Decoding Dedalus: Dark Men of Mien and Movement

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 “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. It appears on page 28 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).


Across the page the symbols moved in grave morrice, in the mummery of their letters, wearing quaint caps of squares and cubes. Give hands, traverse, bow to partner: so: imps of fancy of the Moors. Gone too from the world, Averroes and Moses Maimonides, dark men in mien and movement, flashing in their mocking mirrors the obscure soul of the world, a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend.

These thoughts traverse Stephen’s mind as he sits to help young Sargent with his algebra. Stephen, distracted as ever, ponders the greater mysteries and histories behind something so seemingly simple as a young student’s algebra problem. However, as you’ve certainly guessed by now, nothing is ever simple in Ulysses. Oh my god, there is so much in this one, you guys.

Let’s dive in.

Across the page the symbols moved in grave morrice, in the mummery of their letters, wearing quaint caps of squares and cubes. Give hands, traverse, bow to partner: so: imps of fancy of the Moors.

Let’s start with the word “morrice.” Usually spelled Morris dance today, this is  a traditional/ historical form of folk dance from England and Wales and, as a result, has had a lot of different spellings over the years. Morris dance does indeed involve a certain amount of mummery and the wearing of quaint caps. Some styles include blackface as part of the costume.

Stephen is slipping into a daydream as young Sargent works his algebra, watching the numbers come alive and dance across the page. It’s sort of like John Cusack in Better Off Dead, except less whimsical and less 80’s. The last line is key here. “The Moors” refer to the inhabitants of medieval Muslim Spain. While the origins of Morris dance are unknown, some believe “Morris” to have evolved from “Moorish.” The costumes of some styles of Morris dance and the unfortunate blackface seem to reflect this to me. Stephen thinks of the Moors in particular, though, because algebra was introduced to Europe by Muslim scholars.

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James Joyce Ulysses Buck Mulligan

Ep. 3 – Joyce v. Gogarty

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Oliver St John Gogarty

In this episode we tackle the falling out between James Joyce and Oliver St John Gogarty, the origins of the character Buck Mulligan, what really happened in the Martello tower, blasphemous poetry and how Joyce found his sense of humor.

Stream here:
https://embed.simplecast.com/af8957f2?color=f5f5f5

On the Blog:

Say ‘Hello’ to Martello Towers
Who was the Real Buck Mulligan?

Poetry in Ulysses: The Ballad of Joking Jesus

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Further Reading:

Ellmann, R. (1959). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gogarty, O. (1948). Mourning became Mrs. Spendlove and other portraits grave and gay. New York: Creative Age Press.

Lyons, J. (1984). Oliver St. John Gogarty. Dublin Historical Record,38(1), 2-13. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30100748

Riley, M. (1984). Joyce, Gogarty, and the Irish Hero. The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies,10(2), 45-54. doi:10.2307/25512607. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/25512607?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Aafd1aaaa4471f11ab4207fabb5556216&seq=9#metadata_info_tab_contents

Trieste Notebook:

http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/JoyceColl/JoyceColl-idx?type=div&did=JOYCECOLL.SCHOLESWORKSHOP.I0013&isize=text

Turner, J., & Mamigonian, M. (2004). Solar Patriot: Oliver St. John Gogarty in “Ulysses”. James Joyce Quarterly,41(4), 633-652. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25478099

Music

Noir – S Strong & Boogie Belgique

Homer The Odyssey Ulysses James Joyce Stephen Dedalus

Ep. 2 – Ulysses & the Odyssey: Telemachus!

Telemachus_and_Mentor1
Telemachus and Mentor, Pablo E. Fabisch, 1699

Dermot and Kelly discuss the connections between Ulysses and The Odyssey. We take on the Gilbert schema, how to market a book like Ulysses, what exactly happens in the opening chapters of The Odyssey, and how it corresponds to the “Telemachus” episode of Ulysses.

Stream here:

https://embed.simplecast.com/784891db?color=f5f5f5
Continue reading “Ep. 2 – Ulysses & the Odyssey: Telemachus!”

Decoding Dedalus: A Dedalus Never Pays His Debts

—I will tell you, he said solemnly, what is his proudest boast. I paid my way. … I never borrowed a shilling in my life. Can you feel that? I owe nothing. Can you?

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 “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 30-31 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).


A guide to pre-decimal currency can be found here.

Mr. Deasy’s quote above is meant to be the pride of the English – being so sensible (or just wealthy, let’s be real) that you live your whole life without debts. It’s worth recalling that in “Telemachus,”  Haines the Englishman said to Buck Mulligan, “Have you your bill? We had better pay her, Mulligan, hadn’t we?” just moments before Mulligan underpays the milkwoman for her milk, an underpayment on owed money. Stephen, most unEnglishly, also has his fair share of debts, of which he takes mental stock after Mr. Deasy extolls the virtues of lacking debt. Stephen’s debt mirrors the financial realities of James Joyce himself at a similar age.

