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Happy Bloomsday, 16 June 2017. If you’ve ever tried to read James Joyce’s Ulysses, but had trouble getting through it, you may find this series of Limericks helpful, even illuminating. Or if you read it all the way through, and even enjoyed it, you might actually find this series entertaining.

 

“Ulysses”
There once was an artist called Stephen
With Homer he tried to get even
So Bloom and he walk
Around Dublin and talk
And reflect upon what they believe in

 

Telemachus (episode 1)
It starts with a portion of prose
From “Portrait” our character rose
A maker of mazes
His thoughts take us places
Like the Liffey his monologue flows

 

Nestor (episode 2)
At school young Stephen is teaching
And into the past he is reaching
By his’try they’re bound
To a king and his crown
And a Pope who’s incessantly preaching

 

Proteus (episode 3)
Introducing the Protean mind
Streaming with thoughts of all kind
The king can change shapes
As our hero escapes
On a quest for a woman who’s kind

 

Calypso (episode 4)
Calypso is leading a life of seduction
As Leopold seldom attempts reproduction
Their home goes to Blazes
While Bloom simply gazes
At maidens who gaily portend his destruction

 

Lotus Eaters (episode 5)
Naughty Miss Martha she beckoned
For Henry was lonely she reckoned
But when she comes calling
He can’t help from falling
Some thirty-two Bloom feet per second

 

Hades (episode 6)
In Hades his thoughts grow nightmarish
On the losses of loved ones we cherish
Of Rudy’s young face
And father’s disgrace
Each day umpteen thousand more perish

 

Aeolus (episode 7)
There’s a paper where men shoot the breeze
Blowing steam over Mad Cow’s Disease
Home Rule is one topic
On which they’re myopic
For our heroes have both lost their keys

 

Lestrygonians (episode 8)
There was an old Hebrew in search of a bite
In the lunchroom he witnessed a sickening sight
With the animals feeding
He felt like excreting
But a sandwich he managed to eat with delight

 

Scylla & Charybdis (episode 9)
Now Stephen’s reasons seem so circumstantial
Prince Hamlet distracts him from problems financial
In a sharp dialectic
And a voice apoplectic
He maintains that the actors are all consubstantial

 

Wandering Rocks (episode 10)
Inverts and adverts and throwaway sheets
The minions meander through mazes and streets
A priest on parade
A state cavalcade
The double-edged spoon from which Ireland eats

 

Sirens (episode 11)
A hero hears voices out over the oceans
While sirens fill glasses with succulent potions
His eardrum it pounds
With sonorous sounds
And somewhere a street girl seductively motions

 

Cyclops (episode 12)
I once knew a man who was prone to eruption
Lashing about at the eye of destruction
Exalting his land
Libation in hand
Then blinded by no man with no introduction

 

Nausicaa (episode 13)
O’er the sea sinks the sun with contrition
To be watching alone is the human condition
Like a rock on the sand
Honeymoon in the hand
Sowing seeds with no chance of fruition

 

Oxen of the Sun (episode 14)
There was a commotion in yon House of Horne
By three days of labor a mother was torn
While gentlemen waiting
Delivered words so degrading
The god-possibled soul of a new boy was born

 

Circe #1 (episode 15)
A vision at midnight by magic affected
But Bloom’s black potato is bound to correct it
Like a morsel of moly
To reverse the unholy
The remedy found where you least would expect it

 

Circe #2
Our pig-headed heroes wind up at Miss Bello’s
One of the district’s most fetching bordellos
Where spirits might render
Delusions of splendor
Finally conjoining these two wayward fellows

 

Circe #3
Stubbornly Stephen’s extending his nerve
“Non Serviam” he will duly observe
While Bloom takes a bow
Like a suckling sow
The artist announces that he will not serve

 

Eumaeus (episode 16)
In the wee early hours their congress occurs
Perfectly sober Bloom sorely infers
That Stephen’s been euchered
Forsaken and suckered
And therefore he (Bloom) at this treason demurs

 

Ithaca (episode 17)
How shall this hero extinguish his passion?
With questions all posed in fastidious fashion
Then where does he head?
But straight for the bed
Right back to the womb and the voice of compassion

