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"I finished the Sirens chapter during the last few days. A big job. I wrote this chapter with the technical resources of music. It is a fuge with all the musical notations: piano, forte, rallentando, and so on. A quintet occurs in it, too, as in Die Miestersinger, my favorite Wagnerian opera...Since exploring the resources and artifices of music and employing them in this chapter, I haven't cared for music any more. I, the great friend of music, can no longer listen to it. I see through all the tricks and can't enjoy it anymore"— James Joyce.
Chapter 11 of Ulysses is one of the most unique chapters you can find in any book. Themed mainly with music, it grabs you from the very first line: Begin!
As the reader reads through the episode, what at first may seems as silly unconnected fragments or partition, later reappear in newer contexts that give them a proper meaning. As Neil pointed out on the call, these are the notes of the orchestra warming up before the concert. All these notes in the first two pages of the chapter reappear later in the chapter itself.
The Sirens in this episode are represented by many things, but chiefly two seductive women, the barmaids, Miss Lydia Douce and Miss Lydia Kennedy, bronze and gold.
Molly, as an opera singer herself whose songs are repeatedly cited in Sirens, and in the end seems to be the only woman though whose lure still draws Bloom towards her.
Swayed by the Siren’s Song
In Homer’s Odyssey, Circe takes it upon herself to instruct Ulysses of the endless sea perils that he will encounter on his way back home, in this case then warns him warning him about the Sirens, whose beauty has the power to bewitch men.
As Ulysses and his men prepare to sail by the Sirens, Ulysses began to pass along the warnings of Circe. Basically that The Sirens are very deadly creatures because they sing so beautifully that sailors feel an irresistible needs to go towards them, once they get there they are killed and the Sirens usually use their bones for instruments.
In order to escape the overwhelming charm of the enchantress duo, the brilliant strategist Ulysses recurred to the genius idea to make his crew put a lot of beeswax in their ears so they wouldn't want to go to the Sirens.
However, Ulysses decided to keep his own ears totally unwaxed, but then had his crew tie him up to the mast so he couldn't get free and try to get to the Sirens.
When Ulysses hears the Sirens, he is immediately bewitched and starts fighting to break free and get to them. He tries to negotiate with his crew, but they are looking the other way since he has already anticipated this, and ordered his men to ignore whatever he may say while under the sway of the Siren's song.
At one point he almost breaks free from the mast and attempts to jump in the water and swim towards the Sirens but his crew catches him and ties him up again.
Finally, they get past the Sirens. When his crew sees his face change since he’s no longer swayed by the irresistible charm of the deadly Sirens, then they realize that the Sirens are gone and that they can finally remove the wax from their ears.
Chapter 11: Sirens
Chapter eleven opens in the bar of the Concert Room of the Ormond Hotel at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
It’s there where we meet the golden-haired Miss Kennedy and bronze-haired Miss Douce as they watch a man in tall silk, the honorable Gerald Wald as curiously being "killed looking back."
Simon Dedalus walks into the bar and starts making small talk with Lydia Douce. While filling his order, Miss Douce sings a line from the opera Floradora, a song that links her with the South Sea.
Notice that the high piercing tones the bar maids make are similar to the Sirens’ chants,
Meanwhile, Leopold Bloom is buying some stationery for his platonic but shady correspondence with Martha.
Blazes Boylan, on his way to an assignation with Molly Bloom, enters the bar, and Lenehan calls him "the conquering hero”.
Shorly after comes Bloom, the "unconquered hero" and not wanting to be seen, he strikes a conversation with Goulding to watch Boylan from a distance.
Simon Dedalus turns the piano, and Dollard starts to sing as Boylan takes off for his upcoming meeting with Molly Bloom.
The barmaids then persuade Simon to sing the aria from Martha, a song that describes the cursed love of Lionel for Martha. As Simon sings, Bloom's mind starts wandering again.
When the song finally reaches the zenith, Bloom's mind is consumed with "Siopold" which maybe a combination of Simon, Lionel and Leopold?
It’s funny to observe the slick way Joyce describes Bloom’s thought about Molly’s upcoming infidelity with Boylan: "One rapped on a door, one tapped with a knock," and he continues "proud knocker with a cock."
"Hate. Love. Those are names. Rudy"― Leopold Bloom
Bloom mentions being "the last of my race," mourning the loss of his son Rudy. Bloom then leaves the bar during Lidwell's performance of "The Croppy Boy."
The Croppy boy, is a boy who lost all his brothers and his father at the hands of the English, he also remarks that he is “last of his race” as he confessed to a priest Father Green that he will fight the English without knowing that the priest was in fact an English agent who betrays the Croppy Boy and gets him hanged.
It’s becoming more apparent that the ‘false father’ is a recurrent theme in Ulysses, with Simon Dedalus being the false father of Stephen and Bloom being the true father.
Despite the moving lyrics of the song, Bloom manages to get away and escape the Sirens. When he leaves, he crosses paths again blind tuner and the tap-tap-tapping of his cane.
The chapter closing with Bloom reading the last words of Robert Emmet "When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then let my epitaph be written. I have done.”
This patriotic quote in the book is interspersed with the sound of Bloom farting, turning the quote to absolute ridicule.
The last word: “Done.” As in both the chapter being done, and Bloom remarking to himself that his small gas concerto is done.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Meanwhile, here’s the recording of the latest session of the Steemit Book Club. It’s a good one:
NEXT WEEK’S SBC CALL
Steemit Book Club, Session 12
Book: James Joyce, Ulysses (Preferably Gabler Edition)
Reading Assignment: Chapter Twelve (“Cyclops”)
Date: Monday, December 5th
Time: 6 p.m. PST / 9 p.m. EST / 2 a.m. GMT / 11 a.m. (Tuesday) UTC
Phone: (800) 719-6100 or (218) 339-7800, access code 629-1831#
Web audio link (and location for international call-in
Chat: #steemit-book-club channel on steemit.chat
P.S. Note that the Comments section of this post will also serve as a discussion forum for the current reading.