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).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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’.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seminar, 28 July – ‘Sirens’, 735-753

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.


Posted in James Joyce, Seminar Report, Sirens | Leave a comment

Seminar, 14 July – ‘Sirens’, 717-734

On Bastille Day, we met online once again to consider lines 717 to 734 of ‘Sirens’.

“The voice of Lionel” is simultaneously the voice of Simon, and the weakening (if “unwearied”) is a dramatic effect on the singer’s part. “It” then renders the voice impersonal, and there is a dissolving of identity in the list of names that follows. The “also” separates Pat off from the rest, who is “waiting to wait”, but, being hard of hearing, straining to hear as he sees the others so caught up? We wondered what has happened to Mina Kennedy here: has she wandered off to wait on the two gentlemen, perhaps, absent as she is from this list?

Words from the opening of ‘M’Appari’, repeated as they are in the song, are woven through the next sentence, but with a degree of reworking and some distortion: “how sorrow seemed to part” is a Bloomian adaptation of the original ‘sorrow from me seem’d to depart’ (see 673 and the first reworking of this line at 677-78). “Gould Lidwell” and “Pat Bloom”, substituting for ‘my eye’ and ‘my’ respectively, seem like separate characters as well as random pairings. 

The next paragraph returns to Bloom’s interior monologue, and the wish to be able to see Simon’s face. “Explain” suddenly puts the rational engagement with the words, even with the argument of the song, up against all the prior emotional engagement. Adolphe Drago’s, Hair Dressers and Perfumers, is listed at 36, Henry Street, in Thom’s Directory. Does Bloom assume he will “hear it better here” because the bar is noisier – a reasonable, though, as we know, inaccurate assumption – or is there some other acoustic effect of the layout of the Ormond that is being alluded to?

“First night”: what follows is really rather significant for the history of the Blooms and our knowledge of it. Although the night when the Blooms first met has been referred to before – though not, perhaps, as the night when first they met – by John Henry Menton in ‘Hades’ (6.696-97), dating it to the year 1887, this gives us a Bloom’s-eye-view. A yellow dress with “black lace” trimming seems rather more a choice for a garden party than for an evening event.

“Musical chairs” is an intriguing way of making characters coincide, and it is no surprise that Bloom attributes their meeting to “Fate” (at least twice). “After her” gives the sense of a chase – as fate might chase – though in the game, it is everyone chasing everyone else, the piano making them go, now slower – “Round and round slow” – now faster: “Quick round”. “We two” are the last left (just the one chair, then), the onlookers (“All looked”) all “ousted”, including, eventually, Bloom himself. “Halt”: the piano stops. We assume Bloom does not attempt to sit on Molly: hers are the lips, as are the “Yellow knees”, covered by the material of her dress.

“Charmed my eye” we’ve already had, at line 720, making that retrospectively anticipatory on Bloom’s part, an overture of sorts. “Singing” is a double singing then: here and now in the Ormond, but also then at Mat Dillon’s. ‘Waiting’ is a song about a woman waiting for her lover to come, and Bloom turning the pages of Molly’s sheet music suggests a sudden intimacy. “Full voice” is pretty full on for a recital of this kind. A phrase from Martha’s letter then weaves in to Molly’s scent (note was taken here of A Rebours and perfume in relation to music: scents too have their ‘notes’); “lilactrees” may be a perfume, but these are, or at least were present in Mat Dillon’s garden (6.1013; it is described as a “lilacgarden” in ‘Ithaca’, 17.467, where we also learn that this same occasion was the first time Bloom met a five-year-old Stephen Dedalus).

Following on from the lips and the knees, we noted the Victorian fashion in which Bloom acquaints himself with bits of Molly, “Bosom” and “throat”: does “both full” refer to both breasts, or to breasts and voice? Given the interrelatedness of chest and throat in the act of singing, we weren’t sure this was decidable. “First I saw” calls back, then, but also refers to the first Bloom saw of this body close up. “She thanked me”: politeness is not the first quality associated with the Molly Bloom of ‘Penelope’ and elsewhere, so this is a welcome corrective. “Why did she me?” ‘Choose’ is only one of the many missing verbs that might be inserted into this incomplete sentence.