 

Penelope (episode 18)
They’re fleshing things out at their Eccles address
Erupting with feelings she needs to express
She wonders half sleeping
Is Poldy worth keeping?
And answers in estrous emphatically Yes

 

Re(ad)Joyce
Poetry students are said to be sissies
They wander through life like a string of ellipses
Other vocations
Achieve higher stations
But all of it’s useless unless it’s Ulysses

 

 

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James Joyce’s most celebrated novel, Ulysses, has been described—by Joyce himself, or perhaps it was Robert Anton Wilson—as either a religion disguised as a joke or a joke disguised as a religion. In either case, the author’s efforts to probe the depths for secret subtle wisdom were profound indeed, but equally important, his revelations were consistently made with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. From Moses to Shakespeare to Aquinas, none was immune to the sarcastic lampooning of Joyce’s rapier wit.

A useful religion, like a good joke, requires a great deal of cognitive blending, examining words, concepts and narratives from a number of simultaneous perspectives. Fairy tales, holy scripture and great novels all employ the language of myth, which is the dialect of metaphor. Potent language brims with signs and symbols, draws us in with a simple enough story, then engages clever devices to direct our imaginations upwards, to higher levels of meaning. A good joke sets up certain expectations, then swings the helm and points us in a different, unexpected direction with joyful results. Either way, when we surrender ourselves to the charms of a good narrator, we also appoint him to the role of navigator, allowing our imaginations and our unconscious to be guided far afield into uncharted waters.

Rarely if ever has anyone grasped the full power of language and known how to harness it the way Joyce did. Each word is selected with the utmost care, and pregnant with meaning and potential. Every sentence is constructed with as much deliberation and precision as a seven layer wedding cake being delivered to the surface of Mars. It may not make for light reading, but it can provide a lifetime’s worth of study for the assiduous reader.

Like Biblical scripture, his books can be read time and time again, with additional layers of meaning gleaned from each and every subsequent reading, while accumulating a greater and greater general knowledge as necessary to draw increasingly meaningful interpretations. Ulysses, in fact, is the kind of book that one could study with the same sort of devotion and exclusivity that fundamentalists apply to the Bible or the Koran. Once you have thoroughly understood this masterpiece, then you will have grasped a complete understanding of human history and the world. Like holding William Blake’s infinity in the palm of your hand, Joyce’s microcosm of Dublin contains—however obliquely disguised or ironically revealed—an all inclusive metaphysical system and a comprehensive roadmap of the human soul.

Committing oneself to the literary output of James Joyce may confer great intellectual and spiritual benefits, but the material disadvantages are hard to overlook. I’m reminded of Lynch’s words to Stephen in the aesthetic theory section of A Portrait of the Artist. “Damn you and damn everything. I want a job at five hundred a year. You can’t get me one.”

No, the remunerative opportunities for the full-time Joyce enthusiast are limited indeed. For the aficionado of fine literature, this may come as a somewhat disheartening realization, for what it says about our society and what is valued and what is not. But I as gave this fact a more thought, I came to see that Joyce is not the profitless diversion, but it’s money that is the vulgar distraction. True enough, we live in a society where money is the measure of all things and what cannot be monetized is discarded and disdained.

Joyce, however, was a staunch advocate of art for art’s sake. By virtue of the the fact that these profound works remain untarnished by greed, profiteering or other commercial influence, they retain a special place in our society, or more accurately, outside of our society. Somehow this joke disguised as a religion, untainted by man’s foulest devices, is elevated to an even higher, sacred plane. Its study is relegated to the mystical and esoteric circles, where the ideas and intentions remain most pure, detached from earthly pursuits. Go forth then into that otherworldly realm of wisdom and mystery, and rejoice, for the remedy you seek cannot be bought or sold.

