Readers of Ulysses are likely to be bored by the overarching mythical scheme of the Son in search of the Father, and to wonder if it is worth tracing in detail the pattern it forms. Indeed, they may well doubt if it forms any pattern at all. There is no encounter between Stephen and his father Simon in the novel. The dealings between Stephen and Bloom, corresponding to Telemachus and Odysseus, the father and son in Homer, are confined to chapters fourteen to seventeen (“Oxen of the Sun” to “Ithaca”), apart from four moments at which their paths cross or almost cross during the day. They hold sustained converse only in “Eumaeus” and the first half of “Ithaca.” This may seem a quite insignificant echo of the relations between the epic counterparts.
Indeed, the symbolic webs that Joyce sets interacting with each other, with increasing density as his work proceeds, are perhaps not intended to culminate in a unified vision – “See? It all works out” (8.122) – but to create a supersaturated allusive complex that sends us off in all directions and consigns us to what Derrida calls the infinite errancy of différance. How far do indecidability and indeterminacy extend in the world Joyce creates? To what extent are even his most resonant affirmations undercut by irony? Stephen’s declarations at the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are undermined by an irony immanent in that novel itself and still more by the character’s further development in Ulysses, but we cannot suppose that Bloom’s defence of love against hatred in “Cyclops” (12.1485) or Molly’s final “Yes” to love and to life are similarly undercut. These moments of affirmation may suffice to justify the claim that the novel broadcasts a humanistic message, affirming, in the mode of comedy, the dignity of human beings in face of all that threatens to rob their lives of worth. The entire play with the Homeric quest motif might be only a McGuffin to keep the comedy going, constantly projecting intimations of sublimity into the Dublin everyday, but not seriously aiming to complete a grand epic trajectory. It is more “the spirit of the thing” that conveys a celebration of ordinary human life.
Perhaps it suffices for Joyce’s purposes thus to adumbrate significances, leaving them there for the readers to take up or not as they please, while giving no definitive confirmation or disconfirmation of them. The meeting of Bloom and Stephen can be read as a failed communion, if the reader wishes to take it as such. To construe it as a triumphant conclusion to the epical quest one must attach great weight to the colloquy that fills the first half of the nostos (return) section of the novel (up to 17.1234). Tracing their movements throughout the day, one can sound their inner sense of lack and anxiety, which may lend to their apparently trivial exchanges when they finally meet a momentous significance. Speculation about the nature of Joyce’s project as an artist can also lend weight to this encounter, which may be seen as a reconciliation or integration that brings opposing forces into creative interplay.
After this, the return of Bloom to Molly, whom he has not seen since the brief morning conversation (3.244-381), provides the final orientation of the novel. Molly’s final monologue must bear some structural relationship to the father and son plot. She is the third person of the novel’s Trinity. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the community after the atoning event of Calvary. Christian dogma traces the eternal relations between Father, Son and Holy Ghost, which underpin the events of atonement and reconciliation, and in which the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, while remaining consubstantial with them in the unity of the godhead. Molly’s monologue is poured out after the stiff dialogue between Bloom and Stephen, which achieves, or at least mimes, an at-one-ment between the father and son figures, and we may suppose that her fullness of being is a re-presentation of the totality of life that has been grasped and enacted in different but no less valid ways by Bloom and Dedalus. But such schemas are little more than surmise. Joyce prefers to leave them in the realm of suggestion.
Fatherhood, human and divine, is firmly planted at the heart of the novel’s web of symbols, and no approach to the work can circumvent this theme. Three recent publications may help us find a denser human and psychological content in it. The first of these is the biography of John Stanislaus Joyce, which reveals that James, the eldest surviving son, enjoyed a deep, reciprocal, lifelong bond of love with his father, while the other siblings, especially Stanislaus, grew to detest the man whose alcoholism had plunged them into poverty. Well-placed in Cork and Dublin society, and proud of his ancestors, John Joyce could have been a substantial, respected figure in early twentieth century Ireland. Instead his career followed a downward trajectory, which James, ensconced in literary Paris, could only deplore from afar. The twenty-year old writer had fled the paternal home for Europe in 1902, and had fled again in 1904 with Nora Barnacle, returning only for a visit in 1909. Filial sentiment throve on absence and on the resources of literary idealization.
Unable to help his father in real life, Joyce may be seen as atoning to him in his writing. Guilt at having abandoned the aging man to his fate – “O father forsaken/Forgive your son” (“Ecce Puer”) – finds alleviation in a projection of the image of John Stanislaus in his intact prime, as the Simon Dedalus of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses.. The portrait of Simon is lifelike and seems unsparingly realistic, but it is an artful selection of memorable sayings and gestures that magnifies the father just as the son is magnified in the brilliant and heroic figure of Stephen Dedalus. Simon bears himself with dignity and is spoken of with respect by the other men in Ulysses, including Bloom, and his improvidence as a paterfamilias is made to seem a charming waywardness. His debilitating alcoholism is airbrushed, and his most memorable appearance, in “Sirens,” is as a tenor who stirs the hearers, including Bloom, to ecstasy. (Some critic has suggested that the unnamed narrator of “Cyclops” is Simon Dedalus; his fairly Simonesque occupation, as a “collector of bad and doubtful debts” [12.24-5], as well as his scathing wit, might support this identification, but it is of course untenable. However, it may be that Joyce drew on unseemlier aspects of his father’s character in creating this cynical Thersites-figure.)
Jackson and Costello suggest that it is John Stanislaus’s experience more than Joyce’s own that provides the substance of the novels. Both in his years of prosperity and in his long decline, the father was linked with many different circles, high and low, so that the story of his life could be seen as a mirror of the history of his country. Joyce seems to have absorbed this vast experience by a total transfusion. Beyond the figure of Simon, we find some aspects of the father’s character and experience attributed to Leopold Bloom. Above all, the central figure of Finnegans Wake, H. C. Earwicker or Here Comes Everybody, is an apotheosis of John Stanislaus. The central incident of that work, an encounter of HCE with a cad in the Phoenix Park, is modelled on the story John Stanislaus told his employers when he turned up without the week’s rates collection – that it had been stolen from him by a cad in the Park. That unbelievable tale could be taken as emblematic of the social “fall” of John Stanislaus and his family. The falling father merges with fallen Adam in Joyce’s mythological fantasy, with the Phoenix Park as Eden. Fall and resurrection go together in Finnegans Wake, which pays tribute to the formidable vitality of the father even in decay.
However, this view of things is relativized by the second of the books I referred to, Jean Kimball’s illuminating study of Joyce’s reception of psychoanalysis, which takes the works as primarily the author’s own confessional self-analysis and their principal characters as projections of himself. Stephen is less in search of a father than in search of his own birth as an adult. Bloom is modelled on the adult Joyce. The meeting of Stephen and Bloom is the artist’s unification of his past and his present. In composing the novel, Joyce may have sought to retrieve and redeem his father’s world, but a more obvious goal is to retrieve his youth, imaged in Stephen, from the vantage point of his middle years, imaged in Bloom. From this recovered unity the spirit of artistic creation proceeds. The “Scylla and Charybdis” episode gives ample support for this approach, beginning with its opening allusion to Goethe: “And we have, have we not, those priceless pages of Wilhelm Meister. A great poet on a great brother poet” (9.2-3). Goethe notoriously drew from his own bosom the matter of his art, calling his work “fragments of a great confession.” He was thirty-nine years old when he published Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship in 1886, about the same age as the author of Ulysses, while the protagonist is a youthful artist, like Stephen, to whom he gives some autobiographical memories.
