James Joyce, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, Aristotle, Sandymount Strand, Dublin, Ireland

Ep. 26 – Ineluctable Modalities

Ineluctable modality of the podcast! A discussion of the first paragraph of “Proteus,” in which Kelly and Dermot try to make sense of Stephen’s untethered inner monologue. We discuss Aristotle’s theory of vision, Bishop George’s Berkeley’s mistrust of sense perception, an interpretation of a famous meme, who Jakob Boehme was and what he meant by “signature of all things.” This episode will leave you with a pleasing sense of superiority over your friends.

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Dr Samuel Johnson

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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.” 

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Form of Forms

It follows that the soul is analogous to the hand; for as the hand is a tool of tools, so the mind is the form of forms and sense the form of sensible things. – Aristotle, De Anima

I am absolutely indebted to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the book Allwisest Stagyrite: Joyce’s Quotations from Aristotle by University College Dublin professor Fran O’Rourke for the contents of this essay.

In keeping with Catholic tradition, I must open this post with a confession of guilt: I’ve avoided writing about Aristotle as much as possible on this blog because I really don’t understand him. I’ve been laboring away the last few months fully aware that I purposely skipped over the following sweet, juicy chunks of philosophy on page 25 of “Nestor” because not only did I have no idea what they meant, but I had no desire to do the research to find out:

It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible. Aristotle’s phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquility sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.

I thought I got away with it, too. No one emailed me to ask why I skipped over that “form of forms” bit, so I thought my soul was free of the weight of guilt brought on by my own neglect.

But then, I came across this passage on page 44 of “Proteus”:

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Averroes, Maimonides, Ulysses, James Joyce

Ep. 17 – Averroes and Moses Maimonides

Kelly and Dermot tackle the reference to Averroes and Maimonides in “Nestor.” Not only does this episode cover these two philosophers and their connection to Aristotle, there’s also plenty of discussion on Morris dance, Giordano Bruno and the thematic importance of goth kids.

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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.”

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.”

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, Aristotle, Sandymount Strand, Dublin, Ireland

Decoding Dedalus: Ineluctable Modalities

The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended. An esthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space. – Stephen Dedalus, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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 page 37 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Ineluctable modality of the visible” and ends “world without end,” roughly the first five paragraphs of the episode.


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

So begins my attempt to translate “Proteus” into plain English and offer analysis. Hopefully this doesn’t turn me (any more) insane.

There are two ways to tackle these first five paragraphs, which are important paragraphs indeed. They seem to be some of the most quoted lines in “Proteus,” though I suspect that may be because that’s when many of us stopped reading. Or it’s just the right amount to quote to make it seem like you read the rest. Kidding, kidding. These first five set the stage for Stephen’s increasingly meandering musings as the episode progresses. They’re also a prime example of Joycean stream of conscious. However, they are as shifty as the sand and tides on Sandymount Strand and slippery as a Greek god eluding capture.

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