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 Joyce and Mann

A Comparative Exposition of Ulysses and The Magic Mountain 

Wading through the tempestuous waters of modern European literature, one may struggle to escape the rushing current of James Joyce or the tidal pull of Thomas Mann, like a veritable Scylla and Charybdis on the high seas of 20th century writing. But when navigated with due deference and gentle acquiescence, each of these authors’ masterworks, Ulysses and The Magic Mountain, will lead the patient initiate on a unique course over waves of heroism toward islands of mythic adventure and maelstroms of deep psychology. In the wake of Sir James Frazer’s “Golden Bough” (1890), Albert Einstein’s Relativity (1905) and Sigmund Freud’s pioneering work in psychoanalysis, Joyce and Mann seized upon a rich groundswell of scholarship to devise their own myths as suited to modern mankind. Drawing from the same deep well of world religions and archetypal heroes, each poet, with his own unmistakable set of literary devices, completes the titanic task of creating a modern mythology that incorporates the vital elements of human suffering, curiosity and discovery, ultimately uncovering the universal life-affirming elixir.

The Modern Novel

While they differ widely in style, it is impossible to overlook the thematic consistency between Joyce’s Ulysses and Mann’s Magic Mountain. Both works exemplify the very definition of the modern novel, written by national exiles hungry to explore man’s alienation while focusing on the psychological development of their otherwise very ordinary and unheroic characters. A product of its time, the modernist movement in the arts reflected a growing estrangement that resulted from (among other things) the cold steel of industrialization and the methodical advancements in warfare, both of which were being fully exploited in the first two decades of the 20th century. Meanwhile, new developments in physics and archaeology were systematically debunking major systems of belief regarding the origins of humanity and the universe itself. With these unprecedented challenges for civilization, coupled with a crisis of faith, the need to find a sense of purpose and meaning to life penetrated every segment of society and permeates every page of these two novels.

Also at this time, huge breakthroughs were being made in the relatively young field of psychology. Sigmund Freud had just begun laying the groundwork for psychoanalysis, and science was using new methods to examine how the human mind operates, how it yearns for meaning, and how it processes the stress and trauma of daily life. Gustav Flaubert and a few other authors dabbled in this area at least a half a century earlier, in novels like Madame Bovary, but Mann and especially Joyce elevated the interior monologue to new heights.

This psychological approach, more than anything else, distinguishes the modern novelists from their superficial predecessors. Rather than simply describing the events as they happen, Joyce relates each event indirectly, as it is perceived by the characters in his novel, so that nothing beyond the horizon of perception is seen with any certainty. Instead, the reader swims through the thoughts of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, taking in the novel’s events as the phenomenological experience of its lead actors. The slightest thing – the scent of a flower, a familiar voice, a passing bicycle – any are enough to launch Bloom’s imagination into a flurry of activity; and it’s these thoughts and ideas, not the flower, the voice, or the bicycle, that define the experience. In a lengthy stream of thought on Gerty MacDowell, Bloom recalls, “Her every effort would be to share his thoughts.” (p.358) There, in the folds of his grey matter, lies the treasure that no locksmith can reveal, that every hero recovers when his princess is rescued.

While this introspective method of storytelling can make the narrative challenging and at times downright unbearable, it does produce a far richer and more psychologically authentic experience. For the events that happen around an individual take on a secondary significance to how the individual sees and processes those events within the framework of his own consciousness.

We see the paramount importance of psychological reality trumping physical reality in The Magic Mountain as well. Although Mann refrains from using the pure stream of consciousness narration, Hans Castorp clearly spends a great deal of time lost in his own thoughts. And the thoughts themselves are what validate his outward observations. “For behind that brow were thoughts – or half-thoughts – which imparted to the visions their perilous sweetness.” (p.206)

The Mything Link

Despite their antithetical settings – Stephen Dedalus in the urban streets of pre-sovereign Dublin and Hans Castorp at the remote Swiss alpine retreat of Berghof – the paths of these heroes run a very similar course. Each follows the tale of a lonely neophyte, curious and eager to attain the meaning of life and humanity, which is ultimately an untenable mystery. Stephen wanders in constant search of his spiritual father, while Hans struggles to reconcile the disparity between Settembrini’s humanism and Naphta’s volatility, to resolve the Manichaean dialectic between body and spirit.