But the autobiographical aspect of Joyce’s fictions is sublimated according to the principles expounded by Stephen in A Portrait and in “Scylla and Charybdis.” Individual experience is absorbed in a wider experience, “the uncreated conscience of my race,” or an epic of Everyman. Thus Shakespeare “was and felt himself the father of all his race, the father of his own grandfather, the father of his unborn grandson” (9.868-9). Richard Kearney believes that Stephen renounces this inflationary, narcissistic view of art when he denies that he believes his own theory. But this denial is no sudden conversion, and what is denied is not Stephen’s vision of art but merely his farfetched biographical speculations about Shakespeare. Joyce the artist fathers Stephen and Bloom, drawing their substance primarily from his own experience. Stephen is strained and bookish, and his descent to the humble details of real life, as when he identifies God with “a shout in the street” (2.386) or when he relates the story of two old Dublin ladies climbing Nelson Pillar (7.923-1027), is more a display of wit than a warm and sympathetic response to ordinary mortals. Bloom, mellow, muddled and middle-aged, is the ideal corrective, guiding Stephen to a more sensual and compassionate reaction to the people around him. Kearney sees Bloom as the bearer of a Zen-like sensitivity to the epiphanies of the everyday, the prophet of an integral phenomenality. In Stephen’s second recollection of the dream that foreshadows his meeting with Bloom the phrase “You will see” (9.1208) could refer to just this richer and warmer embrace of the real world (though in the first recollection it is “you will see who” [3.369]).
Finally, Kathleen Ferris’s chilling book provides a physical basis for the identification of Bloom with the adult Joyce. Ferris sees Bloom’s bad eyesight, jerky walk, sexual impotence, premature aging, and his guilt over the death of his infant son, as so many indications that Bloom is syphilitic. She gives evidence that Joyce himself was diagnosed as syphilitic in 1904; that he was advised by Gogarty, whose long ballad making fun of his misfortune caused the breach in their friendship; that his flight from Ireland was motivated by fear of the ridicule of his compatriots; that his eye-problems (not attested in his early years) as well as incontinence, impotence, growing misogyny, strange walk, the miscarriage of his third child (a male foetus which Joyce examined carefully), Nora’s hysterectomy and Lucia’s insanity can all be traced to his infection. Shame and self-loathing give Joyce’s writing a penitential cast. Against Richard Ellmann’s portrayal of Joyce as a secular humanist, Ferris presents him as “a guilt-ridden, diseased, deracinated Catholic who repented his sins, and whose works form an allegory of his life” (14). His clowning in the face of tragedy is in part bravado and necessary “denial” and in part a mask for a confessional exposure of his miserable lot, filtering through his prose in webs of allusion to syphilis, beginning with his first story, “The Sisters” (1902, revised 1904). However, Ferris pushes the thesis too far. Allusions to syphilis pervade Joyce’s fiction, creating twinges of unease in the characters or the reader – “My teeth are very bad. Why, I wonder” (3.494); “who knows is there anything the matter with my insides or have I something growing in me” (18.1149-50) –, but there is no real evidence that any of the three protagonists of Ulysses have contracted syphilis; Bloom’s worry that his wife might be infected by Boylan (8.101-9) would not make sense if he was himself infected. Joyce has a medically alert eye for the symptoms of all the diseases and unhealthy conditions that menaced his lower class population, as mentioned in contemporary Reports on Public Health. Syphilis is not given any inordinate attention. That Joyce had (or had not) syphilis is a determinate fact, but the health of fictional characters does not lend itself to sharp objective diagnoses. If Joyce is confessing himself across his fictional characters, the confession becomes more and more opaque the more the webs of irony thicken, thwarting any effort to recall his art to declarations of naked fact.
The opening pages of the novel are dominated by maternal images – Stephen’s recollections of his mother’s death, the bowl at her bedside, Mulligan’s shaving bowl, the sea, “our great sweet mother” (1.80) envisioned as “a bowl of bitter waters” (249), and the milkwoman associated with Mother Ireland. The theme of paternity makes its entry when Mulligan refers to Stephen’s theory on Hamlet. “He proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father” (555-7). This is a garbled account of the theory that will be expounded in the library chapter, and even in that chapter itself the reader is likely to be perplexed and confused. Joyce does not want to set the theme too schematically before us, lest it be imposed as a procrustean grid on the story and its characters. Haines misunderstands Mulligan to mean that Stephen thinks he himself is the ghost of Simon, which prompts Mulligan’s exclamation: “O, shade of Kinch the elder! Japhet in search of a father!” (561). The theological dimensions are immediately put in play in Haines’s comment on Hamlet: “I read a theological interpretation of it somewhere, he said bemused. The Father and the Son idea. The Son striving to be atoned with the Father” (577-8). This clearly invites the reader to attempt a theological interpretation of the novel itself. The meeting of Stephen and Bloom will be an at-one-ment between a son in revolt against his paternal background and a father who mourns the loss of his own son as well as his own father. In the symbolic pattern of the novel it is also an atonement between Greek and Hebrew, Christian and Jew.
The blitheness with which the paternity theme is handled contrasts with the potent presence of the mother in Stephen’s mind. His bond of remorse to the dead mother holds captive the energy that could make him a father or a creator. His play with theological ideas of fatherhood bespeaks less an oedipal resentment of the father than an inability to connect with fatherhood, perhaps a psychotic defection of the Symbolic Order, to speak like Lacan. Stephen thinks of “Arius warring his life long upon the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father” (1.657-8) and “the subtle African heresiarch Sabellius who held that the Father was Himself His own Son. Words Mulligan had spoken a moment since in mockery to the stranger” (659-61). As a rebel against his father’s house and against identification with his father, Stephen is Arian; as an artist claiming to be father to himself, replacing Simon with the mythical Daedalus, he is Sabellian. Both heresiarchs are seen as alienated from the Symbolic Order, gesturing against it in a futile weaving of the wind. Stephen’s mental juggling suggests the lack of a functioning paternal relation in his life. Bloom will appear as the person best designated to re-establish a relation with a father figure, to reconnect Stephen with the human race. (In “Nestor,” Stephen recalls Mulligan’s mocking words in another confusing and nonsensical summary of the theory: “He proves by algebra that Shakespeare’s ghost is Hamlet’s grandfather” [2.151-2]. These foreshadowings are like anticipations of a musical motif to be announced in its full form in “Scylla and Charybdis.”)
In contrast with these abstract paradoxes of fatherhood, Stephen’s meditations on his dead mother (1.102-10; 249-79), on the schoolboy Cyril Sargent’s mother (2.140-7), and on his own birth and the linkage of generations back to Eve (3.35-45) have a texture of fleshly entanglement. The first concrete reference to his father occurs in this context: “Wombed in sin darkness I was too, made not begotten. By them, the man with my voice and my eyes and a ghostwoman with ashes on her breath. They clasped and sundered, did the coupler’s will” (3.45-7). “Made not begotten” is an inversion of “begotten not made,” a phrase the Nicene Creed uses to describe the eternal generation of the Son from the Father. Stephen is more willing to acknowledge that he is made by God than that he is begotten by his parents. He feels he is being dragged down by them, drowning with them. He continues to think of human paternity in the terms of the Creed: “Is that then the divine substance wherein Father and Son are consubstantial? Where is poor dear Arius to try conclusions? Warring his life long upon the contransmagnifandjewbangtantiality” (3.49-51). This portmanteau word conflates consubstantiality and transubstantiality. The words “transubstantial” and “consubstantial” serve to contrast the Catholic doctrine, that in the Eucharist the substance of bread and wine is totally transformed into the substance of the body of Christ, with the Lutheran view that the body of Christ is co-present with the substance of the bread and wine. However, the two words are synonymous in the present Trinitarian context. Stephen’s rejection of father-son consubstantiality is transposed into the impersonal sphere of theological logic-chopping and treated humorously. The phrase “Is that then…” may refer not to his relation to his father but to his relation to God, who made him and cannot now unmake him. If so, Stephen is again at his game of creating grandiose fathers for himself, fathers with whom he is consubstantial and co-equal – Daedalus, God. Bloom will help him recover a more modest, human perspective, and perhaps thus aid his reconciliation with his own father as well.
