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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Decoding Dedalus: Full Fathom Five

I haven’t let this young man off very lightly, have I? Many writers have written about themselves. I wonder if any one of them has been as candid as I have? – James Joyce to Frank Budgen

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 page p. 50 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Five fathoms…” and ends “We enjoyed ourselves immensely.”


Before we leave the shores of Sandymount at the end of “Proteus,” we should dive into one last motif just a bit deeper. We’ve previously focused on drowning in relation to the death of Stephen’s mother and as a manifestation of Stephen’s hydrophobia, but at the end of the episode, the image of a drowned man in Dublin Bay resurfaces once more. As we’ll see, Stephen fear of drowning extends beyond his memories of his mother coughing up bowls of green phlegm.

Moving his focus from the sand, stones and seaweed on Sandymount Strand, Stephen begins to contemplate the waters of Dublin Bay. He has attempted to categorize and order the scattered people, creatures and detritus of the shore through Berkeleyan idealism and the fixed language of heraldry, but the sea is still a wild place, shifting and protean. The sea contains mysteries yet untamed, the ninth wave out from land a portal to the otherworld. It is not confined to the restrictions of solid forms like those found on the shore. It is a place of possibility, and ultimately, change.

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Ep. 33 – Nuncle Richie

Stephen contemplates the horror of a visit to his Aunt Sara and Uncle Richie’s house. We discuss parallels in this scene with Joyce’s real life aunt and uncle, why Joyce’s Aunt Josephine gave away her first edition of Ulysses, the intractable Dubliner/culchie divide, middle class pretension, Hiberno-English, Wilde’s Requiescat, and the difficulty of parsing conversations written in Joyce’s signature stream of consciousness.

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James Joyce, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses, Proteus, homosexuality, Oscar Wilde

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

On page 49 of “Proteus,” Stephen Dedalus spends a paragraph thinking about his shoes, which feels appropriate rounding out an episode that consists of walking on the shore:

His gaze brooded on his broadtoed boots, a buck’s castoffs, nebeneinander. He counted the creases of rucked leather wherein another’s foot had nested warm. The foot that beat the ground in tripudium, foot I dislove. But you were delighted when Esther Osvalt’s shoe went on you: girl I knew in Paris. Tiens, quel petit pied! Staunch friend, a brother soul: Wilde’s love that dare not speak its name. His arm: Cranly’s arm. He now will leave me. And the blame? As I am. As I am. All or not at all.

Tramping around Sandymount in boots borrowed from Buck Mulligan, Stephen is aware of his reliance on the snarky medical student for his material necessities, including his bed in the Martello Tower. We also learn a new tidbit about Stephen’s time in Paris – he once tried on a female friend’s shoe and “delighted” when it fit. These details accompany a few memorable names -Wilde, as in Oscar, and Cranly, as in Stephen’s erstwhile confidant from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. One phrase in particular stands out: “Wilde’s love that dare not speak its name.” Might Mulligan or Cranly have been more than a “staunch friend” or “brother soul” to Stephen?

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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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Ulysses, Proteus, James Joyce

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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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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Proteus, Ulysses, James Joyce, Stephen Dedalus

Decoding Dedalus: Pale Vampire

Is the mouth south someway? Or the south a mouth? – Stephen Dedalus

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 “A side eye…” and ends “… the library counter.” 

In “Proteus,” James Joyce associated the color green with creation. We find green, and by extension creativity, reflected in the seaweed strewn across the strand, in Stephen’s memory of Kevin Egan’s absinthe and, direct from Cock lake, in Stephen’s urine. Thus far on June the sixteenth, Stephen has struggled to exercise his artistic creativity, instead disrupted by the crass Buck Mulligan, the gormless Haines and the calcified Mr. Deasy. Left to his own devices on Sandymount Strand, Stephen is finally stirred to claim his birthright as an Artist:

A side eye at my Hamlet hat. If I were suddenly naked here as I sit? I am not. 

As the cocklepickers pass Stephen by, he is first stirred by a different kind of “creative” inspiration. Previously he had let his imagination run wild, imagining the couple to be a pimp and a prostitute scamming the wealthy men of Dublin. Stephen speculates that his Parisian fashion statement has caught the woman’s eye. The Latin Quarter hat has transformed, in accordance with the protean nature of all things found on Sandymount Strand, into a Hamlet hat.  “Latin Quarter hat” is a Mulligan-ism, a phrase used to mock Stephen’s attachment to the trappings of his previous faux-hemian surroundings. Here, Stephen is gaining a bit of agency, at the very least dictating the nickname of his hat. More importantly, he is naming his role in the “story” of his life. He is Hamlet, the aggrieved Prince of Denmark. Usurpers, beware.

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