Episode 17: “Ithaca” ~pp 650-722

What They Are Saying, Episode 17


Nothing on earth or in the heavens remains unchanged. Humanity moves about a changing city. We shift sand, smear snot, bury bodies, spray body fluids, toss cakes, discard notices of the world’s end, shatter glass, and leave a world slightly or greatly changed. As the protagonists of Ulysses alter Dublin, they metamorphize as Dublin also changes them.

The heavens can better convince us of fixedness than can firm land. That is an illusion. The celestial show above seems like a spinning disk (like the sun or a bar of lemon-scented soap) of presidium sky. Sol enters the stage, then exits only to return unaltered on a fixed loop again from stage right. Yes, there is a footprint left by another Odysseus on the moon. But we usually ignore that even the universes’ farthest reaches are expanding even further from our grasp.

In 2008, Sam Slote of Trinity College tightened the allegorical link between Comet Bloom and Haley’s orbital wanderer in “1904: A Space Odyssey.” I am grateful for his analysis of the astronomy. I can only crane my neck, yaw with my jaw open and marvel. My view in parallax is different. I’m looking for the comet’s gravitational pull on Odysseus-Bloom.

Artistic constructions, astronomical and climatic events cluster around the constellation of characters in “Ithaca.” Astrological signs influenced Bloom and Stephen with “the posited influence of celestial on human bodies,” Bloom says.

One of the sub-themes of the novel is the identification of Stephen with the dog. The significance is that dog is the reverse of god. Stephen doesn’t oppose divinity, but he lived without a formal and consistent ethical or religious code. He lives doglike. Tindall says that the dog-god analogy comes to a culmination when Bloom and Stephen urinate in the garden. Canis Major and Sirius enact the dog theme on the celestial stage. Bloom considers the distant, magnificent reflection of God in the Great Dog (“Sirius…alpha in Canis Maior”). Meanwhile, the symbol suggests Stephen’s fears. He can escape fear and his victimization by less talented adversaries by adopting an ethical code. 

Molly has celestial identities too. She is the earth goddess Gaia, sensual moon, and Milky Way. She appears in the nebula due to her association with Mary, mother of God the Son, but she is not the consort of the Father represented by Bloom. Molly’s birthday ironically, is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which celebrates Mary’s birth without the taint of the sin inherited from Adam and Eve. The Immaculate Conception is frequently confused with the Virgin Birth. That would be ironic, too but less interesting than Molly’s inherent innocence symbolized by immaculate conception. In her representation on the Miraculous Medal, MaryMolly appears with a crown of stars and her foot pinning a serpent’s head. For Molly, the snake might represent men either malevolent or malleable. Her heavenly intercession foils men’s intentions like furniture rearranged in a dark room. The Milky Way’s trail of stars, dust, and gentle light is the object of Poldy’s fascination.

Malevolent Lenehan inflates a comet’s tale about a carriage ride through the stars into a carnal romp:

Bloom was pointing out all the stars and the comets in the heavens to Chris Callinan and the jarvey: the great bear and Hercules and the dragon, and the whole jingbang lot. But, by God, I was lost, so to speak, in the milky way. He knows them all, faith. At last she spotted a weeny weeshy one miles away. And what star is that, Poldy? says she. By God, she had Bloom cornered. That one, is it? says Chris Callinan, sure that’s only what you might call a pinprick. By God, he wasn’t far wide of the mark.

Malleable Bloom’s admiration more aesthetic:

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth:….

Molly’s heavens are constant. The skies are dynamic for Bloom and Stephen; for example, two stars collide announcing Bloom’s birth. A similar phenomenon marked Shakespeare’s birth. Although less brilliant than Shakespeare’s, Bloom’s birth announcement connected to another in Andromeda for the birth of Stephen Dedalus. Similar celestial peculiarities also connect the birth of Rudy and Stephen. These are heaven-shifting events. Stars implode, join, appear, and disappear, a “new luminous sun(s) generated by the collision and amalgamation in the incandescence of two non-luminous exsuns….” This change to “the parallax or parallactic drift of so-called fixed stars,” is metempsychosis of earth-bound humans and sky-borne minerals.

The heavens’ gift is the realization of how minuscule are human self-torments: “the futility of triumph or protest or vindication: the inanity of extolled virtue: the lethargy of nescient matter: the apathy of the stars.” Budgen lists this as the logic that allows Bloom to accept Molly’s infidelity.

The artistic question remains whether celestial change causes terrestrial change or is the change created in celebration of earthly miracles.

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