Decoding Dedalus: God Becomes Featherbed Mountain

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The line below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on page p. 50 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the line that begins “God becomes…” and ends “…featherbed mountain.”

God becomes man becomes fish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountain. 

This sentence is a riddle for us, Stephen’s phantom students.

Early in “Proteus,” Stephen thinks, “Signature of all things I am here to read,” and as the episode closes, Stephen is still deciphering these signatures. All of the items in this list are, at least theoretically, signs that might appear to Stephen on the seashore. The question is, can we (or Stephen) interpret these signs? This sentence shows a progression of concepts shifting and metamorphosing into one another, staying true to the slippery, protean nature of the shore. Where does the land end and the sea begin? It’s all a matter of perspective depending on ever-changing and overlapping forms – the sand, the water, the tides that join them, all existing on a continuum, nacheinander and nebeneinander. 

How does God transform into a featherbed mountain, anyway?

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: God Becomes Featherbed Mountain”

Decoding Dedalus: Full Fathom Five

I haven’t let this young man off very lightly, have I? Many writers have written about themselves. I wonder if any one of them has been as candid as I have? – James Joyce to Frank Budgen

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on page p. 50 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Five fathoms…” and ends “We enjoyed ourselves immensely.”


Before we leave the shores of Sandymount at the end of “Proteus,” we should dive into one last motif just a bit deeper. We’ve previously focused on drowning in relation to the death of Stephen’s mother and as a manifestation of Stephen’s hydrophobia, but at the end of the episode, the image of a drowned man in Dublin Bay resurfaces once more. As we’ll see, Stephen fear of drowning extends beyond his memories of his mother coughing up bowls of green phlegm.

Moving his focus from the sand, stones and seaweed on Sandymount Strand, Stephen begins to contemplate the waters of Dublin Bay. He has attempted to categorize and order the scattered people, creatures and detritus of the shore through Berkeleyan idealism and the fixed language of heraldry, but the sea is still a wild place, shifting and protean. The sea contains mysteries yet untamed, the ninth wave out from land a portal to the otherworld. It is not confined to the restrictions of solid forms like those found on the shore. It is a place of possibility, and ultimately, change.

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Full Fathom Five”

Ulysses, James Joyce, Proteus, Giordano Bruno

Decoding Dedalus: Signs on a White Field

Actuality and the material world demand a winnowing down of facts to one linear story which serves one party, is the shout of the victor. In Ulysses, the human form is allowed to be infinite; no fact is considered unhistorical, no victory will be dismissed as pyrrhic. Everything is included because Ulysses is the epic of recovered time and redeemed space. – Alistair Cormack

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 47-48 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “His shadow lay…” and ends “… the more the more.”

Finally, we find ourselves in the closing pages of “Proteus.” Stephen has found his creative spark and begun composing his poem – his main artistic output of June sixteenth. As readers, we find ourselves on the downslope on a mighty hill, but remember, reaching the summit of a mountain is only half the climb. We still have to find our way down. 

His shadow lay over the rocks as he bent, ending. Why not endless till the farthest star? Darkly they are there behind this light, darkness shining in the brightness, delta of Cassiopeia, worlds. 

Here we see Stephen, in the grips of the poetic muse, bending over an ersatz table made of rocks on Sandymount Strand, jotting down the lines about the pale vampire traversing the seas on his bat-winged ship. Stephen sees his own shadows and ponders its limit. Of course, he’s not thinking only of his literal shadow, but also the shadow cast by his genius and the acclaim he hopes to achieve. Keep in mind, this is the same young Artist who requested his works be sent to all the great libraries of the world upon his death (including the long-ago-burned Library of Alexandria) in order to preserve his memory (a request that James Joyce made in real life of his brother Stanislaus).  rZSuJjadWhen Stephen asks, “Why not endless till the farthest star,” he is asking why can’t his “shadow,” his legacy extend to the far reaches of the universe? The thought of “the farthest star” leads to thoughts of the stars visible from Earth, hidden by the brightness of the midday sky. He recalls his earlier inversion of the Bible verse John 1:5, “darkness shining in the brightness.” 

