“Ineluctable modalities:” One possible translation might be an unavoidable bombardment against one or more of the senses. Aristotle taught that color was essential to visibility. We now know there is color beyond the capacity of most people to perceive, but some cheat the limitation. Artist Concetta Antico has four photoreceptors rather than the usual three. She sees gradients of a million colors. This is the gift that all geniuses possess- an ability to derive meaning where most mortals can see none. The immature Stephen, however, attempts here not to use his enhanced ability but to shut it down.
Signatures: Sixteen Century German mystic Jakob Boehm wrote that God leaves a mark on his creations, so that man will know Him. His Signatures subscript the object’s purpose in the struggle between good and evil. The creative and destructive power of the sea might be one such signature. Another might be the sea’s role as a vehicle for jetsam carrying wreckage but also a transport for new life. Seeds for example are carried on the Jet Stream from island to island.
Diaphane and adiaphane: Diaphane means translucent; adiaphane opaque. Aristotle taught these are qualities of the object not of the color. Both qualities are transformative. A colored glass that is opaque is different than one which is translucent. The adiaphaneous is normally hidden from human observation, like the shades of hues visible to Concetta Ancico. One symbol of the adiaphaneous nature of reality is found in the Kabbala. Here’s the face of God can only be seen in profile since “the other side is unknown and unknowable (Campbell).”
Nacheinander(neibeneinander): Step beside step (step after step). This references both the space and the time elapsed as Stephen travels Sandymount Strand. Nebeneinander is the passage through space; nacheinander is the passage through time. Space-time was unknown in 1904, but was understood when Joyce took up his pen to write the novel, Einstein having written his papers on both General and Special Relativity in 1905. Virginia Wolfe, another Modernist writer proposed that General Relativity would allow writers to know their futures. Wrong but it certainly would help Stephen’s contemplation of an uncertain future. According to Joseph Campbell the conflicting German terms pit the eternal against a discrete moment in time.
Midwives and gamps: Away from urban Dublin, a pair of midwives process an infant corpse, placenta and umbilical for a burial in the seaside sand. The burial is probably the result of an abortion rather than a miscarriage since it is being buried on a beach. One matron carries a gamp or umbrella, named for a Dickensian midwife of that name. If you will allow another connection that Joyce probably didn’t intend, funeral processions in New Orleans are led with an umbrella. The trailing umbilicus returns the present through a “strandentwining cable of all flesh” back to Edenville.
Aleph, alpha, nought, nought, one: Stephen’s invents a particular telephone exchange and number for his imaginary call to Edenville. In Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) Aleph is a number set that indicates the infinite. In Greek logic and mathematics zero does not exist. In a binary system then Alpha must represent 1. If we convert the Alpha to a binary 1, the sequence is 1001 or 9. Medieval thinkers considered 9 to be a perfect number the number of the Trinity squared. The heroes of Ulysses are also a Trinity (Stephen, Poldy and Molly). Another interpretation might be the reduction from the infinite (Aleph) to the minimum (001). From a theocracy to an autocracy of one.
Arius: His heresy claimed that Christ was created by the Father, did not always exist and was therefore less godly than the Father. Consider if artistic “divinity” is passed from a father to son. Consider if an artist needs an artistic or spiritual father as well as a biological one. Stephen’s story is the search for such a father.
Kevin Egan: A forgotten republican Irish hero, Egan is an earlier generation of expat exiled in Paris. Stephen’s recollection of time spent with Egan is a disconcerting promise of what living abroad could become. Stephen’s current problem according to Campbell is how to escape from his juvenile ego.
The gypsy dog: In conversation with Frank Budgen, Joyce described the dog on the beach as a shape-changing creature- hare, hart, gull, wolf, etc. See “Themes” above. The dog’s human companions are gypsies, combining the themes of transformation and wandering. Egypyt, source of the term “gypsy,” also the the origin of Prince Noferkephtah who uncovered the magic Book of Thoth containing the secrets of shape-shifting.