Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ulysses, Chapter Seven: Aeolus

Just a few brief notes.

One of the major themes of this chapter is the press. It's Homeric analog is Aeolus, the ruler of the winds. The press is depicted as oracle of the Gods, "translator" of the eternal Word, which is Truth absolute (though the accuracy of the translation is highly questionable). The pale reflection of the same is printed in black ink within the pages of the holy book which is created anew each day, ever subject to the capriciousness of the winds and to unpredictable shifts in direction, be they political, cultural, literary, musical or what have you. The wind which is the breath of Ruach Elohim, the living breath of God, the substance and support of every created thing, finds its earthly application in newsroom sensationalism and advertising, both as insubstantial and elusive as the currents of astral winds wafted earthward from the wings of angels.


The Crozier is the Bishop's staff which confirs blessing. It is linked to the Caduceus, which in turn is very much linked to the idea of the Ruach Elohim, its two winding serpents and central staff bearing a close resemblance to the currents of prana, or life force, in the subtle body: ida, pingala, and shushumna. The life force is carried in the breath. The breath is the vehicle of the word. The word is the carrier of truth and falsehood. "Bathe his lips, Mr. Dedalus said. Blessed and eternal God."

"They always build one door opposite another for the wind to. Way in. Way out."

The opposing doors are the gates of birth and death, by way of which the spirit enters and leaves the created world. Let us not forget that Adam was nothing more than a lump of clay before the Old Testament God breathed life into him.

Also, these are the Solstitial gates (in some traditions these would in fact be the Equinoctial gates), represented by the silver and gold keys which denote the Lesser and Greater Mysteries. The crossed keys play quite a significant part throughout the chapter.

"Like that, see. Two crossed keys here. A circle. Then here the name Alexander Keyes, tea, wine and spirit merchant. So on." 

The riddle is first posed here: "What opera resembles a railway line? Reflect, ponder, excogitate, reply." 

The latter instruction reminds me of an image repeated numerous times throughout the Sepher Yetzirah in reference to the creation of the universe by God, which is synonymous with the creation and use of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet: "He engraved them, carved them out, refined them, weighed them, and transformed them. [...] He engraved them by voice and carved them out with breath."

"The Tribune's words howled and scattered to the four winds. A people sheltered within his voice. Dead noise. Akashic records of all that ever anywhere wherever was." 

The Akashic records contain everything that has ever happened and every idea that has ever occurred to anybody, but it is indiscriminate, failing to discern literal truth from fantasy, subjective conjecture from objective fact.

Bloom, as wandering Jew, is ever in search of the lost Word of the Freemasons (in fact, it is strongly suggested that Bloom is himself a member). His key, which grants him access to the naval of the sea, has been replaced by a talismanic potato, which is both a fruit and a root.

The entire chapter is full of breezes and winds, doors opening and closing, machines clattering and banging, inflated windbags bombasting, windfalls, whirlwinds, hurricanes and blow outs. I've read that every type of rhetoric known to the English language is used exactly once within this chapter.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ulyssus, Chapter Three: Proteus

Stephan stands by the sea yearning for its mystical embrace. His mother has abandoned him, his father is unreachable, his art has withered and died - is there anything left to keep him from casting himself into the waters? The one thing left to him, his intellect, seems just capable of leading him beyond the lifeless cul-de-sac in which he finds himself. Stephan contemplates the source of all things in the ineffable, linked by genetics or metempsychosis.

"Creation from nothing. [...] A misbirth with a trailing navelchord, hushed in ruddy wool. The chords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one."

The omphalos is the navel of the world. The navel, of course, is the mark left my the once physical connection with the mother. The omphalos is linked to prophecy through the oracle at Delphi. Prophecy appears in this chapter as foreshadowing (see below). Prophecy may be linked as well to poetic and artistic inspiration, which, for Stephan, seems to have run dry. Ah, but there is an omphalos at Jerusalem as well. Jerusalem exists in both heaven and on earth, partaking equally of the mythical and the actual.

Let us not forget that the omphalos at Delphi (which, let us say, relates to the navel or center of Stephan's tortured psyche, as the one at Jerusalem relates to the center of Leopold's) is equated with the black stone given to Chronos by Rhea. The stone was wrapped in cloth and was intended to fool Chronos, the tyrannical father who eats his children, who supposed it was his newborn son Zeus.

Kinch, Stephan,  is the knife that cuts the umbilicus (likened here to a telephone chord), severing the connection between the individual and the universal. The knife is the rational mind which Stephan uses to isolate himself, hacking madly at any possibility of a connection between himself and any other person. Intimacy gives rise to vulnerability, whereas the life of the mind is a safe one. Yet Stephan yearns ever back toward his source, which in his mind links his dead mother with the sea. He craves the intimate connection that he denies himself. He desperately wishes to move beyond his present state and into something greater.

"Heva, naked Eve. She had no navel. Gaze."

The stars are described as "darkness shining in the brightness", one allusion of several to the mysteries of night shining behind the common light of day.

"Me sits there with augur's rod of ash, in borrowed sandals, by day beside a livid sea, unbeheld, in violet night walking beneath a reign of uncouth stars."

Stephan sees himself as wholly unremarkable in the common world. His sandals are borrowed, he doesn't belong in this world and he is not of it. At night, however, in the light of Mystery, in the numinous irrationality of naked truth, there he feels perfectly at home. How to reconcile this with the island of the intellect on which he has stranded himself?

His "auger's rod of ash", which he feels does not belong to him, reappears quite dramatically in the Circe chapter. This again links Stephan to the oracle at Delphi.