The parallels magnify as one delves deeper into the content of these epic novels, tracing the monumental journey of a young initiate in search of life’s answers. Stephen and Hans each typify the mythological tale of the hero’s quest, and both authors are profoundly aware of the fertile field of myth from which they draw. Joyce goes so far as to model the title and structure of his masterpiece after Homer’s “Odyssey”, and Mann continually evokes notions of Greek, Sumerian and Biblical mythology. Joyce’s heroic youth even bears the name of the Classical world’s greatest inventor, designer of the legendary labyrinth that housed the dreadful Minotaur. And Mann’s Hans Castorp recalls the Greek Castor, twin brother of Pollux, but tragically lacking that brother’s important quality of immortality.

Steeped with references to Moses, the great Magi, and the archetypal hero, Ulysses and The Magic Mountain both employ a peculiarly modern hero, in search of meaning in an increasingly anomic world, on the lookout for the San Grail amidst quotidian life’s most mundane obstacles. Joyce takes the notion of “daily” life to the literal extreme, tackling the events of a lifetime within the time span of a single day. Hans Castorp, meanwhile, battles the demons of ennui and meaninglessness over the course of seven years. For both heroes, the struggle is a lonely and intensely personal one. Advice is offered from numerous acquaintances, but one never knows whom to believe, and of course, the truest answers always lie within.

Early on in Ulysses, Stephen observes, “Where there is a reconciliation… there must first be a sundering.” (p.191) And again on the following page, he repeats for emphasis, “There can be no reconciliation if there has not been a sundering.” (p.192) In other words, there can be no redemption without transgression; or in Christianity, man must sin in order to be saved; or with Jung, one must follow the shadow to discover the light. And this lies at the very crux of the hero’s journey, the Hanged Man of the Tarot, who turns the world on its head and clears the way for rebirth. Joyce takes the reader to a funeral early in the novel, and returns to the maternity ward to witness a birth very near the end. Every page drips with metaphor, each more paradoxical than the last. Hans evokes the same inverted image on his journey to the mountain top.

At the sanitarium he discovers that true health can be achieved only after enduring a chapter of illness. Dr. Behrens lures the youth in and makes the diagnosis, whether genuine or imaged remains irrelevant, for this is the dream world of myth where every vessel holds a varied bouquet of meanings, each as real as every other. “What [Hans] comes to understand,” in Mann’s own words, “is that one must go through the deep experience of sickness and death to arrive at a higher sanity and health.” (Epilogue, pp.724-5)

As he wanders the streets of Dublin, Bloom also observes this paradox inherent in the quest for salvation. “Poisons the only cures. Remedy where you least expect it. Clever of nature.” (p.83) He later notes the same ironic solution with regard to a rotten black potato that dwells in the recesses of his trouser pocket.

A Hero and his Devices

Through their heavy reliance on the vast body of ancient mythology, Joyce and Mann succeed not only in evoking a wide pantheon of imagery, but even in establishing mythologies of their own. From the orphaned child in search of his roots, to the litany of Herculean ordeals, to the blinding moment of atonement, each recipe is complete. But the two creators go beyond the use of those standard ingredients to include a host of flavor enhancing spices and devices that effectively raise the reader to a state of catharsis.

Joyce’s prose acts as something of a hallucinogen all by itself, and like other psychoactive compounds, it can serve as both a poison and a cure, transporting the reader to a distant realm, far from his circle of comfort. Mann draws his followers into the dreamworld by more subtle means, most notably his manipulation of time. After taking almost 100 pages to cover Hans’s first three weeks in the high alpine resort, time begins racing along. Throughout the novel, the pace never quite settles, neither in the minds of the characters nor those of the readers. As narrator, Mann returns to this element of uncertainty again and again, so that the tediously repetitious life at Berghof always retains this mystical, dreamlike quality, a marriage of the sacred and the mundane.

The element of timelessness is crucial to both novels, but the two authors go about creating their “worlds outside of time” with nearly opposite techniques. While Mann strives to establish a sense of nunc sans, or an eternal now, over the course of several years, Joyce’s narrative emphasizes an endless pattern of repetition, which can be established in the hours of a single day. Mann interrupts the story on numerous occasions to point out the difficulty of describing the passage of time.

