"Eastern Visions in Calypso" Essay
When Leopold Bloom is first introduced in the “Calypso” episode, the narrative style of Ulysses clearly shifts to mature narration told in third person stream of conscious style, winding through Blooms thoughts in free-indirect discourse. As he sets out on a quest to buy breakfast, Bloom’s imagination skews east of Europe, ultimately reflecting on Palestine. Leopold’s mind wanders into an Orientalist mode as he walks down Eccles Street, implanting a Middle Eastern setting onto the streets of Dublin. Yet, he is conscious of the artifice other European authors have used to represent places that are foreign to them. As a Jewish man in Ireland—part of a group living in diaspora in a land of diaspora—Bloom reflects Stephen’s search for belonging, tinged with skepticism to respective Zionist colonization and Irish homerule. He is not detached from his morning vision in “Calypso” either, aligns with neither east nor west, but with both participates by existing between the two places.
When Leopold wakes up on the morning of June 16, 1904, his hunger for fresh pork kidneys sends him out on a short journey to the butcher. Sleepiness in the early morning produces a dreamlike state in Leopold’s mind as he leaves his home. The late springtime warmth envelopes him: “His eyelids sank quietly often as he walked in happy warmth” (Joyce 47). He contemplates time and aging. The sun rises in the east, and so Leopold thinks: “Somewhere in the east: early morning: set off at dawn. Travel round in front of the sun, steal a day’s march on him. Keep it up for ever never grow a day older technically” (Joyce 47). He considers tracking the sun back to its origin in the sky—his own mythological concept of retracing the sun’s course by going east, an elixir of youth in theory—where he can escape aging by flying away from the marker of days. Going east is associated here with youthfulness.
At this point in the episode—I would argue—Joyce mixes a dreamlike vision with the conquering esthetic of travelogue. James Joyce uses an aesthetic poetic language similar to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” in “Calypso.” He also employs travel-writing modes; one example of which Joyce alludes to directly is Frederick Diodati Thompson’s In the Track of the Sun. During these passages in “Calypso,” Bloom’s imagined Middle East is filled with types of people and objects filtered through imperial eyes, romanticized and eroticized for European tastes. As Brad Bennon notes, Coleridge’s language in “Kublan Khan” is inspired by Arabian Nights, and both styles influence Joyce. The dreamlike segue from the reality of the Dublin Street to this “strange, strange land” in Bloom’s sleepy mind recalls Coleridge’s epigraph for “Kulba Khan: “Or a Vision in a Dream” (Joyce 47). Bloom’s mind is still in touch with the land of dreams.
By incorporating images similar to those used in “Kubla Khan,” “Bloom’s self-conscious pastiche is undercut by a skepticism concerning its own figuration” (Bennon 498). Leopold’s mind introduces elements from “Kubla Khan” without succumbing to the supernatural enchantment experienced by Coleridge’s narrator. Coleridge’s Xanadu is more wildly fantastic—with the sublime extremities a real hallucination may broach—than the version of the Middle East created by Bloom in “Calypso.” While “Kubla Khan” takes the reader “Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to man/down to a sunless sea” and a vast, exotic pleasure dome, Bloom’s trip east correlates with his mission to buy breakfast (Coleridge 3-5). His adventure retains the scope of his surroundings.
The shops in Dublin metamorphose to: “Dark caves of carpet shops, big man, Turko the terrible, seated crosslegged, smoking a coiled pipe. Cries of sellers in the streets” (Joyce 47). Characters familiar to Bloom populate this marketplace: Turko the terrible, from a pantomime Bloom saw in Dublin, and “a damsel with a dulcimer” from “Kubla Khan” (Coleridge l. 37). This musical maiden, who plays the dulcimer in Coleridge’s poem, appears in Bloom’s mind as a maid of the night: “High wall: beyond strings twanged. Night sky, moon, violet color of Molly’s new garters. Strings. Listen. A girl playing one of those instruments what do you call them: dulcimers” (Joyce 74). Like Molly, Leopold’s wife, who is a professional singer, the girl playing the dulcimer is a musician. Perhaps, here is a young Molly playing music for him in the street, under a sky colored the shade of her new garters. Bloom passes the maid, interested only in this erotic image.
Leopold further makes a references to Thompson’s travel-writing journal, which he has in his library. Thompson depicts English and American travelers in Cairo, drinking tea and reveling in their perceived superiority, as they watch “picturesquely dressed people of all nationalities and creeds” on the street below, in turbans and “curious black robes,” and a “carriage graced with harem ladies whose beauty is rather enhanced by thin white veils” (Thompson 188). Bloom himself wanders “through the awned streets. Turbaned faces going by[…]Drink water scented with fennel, sherbet. Dander along all day” (Joyce 47). While Bloom’s reverie shares aspects similar to the scene in Thompson’s book, Bloom participates in his scene, does not sit above it, and chooses not to drink tea, a staple cash crop of the British Empire. He leaves himself on better footing with the natives and avoids incorporating highly sexualized harem women.
