Thursday, 28 July 2011

Ulysses Support Group: Cyclops

So, the unease of Bloom as an outsider in Dublin is suddenly unleashed as he confronts the bigotry (one eyed-ness) of the patrons of Barney Kiernan's bar. Anti-semitism is overtly articulated. Bloom finds himself no longer amongst intellectual 'betters' or his own peers. Now, he appears the most informed man in the room - which has it's advantages, since he can answer back and hold his own. Ultimately though, in the form of a malevolent dog, Bloom isn't equipped to deal with the threat of violence and ends up fleeing.

Joyce's Cyclops is a no-man (or perhaps an every man) - the 'citizen' in the bar (the drunk in the corner) remains unnamed. The narrator for this passage is only ever 'I' - and there are lots of plays on the word 'eye' or the act of seeing. Most of the group found the change in tone quite chilling. There was some sympathy for Bloom, who is asked outright 'what is your nation?' - and his reply of 'Ireland' is met with disdain. The bigotry espoused, however, isn't restricted to Jews. All 'foreigners' fall short of Ireland's standards. The French, English and Canadians are all quickly dismissed.

Our discussions centred around how Joyce manages to undermine the arguments of the bigots through their inept language and their easy recourse to stereotype. Uneasily, we (alongside Bloom) can feel superior to these men. In amongst the simmering hatred, howerver, there is plenty of opportunity for comedy and wordplay. The narrator tells how on the way to the bar, his eye is nearly poked out by the brush handle of a chimney sweep. Again, the very direct links that this passage evokes with the 'Cyclops' section of the Odyssey is blatant and as a result, we all felt huge satisfaction at making the associations.

All in all a tricky and unsettling passage - but again, the familiarity of setting and realism of the dialogue meant that it was not difficult to read. The dramatic ending (in a book which thus far has been devoid of action) has spurred us on to read the next section by Tuesday 2nd August from 6:45 at The Salamander. I think we're in for another epic change of tone: 'Nausicaa', according to Joyce, is written in a 'namby-pamby jammy marmaladey, drawersy style' (!)


Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Was a bit lost. Then found myself. Your reading group is reading Ulysses, right?

Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights said...

Yes - and we're hoping to have completed the whole book by Christmas! This is a spin-off group that is running in addition to our usual two book shop based book groups. I'm trying to blog after we've completed each section. (Lucinda)