom makes something slightly akin to a sound on a stringed instrument.

Blazes Boylan continues to ‘Jingle into Dorset street’ (11: 812): approaching the home just alluded to. Back in the Ormond, Lydia Douce’s arm has been taken by solicitor George Lidwell: hence her action now of withdrawing it. ‘Satiny arm’ appears to indicate that the sleeve of her black satin blouse goes all the way down to the wrist. She is at once ‘reproachful’ to Lidwell for his presumption and ‘pleased’ to have charmed him. It appears that what he has said is praise for her, for which he can be scolded not to ‘make half so free’; ‘till we are better acquainted’ carries the implication that they could be in future (11: 814). It seems that the compliments for Douce are what Lidwell insists that he ‘really and truly’ believes: she either doesn’t believe them, or affects not to.

This exchange of declaration and disbelief gets thoroughly mixed up with what seems to be a separate conversation, between Minda Kennedy and the two gentlemen with tankards of stout. That exchange seems to revolve around the question ‘Is that so?’, upon with the narrative voice plays: ‘And second tankard told her so. That that was so’. It is then both Douce and Kennedy who, in a lengthy sentence (11: 818-20), ‘did not believe’, but the content of their disbelief is probably different. The narrative naturally spins the combination out, to ‘the first, the first: gent with the tank: believe, no, no: did not, Miss Kenn: Lidlydiawell: the tank’. Lydia and Lidwell become combined in ‘Lidlydiawell’.

Back to straightforward interior monologue: ‘Better write it here. Quills in the postoffice chewed and twisted’ (11: 821). Mr Bloom is going to write to Martha in the Ormond rather than in a less favourable environment. He makes ‘a sign’ to waiter Pat, indicating ‘A pen and ink’ and ‘A pad to blot’: these must all be part of the one request, rather than Pat coming and going more than once. ‘A pad’ sounds a little like ‘Pat’, and like a footstep: padding away, as it were, ‘He went’.

Continuing to ‘tease’ his ‘curling catgut line’ despite its snapping, Bloom talks to Richie Goulding, finding it easy to hold him at a distance while really focusing on private concerns. He is thinking of the letter to Martha: ‘Few lines will do. My present’ – the present being financial. The spoken conversation appears to be about music, but does Bloom say aloud that ‘All that Italian florid music is’ (11: 825)? Perhaps, if he follows up with ‘It’s so characteristic’, taking that line to refer to music rather than his surreptitious actions: ‘Take out sheet notepaper, envelope: unconcerned’. ‘Who is this wrote? Know the name you know better’, which looks like thought rather than speech, appears to mean that knowing the name of a composer helps you to appreciate music.

Goulding’s declaration ‘Grandest number in the whole opera’ (11: 828) appears to refer to ‘Twas rank and fame’, whose rendition by Simon Dedalus he was recently praising.  Bloom finds it easy to agree, but we don’t need to take his polite ‘It is’ at face value. Bloom then enters a more detailed consideration of the relation between music and numbers, prompted by Goulding’s use of the word ‘number’ (musical number, turn, song) – a kind of pun or verbal accident. The felicity of that accident is confirmed by ‘Numbers it is. All music when you come to think’ (11: 830).

But where do Bloom’s mathematical thoughts take him? ‘Two multiplied by two divided by half is twice one’ (11: 830-1). The intention here is: 2 times 2 (4) divided by 2 equals 2, which is 2 times 1. This sum is arguably botched by ‘divided by half’, and the error may be a deliberate touch of Bloomian imprecision, but the overall Bloomian point is surely that you can express numerical relations in varying ways and end up with the same value. While he surely respects numbers as an absolute, he is also, in a way, disrespectful of mathematics, presenting it as a form of rhetoric that (like ‘Cyclops’ or ‘Oxen of the Sun’) has multiple ways to say the same thing. A further sum declares ‘One plus two plus six is seven’. This appears flatly inaccurate – the sum would be 9 – though members of the seminar argued that it actually reflects a more complex analysis of particular chords. He has, after all, just thought: ‘Vibrations: chords those are’. The general point with Bloom is probably that you can ‘Do anything you like with figures juggling’ (11: 832): rather like a distrustful invocation of ‘damn lies and statistics’. On this reckoning, you can ‘Always find out this equal to that’, which is to say a kind of symmetry (on either side of an equation, say). But ‘symmetry’ takes Bloom to recollection of a Martin Cunningham spelling puzzle from ‘Hades’: ‘symmetry under a cemetery wall’ (11: 833). This prompted a more ambitious reading: that the symmetry of mathematics is not quite matched by that of language, in which symmetry and cemetery look symmetrical but are in fact subtly different.