The musings in “Proteus” move chronologically through Stephen’s life and present a gallery of unsatisfactory father-figures. After musing on his own birth (3.29-54), his thoughts turn to his maternal uncle, Richard Goulding (61-107), as scathingly described by his father: “My consubstantial father’s voice. Did you see anything of your artist brother Stephen lately?” (61-3). This is the first time we hear Simon’s voice, heard “live” in “Hades,” “Aeolus,” “Wandering Rocks,” “Sirens” (chapters 6, 7, 10 and 11), at the very centre of the novel, and again, in a distorted way, in a hallucination in “Circe” (15.3942-50; 4137). The phrase, “Papa’s little bedpal. Lump of love” (3.88), we later discover to be another echo of Simon’s voice, when he drives home its insinuation of incest: “papa’s little lump of dung, the wise child that knows her own father” (6.52-3). Stephen’s discontent with his family is clear, but he seems to lack a concrete orientation: “Houses of decay, mine, his and all. You told the Clongowes gentry you had an uncle a judge and an uncle a general in the army. Come out of them, Stephen. Beauty is not there. Nor in the stagnant bay of Marsh’s library” (3.105-8). His vague search for “beauty” and his bookishness show him caught in a dead-end, from which his extravagant gestures and behaviour are a vain effort to break free. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was dominated by the image of a labyrinth. Now Stephen is more entangled in the labyrinth than ever. It will be Bloom who indicates the way out of it.
Via “Marsh’s Library” Stephen’s thoughts now segue to Swift and to the clerical world of his adolescence, with its failed sexual and artistic aspirations (3.105-146). The next father he thinks of is Kevin Egan, whom he met during his sojourn in Paris (161-264), and who said to him, “You’re your father’s son. I know the voice” (239). Egan’s son Patrice recounts a gibe about the fatherhood of Jesus, “– Qui vous a mis dans cette fichue position? – C’est le pigeon, Joseph” (161-2), and Stephen thinks of Patrice as “son of the wild goose… My father’s a bird” (164), recalling Mulligan’s blasphemous ballad (1.585). Stephen cannot take fatherhood seriously, for he sees it faltering and failing on every side. A few years earlier, he had rejected the clerical father-figures: “He smiled to think that it was this disorder, the misrule and confusion of his father’s house and the stagnation of vegetable life, which was to win the day in his soul” (Portrait, 165-7). But “home” is soon added to the list of the “nets” he must escape (Portrait, 207): “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church” (251). Though he turns away from a clerical self-image to the profane texture of everyday life, he still conceives the artist’s role as a priestly one and projects as an alternative father-figure the mythical Daedalus: “27 April: Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead” (257). Alas, Daedalus as a “hawklike man” is another bird-father who proves unsatisfactory, for his flight to Paris results in nothing. His father’s sarcasm about his frequentation of the Gouldings, “Couldn’t he fly a bit higher than that, eh?” (3.64) resonates with this sense of failure.
The theme of Bloom as father-figure first occurs as Stephen recalls his prophetic dream: “Open hallway. Streets of harlots. Remember. Haroun al Raschid. I am almosting it. That man led me, spoke. I was not afraid. The melon he had he held against my face. Smiled: creamfruit smell. That was the rule, said. In. Come. Red carpet spread. You will see who” (3.365-9). The only further allusion to fatherhood in the episode is “Full fathom five thy father lies” (3.470), suggesting Simon’s social failure or Stephen’s rejection of him. The quotation refers back to his musing on whether he would have the courage to save a drowning man: “His human eyes scream to me out of horror of his death. I … With him together drown… I could not save her. Waters: bitter death: lost” (3.328-30). “Her” must be Stephen’s mother; the “bowl of bitter waters” from the opening pages is echoed. Could the man with “human eyes” be Stephen’s father? Later he will feel about his sister Dilly: “She is drowning. Agenbite. Save her. Agenbite. All against us. She will drown me with her, eyes and hair. Lank coils of seaweed hair around me, my heart, my soul. Salt green death” (10.875-7). Stephen’s entire family conspire to drag him down, in helpless pity, so that here his father, along with his sister and his guiltily forgotten brother (9.977), is linked with the dead mother rather than seen as a strong paternal figure. The life-alternatives he faces are imagined as either flying or being drowned. Perhaps the encounter with Bloom will open the possibility of a more balanced vision, in which the flight of art can combine with or be rooted in the bonds of family.
“Scylla and Charybdis”
Leopold Bloom, who takes centre stage in the fourth to the eighth episodes, is both father and son – father to Milly and the dead infant Rudy, who would be half Stephen’s age had he lived, and son to the suicide Rudolph Virag. These bonds prey on his mind just as Stephen’s parents prey on his, but they are not at all resented; they are connections that structure his life, make up the fabric of his being. Though in many ways an alien in Dublin, Bloom is firmly rooted in reality and the Symbolic Order. As his dialogue with the cat in the fourth episode shows, Bloom is empirical, empathetic, whereas Stephen’s response to people and things is highly subjective, imaginative and bookish. After long exposure to the sensual and mundane texture of Bloom’s experience, the ninth chapter, a symposium of literati in the National Library, is a refreshing change of key, plunging us back into Stephen’s mental world at its most brilliant. The first half of the novel is brought to a dazzling conclusion and the appearance of Bloom at the close of the episode foreshadows what is to come.
“Scylla and Charybdis” is a chapter of mockery; the narrative presents the Dublin literary set in the style and language of Stephen’s sardonic outlook, and Stephen’s own speculative flights are in turn incisively ridiculed by Mulligan. Amid all the mockery Joyce puts forward an aesthetic creed which can be considered a central clue to the meaning of the novel, even if the creed is not entirely coherent, due in part to Stephen’s immaturity, in part to the impossibility of fully systematizing the project of art. As the author of Ulysses, Joyce fulfils Stephen’s vision of the artist, and becomes the father to his own father, a character in the novel, and to all the other characters drawn from real life, including his own youthful self. But whether that is the last word about the significance of the novel is doubtful. If this episode is the nearest the novel gets to explaining itself, the explanation is put forward in a comic vein and from the point of view of Stephen, whose perspective needs to be supplemented by those of Bloom and Molly. The irreducible pluralism of the three perspectives impedes the emergence of a single ultimate vision, such as the Proustian narrator provides so generously at the end of A la recherche du temps perdu. The meaning of Ulysses lies beyond the visions of Bloom, Molly and Stephen, as ungraspable as the meaning of life itself.
Joyce portrayed the young Stephen’s aesthetic ambitions ironically, as in the diction of “a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life” (Portrait, 225). The failure of his Icarus project reveals the flaw in his initial vision: “Fabulous artificer. The hawklike man. You flew. Whereto? Newhaven-Dieppe, steerage passenger. Paris and back. Lapwing. Icarus. Pater, ait. Seabedabbled, fallen, weltering. Lapwing you are. Lapwing be” (9.952-4). Stephen recalls how he observed birds from the library steps two years earlier, a scene in which there was a reference to “the hawklike man whose name he bore” (Portrait, 229), and adds to this another augury, the dream earlier recalled “Proteus”:
Here I watched the birds for augury. Aengus of the birds. They go, they come. Last night I flew. Easily flew. Men wondered. Street of harlots after. A creamfruit melon he held to me. In. You will see. (9.1205-8)
Bloom will teach Stephen to fly less laboriously than in his first revolt or in his present over-strained Shakespearian speculations.
