Returning

In Brief

In fact only one of the two men is "returning" to the source from which he began his day's journeying. (Stephen has no home, and halfway through Ithaca it becomes clear that he has miles to go before he sleeps.) But by analogy with Homer's Odyssey this chapter does represent a return, not only because Bloom goes home at the end of a long day, but also because he sets his mental house in order. With its crystalline if quirky rationality, the chapter's prose imitates this process of coming to intellectual rest.

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Odysseus' story is a nostos or homecoming—a "return." At the end of the epic he has rejoined his son, wife, and father, regained his ancestral palace, and exterminated the suitors who usurped his place. Bloom lacks nothing but a latchkey to regain entrance to his marital bed, and modern societies frown on shedding adulterers' blood. His task is to regain some of the mental balance that has been threatened by anxiety over his wife's unfaithfulness, an assault by a murderous anti-Semite, snubs by countless Dubliners, grieving thoughts about his dead father and son, worries about aging and loss of happiness, and a prolonged encounter with his own fears, unfulfilled wishes, and sexual pathologies. The intellectual conversation that he has with Stephen Dedalus on the way to his house, inside its kitchen, and in the yard behind—a more creditable analogue of the reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus than occurred in Eumaeus—sets him on a path to mental equilibrium.

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Stephen praised art that is static rather than kinetic: "The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. These are kinetic emotions. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I use the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing." Ithaca shows Bloom working to raise his mind above desire and loathing, and its own relentless catechetical succession of questions and answers arrests the mind of the reader in a kind of Olympian detachment.

For Bloom, this stasis takes the form of calming the troubled waters of his mind, viewing his situation as rationally and optimistically as he can, deciding (for the time being, at least) to return to the bed of his matrimonial violation, and slipping peacefully into sleep. For Stephen's equally troubled mind the chapter offers no comparable return to tranquility. But the book has shown him repeatedly envisioning such a recapitulation, especially in his account of Shakespeare returning to Stratford in Scylla and Charybdis.

JH 2014
Odysseus killing the suitors on an Attic red-figure skyphos, ca. 440 BC, from Tarquinia, by the Penelope Painter. Source: www.mlahanas.de.