Do the time warp!
In the Circe episode we find ourselves in somewhat nightmarish, liminal space, and appropriately beginnings and endings collide, overlap, and fuse.
-The episode’s form itself, the bad-trip hallucinatory tracking-shot pastiche, conjures the many frightening possibilities of such a space where past, present and forecasted future join together. Bloom’s recollections of the day, events ostensibly “ended”, drift back into consciousness, mutated by temporal estrangement. Narratives of “atavism” (378), “latency” (402), and superstition-as-predestination (“Don’t fall upstairs” (409)) crop up to underscore Bloom’s wariness of this uncontrollable estrangement from and attachment to the past, as well as to convey his hopeless apprehensions about the future.
-With each hallucination time consciousness nauseously expands and recedes. We are in the middle portion of the book and suddenly pulled by both extremes. In this Joyce finds an excuse for action to drag to halt.
-Characters confuse teleological notions of journey: “stop that and begin worse,” (408), “you might go farther and fare worse,” (388).
-We are denied apocalyptic or beatific consummation: “THE END OF THE WORLD: Wha’ll dance the keel row, the keel row, the keel row?” (414). -Bloom bumbles jumbled chronology: “But tomorrow is a new day will be..” (420). Stephen too, “in the beginning was the word, in the end the world without end,” (415).
…And much more!
The result is dizzying, carnivalesque intransigence. We are left in the lurch between, at the crux of, in the nowhere that is, beginnings and endings.
The end of Circe is strikingly end-ful for all the un-ending, beginning, and re-beginning that Joyce presents hitherto. Chandeliers crash, punches are threatened and even climactically thrown, and rumps jumping abound. Yet, as we were warned in class, Joyce’s sleight-of-hand continues. Most notably, of course, is Bloom’s dip back into reverie at the very end of the chapter. Although he has enacted a swift bit of social maneuvering on the police, the soldier, and Corny Kelleher, and whisked Stephen away from Johnny law in un-Bloom-ish style, this confident self-assertion drifts out of the picture once again as he gazes at un-conscious Stephen. Startlingly this conclusion not only refuses to tie off Bloom’s emotional turmoil but also introduces a new dimension to his struggle: (what seems to be) honest regret.
Similarly Bloom’s masochistic sexual fantasy transmogrifies from sexual to emotional humiliation, without reaching an anticipated consummation. Instead of the other sort of sopping, Bloom winds up soiled with tears, a rather virginal form of expiation that seems underwhelming in the face of what precedes it. The nymph episode as well, which begins with the empathetic Nymph’s “Nay, dost not weepest,” nearly culminates in a violent act castration.
Joyce appears to be challenging the trajectories of both the so called sexual and spiritual, as sexual dissidence ends in and a brief moment of regret and psychological lucidity, and spiritual loftiness winds up in trenchant sexual violence.