Stephen thinks of his father with pity: “Hurrying to her squalid deathlair from gay Paris on the quayside I touched his hand. The voice, new warmth, speaking. Dr Bob Kenny is attending her. The eyes that wish me well. But do not know me” (825-6). The voice and eyes from “Proteus” are referred to again, but to underline a void at the heart of the father-son relationship. Stephen then declares that fatherhood “is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten. On that mystery… the church is founded and founded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro and microcosm, upon the void. Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood” (838-42). Earlier Stephen had reflected, with reference to the heresiarchs, that “the void awaits surely all them that weave the wind” (1.661), his own thoughts consisting largely of just such a weaving and unweaving. Stephen’s discourse opens up a void at the centre of the novel, a void between creator and creation, associated with a void between father and son. The second half of the novel will abandon the relative certitude of the first, exploiting gaps between narrative technique and subject matter, so that the substantial core of the ongoing realist plot is beset by the emptiness of narrative machineries that betray their constructed, conventional nature and their derivation from literary models (Celtic epic and newspapers in “Cyclops”; novelettes and fashion magazines in “Nausicaa”; anthologies of English prose in “Oxen of the Sun”; “bad writing” in “Eumaeus”; catechisms in “Ithaca”). It has been objected that the voiding does not go far enough, and that the core narrative remains in thrall to novelistic realism and a sentimental humanism. It is true that Joyce’s weaving and unweaving culminates in a celebration of ordinary human life, identity and relationships, and of the capacity of art to magnify them: “As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said, from day to day, their molecules shuttled to and fro, so does the artist weave and unweave his image” (9.376-8). But he also exposes this to the assaults of nihilism, against which he finds a quasi-Buddhistic homeopathic antidote in espousing the void and traversing it. The void of futility that Stephen experiences in his family relationships, in his jousting with Mulligan and the literati and in his artistic failures will become a creative void in the mature artist. The entire novel opens up the sense of an enveloping emptiness, from which and against which all persons, things and words stand out in vivid relief. Stephen is learning to tune in to this dimension and his encounter with Bloom will orient him toward it more decisively.
Bloom and Stephen Together
In “Oxen of the Sun,” Bloom finally encounters Stephen properly, as a child is being born: “sir Leopold that had of his body no manchild for an heir looked upon him his friend’s son and was shut up in sorrow for his forepassed happiness and as sad as he was that him failed a son of such gentle courage (for all accounted him of real parts) so grieved he also in no less measure for young Stephen for that he lived riotously with those wastrels and murdered his goods with whores” (14.271-6). Bloom looks upon Stephen with a fatherly eye, seeing in him the son he lacks and also feeling moral concern for his well-being. The echoes of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32), like the Odyssey a story of exile and return, are multiply appropriate, especially given that Bloom’s attitude to Stephen recalls the almost motherly tenderness of the father in the biblical story.
Stephen holds forth on the theology of childbirth: “In woman’s womb the word is made flesh but in the spirit of the maker all flesh that passes becomes the word that shall not pass away” (14.293-5). Fleshly generation is surpassed by the artistic transmutation of everyday reality into imperishable words. Though Stephen battled against the Platonists in the library scene, his own vision remains steeply Platonic here. Taking up themes from “Proteus,” he contrasts Mary with Eve, “our grandam, which we are linked up with by successive anastomosis of navelcords” (299-300), and recycles the jokes about divine paternity: “M. Léo Taxil nous a dit que qui l’avait mis dans cette fichue position c`était le sacré pigeon, ventre de Dieu! Entweder transubstantiality oder consubstantiality but in no case subsubstantiality” (306-8). If any meaning is to be found in these extravagances, perhaps consubstantiality refers to the unity of flesh between mother and child, while transubstantiality refers to the artist’s transubstantiation of the flesh into word. Subsubstantiality would be the falling short from such fulness of life or of art, the void of futility against which Stephen is struggling.
Lenehan’s insinuation that Stephen “had besmirched the lily virtue of a confiding female” (the same insinuation he makes about Corley in “Two Gallants”) has the students “toasting to his fathership,” but Stephen denies this, “for he was the eternal son and ever virgin” (339-42), again playing blasphemously with the theme of divine paternity. His frivolity is punished by thunder, which terrifies him. It is at this moment that Stephen is addressed by Bloom for the first time: “Master Bloom, at the braggart’s side, spoke to him calming words to slumber his great fear, advertising how it was no other thing but a hubbub noise that he heard… and all of the order of a natural phenomenon” (424-8). This first exchange sets the tone of the Bloom-Stephen dialogue, in which Bloom is the calm scientist, Stephen the exciteable artist. Bloom’s kind words do not penetrate Stephen’s mind: “for he had in his bosom a spike named Bitterness which could not by words be done away” (430-1).
Among the young men, Bloom feels keenly his lack of a son: “Now he is himself paternal and these about him might be his sons. Who can say? The wise father knows his own child” (1062-3). This flicker of fantastic hope does not last long: “No son of thy loins is by thee. There is none now to be for Leopold, what Leopold was for Rudolph” (1076-7). The biblical cadence here suggests that as a Jew, Bloom feels that he has betrayed his race in failing to produce male descendants. Stephen, meanwhile, brags of literary fatherhood, as in the library scene: “You have spoken of the past and its phantoms… If I call them into life across the waters of Lethe will not the poor ghosts troop to my call? Who supposes it? I, Bous Stephanoumenos, bullockbefriending bard, am lord and giver of life” (1112-16), again quoting the Nicene Creed in which the Holy Spirit is “lord and giver of life.” In the Huxley parody, in “public controversy” (1300) with Bloom, Stephen “stated that once a woman has let the cat into the bag (an esthete’s allusion, presumably, to one of the most complicated and marvellous of all nature’s operations – the act of sexual congress) she must let it out again or give it life, to save her own. At the risk of her own, was the telling rejoinder of his interlocutor” (1304-8). This “chance word” (1348) causes Stephen to think guiltily of his mother, in the Newman parody: “shrouded in the piteous vesture of the past, silent, remote, reproachful” (1354-5). Thus Bloom enters into communication with Stephen about what most intimately preoccupies him. As Bloom again studies Stephen, in the Pater parody, he recalls meeting him as a boy with his mother: “A scene disengages itself in the observer’s memory, evoked, it would seem, by a word of so natural a homeliness as if those days were really present there” (1359-61). Has Stephen uttered the word “mother”? Stephen was “a lad of four or five in linseywoolsey… He frowns a little just as this young man does now” (1371-5); this encounter at Roundtown is referred to again at 17.467-70 (see also 6.697 and 17.57) along with a second encounter five years later. Bloom’s association with Stephen reaches thus into a distant past and he can reveal to the reader new things about the child protagonist of the first chapter of A Portrait whom we thought we knew so well.
In the brothel scene of “Circe” Bloom hallucinates his own reproachful parents (15.248-92) and his grandfather (2304-2639). He adverts to Stephen’s presence only at 15.2706-7: “(hearing a male voice in talk with the whores on the doorstep, pricks his ears). If it were he? After? Or because not? Or the double event?” Learning Bloom’s age, Stephen says: “See? Moves to one great goal. I am twentytwo. Sixteen years ago he was twentytwo too. Sixteen years ago I twentytwo tumbled. Twentytwo years ago he sixteen fell off his hobbyhorse” (3718-20). “All human history,” Mr Deasy had rather mysteriously declared, “moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God” (2.380-1). Now Stephen’s jumble throws out the suggestion (which we readers are only too eager to grasp) that through his encounter with Bloom the great epic of Ulysses is moving towards its sublime goal. But Stephen’s drunken numerology hardly inspires confidence and it collapses in farce.
Later, “Stephen and Bloom gaze in the mirror. The face of William Shakespeare, beardless, appears there” (3821-2). Throughout the day the one theme that most frequently recurs in the minds of both Bloom and Stephen is Shakespeare’s Hamlet, particularly the speech of the ghostly father in Act I, scene 5. But Shakespeare in “Circe” is a nightmarish figure, “rigid in facial paralysis, crowned by the reflection of the reindeer antlered hatrack in the hall” (3822-4), in accordance with Stephen’s theory of his cuckoldry. The Shakespearian version of the paternity theme disappears in the rest of the novel, as Bloom and Stephen strike up their relationship; the literary abstraction yields to a warmer reality.
