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?

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Ep. 31 – Contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality

The_Annunciation_-_Girolamo_da_Santacroce
The Annunciation, Girolamo da Santacroce, c. 1540

Let’s have fun with consubstantiality! Kelly and Dermot untangle Stephen Dedalus’ thoughts on the dual nature of God the Father and God the Son, the Nicene Creed, the difference between being made and being begotten, the death of Arius, seahorses, a shocking fact about the Star Wars cantina and an even more shocking fact about the symbolism of doves.

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James Joyce, Proteus, Ulysses

The Word Known to All Men

Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that word known to all men? I am quiet here alone. Sad too. Touch, touch me.

The lines above appear towards the end of “Proteus,” page 49 in my copy (1990 Vintage International), as Stephen pens the first draft of his poem while reclining on a rock on Sandymount Strand. Our key line today is Stephen’s unanswered question: “What is that word known to all men?” James Joyce seemingly never met an obscure allusion or rambly list that he didn’t love. Naturally, posing a question and not giving a concrete answer is solidly in line with his style. 

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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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Proteus, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce

Ep. 25 – Proteus

Michael_Maier_Atalanta_Fugiens_Emblem_36
The cubes in this emblem represent prima materia; 1617, Michael Maier

The time has come for Blooms & Barnacles to tackle Ulysses‘ third episode – “Proteus”! This is Ulysses‘ first “difficult” episode – jam-packed with multiple languages and obscure references. This week’s podcast gives an overview of many of the themes found in “Proteus,” including its connection to The Odyssey, the influence of esoteric doctrines on the text and Joyce’s love of writing in multiple languages. With guest star, Emma the cat.

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James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Ep. 19 – Fogey and Tory

C2aVdIPWQAEjHrT.jpgA character study of the infamous Mr. Deasy, the headmaster of Stephen’s school in “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. We discuss how Mr. Deasy is a stereotypical Dubliner of his day, as well as his defining characteristics (including his impressive mustache!) Mr. Deasy has a lot to teach us, though he is an old wise man archetype with no wisdom. We talk lots of history and politics in this one! Also, Kelly reveals the worst Scooby Doo character.

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Ep. 11 – Kelly Bryan

39748441_10102648692960357_5371947615535497216_oOn a Very Special Episode of the Blooms & Barnacles podcast – it’s Dermot’s first time leading an episode. He chose to interview his co-host and founder of the podcast, Kelly. He talks to her about why she’s the one to teach the world about Ulysses, her insane dream to stage “Circe,” how to make a soffee, and how she got invited to a party by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. A different vibe than our normal show, but don’t worry, it’s the good kind of weird. Continue reading “Ep. 11 – Kelly Bryan”

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”

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


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.

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.

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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

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

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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