The thought of the ‘cemetery’ in turn takes Bloom back to the clothes he’s wearing in honour of Paddy Dignam: Goulding ‘doesn’t see my mourning’, and hasn’t asked after the dead, as other characters (C.P. M’Coy, Josie Breen) have done earlier in the novel. Still, ‘Callous: all for his own gut’ seems needlessly cruel. We could observe here a tendency for Bloom, himself at bay, to ‘punch down’ in his thought against someone he thinks even less prepossessing than himself.

‘Musemathematics’ (11: 834) has summarised much of our discussion here, but we will return with this word at the next session.

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Seminar, 11 December – ‘Sirens’, 802-809

On Friday 11th December 2020, the group met online for the last time the year, and managed to cover just one paragraph of 87 words, starting from Gabler line 11:802.

‘Thou lost one’ is another reference to the song that Mr Bloom has just heard. ‘All songs on that theme’ suggests that all songs are really about lost love. ‘Yet more Bloom stretched his string’: he is still playing with an ‘elastic band’ or ‘catgut thong’ that he has been ‘gyving’ for a while. ‘Cruel it seems’ means that songs about lovers being separated are cruel, or, more broadly, that it’s cruel that this happens in life. What happens: ‘ Let people get fond of each other: lure them on. Then tear asunder’. ‘Luring on’ sounds like the work of a siren; so, in effect, does ‘tearing asunder’.

How might people be torn asunder? ‘Death. Explos. Knock on the head’. Death is plain enough. ‘Explos’ suggests ‘explosion’ as a form of death that tears people apart, but has been cut down to two syllables. Does this suggest the fragmentation wrought by such an explosion? ‘Knock on the head’ is bathos beside it. ‘Outtohelloutofthat’ is less clear: it seems to be a version of something that someone might say – an instruction to depart? ‘Human life’ is either a reflection that all this is about the sadness of human life (the theme of people being separated), or more literally a statement on the fragility of life, in the light of the fates just listed. That leads us to ‘Dignam’, who has lost his life, and thence to memories of episode 6, ‘Hades’: ‘Ugh, that rat’s tail wriggling!’. ‘Five bob I gave’ is a confirmation of Bloom’s generosity to the Dignam family, already indicated by others discussing him in the previous episode. ‘Corpus paradisum’ seems to be a solecism arising from his memories of of what a priest said in the church of All Hallows in ‘Lotus Eaters’ and what the priest in ‘Hades’ said over the body. Annotators claim that he has conflated ‘Corpus’ and ‘In paradisum’ which don’t belong together.

‘Corncrake croaker’ rather puzzled us: probably a reference to the cawing voice of the priest praying for Dignam? The corncrake seems like an appropriately Irish bird, but perhaps it’s the curlew, not the corncrake, to which the early Yeats refers. ‘Belly like a poisoned pup’ seems also to refer to the same priest: would the poisoned dog’s belly swell? ‘Gone. They sing. Forgotten’ seems to mean: Dignam is gone, and already his friends and acquaintances are singing, not thinking of him. ‘I too’ probably means ‘I too, like Dignam, will be gone’, unless it means ‘I too was at the funeral but have already half-forgotten to think about Dignam’.