Stephen again recalls his dream: “It was here. Street of harlots… Where’s the red carpet spread… No, I flew. My foes beneath me. And ever shall be. World without end. (he cries) Pater! Free!” (3930-6). As so often, the long-awaited climax comes in a farcical mode – here in melodramatic exaggeration, as befits a chapter of pantomime – which both fulfils and deflates the reader’s expectations. Stephen then hallucinates his own father, who recalls family pride: “Keep our flag flying! An eagle gules Volant in a field argent displayed” (3948-9).
Another melodramatic climax comes with the gruesome hallucination of his mother (4157-4240), who is exorcized by his smashing of the chandelier to the Siegfriedian cry of “Nothung”(4242). Jung, in Wandlungen und Symbolen der Libido (1912), which Joyce had read, images the mother who imprisons her son’s libido as the gold-guarding dragon that Siegfried must slay. This dramatic breakthrough to freedom from the mother no doubt makes Stephen more open to a relationship with the fatherly Bloom and even with Molly (partly modelled on Nora, who “made a man” of Joyce on the day the novel commemorates).
As Stephen flounders about in drunkenness, Bloom steps in and assumes the father’s role. When Bella threatens to call the police, he argues: “But he’s a Trinity student… Nephew of the vicechancellor. You don’t want a scandal… And if it were your own son in Oxford? (warningly) I know’ (4297-4306), dumbfounding her. He tries to lure Stephen away from his altercation with the British soldiers: “Come now, professor, the carman is waiting” (4423-4). He pleads with the soldiers: “He doesn’t know what he’s saying… I know him. He’s a gentleman, a poet” (4486-8). He talks to the police watch: “We don’t want any scandal, you understand. Father is a wellknown highly respectable citizen. Just a little wild oats, you understand” (4839-41). Bloom bends over Stephen, hearing him mutter in his sleep broken phrases from Yeats’s “Who Goes with Fergus?,” which he sang for his dying mother: “Face reminds me of his poor mother. In the shady wood. The deep white breast. Ferguson, I think I caught” (4949-50). We recall Stephen’s brooding at the start of the novel: “Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart” (1.102). Now perhaps the phrases he mutters express the peace he has gained by smashing the lamp, the guilt and bitterness toward his mother yielding at last to “the pain of love.” The poignant aura of “love’s bitter mystery” (1.240) thus pervades this concluding moment in the central section of the novel (corresponding to the wandering of Odysseus). Bloom seems to assume the role of the mother as well as the father, and as he does so his own son is magically restored to him in the final hallucination: “a fairy boy of eleven, a changeling, kidnapped, dressed in an Eton suit with glass shoes and a little bronze helmet” (15.4957-8).
The bumbling style of “Eumaeus,” corresponding to the decrepit guise in which Odysseus appears on his return to Ithaca, presents the Stephen-Bloom encounter in a bathetic, farcical light. But despite this apparent collapse into the hopelessly, and helplessly, prosaic, the episode has a poetic quality, in its dim and dreamy atmosphere, as befits the realization of Stephen’s dream. The narration, in its extravagant incompetence, becomes a sort of elephantine dance, with its own mesmerizing rhythm. Another biblical parable, the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.29-37), provides a paradigm for this chapter: Bloom “bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion” (16.2-3), while echoes of the Prodigal Son continue to resound. What adds to the dream effect, anticipating Finnegans Wake, is the motive of returning, which again and again guides the confusing, wandering, narrative back to its goal. As so often in Joyce, we cannot judge the quality of the prose on a first reading; we must be aware of the web of buried motifs before we can understand what effects are being aimed at. For instance such a phrase as “not exactly what you would call wandering but a bit unsteady” (16.4-5) is a reflexive reference to the narrative style as much as to Stephen’s mind. The episode is one of impostures, misleading appearances and misrecognitions, which Bloom attempts to correct; the style also causes a proliferation of misprisions through its misleading pronouns, often followed by a Bloomian specification of who is being referred to, as in: “His (Stephen’s) mind” (16.4); “Alluding to the encounter he said, laughingly, Stephen, that is” (231-2). Moreover, the style casts a veil of seeming over all it describes: “So far as he could see he was rather pale in the face” (14-15); “on the face of it” (539); “Tired seemingly, he ceased” (624). The narrative sometimes collapses in utter vagueness and unfinished sentences, as if the narrator had nodded into sleep (perhaps following the adage that “Homer sometime nods”):
The guarded glance of half solicitude half curiosity augmented by friendliness which he gave at Stephen’s at present morose expression of features did not throw a flood of light, none at all in fact on the problem as to whether he had let himself be badly bamboozled to judge by two or three lowspirited remarks he let drop or the other way about saw through the affair and for some reason or other best known to himself allowed matters to more or less. (300-6)
Bloom fusses over Stephen’s life and health and ponders fondly his future prospects. He speaks “a word of caution re the dangers of nighttown, women of ill fame and swell mobsmen, which, barely permissible once in a while, though not as a habitual practice, was of the nature of a regular deathtrap for young fellows of his age particularly if they had acquired drinking habits under the influence of liquor” (62-7). Here the pleonasms have a lulling effect. “You frittered away your time, he very sensibly maintained, and health and also character besides which the squandermania of the thing” (85-7). Bloom asks, “why did you leave your father’s house” and Stephen replies, “to seek misfortune” (252-3). “I met your distinguished father on a recent occasion, Mr Bloom diplomatically returned… A gifted man, Mr Bloom said of Mr Dedalus senior, in more respects than one and a born raconteur if ever there was one. He takes great pride, quite legitimate, out of you” (254-5, 260-2). The last sentence unwittingly suggests that Stephen’s legitimate pride is sapped by his father. After Stephen and Bloom share reflections on the theme of “What’s in a name?” the sailor reveals that he knows “Simon Dedalus” – who turns out to be a marksman in Hengler’s Royal Circus (16.412). The sailor anticipates his own return to Ithaca, to the wife who has waited seven years in the Cork Harbour area, the haunt of Stephen’s father in his youth. The sailor is also in search of his son: “There’s my son now, Danny, run off to sea and his mother got him took in a draper’s in Cork where he could be drawing easy money” (457-9). In the schema of correspondences Joyce gave to Stuart Gilbert the sailor is linked with the false Odysseus of a lost Greek play, Odysseus Pseudangelos, cited by Aristotle as an instance of recognition based on mistaken inference. The fake signs associated with this dubious character contrast with the mutual recognition of Stephen and Bloom and the signs they exchange, including a photograph of Molly.
Bloom and Stephen actually discuss metaphysics, Bloom querying the simplicity of the soul and the provenness of God’s existence. We have seen throughout the day how unsatisfactory is the communication of both Bloom and Stephen with the other men of Dublin. Here, in contrast, is a true meeting of minds, a happy homecoming for both. Judaism becomes a topic of a criss-cross exchange, as Bloom recounts the day’s most triumphant moment and seeks confirmation from the learned Stephen:
So I without deviating from plain facts in the least told him his God, I mean Christ, was a jew too and all his family like me though in reality I'm not. That was one for him. A soft answer turns away wrath. He hadn't a word to say for himself as everyone saw. Am I not right?
He turned a long you are wrong gaze on Stephen of timorous dark pride at the soft impeachment with a glance also of entreaty for he seemed to glean in a kind of a way that it wasn't all exactly.
