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 6 included contributions by Lyall Burton, Steve Carey, Sian Cartwright, Frances Devlin Glass, Tony Guyot, Susan Lever, and Helene McNamara, whose initials appear where their thoughts are represented in these analecta.
Given other thoughts on his mind, his grief for his father and lost son, the imminent loss of his wife, are his habits of thought escapist, or realistic, or something else? (FDG) Maybe it’s a bit of both, escapism and realism; Bloom being philosophical about life and mortality and how infused they are. (Sian) Joyce demonstrates a truth we never stop to think about, which is that our minds never stop. We live with our minds and all the neural activities our minds are heir to. How we regulate the mind, how much the mind is self-regulating, how much is habit or not habit, these daily and lifetime realities absorb Joyce’s interest. He wishes to set out patterns of these on the page in an original and creative way. Thus understood, it is less easy to say where Bloom stops being realist and starts being escapist, or anything else. His mind is stimulated, he responds to the stimulus, his thoughts go in places that finish up distant from the original stimulus. Just like you and me. His mind tries to pay attention to the present moment, but is digressive, is capable of knowing the past and imagining the future, all at once. Just like us. At the same time, certain preoccupations keep forcing themselves into his thoughts, thereby colouring the mood and altering the logic of what he was thinking. Grief and loss are close to the surface, but Bloom doesn’t call them grief and loss, they are the affective agent of his thought patterns, as likely to be comic as anything we might call sad or tragic. Then also, thought is private. This means he can have any number of thoughts, including otherwise prohibited thoughts that will not be spoken. Like us, he can understand the opposite point of view, without necessarily agreeing with it. He contains multitudes of contradictions, most of which he would see are contradictory, if only he had time to think.
While I question that one person could have that many connected and collected thoughts at one funeral, Bloom’s interior monologue is an astonishing ramble of all the sorts of thoughts we might have pushed back when thinking about death. Are these monologues anything more than an extended humour-buoyant version of the soliloquy ‘She should have died hereafter’? It makes me ask just how much Joyce owes to Shakespeare’s soliloquys, themselves a complete breakthrough in English psychological expression. An argument could be mounted that Bloom’s thoughts are not all literally happening as reported by the scribe. The impetus to treat what we read as literally the case must be kept in check. Sometimes the interior track of his thought could be treated more as the sorts of thoughts that lead to those other thoughts, if you are someone like Bloom. Joyce has the task of giving us an excess of them. We understand most of the time where Bloom is going in his thoughts, which should be telling us something about our own mind patterns.
Are his jokes, some of them ‘dad jokes’, genuinely funny or is Joyce engaging in tastelessness? (FDG) I don’t imagine that being ‘tasteful’ is ever part of Joyce’s aim, except to expose its inherent hypocrisy. I can relate to Bloom’s imagination: childlike, honest, and wonderfully comic. (LB) This episode really gets the comic elements in the novel. (SL) I do not think Joyce is indulging in tastelessness, rather he is breaking the taboo about death that virtually forbade any talk of death in Edwardian society, tasteful or otherwise. It is Joycean to succeed by excess. Like Molly when it comes to sex, Bloom’s thoughts on death once activated cannot stop. Allied to this is the dictum, tastefulness does not make art, anymore than propriety will always speak the truth.
I am aweary, aweary of the view that puns are ‘dad jokes’. Puns are here to stay as a form of shared intelligence, language learning, and poetic play. They were since Adam, whose name itself is a pun. Ulysses punters ought to be aware of puns on every page, the good, the bad, and the very very profound, the shallow and the puny. Ulysses reverberates with them. Anti-punsters should abandon all hope who enter the gates of Finnegans Wake, a novel that would not exist without the pun.
Who knew that Bloom was a serial live-streamer, with thoughts about the dead that really don’t bear articulating in civil society? (FDG) Involuntary, perhaps. (FDG) The dead are social distancing. Just saying. (HM) Why is Bloom so happy? (TG) Because he’s not the one they’re burying perhaps. (Steve)
That phrase ‘As you are now, so once were we’ is presumably addressed to the living by the dead. ‘Faithful departed’, which precedes it, is different: to the dead by the living. A good example of Joyce turning adroitly on a sixpence. (FDG) ‘As you are now, so once were we’ is a late medieval memento mori, a form of painting in which an aged person looks at and speaks to a young person, perhaps even their youthful self. Bloom does indeed seem to be taking it to an extreme, or just getting it wrong (surprise, surprise!) by the dead looking at the living. Still, Bloom is a living example of genuine empathy.