Which omission seems significant because “Fate” seems to remove all agency from Molly. “Spanishy eyes” would be dark, like Bloom’s own, but what makes them specifically Spanish (and is that why they are Spanishy instead)? ‘Alongside the song ‘In Old Madrid’ the next sentence made us think of Mulvey and had us asking whether Molly has ever been to Madrid? (We couldn’t see why she would have done and seems here to be becoming less the Molly of Bloom’s knowledge and more a series of cultural images from songs). “Dolores shedolores” sends us back to an earlier moment in the episode, but, we noted, a point when Bloom wasn’t there. “At me” is certainly Bloom, though: a response to any and all insecurity triggered by thought of Mulvey and others, Bloom insisting it is him that she chose. There is a significant ethical slippage between “Luring” and “alluring”, what it is sirens do and what men find women to be regardless – or is this just Bloom searching for the right word? Either way, the “Ah” is looking ahead to the next line, which is also the next line of the song.

Which is where we began again, with “Martha! Ah, Martha!“, on the 28th of July.

Posted in James Joyce, Seminar Report, Sirens | Leave a comment

Seminar, 30 June – ‘Sirens’, 705-716

On the 30th of June, the online seminar met to discuss the following. I had to leave a little early, so the blog below is from me up to a point and thereafter from Joe:

“Bloom”: another paragraph in this episode – and it won’t be the last – which begins with a single word, in this case this most resonant of names. What follows links back to Bloom’s reflections on tenors and the increase of flow (l.686), but that seems in tension here with the viscosity of “warm jamjam”: we thought here of Bloom’s mashed potato and the Jenny Lind soup and the hypersexual charging of food (Tom Jones, of course). Alongside this, the “secretness” (secretness lends this a further abstraction) touches on feelings around sex and infidelity, and we thought there was a kind of synaesthesia at work in that respect. Then again, secret relates to secrete, and the sense here that what is most immediately being alluded to is sexual fluids, and, in “lickitup” and “dark to lick”, cunnilingus. Stepping back from it slightly, we wondered if this is about as close as we ever get to an actual stream of consciousness in this book.

Bloom is thinking (if that is the right word here, since he is clearly feeling primarily) about what is going on around him and also, via imagination, back at 7 Eccles Street; but also this opera (Martha), and also Othello, which makes this a heady and complex mix. So, the pattern of “in”, “out”, “in” is clearly sexual on the one hand, but also might relate to the pouring of drinks (the treacly nature of the language made us think of Boylan’s sloe gin), as well as the pulling of pints, and the act of breathing too, since everything links back to the song. It is the music which is “invading” then, but also Boylan, and other things besides.

Tip, tep, tap, top, tup: all these words, on one particular level, are the same word, in that they all relate to the breeding of animals and to the act of copulation more generally. In this particular sense, “Tup” might be the most familiar, from its appearance in Othello: “an old black ram/Is tupping your white ewe,” and in that sense the fifth sound, ‘tup’, set apart from the rest, is the one that places all the others, repeated as it is three times (the various words have other meanings too, of course, and we noted that ‘tap’ will become a key motif in the later parts of the chapter). We thought then of Molly relating how Boylan treats her like a horse (18.122-23), and found Boylan exclaiming “Topping!” at a significant moment in ‘Circe’ (15.3773). 

We discussed pores “dilating”, whether with heat or as a result of excitement, and of secretion again. We wondered if pores stand here in lieu of other orifices; pupils – not orifices exactly, but still – it is which are normally associated with dilation. Another ‘tup’ and then a sentence containing “joy” and ending with a “the”, which no one felt we could pass over too quickly. As opposed to the water over the sluices: “pour o’er” made us think of Shakespeare, but thereafter of the antiquated English that features in libretti of the time (including the one for Martha). A sluice is meant to control the flow of water, so to have it “pouring” over the top is evidence of a loss of control. “Flood, gush, flow”: music, sex, emotion; and then some notably sticky compounds, in “joygush, tupthrob”, both of which we considered in relation to ejaculation and orgasm. And then we did the same for “Now!” for good measure. Before relating that word back to a key moment in ‘Lestrygonians: “Me. And me now” (8.917).

The paragraph ends “Language of love” (11:709). The words appear to reflect back on the preceding lines, which have been a vivid combination of music, liquid and unmistakable sensuality. But whence do the closing words come? Is this Leopold Bloom’s interior monologue, reflecting that such words are a ‘language of love’? This could bring a certain bathos, as the high-flown language is classified and boxed away. It would be somewhat consistent with Bloom’s tendency to talk elsewhere of the language of flowers or perfume. But has Bloom actually heard, or thought, these preceding words? It doesn’t seem correct to suppose that he has. In that case, what would he be thinking ‘language of love’ about? The alternative is that the phrase arises from outside him, and is a case of ‘the “Sirens” narrator’ commenting on its own work.

