After all that, and the movie Argo, I settled down last night for 20 minutes of reading Ulysses again, determined to get through this book if it kills me, and ended up reading for more than 20 minutes, after all, as I got on kind of a role and actually enjoyed this latest part even though as usual nothing at all happens period, other than Bloom continues to meander around Dublin or wherever this is -- I'm pretty sure it's Dublin but I've completely forgotten the setting of the book -- and think about stuff.
What Bloom thought about mostly in this installment was food; after getting through with the meeting with the woman who had a crazy husband, Bloom walks on and thinks about stuff and eventually starts thinking about food but not before coming across some guy walking along with a woman; the guy is lecturing the woman and Bloom starts thinking about food and lectures, pondering how what one eats is related to how one thinks, but before I get to that, I noticed something clever and something sad in this installment.
First, the sad: Almost every train of thought Bloom has leads to death and gloom and rot. Periodically Bloom will begin to think about something and it almost always goes (I'm making this up but it's indicative of how these go): Church. Priest, collar, choking, hanging, corpse cut down, bones rotting in the ground. All pathways in Bloom's mind lead to some sort of gruesome end. Here is an exact quote that I'm not making up to demonstrate:
Trams passed one another, ingoing, outgoing, clanging. Useless words. Things go on same, day after day: squads of police marching out, back: trams in, out. Those two loonies marching about. Dignam carted off...
... that is a reference to the funeral he went to earlier in the day and you can see what I mean, but it gets worse
... Dignam carted off. Mina Purefoy swollen belly on a bed groaning to have a child tugged out of her. One born every second somewhere. Other dying every second. Since I fed the birds five minutes. Three hundred kicked the bucket. Other three hundred born, washing the blood off, all are washed in the blood of the lamb bawling maaaaaaa.
See what I mean?
Realizing that was a revelation for me, though, much like when my English teacher back in 12th grade pointed out that Vonnegut used "So it goes" everytime something died in the book Slaughterhouse Five, even the champagne.
That's probably why Ulysses is so unrelentingly hard to read: A simple thought like "Hey there's a tram" ends with 300 dead babies.
That's the clever part, too: Joyce doesn't actually come out often and say "People are dying like rats in a sewer here" and that they're desperately poor, and everyone seems fairly upbeat, but death is always lurking just around the corner. A while back in the book I noted a line:
What's cheese? Corpse of milk.
That kind of thing creates an atmosphere, and in the latest installment what had been subtle became obvious when Bloom, on the prowl for some lunch, begins to mull over how people eat and what it does for them. He overhears the aformentioned guy lecturing the woman (who Bloom dislikes because her stockings are loose) about a "twoheaded octopus," a reference I didn't get and can't find an explanation for, and Bloom imagines that the man is a "nutarian" or "fruitarian," because his ideas are so stupid. He goes on to question whether
the kind of food you see produces the like waves of the brain, the poetical. For example one of those policement sweating Irish stew into their shirts you couldn't squeeze a line of poetry out of him.
Bloom's linking of the physical state of food to the mental state of the mind takes a gruesome turn when he gets to the restaurant where he was going to eat and witnesses what appears to be a madhouse, causing Bloom to get sick:
Smells of men. His gorge rose. Spaton sawdut, sweetish warmish cigarette smoke, reek of plug, spilt beer, men's beery piss, the stale of ferment
and he stands in the doorway, watching men talk with their mouth full and wipe their knives on napkins and otherwise be gross, and he leaves, heading to a quieter pub where he orders a glass of wine and a cheese sandwich. Bloom almost fastidiously eats the sandwish, cutting it into strips and carefully putting the mustard on each strip, but can't shake the images of the people he's seen in the pub he left, and as he eats he imagines a flea on a man in the pub and tries to remember a dirty limerick he heard of once.
The entire scene is actually enthralling -- this has been my favorite part of the book so far, because I actually got it: Bloom has thought of the way food brings men down and the way men rot out and the way food makes us all up:
Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants musterred and bred there. Potted meats. What is home without Plumtree's potted meat? Incomplete. What a stupid ad! Under the obituary notices they stuck it. All up a plumtree. Dignam's potted meat. Cannibals would with lemon and rice. White missionary too salty. Like pickled pork.
That's a passage that Bloom thinks as he decides, in the "moral pub" he's gone into, what to order, and again: look how quickly he went from good to bad, from sardines to cannibalism and his dead friend being himself potted meat, which is advertised under the obituaries.
(Also: I liked the play on words. Ham isn't just a lunchmeat. It's also Noah's cursed son, who saw Noah naked and drunk and was cursed to be servants of his brothers, he and his descendants, and the sight of lunch meant makes Bloom think of the curse of Ham, musterred and bred there. Food is a curse, in some cases.)
This, by the way, is potted meat:
The word galoptious, meanwhile, comes from a slightly earlier passage. Having left the gross restaurant, Bloom is wondering if he himself looks as horrifying as those men did:
Am I like that? See ourselves as others see us. Hungry man is an angry man. Working tooth and jaw. Don't! O! A bone! That last pagan king of Irelance Cormac in the schoolpoem choked himself at Sletty southward of the Boyne. Wonder what he was eating. Something galoptious.
I tried to look up galoptious, but it's not in the Kindle dictionary. But online dictionaries say it's a variant of galluptious, meaning wonderful.
Cormac, meanwhile, having looked it up, is a legendary king of Ireland who choked on a salmon bone, some say as a curse for converting to Christianity.
So everything is death and gloom and destruction, of a biblical nature and massive proportions. I'm starting to rethink how much I loved this portion. But it was very good.