The Birth of Language: Session 15 of the Steemit Book Club, plus details for session 16
“Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. The English reading public explains the reason why.”
― James Joyce
Happy holidays and New Year from the Steemit Book Club! We are just a few chapters away from moving on to Big Book #2, which is likely Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
We took a short break for the holidays and are now ready to dive back in. In the meantime, Neil wrote a great post on his blog all about how to stick to resolutions, goals, and commitments that you make for yourself. You can read it here: https://www.neilstrauss.com/advice/new-years-2017/
And now on to the…Oxen of the Sun chapter of Ulysses.
While we closed last chapter witnessing the birth of a new Bloom with his regained potency, that was a foreshadowing of things to come as this chapter mainly deals with the theme of birth, using the birth and development of language as a writing style.
The nine language styles in this episode represent the months that a baby spends in the womb, though as we counted them, there seem to be more parodies of and homages to canonical writers going on.
All of this is cleverly tied in an episode where the main protagonist (Bloom) goes to a maternity hospital to visit a woman giving birth, acting on a promise he gave in a previous chapter earlier in the day.
The writing in this chapter alone is unlike anything elsewhere in the book. Add to that the enigmas and puzzles embedded inside and you could study just this chapter for decades.
With further ado, let’s dive into chapter fourteen.
Oxen of the Sun
In Homer’s Odyssey, after Odysseus and his crew escape Scylla and Charybdis, they arrive on an island called Thrinacia, home to Helios the Sun God and his cattle. Circe warns Odysseus and his crew not to touch the cattle, so Odysseus makes them take an oath not to do so.
Soon after reaching the shores, the tension between Odysseus and his men escalates. As Odysseus separates from the group to rest, his men decide to slaughter the cattle and feast on them, thus breaking their oath and unleashing the wrath of the Gods.
Once they get back to their ship, Zeus strikes them with a lightning bolt killing all but Odysseus. He is the only one among them who kept his promise and listened to the warnings of Circe.
Now, let’s explore the parallels and world in early twentieth century Dublin:
Chapter 14 takes place at The National Maternity Hospital where Leopold Bloom arrives to pay a visit to Mina Purefoy, who has been in labor for three entire days. Of course, the hospital in question is located on Holles Street, which is close to the word Helios.
As Bloom enters the hospital, he hears a lot of noise emerging from the waiting room where a group of medical students are drinking and making fun of the process of contraception.
Among the students is Stephen Dedalus and it’s in that moment where we see Stephen and Bloom meet, and finally the father and the son can begin their union.
Bloom joins the group to keep an eye on Stephen in his own way. The group includes many people we’ve seen before: Bannon (who Bloom’s daughter Milly met by the seaside), Lenehan, Lynch, Dixon, Madden, Costello, Crotthers, Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus. They are being loud and blasphemous, and disrespectful of the patients and expectant mothers nearby, and only Leopold Bloom is respectful and trying to urge them to do the same.
The inebriated students start then jumping from one topic to another, from fathers who die before their wives give birth to medical cases in which the doctor must choose between saving the mother or the baby.
This of course triggers memories of losing his son Rudy, and to transfer those feelings of paternal protection to Stephen.
Bloom takes a deep look at the room and realizes that all the people in there are drunk and loud and not the best company to be around. He looks at Stephen and thinks that these men are probably a bad influence on him, and that that he is wasting his time with them.
Bloom keeps thinking about deceased son Rudy, and his fatherly affection for Stephen grows as we start to see some glimpses of that Bloom might take Dedalus under his wing.
As the group decides to leave, a storm began to brew and Stephen Dedalus is the only one who remains in the hospital, mainly because of his fear of thunder whereas the rest of his friends have gone to the bar in the middle of the storm.
The thunder is yet another parallel to the Odyssey, when Zeus sent a lightning bolt to kill all the men except Odysseus.
It is, of course, also the end of the drought.
The Mystery Remains
The rest of the group are now in the bar, and in the background someone is heard gossiping about the man in the Macintosh in the corner, and the mystery continues:
Who is the man in the macintosh?
For more, here’s the recording of the latest session of the Steemit Book Club:
NEXT WEEK’S SBC CALL
Steemit Book Club, Session 16
Book: James Joyce, Ulysses (Preferably Gabler Edition)
Reading Assignment: The entirety of Chapter Fifteen (“Circe”)
Date: Monday, January 9th
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.
P.P.S. Due to popular demand from Book Club members, our weekly meetings took a two week interlude for Christmas and New Years. This also gives us all time to read the long, hallucinatory chapter that is Circe.
Here’s to a great 2017!