Bloom’s thoughts then turn to his wife. ‘And one day she with’ can’t mean ‘and one day she, too, will die’: maybe it means ‘And one day, when I’ve died, Molly will be with Blazes Boylan’. This seems unlikely (Bloom has no reason to think that he’ll die in, say, the next ten years), but emotionally a plausible, even self-pitying supposition for Bloom at this moment. Boylan will then ‘Leave her: get tired’ (tired of Molly, he’ll thus leave her), and it is Molly who will ‘Suffer then’. The point perhaps is that it’s Leopold Bloom who’s suffering now. Molly will ‘Snivel’, and her ‘Big Spanishy eyes’ will be ‘goggling at nothing’. This means that she’ll be gazing vacantly in her despair; or that she’ll literally looking at ‘nothing’ (or no-one) as her husband is dead and her lover departed). ‘Goggling’ also implies that the eyes are swollen through crying. The impression is that Bloom isn’t merely inventing this image but drawing on an aspect of Molly he’s seen in the past.

The paragraph ends with an additional detail about her putative appearance: ‘Her wavyavyeavyheavyeavyevyevy hair un comb:’d’. In the Second Placard  stage of drafts it read simply ‘Hair uncombed’, which makes the point simply enough: her hair is uncombed because she’s unhappy and distracted by the loss of her lover. Joyce has added the excessive adjective ‘wavyavyeavyheavyeavyevyevy’, which seems to state that the uncombed hair is wavy and heavy, and also to run those two qualities together. ‘Heavy’ in context here also carries a trace of ‘heavy heart’ – Molly is weighed down by her hair as she’s weighed down by her feelings? – and ‘wavy’ carries a connotation of the sea, the recurring element for this episode. (‘Evvy’ happens also to be the short version of Eveline’s name in Dubliners, used at the climax by sailor Frank.) Otherwise it’s an outlandish piece of verbal play, and it’s not very clear that it directly runs through Leopold Bloom’s head. As for ‘un comb:’d, this has become more baroque in rendition: closer to something from the cod-Elizabethan, or actual Elizabethan, of episode 9.

We will resume on Friday 15th January 2021 with the line ‘Yet too much happy bores’.

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Seminar, 20 November – ‘Sirens’, 777-801

‘Sirens’ has more one-word paragraphs than most episodes. ‘Admiring’ (11:777) might summarise the general amount of admiration that’s been going on after Dedalus’s song (Joyce’s rendition of public admiration is an example of how acute he can be at such collective experiences, just as he generally is at bar-room scenes), or the specific act of admiration from Leopold Bloom, last seen singing dumb – in which case he could conceivably be admiring Lydia Douce (but can he see her?), but more likely, like everyone else, is admiring Simon Dedalus’s voice.

Richie Goulding, ‘admiring’ (11:778), certainly is. He spends three paragraphs now telling Bloom of his admiration, and specifically of his appreciation not just of the song they’ve just heard but of a time, ‘one night long ago’, that Dedalus sang ‘Twas rank and fame that tempted thee’, from Michael Balfe’s opera The Rose of Castille (1857), at Ned Lambert’s house. In general this seems another case of Joyce’s practice of building in the back-story of a generation, similar to the personal histories whose insertion into Ulysses has been genetically traced by Luca Crispi in Joyce’s Creative Process and the Construction of Character in ‘Ulysses’: Becoming the Blooms (2015). We didn’t, though, pause to look into the genetic history of Goulding’s anecdote, focusing rather on the verb ‘to descant’. It means to talk at length, often with connotations of tedium; it’s also musical, signifying a high treble line above the rest of a composition. The main sense here, then, is that Goulding is being a loquacious bore; but his talk of music is described with a strongly musical verb.

