“He turned from the tray, lifted the kettle off the hob and set it sideways on the fire. It sat there, dull and squat, its spout stuck out.”
– Ulysses, James Joyce
Bloom is our kettle.
Black-clad and dressed for death, yet within his cast-iron skin, he remains, in the immortal words of Bruce Lee, “like water.”
I have the musicality of a mudpuppy, but Joyce’s second sentence looks like something-pentameter to me. Is there a more simple, straightforward line in the Ulysses? But still sentences run deep. Joyce swells phrases and single words with crosscurrents.
The forward adjective is a Modernist matchup of opposites: exterior versus interior. While Mr. Leopold Bloom may appear “dull,” in public, once his private thoughts splash onto the shores of the page his dullness dies.
The aft adjective, “squat,” pits two other opposites: subjective versus objective. This bout takes place within the meaning of the word. American Heritage Dictionary’s clever editors wink their definition, “Short and thick; low and broad,” in single-syllable solidarity. At 11 stone and 4 pounds, (158 1bs in Yankee lingo) Paunchy Poldy is thicker than many of his thin fellow Dubliners. Professor Kenner reports that Leo’s 5 feet 9 ½ inches met the height prerequisite to be a policeman, who “looked like ‘giants’ to the general public.” This doesn’t stop the Dublin dingbats from belittling Bloom’s stature at every turn. Thick and broad? Yes. Short and low? Nope.
Now, the Plumetree’s Potted Meat of the subject. “Spout stuck out” completes the ten monosyllables leaving a small wake of rhyme behind its alliterative whitecap.
Bloom’s boom juts out through the long June day, deep into Nighttown, and beyond. He is at full mast when first setting sail from home in the eight o’clock hour of the Calypso episode. He eyes the nextdoor girl’s “vigorous hips” and telepathically hurries Dlugacz the butcher to “Hurry up, damn it,” so he can continue to ogle her “moving hams” outside. Later, he silently curses the annoying M’Coy for blocking his view of a “silk flash of rich stockings white.” He stoops to checking museum statues from the rear for anatomical accuracy. After sinking his eight ball playing pocket pool to girly Gerty MacDowell’s seaside peep show, he still remains unsated. He canoodles his way through Bella Cohen’s brothel while his fantasies comingle with reality in the wet nightmare that is the Circe episode. His last act before slumber is smooching the “plump mellow yellow smellow melons” of Molly’s rump.
The boy can’t help it. Say what you will about old Bloom, he needs no performance enhancing little blue pill. Kettle-like, he's reliable, functional, durable, hard.
Every morning, in the Calypso section of my Romansdays, I lift my electric kettle off the stand and set it sideways on the charger. It sits there, cracked and wrecked, its wire worn out.
Not sure what that says about me.
Updated: Apr 29
Lust may be found in every love letter I write on the wall of this online shithouse. “Nabokov on Nausicaa” has been voted most likely to get your ass banned from a James Joyce Facebook Group.
The Deadly Sin of Ginger spilled its milk all over my dissertation on Naughty Nabokov’s lecture notes. For the record, I penned it during a lonely, unbearably cold winter in Southern California. I almost had to wear long sleeves!
Ulysses’ illegal Nausicaa episode stars femme fatale, dirty little Gerty MacDowell with her “Greekly perfect rosebud mouth,” “lustrous lashes,” “silkily seductive brows.” “Why have women such eyes of witchery?” She hikes up her “navy threequarter skirt…showing off her slim graceful figure to perfection,” revealing her “blue for luck…undies,” knowing damn-well that her audience, Leopold Bloom, is playing a rough game of public pocket pool.
The “hot little devil’s” seaside peepshow resulted in Bloom’s soiled skivvies, Joyce’s New York publishers’ incarceration (the heroic Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap), and my banishment from a Facebook Group. “O Lord, that little limping devil.”
But that’s only the half of it. This tortured contrition is about the Lust that Dare Not Speak its Name. In a major Freudian slippage, I admitted that the only romance novel I’ve ever read is Fight Club. A Deuteronomy double-whammy of damnation.
More forced confessions coming.
Same titillating time, same tingling channel.
Updated: Apr 17
Rumors of my excommunication are NOT exaggerated.
Instead of reciting your nightly prayers, you tune into your favorite James Joyce Zuckerbook Group, and lo and behold, your access has been denied.
That’s right, you’ve been blocked, barred, bogarted. From a James Joyce Club? Is there even an analogy for this? Being censored by so-called Joyceans is the apex of irony. But that’s a whole other podcast.
To add Kafkaesque insult to Orwellian injury, no explanation was provided, no warning, not a pip, not a squeak, just existential, echoing, silence. The Bloom-like masochist in me craves a bit of censuring with my censoring. And I itch for my day in a kangaroo court. It’s been a minute.
Years ago, my jalopy was mysteriously towed from the block on which I lived. (Newsflash: leaving a motor vehicle unattended longer than 72 hours in LA is a crime.) My inner J.J. O'Molloy awoke. I repeated that Angel City “stole” my car so many times the traffic court judge pleaded with me to stop saying that word. I can’t figure out how I lost that kangaroo case.
Though I walk in the valley of shadowy suppression, I will fear no Circe-esque Court. Recovering barrister and political operative, Doctor Reality, is on the case! He’s already masterminding a masterstroke Hail Mary defense against any Philip Beaufoy-like charges of being a “low cad,” “not fit to be mentioned in mixed society,” “archconspirator of the age.” Again, like Bloom, “I love the danger.”
On a truly, deeply spiritual note, my spotted soul wonders which Deadly Sin caused me to be cast out from this Joycean Eden: The Skipper, The Millionaire, His Wife, The Movie Star, The Professor, Mary Ann, Gilligan?
Stay tuned. Forced confession pending.
Same banned time, same banished channel.