Much like Stephen, Joyce had returned from medical school in Paris, his family in disarray following his mother’s death. His father, John Joyce, was selling off their household items to patch holes in the family’s dire financial situation while coping with the strain through alcohol. Though James could have hypothetically worked to support his family, he was dead set on making his mark as an Artist. This sometimes took the form of all-day writing sessions and other times sleeping until four in the afternoon following an all-night drinking session. In Joyce’s mind, one justified the other.

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Homer The Odyssey Ulysses James Joyce Stephen Dedalus

Ulysses & The Odyssey: Telemachus

I am now writing a book based on the wanderings of Ulysses. ‘The Odyssey,’ that is to say, serves me as a ground plan. Only my time is recent and all my hero’s wanderings take no more than 18 hours. – James Joyce, 1918

For a discussion of this topic, check out our podcast episode here.

Welcome to the first post in an occasional series in which I read The Odyssey, break down the references in each of Ulysses’ eighteen episodes and pull out the ancient Greek parallels. Ulysses has its basis in Homer’s ancient Greek epic, so exploring the journeys of Leopold Bloom and Odysseus side by side seems like an obvious route. However, a word of caution: while The Odyssey is present in the text of Ulysses, knowing and understanding the Homeric parallels in Ulysses will only take you so far and will sometimes present you with “false friends” – apparent parallels where there are none. It’s kind of like the Spanish word embarazada. It looks a lot like a familiar English word, but using it to mean embarrassment might lead to… well, embarrassment.

Telemachus_and_Mentor1
Telemachus and Mentor, Pablo E. Fabisch, 1699

Just so we’re clear on terms – “Homeric parallels” are the ways in which Ulysses is modeled on Homer’s Odyssey. “Ulysses” is the Latin name for the main character (Odysseus in Greek) after allIf you’ve used a reading guide or annotation to Ulysses, you’ve likely noticed that each episode in the novel is given a title corresponding to The Odyssey. The first chapter about Stephen and the boys in the tower is called “Telemachus,” for instance. Although these designations are common coin amongst Ulysses enthusiasts, they never appeared in any published edition of the book. They were popularized by Stuart Gilbert after they appeared in his 1930 book Ulysses – A Study.  Joyce provided Gilbert with a schema outlining his novel as well as prominent themes and parallels in each episode. If you use an annotation that lists the corresponding organ, color, art etc. for each chapter, these also have their roots in Joyce’s schemata.

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James Joyce Ulysses Buck Mulligan

Ulysses CCD: Mulligan Mocks Mass

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

Part of an occasional series on Catholic allusions found in Ulysses.


In 2017, I was a founding member of the Ulysses Support Group at T.C. O’Leary’s pub in Portland, Oregon. Our goal was to read the entirety of Ulysses aloud between two Bloomsdays. On the first night, as we started analysing the opening lines of the novel, I pointed out that Mulligan’s actions atop the Martello tower were a blasphemous mockery of the Catholic Mass. One of the other participants blurted, “How do you KNOW it’s about Catholicism??” It caught me off guard, but another member deftly responded, “Joyce was Irish. Of course it’s about Catholicism!”

I was raised Catholic in a small town where most people were Catholic. I went to Sunday school (called CCD) every week. Monty Python and the Meaning of Life was banned in our house because of the “Every Sperm is Sacred” song. One thing I learned through our book club is that a lot of the religious references and imagery don’t necessarily stand out for those of us who didn’t grow up steeped in Catholicism. I also notice a lot of reading guides and annotations for Ulysses assume the reader’s familiarity with Catholicism. In this post and many posts to come, I hope to answer the question of Book Club Dude: “How do you KNOW it’s about Catholicism??”

Today, I’m taking on that very first passage of Ulysses about stately, plump Buck Mulligan.
Continue reading “Ulysses CCD: Mulligan Mocks Mass”

ulysses joyce heretics blasphemy

Decoding Dedalus: Heresies in “Telemachus”

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a paragraph of Ulysses and give it the ol’ Frank Delaney treatment – that is, break it down line by line. As an aside, if you haven’t listened to Frank Delaney’s excellent podcast, Re:Joyce, go treat yourself. His page by page analysis of Ulysses is informative and charming. I’m not going to analyse every line, (sorry!) but some passages require a more in-depth treatment than others.

The passage below comes from “Telemachus,” the first episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 20-21 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).

……….

The proud potent titles clanged over Stephen’s memory the triumph of their brazen bells: et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam: the slow growth and change of rite and dogma like his own rare thoughts, a chemistry of stars.

Let’s start with the most intimidating bit here, the Latin. This phrase translates to “and one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Stephen quotes this phrase in English a few lines before as an explanation for his Italian master – the Catholic church headquartered in Rome. These lines are the “proud potent titles clanging over Stephen’s memory” as they are words every Catholic memorizes as a child. They come from a prayer called the Nicene Creed that lays out the basic tenets of Roman Catholicism and is recited during the Mass.

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