‘That man’s glorious voice’ (11:778) is rendered outside direct speech, but looks like a version of Goulding’s actual words. ‘Si’ is an unusual contraction but seems to be what Goulding, specifically, calls him (see 11:667), as an in-law. (Hugh Kenner, who definitely wasn’t an in-law, sometimes called the character ‘Si’, in an inappropriate access of familiarity.) The ‘twas’ in ‘in Ned Lambert’s ‘twas’ looks like a deliberate echo of ‘‘Twas rank and fame’ (11:780): but could Goulding actually be saying it, too? Members of the group thought so, even if we don’t remember ‘‘twas’ being a common locution in Joyce. The line ‘Good God he never heard in all his life a note like that he never did’ is a recognisable mode of exaggerated praise about music: Goulding has done it already in this very episode (11:610, 623), but it also feels like Freddy Malins’ praise of opera singers in ‘The Dead’. The sense is mostly plain enough, of ‘so clear so God he never heard […] a clinking voice […] ask Lambert he can tell you too’ – except, what’s a clinking voice? Clinking doesn’t seem quite enough like ‘chiming’ or ‘ringing’ to fit here. The other puzzle is whether Goulding voices the words in italics: ‘then false one we had better part […] since love lives not […] lives not’ (11: 781-2). It seems likelier that he does than doesn’t: the alternative is to say that the narrative voice encyclopaedically knows the song (which it does) and inserts it, but that insertion doesn’t quite seem motivated by the context. In other words, we perhaps wouldn’t expect the narration to insert words out of nowhere that weren’t being uttered at some point.

The next paragraph (11:784-5) is a sentence in a very odd order. Its meaning is: ‘Goulding, a flush struggling in his pale face, told Mr Bloom of the night Si Dedalus sang ‘Twas rank and fame in Ned Lambert’s house’. The information all comes through, and some of it in the right order, but some not: ‘face’ moves to after ‘Mr Bloom’, ‘Dedalus’ moves to after ‘in Ned Lambert’s’. The last clause is OK where it is but might be clearer if moved back as in the paraphrase just given. So this sentence suffers from a very strange, rather arbitrary distortion. It also almost entirely recapitulates information from the previous paragraph, except the ‘flush struggling’ in Goulding’s pale face.

The next paragraph consists of another sentence recapitulating the same information yet again.

He, Mr Bloom, listened while he, Richie Goulding, told him, Mr Bloom, of the night he, Richie, heard him, Si Dedalus, sing ‘Twas rank and fame in his, Ned Lambert’s, house (11:786-8).

We have here a Joycean strategy that, while not used that extensively across the whole book, still feels deeply characteristic: a readiness to repeat material, varying order, testing permutations, demonstrating the different ways that something can be represented or processed. A pretty good example is the ‘dullthudding barrels’ chiasmus at the start of ‘Aeolus’ (7:21-4). But ‘Sirens’ is more the heartland for such techniques; the beautiful lines on Mina Kennedy ‘sauntering sadly’ early in the episode (11:81-3) at least come close to the same principle. Now the repetition is perhaps connected to the sense of Goulding as long-winded: his speech is cited three times to indicate how it feels to be subjected to it. Joyce’s readiness to work with wilful pedantry is in full action here: do we need every ‘he’ and ‘him’ to be spelled out? If we do, why not leave out the pronouns and just include the proper names? It’s like a gross overcompensation for the uncertain reference of male pronouns in ‘Penelope’. The experimental pedantry is also reminiscent of Gertrude Stein (there are passages in Three Lives rather like this), despite the tendency for Stein and Joyce to appear as Parisian poles apart.

At last, the next paragraph is interior monologue. ‘Brothers-in-law: relations’ is Bloom’s summary of Goulding’s relationship with Dedalus, while ‘relations’ could also mean good or bad relations. ‘We never speak as we pass by’ is, Don Gifford notes, a song from 1882, whose lyrics happen to talk of adultery. Its main sense here is surely that Goulding and Dedalus are very close together yet, despite the former’s admiration for the latter, they won’t actually meet. ‘Rift in the lute’ is a further song reference: Tennyson’s poem of 1859 talks of how a tiny flaw can grow to create an insuperable problem. ‘Lute’ is yet another musical instrument for the episode’s catalogue, and one that Joyce once wanted to play on a tour of England. The logical implication here is that a small difference between Dedalus and Goulding has led to an unbridgeable gulf. The relationship, such as it is, is very one-way: Dedalus ‘Treats him with scorn. See. He [Goulding] admires him all the more’, with ‘See’ a gesture pointing at the outcome. ‘The night Si sang’ is Bloom’s version of what Goulding is saying, and an example of the one-sided admiration he’s thinking of. The next sentence is a little odder: ‘The human voice, two tiny silky chords, wonderful, more than all others’ (11:791-2). We might think that this is Goulding’s sort of excitable rhetoric, but we think it’s Bloom himself reflecting sincerely on the voice. A genetic investigation suggests that the parts of the sentence were moved around, not necessarily to improving effect; we also wondered why vocal ‘cords’ are rendered as the technically incorrect ‘chords’. To be sure, that’s a musical term, but a look at drafts during the seminar suggested that Joyce originally wrote ‘cords’ and it was mangled into ‘chords’ at some point, by the author or another hand.