“Can one tell – that is to say, narrate – time, time itself, as such, for its own sake? That would surely be an absurd undertaking.” (p.541) He suggests that Hans Castorp’s adventure cannot be couched in the standard framework of time, that it eludes time and is universal.

Mann repeatedly points out how indistinguishable the seasons appear in the high mountain world of Berghof. Snow may fall in August, the sun beats down in February, there’s no telling what time of year it is by observing the weather. Each supper looks like every other supper, so that the days run together, and just like the alpine seasons are impossible to distinguish from one another.

Ulysses illustrates the same phenomenon with the converse approach. Instead of running through day after identical day, Joyce restricts his novel to a single day in June 1904, which he implicitly presents as the archetype of every other day since the dawn of time. (This theme is hammered home even harder in Joyce’s later novel, Finnegans Wake.) Just as the hero represents the struggle of any and every man, Joyce takes the metaphor a step further, so the ordinary day of June 16th embodies the ups and downs of all possible days.

On these mind altering journeys, Joyce and Mann, like any responsible shaman, offer their initiate readers an eclectic array of talismans – a Maria Mancini cigar, a black potato, a bar of lemon soap – to keep them rooted on the proper path. Joyce’s leitmotifs operate like holy charms in the cryptic myth of Stephen and Bloom, offering dependable access to the ways of the divine whenever the soul should stray too far, as it all too often does in the maze of Ulysses. Bloom’s recurring thoughts of gravity and bodies falling “thirty-two feet per second, per second” echo like a Gregorian chant, and their meaning seems equally elusive at first. But his obsession with the fall can be interpreted in a number of ways, including a recapitulation of Stephen’s conjecture that there can be no salvation without transgression, or a reference to the simple act of falling in love, or more likely both.

Stephen’s stream of consciousness brings him time and time again back to the complex notion of consubstantiality, as described in Catholic dogma, as illustrated by Hamlet’s ghost, and as ultimately seen between himself and Bloom. Accepting the idea that man and god can be made of the same substance leads to the conclusion that all men must be made of the same substance, that we are all divine and interconnected, a tenet that rests at the core of Blavatsky’s theosophy, which appears more than once, though very casually, amid the pages of Ulysses.

Not so far removed from Stephen’s pursuit of consubstantiality is Bloom’s inability to shake the term “metempsychosis” from his mind. His obsession mirrors Joyce’s own fascination with the concept of rebirth, or the transmigration of souls, which reappears in various costumes throughout the work. While waiting for lunch, Bloom wanders off in thought about the universal act of consumption, and stumbles into a kind of existential guilt. “One born every second somewhere. Other dying every second. Since I fed the birds five minutes. Three hundred kicked the bucket.” (p.162)

Later in the same episode, Bloom considers the philosophy of vegetarianism as a means of escaping the cycle of life and death. But there is no escape, and accepting the concomitant roles of consumer and victim in the great scheme of existence is crucial to every spiritual awakening. Every conscious being must come to terms with the fact that living and killing walk hand in hand. He must then transcend that guilt, or wind up in a self-destructive neurosis.

Elixirs of Life

From the development of their modern, lonely heroes in their timeless, murky waters, Mann and Joyce cover much the same territory. But the proof of any great quest resides in the treasure of the hero’s boon. How the Holy Grail is recovered and just what gold it contains provide the climax and reward of every mythic quest.

For Stephen and Bloom, the epiphany comes in a series of thunderbolts that punctuate the episode of Miss Bello’s brothel. Entirely out of their masculine, scholarly element, surrounded by women of easy virtue with the clock sounding midnight, Joyce’s duo undergo a magical transformation. While Bloom, under the spell of Homer’s Circe, experiences a literal awakening of is inner female anima, Stephen receives a visit from his mother’s ghost. Unlike the oft-invoked Hamlet, who cowers in response to the demands and accusations of his parental specter, Stephen takes a stand against his “beastly dead” mother to deliver his familiar mantra: non serviam, I will not serve. Just as Leopold Bloom seems to achieve a state of unity with his Self, in a bold step toward Jungian individuation, his young counterpart accomplishes the critical stage of separation.

