Dialogues

Blog and online portfolio of Ian Pollard

Bloom as Flâneur

“He turned away and sauntered across the road. How did she walk with her sausages? Like that something. As he walked he took the folded Freeman from his sidepocket, unfolded it, rolled it lengthwise in a baton and tapped it at each sauntering step against his trouserleg. Careless air: just drop in to see. Per second per second. Per second for every second it means.”

{Leopold Bloom; Lotus Eaters. pp.68. Ulysses.}

“Man as civilized being, as intellectual nomad, is again wholly microcosmic, wholly homeless, as free intellectually as hunter and herdsman were free sensually”

{Spengler Vol.2 pp.125}

____

In Joyce’s Ulysses we follow the peripatetic Leopold Bloom, our most ordinary hero, as he walks though the streets of Dublin in 1904. It is in Ulysses, through Bloom and his unstructured perambulations, that the reader is brought to experience a domestic psycho-geography of Dublin which parallels Odysseus’ epic journey through ancient Greece. In Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, the valiant hero Odysseus travels for ten years, following the fall of Troy, to reach his home; Ithaca, and his wife Penelope.  Bloom is on epic journey too – although he is not aware of this – as he lives through the course of a single day. Ulysses is an encyclopedic glossary of a city, and its human geography, and Bloom is our conscious guide.

In the episode known as ‘Lotus-Eaters’ Bloom saunters along various streets as he visits the post-office, the church, the chemist, and the public baths – these are diurnal rituals – yet his route is complex, self-intersecting, and unpredictable. If he interacts with his fellow denizens, he does so with hesitation;

“Mc. Coy. Get rid of him quickly. Take me out of my company. Hate company when you…

-Hello Bloom. Where are off to?

-Hello McCoy. Nowhere in particular” (70)

Reading is by nature linear, and books static; but the way in which our consciousness receives and interprets experience is dynamic, and chaotic. Like his routes through Dublin, Blooms thoughts self-intersect and collide together in incongruous juxtapositions; the immediate textures and smells of the places he encounters become woven between the memories that emerge, unannounced, from some other time;

“The cold smell of sacred stone called him. He trod the worn steps, pushed the swingdoor and entered softly by the rere” (77)

Then, a paragraph later, as he watches the priest give the eucharist;

“The next one. Shut your eyes and open your mouth. What? Corpus. Body. Corpse. Good idea the Latin. Stupefies them first. Hospice for the dying” (77)

Bloom is evidently not ensconced in the rituals of the church – he seems to be here on a civic agenda, rather than a spiritual one – and his language suggests that he takes it to be a cryptic institution;

“I have sinned : oh no : I have suffered, it is And the other one? Iron nails ran in. […] Queer the whole atmosphere of the. Quite right. Perfectly right that is.” (78)

The episode concludes with Bloom enjoying the public baths; “a clean trough of water, cool enamel, the gentle tepid stream. This is my body”. As he reflects on the encounters he has had up to this point in his day (11am), he muses; “Always passing, the stream of life, which in the stream of life we trace is dearer than them all” (83).

This revelation is not unfolded in the privacy of his home – it is a passing thought which emerges casually in a public bath, while he looks at his body. It is almost a civic ablution – as if he is being baptised into the fertile life of the city;

“[he] foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth […] and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower” (83)

Bloom, it seems, forever exists between departure and arrival.  In the spirit of the Flâneur, he is a detached observer, and he is highly sensitive to the minute pulses of a city. But he is not a dandy. He is self-aware, in the most modest of terms, yet he is never intentionally theatrical. His interactions with the world are measured and cautious, but they are rarely perfect, and only occasionally have their desired outcome. He is a man forever becoming the hero he already is, and the myriad spaces of the city serve as his stage.

A Jewish man in Dublin, Bloom is an exile in a country which was soon to become independent from British rule. These complex private and personal psychologies meet and become manifest in Ulysses, through the geography of the city, and in the humanity of Bloom. He is immersed in the spaces of the city, yet he rarely becomes ‘part’ of them. In the meta-fiction of Ulysses Bloom’s casual remarks become the reader’s epiphanic revelation. Patrick Kavanagh believed “Ordinary things wear lovely wings”. Perhaps Bloom might have agreed.

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Filed under: Cartography, History, mat.zine

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