‘That voice was a lamentation’ (11:793) is Bloom’s reflection on Dedalus: a factual classification, a lot more detached than what we’ve been hearing. It may not be intended to have the connotation of ‘That voice was lamentable’. ‘Calmer now’ is the bar’s atmosphere. ‘It’s in the silence after you feel you hear’ suggests: ‘In the silence after music you feel that you can still hear it resonating’ (not much change from Efterklang, then), or possibly: ‘In the silence after music, you are more attuned to sound and hear whatever there is to hear more attentively’. The seminar observed Joyce’s brisk anticipation of a 20th-century ‘aesthetics of silence’, which might culminate in John Cage. ‘Vibrations’ are either what Bloom thinks he still feels, or what he thinks he was hearing before but does no longer, as it’s ‘Now silent air’. ‘Air’ can mean a song so there’s a faint, though hardly needed, pun in the last word also.

‘Bloom ungyved his crisscrossed hands and with slack fingers plucked the slender catgut thong’ (11: 795-6) calls back to 11:683-4 where Bloom first wound an ‘elastic band’ round his fingers and ‘gyved them fast’. They can be ‘ungyved’ (unfettered, untied) after the song: the elastic band round his fingers has been equivalent to a rope tying Odysseus to the mast while the sirens were singing. So, it was extrapolated, the elastic band might have helped distract Bloom from the sentiment of Simon Dedalus’s performance. The sentence drew admiration as a Joycean performance with vowels, or with rhythm. We’re unsure if the band is ‘catgut’, but note that Bloom is treating it as a further kind of instrument, to be ‘plucked’. ‘It buzz, it twanged’ (like a jew’s harp?) sounds like a distortion: should that be ‘It buzzed’, or has Joyce written ‘It buzz’ to mess with syntax and perhaps be mimetic about buzzing? A genetic examination suggested that ‘buzz’ might simply be an error.

Goulding talks of a Dublin vocal tutor, Arthur Barraclough. Kernan meanwhile has already made his way to the piano and is talking to Bob Cowley who plays ‘a voluntary’: that is, a piece of his choosing, presumably quite casually. That Cowley is ‘listening’, as well as nodding, is another piece of pedantry, in lines that again repeat the recent gesture of cataloguing a series of characters’ simultaneous actions (the episode has moved closer to an interest in group dynamics, as the group has been formed by Dedalus’s performance). Kernan is well known to overuse the phrase ‘retrospective arrangement’ (6:149-50), but does that mean he’s using it here? More likely Kernan is ‘harking back’ – that is, reminiscing about something – to Cowley, and the narrative voice of ‘Sirens’ is mischievously picking up on others’ quotation from him and reusing it as a sufficiently factual description of his speech now. Meanwhile Dollard talks ‘with’ (not just to) Dedalus: ‘lighting, who nodded as he smoked, who smoked’ (11:800-1). It’s surely Dedalus who is lighting his pipe and nodding as he smokes it (he nods because Dollard talks); the one ambiguity is ‘who smoked’. Is this saying that Dollard also smokes? No, it seems to be a terrifically redundant repetition of the fact that Simon Dedalus, nodding as he smokes, is indeed … smoking.

We will resume on 11th December 2020 at line 11:802: ‘Thou lost one’.

