Monday, April 28, 2008


The point made in the Ithaca episode that Bloom is scientific while Stephen is artistic highlights a defining characteristic of Stephen- his tendency towards abstraction. There’s nothing wrong with this except that Stephen takes it so far that it cripples and diminishes his reality, his existence in the present. The artist, he thinks, must be free from all prisons, and so he abandons his family (a physical and psychological prison) to poverty. He chooses to follow his abstraction, his idea of what the artist should be, and so he must live with his conscience- referenced in his repetition of the phrase “agenbite of inwit”- which makes him miserable. His reality is one of suffering because he chooses to satisfy his abstract ideals.

While sitting
in the hospital awaiting the birth of Mina Purefoy’s child, Buck says to Stephen that “it is as painful perhaps to be awakened from a vision as to be born.” As the one in the role of artist and prophet, Stephen is the one with the vision, the idea of how things should be. He is awakened repeatedly from it by reality, which does not always match up with his abstractions. He takes his name from his father Dedalus, and as the son of Dedalus he is likened to the figure of Icarus. Just as Icarus tried to fly too close to the sun and came crashing down, Stephen relies too much on abstraction and the power of his mind, and comes crashing down.

In the Circe episode
we learn that Stephen broke his glasses yesterday. He cannot see clearly, physically and mentally. Because he is stuck with his abstractions, he ignores the reality of the way things really are. He guilt over his mother’s death shows in his fear of the lightning, which he perceives to be a reminder of his own death. Bloom, however, gives him the scientific explanation of lightning. Bloom is a lot more physical than Stephen. The first time we see him he is eating a kidney- he “ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.” As his father figure, he balances out Stephen’s mentality. Stephen is the “beautiful ineffectual dreamer who comes to grief against hard facts” (184).

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