Stumbling back to the Bloom house and climbing through the window (while conventional paths and means of entry no longer suffice), the two men gradually come to terms with one another, slowly beginning to see themselves in the other’s reflection. Stephen’s question of consubstantiality and Bloom’s mystery of metempsychosis are resolved at long last. Stephen, Bloom and possibly even God are all of the same substance, and will forever return as the simple cogs in the grandiose wheel of time, repeating with the hypnotic pace of a funeral march. After touching on nearly every flavor of world religion, this soulful conclusion bears a striking resemblance to the principles of Theosophy. “That Blavatsky woman started it,” J.J. O’Molloy reminds us. (p.139)

On the subject of this substance that he and Bloom share, i.e., the soul, Stephen says, “They tell me on the best authority it is a simple substance and therefore incorruptible.”  Bloom accepts this proposition – even as the sugar dissolves into their coffee – but questions Stephen’s use of the word “simple” and further asserts, “It’s a horse of quite another colour to say that you believe in the existence of a supernatural God.” (p.618) Bloom shares some of Naphta’s skepticism (from The Magic Mountain) and has little faith in what can’t be seen, even through telescopes or Röntgen rays, although he earlier admits, “I believe in that [soul] myself because it has been explained by competent men as the convolutions of grey matter.” (p.617)

Many of these same mythic, transformative elements also come to play with Hans Castorp as he wanders up the Schatzalp (“treasure mountain”) and loses himself in a sunset snow storm. Defying Berghof’s authority, Hans straps on his cross country skis and makes his way up the hill – the separation – on a journey within a journey: from his stay in the high sanatorium to a clandestine, twilight mission into the snow shrouded forest. (Another opportunity for intrepid scholarship arises here, to compare Hans’s “journey within a journey” to the odyssey within an odyssey conducted by a bar of soap  through the varied landscapes of Leopold Blooms’ numerous pockets.) Confronted by sheets of snow, Hans describes his vision of “nothingness, white, whirling nothingness” (p.483) The blinding moment of truth recalls the Buddhist state of emptiness that preludes Satori. Where Hans feels most disoriented, the breakthrough is made.

Exemplifying the need to go through sickness to arrive at health, Hans set himself down in the snow and accepts the inevitability of death. At this point, he launches into a most soulful dream, and awakens – literally and figuratively – with newfound reverence. “I will let death have no mercy over my thoughts. For therein lies goodness and love of mankind, and in nothing else.” (p.496) At last Hans returns to the sub-alpine “flatland,” and the promise of hope runs deep for “life’s delicate child,” even in the face of almost certain demise in the wretched trenches of World War I.

In Ulysses, Joyce assigns the voice of ultimate confirmation to Bloom’s wife Molly, the archetypal mother goddess, whose thoughts meander all over creation, finally arriving at the novel’s famous closing line. After the most cryptic and convoluted of all narratives, questioning all the world’s challenges, casting doubt on every form of faith or hope, Joyce concludes with the simplest affirmation of life: “yes I said yes I will yes.” (p.768)

Conclusion

The archetypal hero’s journey offers but one paradigm through which to read these novels, and this method of deciphering the texts is by no means complete, but a satisfactory reading could certainly not be achieved without a solid familiarity with the language of myth. The theme of Eternal Spring blossoms repeatedly through the timeless frame of both narratives. By the name of nunc sans, the eternal now, or the abiding now, the concept transcends language, and yet Mann and Joyce both tackle it with nimble precision. And the Eternal Return – perhaps the most pervasive theme in the voluminous annals of mythology – recurs through Ulysses and The Magic Mountain with all the resilience and tenacity of a fallen Christ figure, a disembodied hero on the Nile, or a harvested shaft of wheat.

Ultimately, both novels follow the course of myth to its source, to the same conclusion reached by Nietzsche, Freud and Jung, portraying religion as an internal phenomenon rather than the revelation of an external being, a psychological projection rather than an eschatological certainty. That inner treasure lies waiting in the soul of the reader, demanding its recovery, and Ulysses in particular, by virtue of its abstruce complexity, invites an interminable stream of interpretations, including an innumerable quantity of valid ones. The nature of this ineffable quality – what some call God – can never be fully grasped, no matter how many mythic metaphors are employed, so our best hope is to understand the relationship between man and “God,” the ways in which people experience God as a collective phenomenon. Therein lies the true challenge to any reader of these 20th century epics, or any seeker of undying truth.

