Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ulysses, Chapter Four: Calypso

Each chapter of Ulysses comes with its own corresponding color for the imagery, and the "Calypso" episode filters its descriptions through orange. A hue with deep cultural ties to Ireland, orange is a somewhat controversial choice for Joyce. For, in Ireland, orange represents protestantism and unionism. In Joyce's time, it symbolized the conservative sect within Irish society demanding to remain under the crown. Today, it reminds everyone of the horrifying sectarian violence that made Ireland and North Ireland a war zone for the latter half of the 20th century. By this stage in the book, or even just this stage in Joyce's career, it must be taken for granted that the writer knows exactly what he is doing, and by incorporating orange into his descriptions he highlights a rift in the book.

Yet the color scheme for this chapter could just as easily been black and white, which Joyce references several times (the cat, the various sausages of the butcher shop). It makes sense, for the Calypso chapter announces a sharp break from the preceding chapters, one that not only shifts focus to an entirely new character but makes that character markedly different from Stephen Dedalus.

Leopold Bloom shares some similarities with Stephen, though chiefly in the manner in which Joyce resets the clock to start the same day from Bloom's perspective. Bloom sees the same cloud pass overhead that Stephen did in the first chapter, he feels ousted from his home (Buck taking over the Martello tower, Leo's wife Molly remaining in bed and making him go out), and both are in mourning, Leo preparing for a funeral and Stephen having recently come from one.

Then, the differences set in, and they are vast yet still harmonic with the other character's traits. Where Stephen drifts through his life pondering the aesthetic and philosophical significance of all around him, Bloom is the active agent Stephen needs to become. Though by no means a dim-witted or unread man -- he explains the concept of reincarnation at one point to his wife, complete with literary references -- he has no time to contemplate the metaphorical significance of anything. He worries Molly might be cheating on him with her friend Blazes Boylan. Adding to his stress is a letter addressed to her from Boylan, which she tucks under her pillow in front of Leopold to read later privately.

But if Stephen sees through everything to weigh upon its meaning, Bloom (who has the added benefit of not suffering broken glasses) pores over everything in his line of sight with exacting detail. He may not analyze anything beneath its surface element, but he captures his world with precision. Because Bloom focuses on that which is before him, that which is tangible, this chapter -- set in his head the way the previous three were told from inside of Stephen's -- makes for much easier reading than the last chapter. By structuring the last episode around Stephen's sensory deprivation, he makes the contrast between Dedalus' analytic thinking and Bloom's sensual connection to the physical world all the more apparent.

But let us return to the color orange: though not the color associated with the separatists (that would of course be green, which was the dominant color image of the previous chapter), orange does connote a lack of national identity. More so than the nationalists, in fact, who rallied around the green flag of a separate nation. The orange faction, on the other hand, prefers to remain under the rule of Britain.

How does this relate to Bloom, who appears to be as uninterested with politics as Stephen? Bloom is a Jew, a third party in the sectarian split starting to tear Ireland apart. It is easy to forget that Ireland, a place where people once died for being the "wrong" kind of Christian could be hospitable to anyone of another religion entirely, and Bloom might feel that himself. Though Bloom, at least at this point in the narrative, may have no remote ties to unionism, he has the same lack of identity, subsumed into the whole of an area that does not grant him an individual identity. I know not the degree of antisemitism he will or will not face as the book continues, but Joyce sets Bloom apart here by virtue of his ill-fitting relationship with his wife, personally isolating Bloom before socially isolating him.

Joyce called his novel "the epic of two races (Israel - Ireland)" and I find it interesting yet oddly logical that he would link the two. The people of both lands are defined less by their nations than the wandering they have done through others. The old British joke goes "Why is the grass so green in Ireland? Because you're all over here trampling on ours." Hordes of Irish abandoned their land during the famine, only to find themselves working wages that qualified them for the social class just above slave. Jews, of course, have wandered away from their seized home for much of recorded history, settling where they may and enduring unspeakable hardship at every turn. They are the only people who, in mass terms, can be strangers in their own homelands, and I shall be interested to see how Joyce works with this connection further.

(I confess I've occasionally slipped and lumped in Joyce with American literature, wondering if my anthologies for both American lit classes I've taken at Auburn will contain anything by him until I remember his nationality. Maybe it's just because I'd like to "claim" a genius of his might for America, but I wonder if my own status as a multi-generation Irish immigrant makes me one of those shameful Americans who feels some nonexistent camaraderie with the Irish who remained in Eire.)

One final note about this chapter: it delves into the scatological humor I've seen in Joyce's private letters. At the start of the chapter, Bloom thinks about what he might like for breakfast and settles upon the idea of a fried kidney (God damn you, cuisine of the British Isles), and part of the allure of kidneys for him is the "fine tang of faintly scented urine." After getting kidney from the butcher's, returning home and making conversation with his terse, bored wife, Bloom eats his breakfast and promptly heads to the outhouse for a crap, which Joyce helpfully describes. I swear, Leo Bloom might be in my extended family because it sometimes seems as if everyone in my family but me cannot have a conversation without touching upon the subject of bowel regularity. Bloom delights at the end of his constipation and enjoys a momentary respite from his woes with Molly, but underneath the absurdity of this scene and the description of "feeling his water flow quietly" is the suggestion that maybe the stress is loosening his intestines. It's a hell of a way to introduce a character's worries, but sometimes you've jut got to go straight for the horse's mouth. As it were.


  1. The amazing number images and cogency with which Joyce weaves them from one chapter,character, sequence of events to another clearly emerges in Calypso. The "urine" reference in Bloom's kidney with Stephen's witnessing the dog urinating, his own urination,
    bodily functions corresponding with cycles of self and universe--its astounding how he keeps augmenting the parallels meaningfully throughout.

  2. "North Ireland"? Would that be that place to the north of the Irish Free State? If you can make up your own terms for places, so can I.