[Blog by Joe]

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Seminar, 23 October – ‘Sirens’, 754-776

We resumed for the academic year 2020-2021 at the line 11:754. ‘Come’ reprises the song lyric that Simon Dedalus has just sung. ‘Well sung’ is a fairly bland judgment on that performance, perhaps echoing what’s being said aloud. ‘All clapped’ as the denizens of the Ormond acclaim Dedalus. ‘She ought to. Come.’ takes it in a more interesting direction: as though averring, rather daftly, that the addressee of the song indeed ought to ‘come’ to its singer after a performance like that. ‘To me’ is what the song said: ‘to him’ is how a listener will rephrase in the third person. But the sentence adds ‘to her, you too, me, us’, generalising the desire or imperative for union: someone should ‘come’ to everyone. This relates to the sense of subjectivities being blurred, communion created, at this moment of music, collective listening, and drink.

‘Bravo!’ is presented as dialogue: we can be confident that someone says it. The paragraph (from 11:756) looks like it’ll be a direct rendition of what people actually say, and some of it is: ‘Good man, Simon’; ‘Encore!’; ‘Sound as a bell’; ‘Bravo, Simon!’. Mixed with this is applause: ‘Clapclap’; ‘Clappyclapclap’; ‘Clapclipclap clap’, ‘Clapclopclap’ – this starts to sound like horses’ hooves again, but is probably just an attempt to get at the different frequencies of clapping. But around halfway through the short paragraph it starts to mix modes, with ‘Encore, enclap’ blending a call of ‘Encore’ and a non-verbal sound of applause, and the narrative voice issuing a series of relevant verbs all at once: ‘said, cried, clapped all’. ‘All’ is then detailed as Dollar, Douce, Lidwell, Pat (no surname given), Kennedy, ‘two gentlemen with two tankards’ (the symmetry veering towards coy nursery-rhyme tone), Cowley – but then the list breaks down into repetition: ‘first gent with tank’ has already been listed (and typical of ‘Sirens’, his two-syllable item is reduced to one, ‘tank’), as have Douce and Kennedy (now becoming again ‘bronze miss Douce and gold miss Mina’). In short, a paragraph that starts in relatively straight mimetic mode can’t help deliberately tying itself in knots of verbal recursion.

Blazes Boylan hasn’t turned around and come back to the bar: the line about his tan shoes creaking on the bar floor is merely something that has been ‘said before’ (11:761), another rewinding tic of this episode. The shoes were ‘hasty creaking’ as he left at 11:433, but the line now really repeats 11:337 where ‘Blazes Boylan’s smart tan shoes creaked on the barfloor where he strode’: his entrance. However far the narration wants to rewind, what’s happening now remains Boylan’s progress on the horsedrawn car: ‘Jingle by monuments of sir John Gray, Horatio onehandled Nelson, reverend father Theobald Mathew, jaunted, as said before just now’ (11:762-3). We did see Boylan at 11:606 passing Elvery’s elephant house near the South end of O’Connell Street, but these particular sites are new: it’s perhaps the ‘jaunted’ that’s been said before, rather than the fact that Boylan passes Nelson and the rest, which hasn’t. Or rather: the horsedrawn Boylan can pass all these places quite quickly, so the narrative is recapping an itinerary that’s been happening during the last 150 lines, rather than stating something that’s happening right now. The statue of sir John Gray and Nelson recall ‘Aeolus’ (see 7:1067-8), and ‘onehandled’ is a very deliberate pick-up from Stephen Dedalus (7:1018), though the statue of Father Mathew, further North up the street, wasn’t mentioned in that episode. Boylan is ‘Atrot’ in that he’s being led by a horse; ‘in heat’ because he’s in the hot June sunshine, but also with the evident connotation of an animal ‘in heat’ or ‘on heat’ – his proximity to the horse helps with this conflation – and ‘heatseated’ for a rhyme but also as a reminder of the seat we saw Bloom observe at 11:342. ‘Cloche. Sonnez la’ (11:764), repeated, maintains an erotic mood by recalling Mina Douce’s garter, but perhaps more primarily suggests the rhythm of the horsedrawn car and Boylan’s temporal urgency. We’ve gone from the pure melody of Simon Dedalus’s song to the pure rhythm of these repeated lines: different kinds of music.