(January 2009)


WORKS CITED

Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: The Modern Library, Inc., 1934.

Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain. Trans. H.T. Lowe-Porter. New York: Vintage Books, 1969.

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Here at the church of post-modern neo-Jungian universal ecumenicism, our chief wellspring of holy scripture — apart from “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” and Campbell’s “Masks of God” tetralogy — rises from the fecund pages of Joyce’s “Ulysses”.  Of course, no holy text can provide anything but a poor substitute for genuine experience, but it never hurts to dip your cup into the wisdom of the ages.

In yesterday’s tract on the never-ending road to enlightenment and the inaccessibility of the divine, we arrived with some confidence at the conclusion that the path of righteousness has no conclusion, that the journey in fact is the destination. A cursory glance at the Bloomsday epic, however, and the contraindications nearly fall off the page, at a whopping thirty-two feet per second per second. It’s not that the Promised Land is unreachable, but that it can only be reached by surreptitious entry.

Stephen makes numerous comments to the effect that there can be no redemption without a transgression, that “there can be no reconciliation if there has not been a sundering.” Later Leopold likewise realizes while fondling in his pocket a rotten black potato, that “the remedy is found where you least expect it.” Or has elsewhere been said, the only way to know God is to deny him. Such Joycean anecdotes are enough to satisfy my spiritual inquiry, but the New Testament is not without its own supporting examples.

The Book of Luke offers a series of Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and most famously the Prodigal Son. Each story illustrates the idea that what is lost and then found is more precious that what was never lost at all. The Prodigal Son tell of a younger son who claims his inheritance early, before his father’s death, then runs off to “waste his substance with riotous living.” When the fortune is gone, he comes meekly home and throws himself at his father’s mercy, finding that his father’s love is now stronger than ever. Meanwhile, the older and unwavering brother, after seeing his sibling showered with affection after squandering his legacy on fine food and harlots, is more than a trifle peeved.

” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:31-32)

To find one’s way in the truest sense then, one must first lose himself completely, or so this series of parables would suggest. The lost sheep and the lost coin are no different: first they seem to be lost for good, but once found are treated like favorites. The prodigal son leaves a deeper impression, however, because he doesn’t simply lose himself in the woods, but intentionally takes off with his father’s money and consciously lives a life of unrestrained sin and decadence.

While the path of piety only brings one to the brink of the Promised Land, to be seen in reflection or admired from afar, the road of perdition somehow leads around to the back door and with a sudden change of heart sends the gates swinging wide open. Hardly a positive message for guiding the children, but so it goes. The Book of Luke does not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of this blog or its humble author.

But if for the time being we can leave the children to their own devices, perhaps we can find a kernel of truth buried somewhere deeper. There are those — and let’s assume the prodigal son’s older brother is one — who live a good and proper life only out of obedience, because they are following the laws and rules as told to them by their preachers, parents and law enforcement officers. Their goodness is not derived from a purity of heart, in such cases, but merely a willingness to obey.

The actions and misdeeds of the younger son will foster in him something that his older brother, as a habitual do-gooder, may never have fully developed: a conscience. The correlation between conscience and consciousness can’t possibly be overstated. The linguistic kinship of these two words is immediately evident; the French, in fact, have only a single word for these two concepts. The older brother who never strays off the path takes his instructions from without, but the brother who returns from afield must have found an authority within. And when the inner guide takes charge, one need no longer look elsewhere for the answers. He has arrived. By dint of this inner authority, the conscience, he has ascended to a higher level of consciousness, one step closer to the divine.

And so it goes on the fabled Dublin night crawl, rampant with infidelity, debauchery, and hopeless meandering. Till at last they recognize the error of their ways, or at least the limitations of the flesh. Stephen and Leopold then come together as spiritual father and son, atoned in mutual imperfection, at one with heaven and hell, at home by way of an unbroken kitchen window, and at ease under the earthy aegis of Penelope.

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