Elsewhere in the text, Stephan, as Telemachus mourning Odysseus whom he thinks dead, muses on the death of a man found drowned off Maiden's rock, five fathoms out to sea.

"Full fathom five thy father lies."

Stephan pines for the dissolution of his rational mind into something larger, he wishes to drown himself in the sea of universal consciousness. Yet still he clings to the rocks of scholasticism, rationality, and literary theory. He cannot quite let these things go.

"Seadeath, mildest of all deaths known to man."

Leopold Bloom, as Odysseus, could be Stephan's redemption, the true father resurrected, returned from the sea, brought back from the ineffable, come to life from ancient myth to form a bridge between the night and the day. Joyce will give us no such satisfaction, of course. The waters of mythical fantasy will break upon the shores of day to day existence. But, and here is the key, this does not invalidate the myth in any way.

Leopold, of course, is quite a different animal than Stephan. He is a man of many failures, yet he accepts all of these and still manages to maintain his connection to the mythical. One could say that Bloom is the rose, and Dedalus the cross. The rose is whole and complete, while the two bars of the cross , though joined at the center, are ever at odds with each other.

Stephan has not yet met Leopold, Telemachus still does not suspect that his father lives and will return, yet he knows that something does await him.

"Come. I thirst."

In the final paragraph of the chapter, a ship is spotted out at sea.

"Moving through the air high spars of a threemaster, her sails brailed up on the crosstrees, homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ulysses, Chapter One: Telemachus

Buck opens the scene in the tower with mirror and razor crossed over a bowl of lather and begins the mass. A razor is a knife, which is Buck's nickname for Stephen ("Kinch"). The mirror reflects Buck's own image back at him.

Could the bowl be the tower inverted? The tower is the Omphalos, or the navel (center) of the world. The mirror and the razor together (crossed) could represent the body and the soul, or (B)uck and (S)tephen. Here they are at odds with each other, but one could argue that the two extremes have been reconciled in the person of Leopold Bloom (in whom the mundane and the miraculous have no conflict).

The name Bloom brings to mind the rose, which further brings to mind the symbol of the Rose Cross, consisting of two crossed bars with a rose unfolded over the intersection. The rose, representing spirit, is nailed to the cross of matter (the nail comes into the picture in a very significant way later on in the book).

The crossed mirror and razor suggest the crossed silver and gold keys of the papal insignia, which are the keys of St. Peter, said to give the power to bind and loose the things of earth and heaven, respectively. These are the keys to the gates of paradise, often been viewed as representing privileged access to secret knowledge.

In the Western Tradition, the silver and gold keys represent the Lesser and Greater Mysteries, the former associated with Luna and the latter with Sol. These pertain to the terrestrial and celestial initiatory passages, from which it could be argued that the mass is ultimately derived. I might also suggest that one of them (but which?) may be taken to represent Rome, while the other represents Jerusalem, as so many of the mysteries of the book are tied up in the contrast between Catholicism and Judaism. The image of the crossed keys return in a later chapter. And let us not forget, both Dedalus and Bloom are key-less wanderers.

With these holy relics are blessed the tower, the surrounding countryside, the awakening mountains, and Stephen Dedalus. The story can now begin.

There does seem to be some sort of connection between the bowl of lather and the bowl of bile which sits by Stephan's mother's death bed. When Buck wipes the razor with his snotrag, he can only be "rubbing in" the fact of Stephan's loss, and of his failure to pray for his dying mother. He's a right bastard, that Buck Mulligan.

And, just for the hell of it (we must admit, there is a lot of Kabbalah in Ulysses, some of which is overwhelmingly obvious, and much of which I will be returning to later on in this series):

The L of Leopold and the B of Bloom translate into Hebrew as Lamed Bet, adding up to 32 (by Gematria, in which every letter is attributed a numeric value), which is the total number of Sephiroth ("numbers") on the Otz Chayim or Tree of Life, together with the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. The 32 Paths of Wisdom (a Kabbalistic classic thought to be derived from, or at least closely related to, The Book of Contemplation or Sepher ha-Iyyun) list the 32 attributes one after the other as the means by which the Godhead emanates from the highest to the lowest.

Continuing on, the S of Stephan with the D of Dedalus translate to Samekh Dalet, totaling 64, which is the number of hexagrams in the I Ching. So, east meets west, or perhaps Jerusalem meets Rome (though, in this case, the attributes appear to be switched, leading me to believe that this is truly a blind alley).

Dream of the Inundation of the Ruby Temple

I'm perched atop a tremendous structure, a fantastical building which may be a city or a holy place, curiously known as 'Rubycon'. 

The building is made entirely of ruby, and seems to consist of a vast network of temples, some open and some hidden away in secret recesses. Elaborate forms carved into the crystalline structure are interspersed with open and austere spaces. Monks in orange robes stroll the walkways, conversing in a beautiful tongues at once unknown and intimately familiar. 

A sudden and unexpected rising of the waters drowns the lower part of the structure. The entire complex trembles and shakes, tilting dangerously, threatening to throw me off my perch. The atmosphere is extremely intense and enigmatic. I manage to remain upright through a series of postures which allow me to maintain balance. 

As the waters rise, every kind of animal emerges from its depths - elephants, tigers, crocodiles, horses and several others. The animals crawl up onto the ruby walkways. I am not threatened by them, they simply represent new inhabitants. They take their place within the network of temples. 

The rising of the waters ceases, leaving the top few stories intact, if slightly tilted and inhabited by several species of animal. The Ruby-con has been crossed. I have clearly reached the point of no return.