Upon his realization of his culpability in romanticizing the east he thinks: “Probably not a bit like it really. Kind of stuff you read: in the track of the sun” (Joyce 47). Suddenly Bloom is back in Dublin. Unlike the Orientalist authors that he imitates, Bloom does not accept the eastern vision as merely alluring, erotic, and in need of civilization through colonization by the west. In the Track of the Sun also reminds Bloom of the sunburst over the building for the Irish home-rule paper, the Freeman. Leopold finds it amusing: “homerule sun rising up in the northwest” (Joyce 47). He is unsure of Irish homerule—finding humor in their misaligned sun. As he walks along, Bloom tries to situate himself with the geography as he hears boys practicing their lessons through the window of a classroom: “Inishturk, Inishark, Inishboffin. At their joggerfy. Mine. Slieve Bloom” (Joyce 48). He shares his surname with a mountain range in central Ireland: Slieve Bloom. Fundamentally, he considers himself as Irish as these mountains at the nation’s heart.
Leopold Bloom encounters another homeland when he reaches Dlugacz’s, a non-kosher Jewish butcher. He finds an advertisement for “the model farm at Kinnereth on the lakeshore of Tiberius” (Joyce 48). Interestingly, the model farm at Kinnereth—a settlement in Palestine that was part of the Second Aliyah, the second Zionist wave of migration of Jewish settlers to Palestine between 1904-1914—would not have been established until 1908. Joyce mentions the advertisement because the motif correlates to a butcher shop: “the blurred cattle outcropping, the page rustling. A young white heifer” (Joyce 48). In reality, as S. Tolkowsky’s writes his essay “The Jews and the Economic Development of Palestine,” the climate in Palestine made the number of cattle scanty.
As an advertising man himself, Bloom is critical of the ad, which solicits: “waste sandy tracks from Turkish government and plant with eucalyptus trees. Excellent for shade, fuel and construction. Orangegroves and immense melonfields north of Jaffa” (Joyce 49). The language in the advertisement—though filtered through Bloom’s mind—shares modes of conquering language utilized in travelogues, which highlights the attractiveness of the landscape, the abundance of arable land, and the availability of raw materials. In the “In Palestine” chapter of In the Track of the Sun, written in 1893, Thompson finds outside Jaffa: “many orange groves[…]which were green and fertile” (Thompson 190).
Unfortunately, Thomson also notes that: “The land may be to some extent worn out, but by proper cultivation and the use of fertilizers it could be made very productive” (Thompson 190). According to Tolkowsky, Thompson’s suggestion that the farmland outside Jaffa could be improved, is realized by 1916. Tolkowsky observes: “Thanks to the wise use of chemical manure and the cultivation of green manures” the Jewish settlers have improved the land that they have bought from the Ottoman Empire—the ruling power in Palestine at the time (Tolkowsky 144-45). Bloom, however, skeptically notes that the land is parceled in “waste sandy tracts,” an undesirable soil for planting (Joyce 49). Robert Byrnes suggests that Joyce crafts the advertisement Bloom sees as “not a prospectus for Zionist projects but rather a parody of one” based on Tolkowsky’s article (Byrnes 834). Tolkowsky’s report gives a more accurate portrayal of the colonization of Palestine than the advertisement at Dlugacz’s
Bloom’s opinion of the advertisement for the model farm is conflicted, and although he decides that sending money to the agricultural project is foolish, he relents that there is “Still an idea behind it” (Joyce 49). The advertisement allures him, draws him into another vision where “the cattle blurred in the silver heat. Silverpowdered olive trees. Quiet long days: pruning ripening[…]oranges in tissue paper packed in crates. Citrons too” (Joyce 49). He has—for a moment—the romantic, youthful dream of becoming a farmer on this idyllic place depicted in the ad. The citrus name reminds Bloom of his old neighbor Citron, and better times in his marriage to Molly: “Arbutus place: pleasant street. Pleasant old times” (Joyce 49). Yet Bloom knows he is aging, that those days are past.
On his way home, grey clouds cover the sun, and Bloom’s quest for youth and homeland stalls. His dreams of Palestine correlate now with an underworld, a place to go after death: “Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless sunk deep in the earth. No wind could lift these waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters[…]A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now” (Joyce 50). Confronted with his own mortality—his daughter is nearly an adult—Bloom doubts that he will reach this homeland in Palestine alive. The Middle East of his underworld turns from Coleridge’s “deep romantic chasm” to “Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world” (Coleridge l. ;Joyce 50). Bloom’s dream turns swiftly to a nightmare, and he longs to return home to “the smell of the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. Be near her ample bedwarmed flesh” (Joyce 50). Pragmatically, he turns from his imagination to the comfortable, visceral homeland on Eccles Street, where he can snuggle back into the warmth of his wife.
Ultimately, Leopold Bloom’s brief jaunt in “Calypso” is the beginning of his full adventure in Ulysses. Leopold is a man between places: middle-aged. As a writer himself, Leopold Bloom tries to make sense of his situation in respect to creativity and practicality; he is a writer and an advertising man. His imagination is active, but only useful if it can produce ideas that will sell products. The reader is introduced to Bloom as Odysseus lost in his search for a homeland, drawn to a romanticized version of the east and conscious of the falsehood constructed in his readings about the Middle East. He is not entirely sold on his own eastern vision. The intermingling of east and west may reflect Bloom’s situation in his homeland: who he is in relation to Ireland, being both Jewish and Irish.