Calypso, Lotus-Eaters, Hades and Sacred Stone
Unlike in the Telemachiad, Catholicism doesn’t play an interconnected role between character associations, probably because Bloom does not have the connection to Catholicism that Stephen does. So, instead of looking at the over all patterns of engagement with Catholicism and the characters’ reactions to religion, I split the book chapter-by-chapter, and examined the role the Catholic Church played within each. Also, I kept mis-spelling “church” as “cruch” as I was typing this out. Subconscious comment, or am I totally incapable of controlling my own fingers.
This was probably the hardest chapter to deal with, obsession wise. Bloom has some cultural associations with Catholicism, but no direct connection, as can be seen only too clearly, while Molly spends most of the chapter inert, and not entirely talkative. Difficult material to work with. However, when Bloom goes out to find himself a kidney, we get an interesting snippet of what I’m going to call the reality of Irish spiritualism: pub life. The repeated use of the word curate on page 47 and 48 to describe the barkeeper of the local pub is slang (Gifford 72), but the fact that this is slang only reinforces the ambivalent approach to religion that we see in Ulysses. The “curate swab[s] up with a mob and bucket” as an old man watches (47.114), creating the image of a priest working to clean the local hangout while the disinterested look on, refusing to help in the endeavor. The picture is pitiful, yet on the next page Bloom’s thoughts betray a suspicion of corruption: “Coming up redheaded from the county Leitrim, rinsing empties and old man in the cellar. Then, lo and behold, they blossom out as Adam Findlaters or Dan Tallons” (48.126-128). The connection to politicians, who were most likely corrupt given our view of politicians from Ivy Day and the information from Ulysses Annotated, suddenly adds a sinister, untrustworthy angle to the work. The particular bar tender/curate that Bloom watches may toil in unknown obscurity, but come back another year, and he will be in power.
I also would like to look at the metempsychosis scene (52-53), as I feel that reincarnation links in with my fascination with heresy against the church, and it actually might connect Bloom a little more solidly into the interesting little web of heretic stand ins that we have met so far. However, I’m not really certain whether metempsychosis is connected with Bloom or Molly. She had no idea what metempsychosis was, and her lack of connection to it might function to make her a stand-in for the Virgin Mary, upon seeing Christ’s empty grave. My mind jumped to this random conclusion given how often Easter appeared in the reading. It’s a rather unformed and blobby cloud of an idea at the moment — I’m going to have to play with it some more.
So, a happy little chapter, the moral of which seems to be: Religion is the opiate of the masses. During some points of this chapter I imaged a tiny Karl Marx dancing around happily. There is a lot to go over from Lotus Eaters, but for tonight I’m going to focus on the scene in the church. Beginning with “The cold smell of sacred stone called to him” (66.338) we are assaulted by the foggy, dream-like imagery. The steps leading to the church are worn, the church is empty, the music slow (66.338-342). While this only too obviously is the parallel of the island of the Lotus-Eaters why did Joyce choose the church of all places to represent this apathetic stupor? Why not the pub, with the drink flowing, or even a visit to Molly’s concert hall, empty of all except for the ghosts of the patrons, ready to be drugged by the entertainment?
Perhaps if we look more closely at the celebrant and server, the answer can be uncovered. They run the island-church, and seem sober, more capable than the dipping heads of the parishioners. Even after taking the wine, the celebrant can still “[toss] off the dregs smartly” (67.386-387) giving us the image of speed and neatness, rather than Bloom’s slovenly unbuttoned waistcoat (68.452). For all that they are unencumbered by the torpor affecting Bloom, and presumably the rest of the congregation, they wear “blind masks” (66.353) and encourage “blind faith” (66.367). Then comes the clincher. The wine the priest tosses off is “more aristocratic than for example if he drank what they are used to” (67.387-388). The priesthood is connected with the aristocracy and thus removed from their flock, and placed in a position of power. Every action the priests take seems to set the balance of power in their favor. Even Bloom, the outsider looking in, is taken under their spell. The Latin has stupefied him a bit (66.350), even as he observes with disinterested detachment, whiling away the time until a funeral. The danger that we saw with the curate-bar tenders in Calypso is realized here. The Roman Catholic church is a temple of power, rather than a place of worship. The laity are turned into unthinking tools of worship, and they worship the priests, rather than God; servants of the servants, as Stephen expressed earlier.
Interestingly, most of the people that Bloom notices in the audience are women. One old man has fallen asleep by the confessional, but the rest of the congregation seems to be the red haltered women, perhaps implying that the Church’s power is waning over all but the elderly and the women. However, from the conflict over music that Bloom reflects upon, the church seems to be losing its grip on the women as well, and so begins to oppress them even more so, using easy words, and soft politicians to deflect interest in female involvement. “Sorry I didn’t work him about getting Molly into the choir instead of that Father Farley who looked like a fool but wasn’t” (65.331-333). The most lucid part of the scene is the remembrance of Molly singing the Sabat Mater in church, where there is a “thrill in the air” (67.401) and the people look up to hear the complicated question that could be said to be at the base of religion: “Quis est homo” or “who is man” (67.402). By shutting the female Molly out, the church increases its power in the realm of stupification, but refuses to acknowledge the wishes of the congregation which are slowly leaving (remember that it is a pity that the church is empty), it is “Music they wanted” which they are summarily refused. The Church, in it’s effort to retain power loses it precisely by shutting out the members who change the power base, women like Molly.
In Hades, the alienation that Bloom experiences in the churchyard echoes Stephen’s solitary walk in Proteus, but unlike that walk Bloom doesn’t enjoy it. He is outside of his Catholic contemporaries, and incapable of understanding their feelings of the place, just as they are incapable of understanding him. In the carriage ride over to the cemetery he immediately suspects that they will socially excommunicate him for the suicide of his father, “They have no mercy on that” (79.344-80.345).
At the funeral service Bloom is always a beat behind everyone, following them in (85.581), getting down on his knees (85.586), and leaving to go outside again (86.635), hanging at the back with Kernan (87.656). Through the funeral he is locked out of the church-going society. Even the protestant Kernan is absent from his side while in the church, although once out in the world the binding of Christianity frays into Catholic and Protestant factions, the Protestant joining the Mason. Here, too, Catholicism brings with it power. However, this time we see the power of the group, the solidarity that was alluded to in Lotus-Eaters (66.363-365). Bloom is beyond that circle, as he has no connection to this fraternity.
Excommunication is the theme in the chapter. Bloom seems terrified of losing the fellowship of these men, while in turn, they do not seem to care for him. In the carriage he launches “with sudden eagerness” into the story about the son of Reuben J and the boatman (78.262). The story can only be the embarrassment ofthe Jewish Reuben and his son, and Bloom tells it with a certain desperation. He wants the men’s approval, he wants to make them laugh and accept him, despite his dubious ties to the religion that binds them. The same story is true in the cemetery, where the men have naturally sorted themselves out into the Catholics and the Others. Bloom clings to Kernan then. His “prudent assent” is an attempt to keep Kernan happy, as the Catholics have already excluded them both (87.667).