A “ray of hope“, in the song sung by Simon Dedalus, is “Beaming” (11:711). Perhaps Lydia is also beaming, as a good professional in a service industry, as she serves George Lidwell a drink. “Lydia” and “Lidwell” rhyme; “squeak scarcely” alliterates. The overall sense of the sentence is that Lydia is unpopping a cork to serve a drink: it’s a cork that is “unsqueaked”, as earlier drafts (including the Little Review) confirm. She’s doing it quietly so as not to be disrespectful to the song: “scarcely hear so ladylike”. “[T]he muse” sounds a bit like ‘the music’ – the reason she’s being so careful – but also posits Lydia as a ‘muse’. The real uncertainty in this sentence comes at the end, where it is no longer a cork that is unsqueaked but “a ray of hopk” (11:712). It’s not that clear why a ray of hope can be substituted for a cork: perhaps the hope is Lidwell’s, looking forward to a drink? (The hope can hardly be Bloom’s; his cider is more than enough for him.) ‘hopk’ makes things still less clear. It seems to be a blend of ‘hope’ and ‘cork’, but some members of the seminar thought it poor judgment on Joyce’s part. It’s not evident even how to pronounce this neologism; it doesn’t look enough like ‘cork’ to suggest that object beneath the ‘hope’. Perhaps the most productive suggestion was that this discordant, nigh-unpronounceable word is equivalent to a wrong note played in music.

The next paragraph is fully internal monologue. Leopold Bloom notes that the song being sung is from Martha; it’s a “Coincidence” (11:713) because one of his intentions in coming to the Ormond is to reply to Martha Clifford’s letter: “Just going to write”. “Lionel’s song” is what Bloom is hearing; “Lovely name you have” is a vague recollection of what Martha wrote, “I often think of the beautiful name you have” (5:240). Martha means ‘Henry Flower’, but it’s conceivable that Bloom’s connection is from Lionel (fictional character singing in the opera) to Leopold, another leonine name. (The names are also connected by Alan Hollinghurst in his 2004 novel The Line of Beauty.) “Can’t write. Accept my little pres” is a version of what Bloom intends to say to Martha (I can’t write to you properly at the moment; please accept my little present of a postal order). “Play on her heartstrings” is plain enough – win her sympathy with sob stories (and playing on strings is a ‘Sirens’ musical motif) – “pursestrings too” is mainly a natural evolution from one phrase (that is, one kind of ‘strings’) to another, though it doesn’t entirely add up as Bloom is apparently to be the one giving away the money; you could say that Martha’s playing on his pursestrings more than the reverse. Martha actually chided Bloom for sending stamps (5:243), so why would she want him to send money? Perhaps her ‘anger’ was never meant to be taken seriously. “She’s a” – what? A tease, a flirt, a woman with whom such games of chastisement can be developed? “I called you naughty boy”, echoing her letter, suggests something of the kind. “Still the name: Martha. How strange! Today” seems to say: ‘Still, it’s an odd coincidence, again, about her name coming up in the song when I was about to write to her’, and possibly also: ‘Today’ has seen a number of coincidences – like the ones Bloom remarked on in his lunchtime wandering (8: 502-3, 525).

We resumed on the quatorze juillet 2020, at line 717: ‘The voice of Lionel’.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seminar, 9 June – ‘Sirens’, 690-704

We met online again on the 9th of June – a week ahead of our Bloomsday celebration – and discussed the following:

“There?” We took this to be following an invisible ‘are you …’ But it led to a series of questions. Is Boylan there? (Reading on, he hasn’t arrived at Eccles Street yet.) Is Molly there? Is this Bloom imagining the scene? Or Molly rehearsing it, or Bloom imagining her doing so? It is another form of performance, clearly, no matter where it is being staged, at the actual door of 7 Eccles Street or merely in Bloom’s mind: the latter eventually seemed the more likely location. The repetition of ‘there’ also prefigures the play on whereabouts at line 739 and the sense of being unsure. Cachous are a breath sweetener, as are “kissing comfits” of the sort sold by Graham Lemon, “comfit manufacturer” (8.3): these really are the sweets of sin, though they reminded us of Armstrong’s figrolls and his “sweetened boy’s breath” (2.24) in ‘Nestor’. Which episode is the more likely venue for a satchel too: is this actually a kind of handbag? “Yes?” In response to ‘are you there’, perhaps. “Hands felt for the opulent” is from Sweets of Sin (10.611-12).

