OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe one eyed monster gets put out by Ulysses in the original, but in Joyce’s story, Leopold Bloom’s encounter with the citizen is a little more nuanced.

There’s a lot to like in Cyclops, but perhaps not much that bears directly on the Boylan, Molly, Bloom triangle.

For a start there’s Garyowen, the dog; a mutt the like of which hadn’t been seen since Dickens wrote Bill Syke’s bull terrier. In Strick’s film the hound becomes a German Shepherd, which to my mind wasn’t the right sort of dog at all, even though Hitler had one! Worth remembering the name of that dog: it’ll crop up again soon; only a mention, but another thread that binds the disparate characters into this whole Dublin.

The Citizen is known to us all. He sits a corner, with ‘the friends we love (are) by our side and the foes we hate before us’. Life for him is simple, and the enemy always there. Identities change, of both friends and enemies, but so long as you can see the world as being made up of those two entities, and can attribute each label somewhere, anywhere, then you’re never in quandary about what to do. The Citizen is the antithesis to Bloom, and, antithetically, Bloom tries to reason with him. Beneath all this ‘grand politic’ though, something very personal is going on.

Bloom is being accused of something of which he is totally innocent, and ignorant. It’s one of the most elaborately planted time-bombs in any novel that I have read, and it concerns the horse that won, in actual reality, the grand horse race that is was being run on 16th June. That time-bomb goes off in Bloom’s face at the Ormond Bar, but we have to go way back into the novel to see it’s careful, and subtle planting. If you’re lost, take a look again at the section where Bloom encounters Nosey Flynn, and see what he does with that rolled up newspaper. Not only a wonderfully constructed plot device, it’s also a clever example of how words in English can take on quite different meanings when used, or understood, in different contexts.

This week the group are reading on through the Nausicca episode. It is eight O’clock of a summer evening in Dublin, and Leopold Bloom has not gone home. Neither will he for several hours yet. His wife is being gone through by Blazes Boylan – the euphemism is Joyce’s– several times. He can’t do anything about it, except imagine.

This is a potent brew, for Joyce catches his hero on the multiple hooks of pain and pleasure, something he seems to have experienced, and which, I think, he expects us to have as well. I knew an old woman – it’s not the opening of a nursery rhyme- who used to say ‘a standing prick has no conscience.’ From what I remember, that might well be true! And, I suspect there are other organs, that Mr Bloom might relish, that might also be lacking in that department, standing or supine.

Bloom, in the gathering dusk stands by the sea wall watching young women on the beach. One of them, Gery MacDowell, leaning back, lifting her knee, exposes her Edwardian undies to him. Bloom masturbates at the sight. As Gerty walks off, and fireworks explode over Dublin, Bloom sees she is lame.

Joyce’s encounter with a lame woman is documented, though any possible sexual response on his part is not. But the fiction’s the thing, and its importance to us. How does Bloom’s encounter resonate with us? With me? With you?

This is one of those scenes that might well be seen differently through modern eyes, compared to the way it would have been viewed in when the novel was published.

In the nineteen twenties publishing such encounters might have been thought indecent, though there would have been plenty of smutty books around that would tell of worse – or better, and many respectable ones that dot, dot, dotted the implications of such scenes. There’s a possible deeper difference to: our attitude to the incident in a post-women’s lib world, in a post-Saville world.

It would be easy to use this scene as a springboard to discussion about abuse. I’ve seen several headlines recently that suggest that male arousal by the public display of the female form is ‘perverted’. The most recent I noticed was ‘pervs’ caught by a photograph online of a man’s buttocks, presented, as if they were his wife’s breasts. There is an interesting issue here about our reactions, as men or women, to what we see, or experience in any way, with our senses, and how society expects us to mediate those reactions into responses that are deemed acceptable. These expectations change, and I suspect for most of us, in any generation, they will change noticeably during an average lifetime. 1904 begins to look a long time ago, not so much in how people act and react, but in how they are expected to.

Bloom has already ogled, surreptitiously, two women: the woman in the butchers, and the lady about to mount (sic) her carriage. Joyce has referred to a man with a mirror in his hat – for looking up skirts! Something which he’d be arrested for, and possibly put on the sex offenders list today, but which, before the First World War would have been ‘acceptable’, in that sense of being ‘normal’, even if unwelcome.

If attitudes have hardened, clarified, does the book unintentionally diminish Bloom as a hero in our eyes? Should it?

My thinking is that it should not, and for the reason that something is happening here that neatly displays the fundamental difference between fiction and reality. It is not merely that there is no Bloom, no Gerty MacDowell, that there is no exposing and masturbating, but that we, the readers – who are not really watching an incident, but having one created in our imaginations – are told the motivations, and sensations of both participants. This is something that we could not at all know if we were to hear of, or indeed witness, what the book portrays.

E.M.Forster in that gem of a book about the novel, ‘Aspects of the Novel’ touches on this: that we know far more about fictional characters than we do about real ones. He uses Moll Flanders as his example, but this scene in Ulysses, it seems to me, is a perfect example of the reader knowing what could not be known in reality.

When we read Gerty’s and Bloom’s thoughts, we are reading their creator’s authoritative version of them. This is what they are thinking and feeling, what they are doing. It is not their version, nor any ambiguous speculation by some outsider. And Joyce is quite clear, that they are both playing a game of their own fantasising. They are both depicted as recognising the motivations, and actions of the other, something that we cannot really replicate in our real lives.

Yet, Joyce does not suggest that either knows what the other is doing. They only have belief in it.

This is one of the scenes that did not work well for me in Joseph Strick’s sincere film adaptation. Transposed into a short-skirted nineteen sixties just about everything that Bloom, and this imagining onlooker, found alluring was notably absent. When I first read the book, as a teenager, questions of abuse/exploitation did not enter my head! Nor when I read it ten years later, nor even ten years after that. After a gap of twenty years though, returning to the book, I found that the scene did raise the issue. Another example of the context in which a book is read making a difference to the way it is perceived.

I began to sense this week that I was making some headway in evangelising the Joycean eye for language, when one of the group (no names, no blushes) asked me if I thought the phrase I used to title this blog post was a Joycean pun:

Me neither, until it was pointed out what you get if you remove a few letters…..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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