Floating flower

In Brief

Bloom thinks of his penis, "the limp father of thousands," as “a languid floating flower.” The image of a flower floating on the water evokes the plant that gives its name to this episode: Lotus Eaters. But the negative implication of the Homeric parallel (human rationality plunged into drugged stupor) seems to be balanced here by a positive suggestion (spiritual fulfillment arising from the depths of material embodiment).

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No scholarly consensus has been reached regarding the precise identity of the Homeric plant consumed by the Lotus-eaters for food and pleasure. The Ziziphus lotus is the most common association, but the blue lotus, an Egyptian water lily related to the lotus common to Asian culture and myth, and which contains psychotropic properties, is another contender. Bloom has thought of water lilies at the beginning of the episode: "Hothouse in Botanic gardens. Sensitive plants. Waterlilies. Petals too tired to. Sleeping sickness in the air."

In Asian religions, particularly Buddhism, the lotus flower is a versatile symbol, most apparently for rising above the murk and confusion of material reality ruled by fear and desire into spiritual enlightenment. The lotus, rooted in the mud while floating cleanly on the water’s surface, symbolizes the relationship between the carnal and the divine. It seems that Joyce may be drawing on this familiar symbolism, since Bloom's imagination of what his naked body will look like stretched out in the bath is sparked by thinking, "This is my body." His phrase echoes Christ's words at the Last Supper, used in the sacrament of Communion to announce the miracle of transubstantiation. The Eucharist is emblematic of matter becoming infused with spirit, and symbolic of the greater miracle of Incarnation: the divine Word becoming flesh in the human person of Jesus.

Bloom's thoughts of his corpse submerged within the deeply spiritual symbol of water emphasize that mental and spiritual influences, far from possessing anything like independent substantial realities, must reside as some aspect of materiality. Throughout Ulysses, Joyce seems to refuse to take sides in the battle between mind and matter, letting his two main characters represent the value in each: Stephen as a champion of reason and intellect and Bloom as a man of sensory aesthetics and lusty appetites. In Lotus Eaters Bloom champions Joyce’s middle-path immanentist ontology through an enhanced materialism that has no use for religion or spiritualism, but which is nevertheless overflowing with curiosity, mystical speculation, and an emphasis on the imaginative aspect of experience. From this visionary bath scene arises the co-reliance between mind and matter.

Just before thinking of the bath, Bloom has meditated on transience: "Won't last. Always passing, the stream of life, which in the stream of life we trace is dearer than them all." He superimposes this image on the bath: "clean trough of water, cool enamel, the gentle tepid stream. This is my body." The body floating on the stream is a transient phenomenon, but it cheats death by procreating itself. The penis/lotus' thread from airy surface to soiled roots becomes a kind of highway driving souls from body to body, connecting unborn thousands to their limp father in an endless chain of umbilical cords and transmigrations. The paradox is that this eternal thread of transmigration can be sustained only via unsustainable corporeal reality.

Bloom’s “limp father of thousands” becomes an emphatic image for reverse engineering spiritual dualism to demonstrate the soul’s total dependence upon the physical. Because he is so comfortable in his own body he focuses on the ways spiritual and material realities are inextricably connected, and suggests a single substance ontology giving rise to the illusion of duality through a relationship with itself (through the mediums of space and/or time). In such a system the spiritual is merely a dynamic of physical processes. Without the birth and dissolution of material bodies that "won’t last," and are "always passing," there can be no eternal/spiritual reality. From Christ to Zeus, even gods betray a pathological desperation to inhabit a vessel. Aristotle’s forms are always abstractions from the particular. And a disembodied soul is deader than a corpse.

Josh Wagner 2014
Source: www.atlantisqueen.co. The site notes the traditional iconographic depiction of the lotus as a plant whose roots rest in the mud of material existence but whose flower rises into "the bright sunshine of enlightenment."
The Ziziphus lotus, a thorny shrub that grows in the Mediterranean region. Birds and humans eat the fruit. Source: www.teline.fr.
The blue lotus or blue Egyptian water lily, Nymphaea caerula. Chewed or brewed into a tea, the flowers produce a mild sedative effect. Source: Wikimedia Commons.