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Signs on a White Field”

Proteus, Ulysses, James Joyce, Stephen Dedalus

Decoding Dedalus: Pale Vampire

Is the mouth south someway? Or the south a mouth? – Stephen Dedalus

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 47-48 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “A side eye…” and ends “… the library counter.” 

In “Proteus,” James Joyce associated the color green with creation. We find green, and by extension creativity, reflected in the seaweed strewn across the strand, in Stephen’s memory of Kevin Egan’s absinthe and, direct from Cock lake, in Stephen’s urine. Thus far on June the sixteenth, Stephen has struggled to exercise his artistic creativity, instead disrupted by the crass Buck Mulligan, the gormless Haines and the calcified Mr. Deasy. Left to his own devices on Sandymount Strand, Stephen is finally stirred to claim his birthright as an Artist:

A side eye at my Hamlet hat. If I were suddenly naked here as I sit? I am not. 

As the cocklepickers pass Stephen by, he is first stirred by a different kind of “creative” inspiration. Previously he had let his imagination run wild, imagining the couple to be a pimp and a prostitute scamming the wealthy men of Dublin. Stephen speculates that his Parisian fashion statement has caught the woman’s eye. The Latin Quarter hat has transformed, in accordance with the protean nature of all things found on Sandymount Strand, into a Hamlet hat.  “Latin Quarter hat” is a Mulligan-ism, a phrase used to mock Stephen’s attachment to the trappings of his previous faux-hemian surroundings. Here, Stephen is gaining a bit of agency, at the very least dictating the nickname of his hat. More importantly, he is naming his role in the “story” of his life. He is Hamlet, the aggrieved Prince of Denmark. Usurpers, beware.

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Pale Vampire”

Ulysses, Proteus, Leopold Bloom, James Joyce

Decoding Dedalus: Haroun al-Raschid

That’s all in the Protean character…. Everything changes: land, water, dog, time of day. Parts of speech change, too. Adverb becomes verb. – James Joyce

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 47 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “After he woke me…” and ends “You will see who.” 

As Stephen sits watching Tatters the dog cavort across the sands of Sandymount Strand near the end of “Proteus,” his mind jumps from pards and panthers to the English student Haines. Stephen was awoken in the middle of the night due to Haines’ screaming about a nightmare of a black panther, and now he recalls  an interesting dream of his own. We’ve already discussed Stephen’s own nightmare of his mother’s angry shade, but Stephen’s second dream focuses on his future rather than his past. In the past, we’ve explored Stephen’s relationship with the Akasic record, which allows him access to the memories of all humankind. The Akasic record, however, can also show the future. Craig Carver explains:

In sleep this spectacle is often spontaneously perceived by the self freed of the domination of external impressions.

Meaning, one can experience a freer form of perception, detached from all those ineluctable modalities in a dream state. Suddenly, those modalities become… eluctable I guess?

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Haroun al-Raschid”

James Joyce, Ulysses, Proteus

Decoding Dedalus: Pretenders

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 45 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Pretenders…” and ends “…medieval abstrusiosities.” 

Ulysses is full of people who aren’t what they seem or who don’t know who they are. We’ve already met Haines, an English student who wishes he were Irish, and Mr. Deasy, an Irish headmaster who wishes he were English. Following the rabbit trail of Stephen’s inner monologue, we begin to examine his preoccupation with pretenders, in this case, historical ones.

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Pretenders”

James Joyce, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, the Viking, Dublin, history

Decoding Dedalus: Galleys of the Lochlanns

We don’t want any of your medieval abstrusiosities. – Stephen Dedalus

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on page 45 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Galleys of the Lochlanns…” and ends “…none to me.”

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.


I’m really excited for this edition of our ‘Decoding Dedalus’ series because it combines my love of history and apocalyptic horror. I have some theories about why Stephen stopped to ponder waves of ravening Norse invaders raging ashore along Sandymount Strand, but, after reading about the endless procession of invaders, famine and pestilence that marched through Dublin in the Middle Ages, the one question I can’t shake is, “How are there any people left?” I can’t help but wonder if Stephen is just in awe that he exists at all. 