“Alas” is not lamenting anything about the voice but is merely quoting from the song, the line about to appear. With all the questions in the previous paragraph, the word “rose” ties in with the idea of rising intonation. There is “sighing” and then a change: the voice shifts to become “loud, full, shining, proud” – this is the distance travelled from “low” at the start of the previous seminar Simon’s performance, the singer moving up through the vocal register.

Bloom reflects on Simon’s singing voice, in a paragraph of unusually usual (for this point in the chapter) interior monologue. “Cork air” carries a double meaning, referring to literal air, but also to air as a tune; is the “brogue”, the Cork accent, really also “softer”? The word “oceans” nods at sirens and we spoke a little here of the real John Joyce and his son (who once described having ‘a future as a singer behind me’). “Singing wrong words” – as Molly does too – but we wondered whether Bloom is right here. If he is, is Simon covering for gaps in his memory of the words and making up bits as he goes? With the song not reproduced in full, it is a little hard to tell.

The next sentence we took to be volunteering a sequence of events rather than suggesting any causality – a transfer of energy can certainly be seen, from Simon wearing out his wife to focussing on the singing instead. “Only the two themselves” suggests the impossibility of judging from outside (something which Simon does all the time, of course), but it might also gesture towards the singer and accompanist. Bloom is alert to Simon’s vulnerability – he did, after all, break down in ‘Hades’ (6.647-48) – expressing a form of anxiety on his behalf. “Keep a trot” we took to mean something like keeping a bit in reserve for the end, so as to produce the big finish. The extension of singing through the body we took to be rather easier to detect in the singer’s hands than in their feet.

Excessive drinking would be bad for the nerves, but we liked the musicality of “overstrung”. There is some distance between “abstemious” here and getting “women by the score” earlier. The key ingredient of Jenny Lind soup is sago rather than sage; though sage can feature, so this isn’t necessarily a mistake, since not all the ingredients are present in the list. Having tracked down a recipe, we couldn’t tally it with Gifford’s description of the soup as “bland” (it features a fair amount of gruyere, for all that this isn’t named here). “For creamy dreamy” (see “dreamy creamy” at 8.778) indeed: something of Bloom the ad man there is in this.

We spent a bit of time with the etymology (Frisian) of “welled” which is then taken to “swelled” and rendered unusual thereby: this, after all, relates to a line from the song we don’t get, other than through this highly charged evocation of its effects (expertly rendered in the performance by this seminar’s nominated reader, Finn: a memorable moment this was). For all that the throb might be that of the music – vibrato, tremolo – and for all that “That’s the chat” (meaning something like ‘that’s the real thing’) is a moment undercutting the rest and recoiling from the excess, there was no getting away from the phallic nature of this passage. We noted that “Ha” might be the start of ‘hath’ (which word appears in the missing line) and the effects of giving and withholding. We reflected again on the difficulty in looking for interior monologue as a template here: this can instead be taken to relate to Bloom’s visceral response, at a remove from mere ‘thought’.

“Words? Music? No: it’s what’s behind.” Is there an actual debate in aesthetics to be had here? We talked a little about Herder, and Pater also, but Bloom’s common or garden fashion in rendering this idea, that “what’s behind” is presumably the emotional response of the listener transferred to an implied quality at a remove from the music and the words, led us to wonder how much weight to put on this, this romantic idea of art which is not, surely, Joyce’s, running counter to his own theories, stated or implied. It is, after all, rather trivial noodling, when set against the thrust of the previous paragraph.

It was then with a flash of recollection (we had been going a while) that we realised that what is being “looped” and “unlooped” is that same elastic band from earlier, though the sense of this line also capturing the actions of Bloom’s mind in relation to the music was clearly there. We tracked down ‘node’ as a musical term to a Dictionary of Music and Musicians published in 1900, confirming our suspicions. Vocal cords can also be afflicted with nodes.

