Ep. 29 – Gaze in Your Omphalos

378px-Albrecht_Dürer,_Adam_and_Eve,_1504,_Engraving
Adam and Eve, Albrecht Dürer, 1504

In this installment of Blooms & Barnacles, Kelly and Dermot engage in some good, old-fashioned navel gazing. Discussion topics include working class life in Edwardian Dublin, the poetry of Algernon Swinburne, the perils of childbirth during the same period, gothic horror, whether Adam and Eve had bellybuttons, and why Kelly thinks people in antiquity had predominantly outie bellybuttons. They also get to the bottom of what exactly the heck an omphalos is and why everyone keeps talking about them.

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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.

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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