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Galleys of the Lochlanns”

James Joyce, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses

Decoding Dedalus: Latin Quarter Hat

He dressed in black, a Hamlet without a wicked uncle…. – Richard Ellmann

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 41-42 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “My Latin quarter hat.” and ends “…curled conquistadores.”


To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.

In December 1901, a young, determined James Joyce showed up in Paris to study medicine. There were other, more sensible courses of study he could have taken. Most obviously, he could have carried on at University College Dublin where he had done his undergraduate work. However, he couldn’t afford the fees, and the university had denied him work doing grinds (tutoring), which would have helped him earn money to pay his fees. There was no particularly compelling reason for Joyce to study medicine in Paris. In fact, he had some powerful connections (W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory) who were more than happy to call in favors and get him a position in Dublin or London as a writer. But no, Paris was the only option. He wrote to Lady Gregory that he would travel to Paris “alone and friendless,” that he must “try [himself] against the powers of the world.”

Richard Ellmann wrote that Joyce was provisionally allowed entrance into the École de Médecine at La Sorbonne, despite the fact that the term was mere weeks from ending. Joyce’s younger brother Stanislaus, on the other hand, said that when his brother arrived in Paris, the university didn’t recognize his undergrad degree from Ireland and that he would have had to pay all of his student fees in advance of study, still an issue for the Young Artist. Apparently, this information could have been ascertained while Joyce was still in Dublin. It was also not clear if a French medical degree would be valid in Ireland or if Joyce intended to practice medicine in France. Such setbacks would not turn our intrepid hero aside, however. He remained in Paris, as Stanislaus tells it, “with some undefined purpose, vaguely literary.”

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Latin Quarter Hat”

Ulysses James Joyce Kevin Egan

Decoding Dedalus: Wild Geese

In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me.

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 42 44 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Noon slumbers.” and ends “Remembering thee, O Sion.”

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episodes here and here.


 

The “Proteus” episode of Ulysses (chapter 3 for those of you keeping track at home) is organized around the themes and characters of the fourth book of Homer’s Odyssey, which deals with King Menelaus’ fraught return home following the Trojan War. Since Menelaus is the central figure in that story, it would be tempting to think that since Stephen Dedalus is the central figure in “Proteus,” he must also be our Joycean Menelaus. However, Menelaus’ role is filled by Kevin Egan, the Irish-revolutionary-turned-exile Stephen met during his brief sojourn in Paris, a character that never appears “on screen” in Ulysses, only in Stephen’s memories as he walks along Sandymount Strand, south of Dublin.

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Wild Geese”

Ulysses, Proteus, James Joyce

Decoding Dedalus: Omphalos

Daedalus in Ulysses was Joyce himself, so he was terrible. Joyce was so damn romantic and intellectual about him. He’d made Bloom up. Bloom was wonderful. – Ernest Hemingway, “On Writing”

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a paragraph of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 37 -38 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “They came down the steps…” and ends “…clotted hinderparts.” 

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here and here


They came down the steps from Leahy’s terrace prudently, Frauenzimmer: and down the shelving shore flabbily, their splayed feet sinking in the silted sand.

Who are “they”?

One “unhelpful” thing that pops up regularly in Stephen’s stream of conscious is unattributed pronouns. Joyce has enough faith in us, the readers, to figure out who “they” might be. I suppose we should be flattered. In this case, the “they” are “frauenzimmer” descending to Sandymount Strand. Here’s another thing Stephen likes to do – answer a question he posed himself in a foreign language. In German, “frauenzimmer” means either “lady of fashion” or a “nitwit, drab, sloven or wench.” I’m guessing, based on the description that  follows, Joyce intended to conjure the latter image in your mind. Leahy’s Terrace is a street in Sandymount that is no longer near the sea due to development in the area that included extending the shoreline.

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Omphalos”