Streams of Consciousness in “Circe”

Previous to this chapter, many of the times in which we encounter Bloom, we see his thoughts almost as if he is narrating them to us directly. We seem to read the workings of his brain laid out spatially on the page as they occur temporally in his perception. The same is true of Stephen’s musings on the strand, as well. It is most easy to observe, in the Telemachus episode, how Stephen’s perceptions enter into his thoughts and shape them, metamorphosizing his ideas with ingredients from the outside world. I think Joyce is making this process external in Circe. Instead of Bloom’s or Stephen’s thoughts being transformed by the influence of the environment, in Circe, the episode itself transforms as “plot” happens. Bloom’s clothes, for example, change so often and immediately according to the context of the dialogue that it seems as if the actual narrative happenings in this episode are being created on the spot, along a long line of association that is played out mostly through wordplay and puns. For instance, at the bottom of pg. 412, the Newsboys discuss the “Safe arrival of Antichrist”. On the next page, “Reuben J Antichrist” appears. It is not immediately clear whether Reuben J Dodd would have received this moniker had the Antichrist not been mentioned a few lines previous to it. There are many instances where the actual words used in the episode inform and shape the action that takes place shortly after they are uttered, so that the overall shape of the episode seem to be blooming, unfurling, or being written as the words themselves are coming into existence.

This made me wonder exactly what the “CIrce” element of this episode is. At first I was going to say that the episode itself is Circe, dictating the transformations of its main characters. But then I got to thinking again about how Joyce structured the earlier episodes, through the “shorthand” notations of his character’s thoughts. I thought that if Circe is somehow an externalization of that formerly internal process (in that what was once understood to be simply the thoughts of one character is now the action of the episode itself, shared by all characters (although it isn’t clear whether large portions of the episode are really “shared” by all the characters, like the part where Bloom becomes the King of Ireland)) then maybe Bloom himself is Circe’s analog.  I could see how a lot of the action in this episode is really “taking place” in Bloom’s head, and how the associative wordplay which bends and twists the subsequent plot and characters is supposed to simulate the associative way in which the brain moves from thought to thought. So Bloom’s brain is performing Circe-like transformative acrobatics with words. I’m sure though, just like the rest of Ulysses, that Circe is being embodied in other concepts too that I can’t think of or see, and is not only being realized in this one way.

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One thought on “Streams of Consciousness in “Circe”

  1. amybunselmeyer

    I liked your comment, “Bloom’s brain is performing Circe-like transformative acrobatics with words.” That does seem to be a really good way of describing it. I was struck by the way the hallucinations are grounded in some sort of reality, and this makes me think that that “reality” could just be some sort of passing thought, which the mind then transforms into something else entirely. It’s interesting to think about the episode as something that is transforming and metamorphosing itself out of the mind of Bloom, and probably from the mysterious narrative agent as well.

    Reply

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