On Bloomsday itself, we met to read from each of the eighteen episodes and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves; the seminar then reconvened on the 30th with “Bloom”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seminar, 26 May – ‘Sirens’, 673-690

On the 26th of May, the seminar convened online and covered the following:

The second line of ‘M’Appari’ is followed by a paragraph in which third-person narrative and Bloomian interior monologue coalesce, in a manner which will become increasingly familiar, and in which Bloom will sometimes get quite lost (read on for more). The “hush of air” suggests rapt attention, while “low” carries more than one meaning (the suggestion being that Simon has started in a low register, but also that the distance between him and his attentive audience requires them to be so hushed). There follows a catalogue of the things this voice is not, although the sense is also that it is very like these things – “rain”, “leaves in murmur” (an exterior setting carried into this interior), “voice of strings or reeds” – though these last are both perfectly musical, there is a Yeatsian touch here. In ‘Calypso’, Bloom thinks of a “girl playing one of those instruments what do you call them: dulcimers” (4.), so “whatdoyoucallthem” is Bloomian in origin, but also another call back to an earlier textual moment on the part of the narrator. We talked about the link between Dulcimer and Douce, and a little of Arnold Dolmetsch and the dulcimer in ‘Kubla Khan’ as well.

The double “still” – silent, unmoving – adds to the hush, and we thought there was something magical in the idea of being physically touched by words. The image of “still hearts” is slightly troubling on one level, but the principal sense is of rest, waiting, anticipating. The “his” made us conscious of the absence of Douce and Kennedy from this conglomeration of listeners; this is now just Bloom and Goulding, “their each his” capturing their simultaneous oneness and twoness. “Good, good to hear” might or might not be a bit of unmediated Bloom. We noted that “sorrow” departing does not equate to happiness. The clogging up of words here suggests the two men combining somehow, “heard” and “saw” becoming similarly exchangeable at this point.

But not entirely so, as the familiar forms of their names are given, each becoming lost in the music, alongside the more obvious sense of what “lost” might mean for each. And what is the “first … word”, given that it is not actually sung here? Yes? The non-Bloomian “mercy of beauty” then gives way to rather more common speech, in which the person from whom you “wouldn’t expect it in the least” is presumably Simon, but might also be Lionel (given the mirroring oneness of those two at this point). We admired the chiasmus of “lovesoft oftloved”.

Love personified is what is singing, in line with “love’s old sweet song”, one of the songs Molly will be singing with Boylan shortly (see 4.314). Bloom has reason to be fiddling nervously with his packet of stationery, winding distractedly with the elastic band (patented in London in 1845 by Stephen Perry, invented for the very purpose of holding papers together). The “sonnez la” which intrudes into the title of the song also relates to elastic, but we noted that Bloom was not present for Miss Douce’s performance. And surely “gold” should be “bronze” on this account? But then, bronze does not rhyme with “old”.

Bloom’s fingers become like tines in “four forkfingers”, but we considered that they might also be holding a fork. This sentence captures very evocatively the stretching and relaxing going on in playing with a rubber band, the doubling suggesting it is twice wound round, though Bloom it is who is “troubled”: for all the surrender to the music, he is also nervy and ends up, like his own fingers, “gyved” –  much like Odysseus, then, tied to the mast.

Another line from ‘M’Appari’ is followed by a somewhat blokeish reflection on tenors. A “score” is two tenners, of course, and also another of those casual musical references, so tenors do indeed get women “by the score” as in via the seductive power of the music. Does sex make a tenor better? Is the “flow” (in which we detected both Flotow and flower) that of the voice, or something more carnal, whether in the tenor or the women? The thrown flower is a reminder (for Bloom) of the flower sent by Martha, and a phrase from her letter ensues (5.249), wherein “meet” rhymes with “feet”.

“My head it simply” points both to Martha’s headache (5.255) and to Boylan’s song about the seaside girls (“Your head it simply swurls”, see 4.438), while “Jingle all delighted” places Boylan within the libretto of ‘M’Appari’ – so who it is who “can’t sing for tall hats” is not clear. “Perfumed for him” made us think of Sweets of Sin – though it does not appear in the relevant section of ‘Wandering Rocks’ – Molly is perfumed for Boylan, and so Martha’s “I want to know” takes on other resonances if transferred to Bloom. “Jing. Stop. Knock”: Boylan’s arrival. Is Bloom here thinking of what Molly habitually does before answering the door, checking herself in the mirror, or more specifically of what she will do when opening the door to this particular visitor?

Time ran out mid-paragraph and we resumed with “The hall. There?” on the 9th of June.


Posted in James Joyce, Seminar Report, Sirens | Leave a comment