Ithaca: Thoughts and Questions

1) Clive Hart once described the answers to the questions in "Ithaca" as "the answers of a computer which has not been programmed to distinguish between what is important and what is not" (Hart, James Joyce's "Ulysses" [1968], p. 74). How appropriate do you find such a narrative strategy to be to this section of Ulysses?

2) Joyce called "Ithaca" "the ugly duckling of the book" (see Comments by Joyce). Can you see any way that such a description might apply to the episode?

3) Joyce wrote to Frank Budgen that the reader of this episode will "know everything and know it in the baldest coldest way" (see Comments by Joyce). Why might Joyce have wanted to do this?

4) In "Ithaca" we learn a great deal about Bloom, Molly, and Stephen because so much information pours out. Note, for example, the information about Bloom's and Stephen's parents (17:532-39), Bloom's and Stephen's baptisms (17:540-47), the death of Bloom's father (17:621-32), Bloom's birth certificate and other personal papers (17:1854-72), and Bloom's and Molly's marital relationship (17:2271-92).

5) The kind of narrative language in "Ithaca" produces a great deal of what the Russian Formalist critics called "defamiliarization." See, for instance, 17:63-65 (getting older), 17:1186-90 (the trajectories of Bloom's and Stephen's urinations), or 17:2248-49 (Molly waking up).

6) Also, a good deal of information is presented as negatives--17:241-46 (advice Bloom doesn't give), 17:1933 etc. (Bloom's declining fortunes)--and as conditionals--17:1499 etc. (Bloom's dream house), 17:1958 etc. (possible travels), and especially 17:2126-42 (Bloom smiling regarding a list of men he associates with Molly).

7) Note the ways that Bloom and Stephen are connected in terms of being keyless (17:80-81) and in terms of their reactions to "the void" (17:1011-20). They also respond to each other in terms of the past and the future (17:776-80), and Stephen perceives both masculinity and femininity in Bloom (17:289-90).

8) In this supposedly objective chapter, note the details that are missing in Bloom's budget (17:1456-78) and in Bloom's account of his day to Molly (17:2250-70).

9) Bloom is "home" when "he kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her [Molly's] rump" (17:2241). Look back at the dream Stephen had, which is recounted twice (3:364-69, 9:1206-8). In other details, Stephen's dream has been connected to one of Bloom's (see 13:1240-41).

10) Joyce wanted the episode's last question--"Where?" (17:2331, p. 607)--to be answered by a fairly large dot. He wrote to his French printer: "La réponse à la dernière demande est un point." When the mark wasn't big enough to please him, he wrote, "Comme réponse un point bien visible" and again "Ce point doit être plus visible." He got his point in the first edition, although no one has ever been certain about just how big Joyce wanted it to be. But subsequent editions have repeatedly messed up the point--proofreaders and printers keep thinking the dot is a smudge and take it out. Some printings of the Gabler edition are missing this dot/point/mark. If your copy of Ulysses lacks one, put one in as an act of textual restoration.