-- Ex quibus, Stephen mumbled in a noncommittal accent, their two or four eyes conversing, Christus or Bloom his name is or after all any other, secundum carnem. (1083-93)
Stephen quotes Romans 9.5 in the Vulgate translation, used by Roman Catholics. The recognition that Christ was a Jew forms a theological basis of a meeting of the two religions in the persons of Bloom and Stephen, and gives substance to an odd statement thrown out in “Circe”: “Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet” (15.2097-8). The extremes of the business and the bohemian temperaments also meet as Bloom brings all his business acumen to bear on Stephen, thinking of a profitable “return”:
After all, from the little I know of you, after all the money expended on your education you are entitled to recoup yourself and command your price. You have every bit as much right to live by your pen in pursuit of your philosophy as the peasant has. What? You both belong to Ireland, the brain and the brawn. Each is equally important. (16.1155-9)
Stephen’s rude manner disconcerts Bloom, who reflects: “Probably the home life to which Mr B attached the utmost importance had not been all that was needful or he hadn't been familiarised with the right sort of people” (1177-9). Bloom aspires to supply what is wanting in Stephen’s family life, and in return his own intellectual needs will be met:
he felt it was his interest and duty even to wait on and profit by the unlooked for occasion though why he could not exactly tell being as it was already several shillings to the bad having in fact let himself in for it. Still to cultivate the acquaintance of someone of no uncommon calibre who could provide food for reflection would amply repay any small. Intellectual stimulation, as such, was, he felt, from time to time a firstrate tonic for the mind. (1216-22)
Petit-bourgeois concern with profit and with health represents the language of friendship as refracted through the prism of the Eumaean narrator’s voice, which reflects a part of Bloom’s mind. This concern establishes a viable platform for the sympathy between the protagonists, one on which the seasoned and sober Bloom skilfully builds.
The “Return of Parnell” (1298) offers a ghostly variant of the nostos motif. “And the identical same with murderers. You had to come back. That haunting sense kind of drew you” (1331-2). Homer’s dog, Argus, is alluded to: “Still as regards return. You were a lucky dog if they didn’t set the terrier at you directly you got back” (1339-40). Joyce knows he is writing about a long-vanished city, and that a return to it as a “grand old man” would expose him not only to local hostility but to disillusion: “And coming back was the worst thing you ever did because it went without saying you would feel out of place as things always moved with the times” (1401-3); on his return to Eccles St., Bloom will discover that his furniture has been moved about. As Stephen looks at Molly’s photograph, Bloom muses, in rather womanly tone: “The vicinity of the young man he certainly relished, educated, distingué and impulsive into the bargain, far and away the pick of the bunch though you wouldn't think he had it in him yet you would” (1476-8). “It was a thousand pities a young fellow, blessed with an allowance of brains as his neighbour obviously was, should waste his valuable time with profligate women who might present him with a nice dose to last him his lifetime” (1553-6). Ulysses was born from a planned short story with the title “Mr Hunter’s Day.” Gogarty’s ballad about syphilis refers to Hunter’s chancre, a symptom of syphilis in its primary stage. The encounter with life, for the young Joyce – “Welcome, O life” (Portrait, 257) –, was also an encounter with deathly disease.
The narration tries to signal the father-and-son theme, but makes a mess of it: “The queer suddenly things he popped out with attracted the elder man who was several years the other's senior or like his father but something substantial he certainly ought to eat” (1567-9). It is Bloom who will have Stephen realise the career his father could have had: “he more than suspected he had his father's voice to bank his hopes on which it was quite on the cards he had so it would be just as well, by the way no harm, to trail the conversation in the direction of that particular red herring just to” (1658-61). When he takes Stephen’s arm, Stephen “thought he felt a strange kind of flesh of a different man approach him, sinewless and wobbly and all that” (1718-24). If Stephen has touches of homosexual panic, especially in regard to Mulligan, they do not trouble him in the encounter with Bloom – his confidence as a man having been restored by his liberation from the mother’s ghost. Mentally, too, he accommodates himself with ease to the very different world of Bloom, thanks chiefly to a shared love of music. Stephen presents rather recondite enthusiasms to the middlebrow Bloom:
So they passed on to chatting about music, a form of art for which Bloom, as a pure amateur, possessed the greatest love… he mentioned par excellence Lionel's air in Martha, M'appari, which, curiously enough, he had heard or overheard, to be more accurate, on yesterday, a privilege he keenly appreciated, from the lips of Stephen's respected father, sung to perfection, a study of the number, in fact, which made all the others take a back seat. Stephen, in reply to a politely put query, said he didn't sing it but launched out into praises of Shakespeare's songs, at least of in or about that period, the lutenist Dowland who lived in Fetter Lane near Gerard the herbalist. (1733-4, 1756-63).
One of the Jungian synchronicities linking Bloom and Stephen has been their shared thought about “a rosery of Fetter Lane of Gerard, herbalist” (9.651-2); “Gerard’s rosery of Fetter Lane” (11.907). That Bloom would have such an arcane piece of Shakespeare lore in his mind strains credulity. As Stephen sings, Bloom reflects: “A phenomenally beautiful tenor voice like that, the rarest of boons, which Bloom appreciated at the very first note he got out, could easily… command its own price” (1820-4). One recalls an incident recounted in Jackson and Costello: there were five years of coolness between Joyce and his father, due to his abrupt departure with Nora; when James visited Ireland in 1909 he went for a walk with his father; they stopped in a pub and reconciliation was effected by a wordless exchange of musical messages; his father played Germont’s aria to his son from La Traviata on a piano and Joyce responded with an equally appropriate air (not identified). Bloom’s attraction to Stephen is rationalized by the narrator as based on his augury of social success: “In fact, he had the ball at his feet and that was the very reason why the other, possessed of a remarkably sharp nose for smelling a rat of any sort, hung on to him at all” (1863-5). Bloom urges Stephen “to sever his connection with a certain budding practitioner” (1868-9), rejoining Simon Dedalus’s estimation of Mulligan. The frequent references to Simon in this episode create the impression that Bloom is stepping into Simon’s shoes, left empty by Simon’s defection from capable fatherhood.
In “Ithaca,” set up as a culminating dialogue of atonement between father and son, Jew and Christian, Hebrew and Greek, the narration projects various portentous parallels between the two men. Bloom is the “only born transubstantial heir of Rudolf Virag” and Stephen is the “eldest surviving male consubstantial heir of Simon Dedalus” (17.534, 537-8). ‘Transubstantial’ and ‘consubstantial’ are synonyms here, and the suggestion of a subtle distinction between them is only one example of the solemn flimflam characteristic of the Ithacan narrator. Bloom recalls great Jewish figures, and the two share fragments of verse in Irish and Hebrew, drawing the respective alphabets (709-40). Bloom sings a chant, and Stephen “heard in a profound ancient male unfamiliar melody the accumulation of the past” (777-8) while Bloom “saw in a quick young male familiar form the predestination of a future” (780). Alas, Bloom’s song is the Jewish equivalent of a music-hall ballad, and Bloom’s glamorous view of Stephen’s future may also be a misperception. Stephen spoils their converse by singing a ballad about ‘Little Harry Hughes’ (802) slain by a Jewish girl, which “the father of Millicent” receives “with mixed feelings” (829-30).
All of Bloom’s plans for Stephen crumble when Stephen declines his offer of hospitality. Critics see here a simple failure of connection between the two men, a sharp rejection of Bloom by Stephen. Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 film, “Broken Flowers,” the tale of a man in search of his possible son, ends with such a rejection. But in the symbolic design of Ulysses the meeting of Bloom and Stephen carries a weight that prevents us attributing a definitive finality to Stephen’s refusal. In general, critics are currently extremely harsh on Stephen, whom they present as a sterile failed artist, a narcissist totally closed to human sympathies, even as a neurotic or near-psychotic. This is largely the result of critical fads – Stephen’s masculinist mentality offends women, his attitude to national questions makes him seem too much of a “West Briton” for American-based Irish Studies programmes (though Bloom, a thorough West Briton, is left off lightly), and his high literary culture offends the democratic anti-intellectualism that many academics like to sport. He is accused of not being able to think of his mother’s death as a transformation of her spirit and of failing to appreciate the nobility of the young Kevin Egan’s nationalist aspirations. A jejune political correctness guides such sententiousness. In reality, Bloom and Stephen make plans for the future; the “instructed” and “instructress” here are Molly:
What counterproposals were alternately advanced, accepted, modified, declined, restated in other terms, reaccepted, ratified, reconfirmed?
