(GJ) Canto XIV (p.5, l. 35).

Long lewdly leering lips: dark-blooded molluscs 

It is foolish to argue with James Joyce’s selection of a word. He sweated over prefixes, spellings, shades of interpretation, but his decision to describe his love goddess’ lips as mollusk-like reveals a fundamental misunderstanding or perhaps disinterest in what a girl might like to hear. I accept that the mollusk was precisely the romantic symbol Joyce intended but, Jim, a mollusk? Base flatterer!

The classification “mollusk” includes invertebrates with soft, unsegmented bodies. Some are aquatic. Others prefer the damp. Genus and species have no meaning for me, so I prefer to classify creatures according to restaurant menu placement. The taxonomy proves faultless: cephalopod appetizers are calamari and octopus; bi-valve entrees include clams and scallops; and, tasting-menu exotics, delicious but bizarre, feature escargot and scungilli or conch. I hope never to become acquainted with a dessert mollusk.

If the inspirational mollusk is viscous, like the romantic slug, the love target might become righteously indignant. But others without shell are soft, clinging, pliable, and savory. Even without breadcrumbs, a kiss would be delicious.

On preceding pages, the Maestro compared Amalia’s coloring to an opal. That seems an unusual comparison, but if you consider the tints blended in painting flesh tones for a portrait, blue could be an exotic shade, but memorable after a little concentration. What color are lips? Not red, but the tone of putty or darker. Sometimes maroon deepened with brown. The makers of lipstick find this combination alluring. Joyce did too.

Salvador Dali’s Mollusk Couch?

Most mollusks have no brains. Instead, ganglia disperse across their bodies. A mollusk-lipped lover might think with her lips. Counter-balancing brainlessness, cephalopods have three hearts but are predators none the less. Bi-valves might have “Long lewdly leering lips.” Unfortunately, they would be rock hard and stingy-thin. Even as the most socially inept pre-teen, I never thought to practice kissing on the long, thin clam’s lips.

don ward July 28, 2020

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: