I came very close this week to writing a post whose text was only something like “I have nothing to say.” Circe challenged my stamina, and as it bore on and on without apparent aim, I began to feel like I was the butt of a practical joke. I won’t quite say I skimmed the last half or so of the episode, but I can’t say I did a whole lot better than skimming. I’m reading without a guide and frankly don’t know that I would have gotten through this week’s reading and a guide both (I’ve been chasing Ulysses with some rather more palatable Flannery O’Connor instead). So I don’t really have much coherent to say. I suppose that’s fitting. A few scattered observations follow, though.
I find a way to see Thomas Hardy everywhere. On page 469, we find a passage from Bloom about the suffering poor and (I guess) the privileged classes. In it, he uses the phrase “casting dice” and the word “purblind.” Hardy’s poem “Hap” (which oddly is the Hardy I always manage to see in other works) uses forms of each of these words and bemoans the lack of meaning in suffering. It also includes the distinctive word “unblooms” (!).
Gender is an obvious preoccupation of this episode. From the first time I read the name Virag in a prior episode, I thought of the archetype called the Virago (basically an Amazon), who makes a late, brief, named appearance in Circe. Bloom crosses the aisle and is (ill-) treated as a woman and referred to with feminine pronouns. He has a very deep vagina. The Bella we first hear from also changes genders and takes on the masculine name Bello. It’d be interesting to see what a feminist reading of this episode would be, especially given Bloom’s frankly sort of predatory activities earlier in the book. I wonder also if cross-dressing in Elizabethan theater was on Joyce’s mind and whether or not it was something he was playing with here.
As viewpoints and genders meld and swirl together in Circe, it’s pretty tempting (and probably not all wrong) to think of metempsychosis, or at least of the physical equivalent transmogrification, which is of course central to Homer’s story of Circe (along with temptation and decadence).
Is this episode a rewrite or adaptation of some play that I ought to be recognizing? There are echoes of all kinds of things (not least of all earlier bits of Ulysses), but I wasn’t able in my frustrated and sometimes careless reading to find any correspondence to a play I knew. I half suspect it’s a rewrite of Hamlet that I’m too dim to have picked up on.
There’s an interesting moment on 548 in which Bloom and Stephen do some age reconciliation. Bloom got a scar when he was sixteen, 22 years prior. Stephen is 22 now. I felt for a moment almost as if Bloom and Stephen somehow spectrally occupied the same space in a way, almost in the way you discover one day that you have become your parents. The episode winds down with a sort of tender fatherly moment between Bloom and Stephen and ends with the crushing appearance of little Rudy as — like Stephen — a sort of scholar (he’s reading something in what I assume is Hebrew, so not exactly beach reading), another sort of joint occupancy of familial role.
I often found myself thinking that Pynchon owed something to Joyce. I think of Slothrop following Red down the toilet for his harmonica, for example, and of the coprophilia and other kink so prevalent in Gravity’s Rainbow. I think of the songs and what I can only describe as set pieces, of which there are many in Circe (how Rob is going to illustrate this one I can’t imagine).
Last, WTF is this episode? It obviously isn’t actually happening, though some parts of it seem as if they could be. I began to think of it as a dream, but it seemed to me that if it was a dream from Bloom’s perspective, he had at times access to things I didn’t think he’d have access to (e.g. Stephen’s memories of his mother). The Linati schemata, which I always refer to after my reading (the closest thing to a guide for me, I guess) suggest that the episode may be a hallucination, but the same limitations that apply to dreams would apply to a hallucination, I think. Maybe it’s a group hallucination, or a meandering walk through a series of overlapping hallucinations taking place as patrons at the brothel become increasingly incapacitated on whatever they’re consuming and peppered with interjections of real events. Other thoughts? Anybody in the know wish to provide enlightenment?