To inaugurate a prearranged course of Italian instruction, place the resident of the instructed. To inaugurate a course of vocal instruction, place the residence of the instructress. To arrange a series of static, semistatic and peripatetic intellectual dialogues, places the residence of both speakers. (17.960-6)
The realisation of these plans seems “problematic” to Bloom because of “the irreparability of the past” (meaning the impossibility of having a son of his own, signalled by a clown in Hengler’s Royal Circus who acclaimed him as his papa) and “the imprevidibility of the future,” emblematized in a florin he notched but which never returned to him (973-88). “Ithaca” centres on the theme of return, but also reveals that return is never sure. Stephen chimes with Bloom’s sense of life’s insecurity by recycling his utterance from the library scene about “a micro and a macrocosm ineluctably constructed upon the incertitude of the void” (1014-5). If even physical paternity is built on the void, how much more so the quasi-paternal link between Stephen and Bloom. Bloom apprehends Stephen’s meaning “not verbally” but “substantially” (1017); his insight is not of a verbal order like Stephen’s but excels at the level of basic human understanding. He thinks of himself as “a competent keyless citizen” who “had proceeded energetically from the unknown to the known through the incertitude of the void” (1019-20), and he is later characterized as “a conscious reactor against the void incertitude” (2210-11). The two men are united in their confrontation of the void. The episode stretches out to embrace vast and void horizons, both in the microcosm: “the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of voice space” (1063-4); “till... nought nowhere was never reached” (1068-9), and the macrocosm: “Would the departed never nowhere nohow reappear? Ever he would wander… to the extreme boundary of space” (2012-5); “the inanity of extolled virtue: the lethargy of nescient matter: the apathy of the stars” (2225-6). The style of the episode voids all it touches of substance. Molly’s monologue, in contrast, is full and substantial, and its style leaves no crevices for the void to re-enter.
The egress from the house is described in terms suggesting rebirth for Stephen, whose need of regeneration has become quite apparent throughout the day. The language of the Easter Vigil, the great feast of rebirth, is used (17.1021-31). The last moments between Stephen and Bloom are spent under the stars (17.1036-1213) – with allusions to the comet that appeared at Shakespeare’s birth and to the appearance of stars – le stelle – at the close of each book of the Divine Comedy. The conjunction of the two men is raised to the epic scale. The rebirth motif is touched again in the description of Bloom’s unlocking of the gate “by inserting the barrel of an arruginated male key in the hole of an unstable female lock” (17.1215-6). Yet all this sublimity is undermined when we become aware that the “Ithaca” narrator is making a huge effort to lend significance to the insignificant. “Expectations are likely to be high, particularly if we still cling to the idea that the Stephen/Bloom business drives this massive novel. The detached rationality of the Ithacan narrator wickedly exploits those expectations, as does his unprecedented eagerness to supply the facts.” The recession of an ultimate meaning means that the novel remains founded on uncertainty, on the void. Joyce is perhaps commenting on a lack at the heart of all father and son relationships. Thus like Penelope, who unweaves at night what she weaves by day, Joyce spins self-destructing fictions that postpone forever the return to a full, satisfying, definitive meaning. His writing is the writing of exile, the exile of modern humanity from the secure certitudes of the literary as well as the theological past.
Theology After Joyce
Joyce, as his brother remarks, rejected Catholicism not because of a crisis of faith but because “the vigour of life within him drove him out of the Church, that vigour of life that is packed into the seven-hundred-odd quarto pages of Ulysses.” Theology needs to find an understanding of the divine large enough to embrace the multifarious life of the modern city, including all its dimensions of chance and contingency, and large enough to embrace the extreme complexity which Joyce, to an unprecedented degree, revealed in ordinary human beings. Joyce’s writing and imagining of the city and the citizens is a step toward such a theology. The many failed or mediocre father-child relationships in the novel, and the grandiose notion of the author as father of his characters, provide analogies of divine paternity, a topic that is not far from Joyce’s heart. Stephen tells Cranly: “I tried to love God… It seems now I failed. It is very difficult. I tried to unite my will with the will of God instant by instant. In that I did not always fail. I could perhaps do that still…” (Portrait, 245). God is everywhere and nowhere in the fiction of Joyce. He is “a shout in the street” – that is, he may be apprehended in the epiphany of the everyday or he may be reduced to a mere word – as in the countless invocations of God on the tongues of Dubliners. God appears on the first page of Joyce’s three novels: “his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face” (Portrait 7), alluding to I Corinthians 13, “through a glass darkly”; Mulligan’s “Introibo ad altare dei”; “nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick” (Finnegans Wake 3), which combines the burning bush and the name “I am who am” of Exodus 3 (mise is the Irish for “I”), Christ’s “Thou are Peter” in Matthew 16, and the voice of the Irish calling to Patrick, as related in his Confessions. God is there at the close also: we could hear the last line of A Portrait as referring to the Creator of the world: “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead” (257), an orthodox Christian prayer! In the penultimate entry Stephen seconds his mother’s prayer: “She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life… what the heart is and what it feels. Amen” (ibid.). Molly affirms God toward the close of her musings: “as for them saying theres no God I wouldnt give a snap of my two fingers for all their learning why dont they go and create something I often asked him atheists or whatever they call themselves” (18.1563-6). At the close of Finnegans Wake: “I go back to you… my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him… makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising! Save me from those therrble prongs!” (628). Divine paternity in Joyce is always mixed up with human paternity or maternity; Cranly overrides Stephen’s strained piety by pointing to his mother; Molly’s theology is imbricated with the theme of artistic creation and with her relationship to Bloom, “my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes” (18.1576); the voice of Anna Livia is the voice of Joyce’s daughter, so if there is an implicit turning to God it is entirely embroiled in the messy intimacies of a family relationship. This constant reinvesting of theological language in a skein of human relationships is not a secularist recycling of religion for merely aesthetic ends nor is it the smooth expression of an incarnational theology. Rather it attests to a broken and fragmented apprehension of divinity amid the complexity of modern life and language. Firm and clear affirmation of a transcendent divinity has become problematic for modern people. A multiplicity of partial perspectives, flickering adumbrations, keeps the notion of God on the margins of consciousness, but it is no longer easy to bring it into clear view; or so at least the texture of life, consciousness and language as revealed in Ulysses prompts one to think.
Joyce has designed Ulysses as a Bible, with the capacity to keep exegetes as busy as the Scriptures do. The eighteen episodes, with their variety of contrasting, even contradictory, outlooks and styles might recall the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Like the New Testament, the book refers back to older texts – some thirty of the characters from Dubliners and a dozen or so from A Portrait, to which it is the sequel, reappear; but the real Old Testament behind it is the Odyssey, the oldest European novel. In thus mirroring the historical and textual density of Christian thought, Joyce lays bare the mechanisms by which meaning, especially mythical and religious meaning, is woven. This demystification is not a total destruction, for the novel also testifies to the power of myth and the irrepressibility of meaning. It can thus tutor us in a fuller grasp of the human texture of divine revelation.
 I quote the following texts: Ulysses: The Corrected Text (Penguin, 1986); A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Triad Paladin, 1988).
 John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello, John Stanislaus Joyce (St. Martin’s Press, 1998). Stanislaus Joyce judges that “the two dominant passions of my brother’s life were love of father and of fatherland… Both passions stemmed, I believe, from an ancient love of God… love of his country, or rather of his city, that was to reject him and his work; love of his father, who was like a mill-stone round his neck.” Meanwhile, “my mother had become for my brother the type of the woman who fears and, with weak insistence and disapproval, tries to hinder the adventures of the spirit” (My Brother’s Keeper [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964], 238.
 Jean Kimball, Joyce and the Early Freudians (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).
