Leopold Bloom, a Few Nosebags, a Bit of Seedcake, and a Languid, Floating Flower

Further word vomit regarding the adventures of one Leopold Bloom on June 16, 1904.  It’s pretty nice word vomit, though, as word vomit goes.

I have my first honest-to-God paper for this class due on Tuesday (it’s on Hamlet, not Ulysses) and I am beginning to worry. So far this prof has been eating my response papers up and I’m feeling the pressure to seriously impress him with my first real paper. Yikes! Haven’t even begun to decide what I’m writing it on yet! Ah!

A Couple of Stuck Flies

Bloom’s memories shape his perception of the present: it’s no mistake that in Lestrygonians memories take up much of the narrative, eating away at Bloom, threatening him. However, Bloom does not turn to face these memories ever, instead he tries to avoid them as he usually does unpleasant memories and events. (His inability to go in to look at his father following his suicide (62), his avoidance of Molly’s affair by being out all day, his attempts throughout the day not to think of Blaze Boylan). He is constantly striving to be like the horses which he notes walking down the street in chapter 5, immediately following his repression of the memory of his father’s suicide: “No use thinking of it any more. Nosebag time. … Damn all [the horses] know or care about anything with their long noses stuck in nosebags” (63). Bloom envies the horses their ignorance. They think of nothing but the nosebags in front of them, the simple act of eating. In saying “nosebag time,” Bloom is essentially commanding himself to forget everything but what is right in front of him, what is happening right now. This urge to keep himself in the present is echoed throughout the following chapters, particularly resonantly as he totals up the earnings he should make that week and thinks that he might by Molly a new silk petticoat—which of course leads him to her sex life, her affair, and Boylan. Bloom, though, does not want to think of this: “Today. Today. Not think,” (147) he tells himself, commanding himself to stay in the present, not to think of past (and gone) sexual relations with Molly (for which the petticoat would be a symbol, and also just important), nor the nonexistent future of his relations with Molly, nor the immediate future, which is inexorably working towards bringing Boylan into his house and Molly’s bed. Bloom forces himself to avoid everything and concentrate on his present. This avoidance and escapism are epitomized at the end of the chapter 8 when Bloom sees Blazes Boylan and immediately puts all his thoughts and efforts into avoiding him, which he does successfully. 

Bloom, though, realizes that his attempts to suppress his thoughts of death, his bad memories, are useless: “Going to crop up all day, I foresee. … Turn up like a bad penny” (129) he says of Dignam’s death, though making a statement about all the unpleasant things he’d like to suppress. Despite his efforts to stay in the present, to avoid dark thoughts of death and lost love, thoughts of Rudy, of his father, of Boylan do continue to turn up throughout the chapter (and the novel) like bad pennies: unwanted and unpreventable, as much as Bloom tries to avoid them.

Of the actual memory of Molly at Howth: important, I think, that Bloom’s happy memory of times past with Molly involves her giving him the gift of the seedcake. We know already that gift-giving is extremely important to Bloom and to his relationships with people (see numerous examples with Milly: the tam he gave her, the amberoid necklace which he gave her and she broke, the importance of the letters which they exchange, and the love which they openly and freely give one another, both give themselves to the other freely and this exchange forms the basis for their relationship) and here we see Molly giving Bloom a gift: the masticated seedcake which he accepts “joy: I ate it: joy,” (144). This is the epitome of love for Bloom: freely giving of oneself to another person, here symbolized by the seedcake. He thought, in that moment when he accepted the “mawkish pulp” from her lips that she loved him fully, unrepentantly, forever, and that she was giving herself up to him. Now, looking back on it, the contrast between that moment and his present is stark: “Me. And me now,” (144). The Molly we met in chapter 4 gives nothing of herself to Bloom, even though he continues to give himself to her, as servant and through symbolic gifts of his own: the soap he picks up for her, the lotion he orders for her, the book he promises to get for her. All of these are symbols of his continuing love for her: a love which we (and he) know is completely unrequited. This absence of giving on her part in the present underlines the difference between Bloom then and Bloom now, his situation then and now.

“Stuck on the pane two flies buzzed, stuck. … Stuck, the flies buzzed” (144).

The juxtaposition of the past and present is a constant theme of chapter 8. “I was happier then,” Bloom thinks of his early married life with Molly as he walks through Dublin. “Or was I? Twentyeight I was. She twentythree. When we left Lombard Street something changed. Could never like it again after Rudy. Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand” (137).

The past picnic at Howth also parallels the impending picnic of Milly and her young student at Owel and reinforces the sexual connotation of picnics (Mr. Powers and Mr. Dedalus using the word as a euphemism for sex in chapter 6). Bloom was immensely preoccupied by the idea of this upcoming picnic when Milly mentioned it in her letter and immediately jumped to the conclusion that Milly was fated to lose her virginity to this young student, which before I discussed in terms of Bloom’s defining and projecting Milly’s future by Molly’s past. It’s no wonder that he does so, having such a strong sexual memory of Molly at a picnic. Conflating Molly and Milly as he does already, that these two picnics, past and future, bleed into one another, makes sense. It’s important to note that Bloom’s future (or lack thereof) is just as distressing to him as unpleasant thoughts from the past or happy memories which, contrasted with his present state, become unhappy to dwell on. Bloom, because he lacks a son, lacks one sort of a future. With Rudy died his chances of perpetuating himself in the world (hence his preoccupation with what it would have been like to see himself in Rudy at the beginning of chapter 6). This idea is underlined by repeated allusions to Bloom’s lack of potency: the image at the end of chapter 5 of “his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower,” (71) is especially powerful, because, of course, Bloom isn’t the father of thousands. His penis is limp, useless. He is the father of just one: Milly. The only traces of himself after he is gone will be in Milly (who cannot even preserve his name because she is a girl). And so it is natural that he should be preoccupied with her and her future. This preoccupation, though, is an anxious and unpleasant one as it so mixed up with Molly’s past. Thus, he is threatened from all sides and can only take refuge in the present, burying himself in his metaphorical nosebag.

And a Thoroughly Unrelated Sidestory

So I don’t know if this has ever come up anywhere on here before, but I cox. As in I’m a coxswain. For crew. Yeah, I know right? How’d that happen. Never did I once think that, when I showed up at college, crew would be thing which I’d get embroiled it. The Advocate? Yeah, maybe. The Crimson? It’s possible. The fencing team? Probably. But crew? I’d never even really seen a proper boat before I got here.

But one of my suite mates dragged me along to the info session and one thing led to another and now here I am going to 15+ hours of crew a week (and loving it).

But the story is this: this morning, it was a lovely, sleety 47 degrees out which would make any practice super fun, but today was the least of our problems. There was a race (albeit a small one) going on and for some reason, our coach had us go out anyway (despite the fact that I am a novice cox!). Long story short, we avoided more collisions than I can count, spent all of practice just trying to stay out of the way, and succeeded in stressing and tiring me out so well that I simply collapsed back into bed after practice and didn’t get up again until well past lunch.

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