5. Lotus Eaters

Reading Scenes

Reading-scenes in novels (and in literary works in general) have often poetological (meta-poetic, meta-literary) potential: they may point to the reading strategy that is required by the literary text in which they appear. Lotus Eaters is full of reading scenes, Bloom’s reading of Martha’s letter (239ff.).

Writing Scenes

And the same holds true for writing scenes, in our case, Martha’s letter (241-59).

Critique of Enlightenment (Aufklärungskritik)

Part of the modernism of Joyce’s Ulysses is that it critically reviews the project of modernity and modernization itself. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment and beyond, modernity has been associated with self-determination, freedom, the understanding of natural processes and their domination. Towards the end of the 19th century, this project entered a state of crisis which culminated in the two World Wars.

Homer’s Odyssey can be seen as a founding text of the modern project to master nature and the self. Cp. the disciplinary aspects connected to Odysseus’s journey and to his intention to regain sovereignty and self-control

The scouts encountered humans, Lotus-Eaters,
who did not hurt them. They just shared with them
their sweet delicious fruit. But as they ate it,
they lost the will to come back and bring news
to me. They wanted only to stay there,
feeding on lotus with the Lotus-Eaters.
They had forgotten home. I dragged them back
in tears, forced them on board the hollow ships,
pushed them below the decks, and tied them up.
I told the other men, the loyal ones,
to get back in the ships, so no one else
would taste the lotus and forget about
our destination. They embarked and sat
along the rowing benches, side by side,
and struck the grayish water with their oars. 

Odyssey bk 9: 90-105; transl. Wilson

“Between 1942 and 1944, two German-Jewish exiles in California – Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno – also returned to the Odyssey. Their reading of the ancient epic was to become part of one the most significant philosophical texts of the twentieth century, Dialektik der Aufklärung: Philosophische Fragmente (hereafter DdA). DdA is an intense lament which mourns the ‘eclipse of reason’ amid the catastrophes of the twentieth century. It is an attempt to answer what was, and still remains, one of the most pressing questions of the modern age: why, when the Enlightenment seemed to guide the way to reason and progress, has modernity plunged into a new era of horror and irrationalism, as typified by fascism? This project was, by the authors’ admission, an ambitious one, promising to span virtually the entirety of Western thought. Horkheimer and Adorno extrapolate the inexorable and self-perpetuated descent of enlightened thought into barbarism, by exposing the orientation of enlightenment towards calculation and domination over nature. It is … through its lack of self-consciousness that enlightenment … regresses to the very mythology it attempts to supersede. It is also responsible for the restrictive and oppressive structure of modern, capitalist, bureaucratic society which is in fact the very opposite of freedom. For the authors, the defining and paradoxical characteristic of fatally flawed enlightenment is this: that myth is already enlightenment; and that enlightenment reverts to mythology. To demonstrate this, Horkheimer and Adorno turn to the Odyssey, asserting its important place in the political, social, and cultural history of the West: it is nothing less than “one of the earliest representative documents of bourgeois Western civilization.”

Katie Fleming: “Odysseus and Enlightenment: Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialektik der Aufklärung”

From this vantage point, “Lotus Eaters” reads like a revision of this narrative. Giving way to distraction, forgetfulness, daydreaming, and the regression into embryo-like bodily pleasures, Bloom incorporates a radical counter-version of the self-constrained, civilized self:

He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved. He saw his trunk and limbs riprippled over and sustained, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyellow: his navel, bud of flesh: and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower. (5.566–72)

2 Antworten zu “5. Lotus Eaters”

  1. The episode is deliberately saturated with smells, aromas. Lotofagi – „eaters of the lotus“, a stupefying flower, plunging into lazy idleness and weak-willed oblivion – into a narcotic state. Floral motif: Bloom’s pseudonym, the flowers of his Ceylon fantasies, the flower in Martha’s letter. There is created an atmosphere of heat and laziness, aimless idleness, weak-willed automatism .. Form and style play an important role in achieving such a goal. Style imitates the described content, perceives its qualities: thus, laziness, being transferred to the form, entails weak-willed breaks in phrases – on prepositions , in a half-word. We see that Bloom is womanizer, but more in the imagination, in fantasies; he truly loves music, although he is not experienced in it; a sober skeptic in matters of religion. In the latter, I feel like , he follows in the footsteps of Karl Marx, developing a well-known thesis: religion is the opium of the people.

  2. In this episode the parallels to the corresponding passages from the Odyssey are depicted most prominently by the references to narcotics, laziness, and sleep. The Homeric lotus-eaters become “hypnotised like soldiers” [U5.73], doped communicants [U5.345-351;364-368], missionized Africans [U5. 335-37] the watchers of a cricket game [U5.558-59] or even Bloom himself, buoying in the bath [U5.567-72]. For the changes in the state of consciousness, in the mind, or in the body, Joyce doesn’t fully rely on his source material, not giving transformative powers to the lotus flower all alone, but also embeds narcotics which are more accessible in modern times. It’s a wide range, containing tobacco, alcohol, opium, and many other botanical or chemical substances. Yet, the number one pain killer is the host given during the Eucharist, that “lulls all the pain” [cf. U5.359-68]. Let’s bear in mind for an instance the transformative character of the Eucharist, the transubstantiation, in which matter (the host) is infused with the spirit and becoming the body of Christ. In the end of the episode Bloom as well alludes to the Last Supper, the first celebration of the Eucharist (“This is my body.” [U5.766] / Bible: Luke 22.19). This point will become more relevant in a moment, but first it is necessary to take a step back. Regarding the symbolism of the lotus flower, there are several possible interpretations, but the one which fits best to the imagery used by the narrator to compare Bloom’s penis to a “languid floating flower” [U5.571-72] is taken from Buddhist symbolism. In this interpretation the lotus flower, rooting in the murky soil and yet the flower floats cleanly on the surface of the water, symbolizes the rise above the confusion of the material reality to gain enlightenment. Or to use more western terms, it symbolizes the relationship between the carnal and the sublime, the body and the spirit. At this point it is worth to compare Stephen and Bloom once again, this time in respect of their connection to the ‘navel’(Stephen [U3.35-40] / Bloom [U5.570ff]), linked to the concept of metempsychosis. Together they represent the duality of spirit (Stephen) and body (Bloom). When Stephen imagines his phone call to paradise via the umbilical cord, through which souls find a way to pass from one body to the other (U3.37-44), he doesn’t think of it as a bodily experience but rather gives it a spiritual notion, a religious connotation, embedding a normative stance (“Womb of all sin.” [U3.44]), which creates a hierarchy between the material and the spiritual, with the spirit regarded as the dominating force. Bloom on the other hand meditates on transience (“Won’t last. Always passing, the stream of life” [U5.563]), yet by the combination of the acknowledgement of carnal dissolution, the confidence in his own body, and the imagery of the flowing lotus flower on the surface of the water, Bloom represents the idea that spiritual fulfillment arises from the depth of materiality (the body). Just like Stephen’s umbilical cord enables the souls to migrate from one body to the next one, Bloom’s penis (Lotus allusion: “bud of flesh” [U5.570] fulfills the same role (“father of thousands” [U5.571]). This creates a co-reliance be-tween body and spirit on the one hand but makes clear insistently that the cord of infinite transmigration can be sustained only by finite corporeality. This idea both leads to a profanation of the Eucharist and renders an ontology possible which enhances materialism, sharpening the focus rather on the “womb of warmth” [U5.567-68] than on any rules made up by religion.

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