Episode 3:”Proteus,” ~pp 37-51

Important Themes of Episode 3

  • Transformation and Shape Changing: Menelaus in the Odyssey recounts that he, marooned on leaving Troy, wrestled the shape changing Egyptian or Cretan god Proteus in order to escape the island. The Celtic sea-god and shape changer Manannan MacLir and Proteus are similar in that they are nautical deities and are see with horses symbolic of the waves. The sea itself is changeable in shape and temperament and alters everything it touches, carries or crashes against. In his battle with Proteus, Menaleus changes into, lion, bear, snake, leopard, boar, running water and tree (Gilbert). This is recreated by Joyce in his description of the dog on the beach. Budgen points out that the natural setting for contemplation of transformation is the shore altered by the shift from low water mark to high tide. “Tides ebb and flow, cheating the clock every day, lagging behind. The volume of water changes, spring to neap and neap to spring again. Cold water flows over hot sand….the sea makes and unmakes the land.” The drowned man is another symbol of transformation. To achive an artistic level of consciousness, Stephen must drown his old ego adopting what Schopenhauer calls “shared suffering” with others, surrendering himself to become a part of something greater.
  • The reliability and malleability of sensation: Observation of the world is unavoidable. Aristotle says vision is unalterable as with sight, other senses can sometimes be changed by the observer. Aristotle’s optics may leave something to be desired. The visual is not constant to all observers. Color, in fact, is a function of the effect of wavelength on the observer. Some observers are color blind. Monet’s impressionistic flights resulted in part from deteriorating vision. An opposing opinion on the permanence of data from the senses came from Anglican Bishop Berkeley. Fearful of John Locke’s reliance of reasoning as a threat to Faith (yes, capital F), Berkeley claimed that the entire material world was an illusion. Stephen, who fears losing his sight, shuts his eyes to the ineluctable. This theme also questions whether the processing of sensation by the artist changes the stimulus as well as the product that results.
  • “almosting”: Stephen struggles to bring up the dream memory of the man who offer’s him melon. The adverb transforms into verb. This reflects the theme of metamorphosis. The important idea is that Stephen is still immature as an artist. He is the Young Man of Portrait. Tindall points out that he performs three actions in this mostly thinking episode. He urinates. He wipes snot on a seaside rock (as he must since Mulligan defiled his hankerkerchief). He writes a fragment of a poem about fertility on an unused sheet from Deasy’s writing. None of these products is artistic. Dedalus is not the Artist but is almosting in that direction. He is, for the first time in the novel alone and able to exercise demiurgos, the godlike impulse to create.
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