The next two sentences describe Boylan’s horse slowing down as it climbs a higher gradient, past the Rotunda hospital and Rutland Square – which has been Parnell Square since 1933. ‘Rutland’ is better for Joyce’s purposes; ‘rut’, like ‘heat’, suggests animal sexuality, and Boylan, who Molly later complains treated her like an animal, may think he’s going to Rutland. In the paragraph’s last sentence, the mare is the subject and ‘joggled’ the main verb: the first clauses further contextualise this, explaining that the mare is too slow for impatient Boylan, whose name is listed three times.

‘An afterclang of Cowley’s chords closed, died on the air made richer’ (11:767) suggests that the last chord of the piano accompaniment to ‘M’Appari’ can still be heard, in which case Cowley perhaps still has his fingers on the keys. The ‘air made richer’ sounds like a soil enriched by the subtle nutrients of music. ‘Clang’ sounds like a bell, and sounds loud (perhaps the final chord was heavily emphasised), and the sentence works with alliteration (clang, Cowley’s, chords, closed). It was also pointed out that ‘afterclang’ resembles the Danish word Efterklang, for ‘remembrance’ or ‘reverberation’. These meanings are clearly very pertinent; it looks likely that Joyce has taken a Nordic word and rendered it in English.

The next paragraph – ‘And Richie Goulding drank his Power’ – summarises a collective, simultaneous act of drinking in the wake of the song. The narrative voice enjoys restating Goulding’s and Bloom’s full names. The two unnamed ‘gentlemen’ are going to have another round: the politeness of ‘partake’ and ‘if she did not mind’ seems to provoke Mina Kennedy’s ‘smirk’, but we needn’t see her response as disdainful. She’s probably glad to be addressed in this mildly genteel way, and thus happy to show them her ‘coral lips’. Coral suggests the ocean, the episode’s pervasive image (like the barmaids’ ‘reef’ of counter at 11:109). ‘She did not mind’ summarises either what Kennedy says or just her implicit response to the order.

Ben Dollard remarks that Simon Dedalus would benefit from ‘Seven days in jail’ (11:772): he would sing ‘like a garden thrush’ on a diet of ‘bread and water’, rather than alcohol. (And rather than other, rich or unhealthy food? But we have little insight into what Dedalus eats at this point, unless he shares in the soup obtained by his daughters in ‘Wandering Rocks’.) The implication is that Dedalus has ruined or depleted his voice through his lifestyle. A further faint shadow of implication, suggested in the seminar, is that Simon Dedalus might belong in jail. (He is at least a debtor and an irresponsible parent, and has probably mistreated his wife.)

Simon Dedalus, not keen on jail, laughs in response, in his compound identity as ‘Lionel Simon’, his role further pedantically specified as ‘singer’ (11:774). The paragraph follows this account of an action with a list of others in parallel: Cowley playing the piano; Kennedy serving; her customer paying. Tom Kernan’s action is to strut in, thus changing the composition of the company again. (He’s arrived from the walk he was on in ‘Wandering Rocks’, pp.196-8. It’s unlikely that he knows in advance that the other characters are here, even though he saw two of them, Dedalus and Bloom, in ‘Hades’.) Lydia Douce is ‘admired’, which becomes an adjective: the admired Lydia also ‘admires’. Who exactly is admiring, let alone being admired? Most of the males in the bar, including the newly arrived Kernan, might well admire her, but it’s less clear that she would reciprocate, unless she’s unusually struck by Kernan’s frock coat (10:743); he also has a ‘Grizzled moustache’, ‘stumpy body’ and ‘fat strut’ (p.197). Bloom is marked as unusual by ‘But’: his ‘singing dumb’ stands in apposition to other characters’ actions. To sing dumb here appears just to mean being silent, but rendered in quasi-musical phrase.

[Blog by Joe]

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