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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