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This year’s online Bloomsday seminar via Facebook was a global conversation in the privacy of our own screens. Each of the eighteen short films, released online by Bloomsday in Melbourne at the hour set for each episode, were treated as the ‘papers’ to prompt online discussion. Episode 3 included contributions by Lyall Burton, Frances Devlin Glass, Matt Glen, Rebecca Morton, and Janet Strachan, whose initials appear where their thoughts are represented in these analecta.

The sounds of the sea sound like Ulysses: seesoo hrss rsseeiss ooos.

On Sandymount Strand the mindful words play out, or is that fast forward, Dedalus’s progress in poetry, what’s going on in his head linguistically. “They are coming, waves,” he starts, “The whitemaned seahorses, champing, brightwindbridled, the steeds of Mananaan,” which is nice, but also bad Yeats. It’s the poetry we meet in Chamber Music, whereas once he starts listening to his own internal voices they take him in powerful directions that leave the effete stuff behind. Stephen has various voices, private, public, and poetic: it’s Joyce in the making.

He talks a lot about seawrack and seaspawn. Might he be monomaniacally obsessed? (FDG) Adult readers’ view of Stephen, I find, becomes more quickly fixed than with others in the story. Critics express the view that Joyce is well and truly over Stephen by the end of Ulysses. Well, time to cut him some slack. Joyce was 22 on the magical date 16th June 1904 and 22 is not always easy. Dedalus, at least, is not about to do a bunk and shoot off to the Continent. Death and Life are explicit capital-letter subjects in the novel, whole episodes are devoted to them. Is the author monomaniacally obsessed?  Grief mingled with guilt enhance the image of the potential poète maudit, wandering about in his Hamlet hat. Not that he wants enhancement, it has been given to him. Seawrack is a reminder of his grief, of his struggle in coming to terms with his mother’s recent death. He is trying to find a way out of lostness by words alone. Joyce provides the connecting thoughts that this entails.   

Having just exited his history class, Stephen is made totally conscious of the past as a natural part of the present. He imagines Vikings and dead Armada sailors wrecked on this coastline where he now literally treads. (FDG) Yes, and his ways of hearing the past are onomatopoeic, imitative of the sounds of beach, birds, wind, water, directly in the present. His thoughts merge different activities of language so they are transformed into poetry. He hears the words with eyes shut, eyes open. He makes the links between words, their assonance, alliteration, difference.

Are you disturbed by his identification with the violence and lust of his forebears, the murderous invaders? (FDG) This question is answered here by the actor who plays Stephen in the film. “I love where Stephen is at in this scene. He’s having such a good mosey around in his thoughts. A really soft interrogation of these images. His identification with violence doesn’t disturb me. His honesty is simple and curious.” (MG)

I would add, Ulysses is both a textbook about violence and an antidote. Joyce’s own escape from Ireland is closely tied to his escape from the violence of Dublin. His identification of the roots of violence in envy, contest, rivalry, tribalism, nationalism, and other social realities is depicted in places throughout the novel. Whenever he is not alone, he is in the midst of a competition for space and attention. It reaches a kind of mimetic apotheosis at the brothel, where Stephen is saved from himself by Bloom. Bloom, living with the knowledge of Molly’s infidelity, carries an underlying jealousy all day and though he has reasons to be angry by this stage, he is not. It is Stephen who loses the plot, smashes the chandelier, and cops a punch-up. Bloom does the Samaritan act.

Is Stephen’s creativity and potential as a poet more convincing in this scene? (FDG) Yes to this question, also his constant references to Shakespeare. (JS) Yes, because we have been taken out of the squabble and scrap with his sometimes friends at Sandy Cove, out of the corner he is in teaching students who don’t want to learn, out into the open air of Dublin Bay. It is a birth. It is a discovery tour. He has space to move and energy to burn. The slow blending of the received poetry that he knows from school and home with the murmuring sounds he is testing in his iso-walk, are the beginnings of his individuation as a creative user of language. Furthermore, many of the sounds he is making are not even English or Irish or Latin or French, they are copies of the sounds of the natural world.

Says one seminarian, “Trying to watch live didn’t work even though I am watching the screen like a hawk.” (LB) Am I walking into eternity as I take an iso-walk around the block between computer dates? Is that me too, laughing and trying to refresh the link? (RB) Is there something I am doing wrong? (LB)


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