 Richard Kearney, “Epiphanies in Joyce and Proust,” The New Arcadia Review 3 (2005). http://www.bc.edu/publications/newarcadia/archives/3/epiphaniesinjoyce.
 Kathleen Ferris, James Joyce and the Burden of Disease (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1995).
 See Andrew Gibson, “Macropolitics and Micropolitics in ‘Wandering Rocks,” European Joyce Studies 12 (2002), 27-56; here 37-9.
 “Since, in Stephen’s opinion, no absolute certainty can be attained about fatherhood in the physical sense, he succeeds more easily in the separations from the person who is considered to be his corporeal father. The accomplishment of this separation leaves him free to seek his spiritual father… Bloom differs from Daedalus, however, in that he does not appear exclusively as representative of the spiritual principle but as both ‘mental father’ and as the embodiment of the lifeworld, that is to say, he unifies in himself the paternal and the maternal principle” (Willi Erzgräber, “Art and Reality: An Interpretation of ‘Scylla and Charybdis,’” James Joyce Quarterly 24 , 291-304; here, 301).
 It is incorrect to associate Simon with the Father, May with the Son, “the word, the mother who teaches her son the use of language,” and Stephen with “the spirit, the artist” (Ann Kimble Loux, ‘”Am I father? If I were?” A Trinitarian Analysis of the Growth of Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses’. James Joyce Quarterly 22 , 281-96; here, 284); Simon and Stephen correspond to the trinitarian Father and Son, leaving the role of Holy Ghost for May, the “ghostwoman”; compare the Sabellian creed of 9.493: “He Who Himself begot middler the Holy Ghost.” Molly replaces May as the Spirit, who is also the Eternal Feminine, in the novel’s trinitarian myth. Incidentally not every group of three, particularly not when arbitrarily composed, counts as a trinitarian allusion. “Trinities abound in Ulysses: the three black Wills; the Shakespeare brothers; Elijah-Christ-Bloom; Venus, Mary, Molly; the three mysterious figures – the one-legged soldier, Mr M’Intosh, the blind piano tuner; the three whores; Bloom’s three baptisms; Molly and Bloom and Milly, all only children with their parents” (Loux, 281); none of these alleged triads is a trinitarian allusion. Nor is it correct to say that “Stephen moves from the Nicene trinity formed by himself and his consubstantial parents, through the Arian and Sabellian trinities of young men – Mulligan, Haines, Stephen, and Telemachus, Hamlet, Stephen – towards the transubstantial trinity of artists, a Sabellian trinity formed by Shakespeare…, Bloom…, and Stephen” (281-2). It is also incorrect to say that “his father denies Stephen. Simon Dedalus does not recognize Stephen from the carriage window” (282); Simon’s paternal feeling for Stephen recurs throughout the novel, and is noted by Bloom, “Full of his son. He is right” (6.74). Careless suppositions, not rigorously checked, but amounting to a kind of free association, have been a blight on Joyce scholarship, which a more concrete grasp of how Joycean motifs work may be overcoming.Corrective works such as Paul van Caspel’s Bloomers on the Liffey (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986) are to be welcomed. We must allow full play to the indeterminacy and ambiguities of Joyce’s text, to be sure, but at the same time we must try to distinguish between the play of supposition that the text licences and arbitrary inventions to which it offers no substantial support. The phrase “we must” indicates a constraint or imperative under which the reader of Ulysses is forced to labour, almost as if it were Holy Writ. But this hermeneutical regime is that of a game or puzzle, in which part of the puzzle is to identify the rules of the game, and of the sub-games going on in each of the eighteen episodes.
 An ambiguity has been noted here; the 27th was John Stanislaus Joyce’s payday (see Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper, 239), so the text could refer to Simon as artificer standing his son in good stead by lending or giving him cash! (as noted by Joe Voelker, “27 April,” James Joyce Quarterly 22 , 325).
 For a response to such critiques from Leo Bersani and Fredric Jameson, see Denis Donoghue, “Is there a case against Ulysses?,” in Vincent Cheng and Timothy Martin, ed. Joyce in Context (Cambridge University Press, 1992), 19-39.
 See J.S. O’Leary, “The Spiritual Upshot of Ulysses,” in James Mackey, ed. An Introduction to Celtic Christianity (Edinburgh: Clark, corrected edition, 1995), 305-34; “The Heightened Gaze of Exile: Dublin in Ulysses.” English Literature and Language 39 (2002), 3-24 (also at josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog).
 Kimball, Joyce and the Early Freudians, 92-3.
 Gerald L. Bruns writes: “the spirit of romance is displaced by the spirit of ordinary life. It is this spirit of ordinary life – the spirit of Bloom, perhaps – which dominates the episode” (“Eumaeus,” in Clive Hart and David Hayman, ed. James Joyce’s Ulysses: Critical Essays [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974], 363-83; here, 363-4. But the paradox is that the romance-deflating prose of the episode creates a romantic mood of its own. To say that “the transmutation of the ordinary into high art does not take place” (365) is to miss that the inarticulacy of the style itself effects a kind of transmutation, making all the incidents take on the air of the fantastic. Relying on cliché, “the narrator exists as a mind fabricated out of other minds” (366), but the reliance is so extreme that it becomes a new form of originality, an artistic technique comparable to the distortions of Mannerism.
 “The paternal attitude is dramatized indirectly; it is speech reported by the narrator in the narrator’s best formulaic manner. And the chief question is: ‘How are we to respond to a paternal attitude that is circulated through a narrator of this sort?’… His impoverished speech remains the medium of Bloom’s characterization, with the result that, for example, any authentic feeling that Bloom may be supposed to have for Stephen remains undramatized, deflected into formula, present only by implication as a possibility raised for the action of the episode (as we shall see) eventually to dispel” (367).
 See Don Gifford, Ulysses Annotated (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 534.
 This scene is suggestive of troilism, the perverse relationship between two men, mediated by the woman they share, a topic Joyce had recently dramatized in Exiles. John Hannay suggests that Stephen is being groomed to be Boylan’s successor as Molly’s lover (“Coincidence and Fables of Identity in ‘Eumaeus,’” James Joyce Quarterly 21 , 341-55; here, 348).
 See Sheldon Brivic, Joyce Between Freud and Jung (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1980).
 “The supposition that Stephen’s father is a performer in Hengler’s Circus [see 16.412] subtly parallels the claim by one of their clowns to be Bloom’s long lost son” (Hannay, “Coincidence and Fables of Identity,” 343).
 L. H. Platt, “‘If Brian Boru could but come back and see old Dublin now’: Materialism, the National Culture and Ulysses 17,” European Joyce Studies 6 (1996),105-32; here, 105). Platt sees the Stephen-Bloom encounter as a parody of the scenes of initiation in which Celtic revivalists such as Yeats or Synge encounter a representative of the folk culture. But “far from inspiring Stephen, this encounter struggles famously for any meaningful status. The narrative itself is acutely conscious of its responsibility for making something substantial of the Stephen-and-Bloom affair. As far as it can, it inflates matters” (Platt, 124). The conflation of their names as “Stoom” and “Blephen” is but “a very obvious piece of narratorial desperation” (125). Constance V. Tagopoulos comments on Stoom/Blephen that “the language takes over and provides the solution life is unable to give” (“Joyce and Homer: return, disguise, and recognition in ‘Ithaca’,” in Cheng/Martin, Joyce in Context, 184-200; here, 190). A. Walton Litz writes: “On the literal level… Stephen and Bloom are mock-heroic figures; but on the figurative level they take on heroic and creative possibilities” (“Ithaca,” in Hart and Hayman, 385-405; here, 400. The fact that their “moment of union” is “richly comic in the manner of Sterne does not detract from its ultimate seriousness” (401).
 Patrick McGee speaks of a “missed encounter, a double revelation in which nothing, the nothing, is revealed” (Paperspace, [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988], 164-5; cited, Tagopoulos, 190).
 My Brother’s Keeper, 130.