Loud lone crack
Loud lone crack
As Bloom sits in his parlor, about to rise and enter the
adjoining bedroom, he contemplates three minor mysteries: a "selfimposed
enigma," a "selfinvolved enigma," and a "selfevident
enigma." The first is self-imposed because it "involuntarily"
impacts his thoughts: a wooden table in the parlor emits "a
brief sharp unforeseen heard loud lone crack." Bloom's
curiosity about the "cause" of this noise invites
comparison to a moment in Homer's Odyssey when a
thunderclap is taken for evidence of divine approval. But it
is also productive to ask why he is searching out mysteries at
this particular time: could it be that he is none too eager to
climb into bed with Molly?
Gifford suggests an allusion to the end of Book 21 of the epic poem, when Odysseus strings his mighty bow and prepares to slaughter the suitors. In the Robert Fitzgerald translation from which he quotes, the verbal echo is particularly strong: "Then Zeus thundered / overhead, one loud crack for a sign. / And Odysseus laughed within him that the son / of crooked minded Kronos had flung that omen down." "Coincidentally," Gifford notes, Carl Jung acquired a sense of spiritual purpose and began his search for numinous archetypes within the human psyche when he heard two "loud cracks" from pieces of furniture in the summer of 1898.
Joyce was reading some of Jung's work when he wrote Ulysses, but this personal anecdote apparently first appeared in print in the early 1960s (in Memories, Dreams, Reflections), and the two men first met in the 1930s—so, intriguing as the coincidence may be, there is little reason to suppose that it informs the passage in Ithaca. Leaving aside Jung's odd experience, though, the echo of the Odyssey, in a chapter teeming with such echoes, is sufficiently strong to introduce the notion that divinity can declare its presence in mundane sounds. In Nestor Stephen called God "A shout in the street." Similar deities might manifest themselves in cracking timbers.
The evocation of supernatural support, if such it is, comes
just after what Gifford calls Bloom's "prayerful" review of
his day, in which various events have symbolically enacted
Jewish religious rituals. If quotidian occurrences like making
breakfast, going to work, listening to music, and masturbating
may affirm a divine order, then the release of tension in a
piece of "strainveined timber" may well do the same thing. The
narrator encourages such a reading by inserting the word "unforeseen"
into his long list of crisp monosyllables ("a brief sharp
unforeseen heard loud lone crack"), and by mentioning that the
sound has been produced by "insentient material."
Inanimate objects produce sounds all the time, so why call
attention to the fact unless to suggest that something
extraordinary is happening? And saying that the event was
unforeseen places it in the context of divine omens that men
It's quite reasonable, then, to suppose that Joyce here is
encouraging his Odyssean hero to move forward with killing the
suitors—an action which he will shortly perform in a
remarkably nonviolent way, by examining his "antagonistic
sentiments" toward the adultery (envy, jealousy, abnegation,
equanimity), considering possible responses to it, and
choosing acceptance rather than rage. For several hundred
pages now, the novel has employed Homeric analogies to suggest
that Bloom may prove to be a heroic individual: standing up to
the Citizen, reclaiming his manhood from Bella Cohen, acting
as a father to Stephen. If he can now master the longstanding
sexual anxiety that Molly has brought to the surface and
forced him to confront, June 16 may prove to have been a
All of this may be implied by the answer in this brief
Q&A, but different notes are struck in the meandering
question: "What selfimposed enigma did Bloom about to rise in
order to go so as to conclude lest he should not conclude
involuntarily apprehend?" However one construes the syntax and
references of the central words here, they create a picture of
irresolution. Bloom is "about to rise" from his chair in the
parlor, but his meditation on the cause of the table's
cracking noise stops him. Why was he about to rise? It was "in
order to go" into the bedroom. Why was he going to go there?
It was "so as to conclude" something. What was that something?
His waking day? His understanding of what happened during it?
His differences with Molly? His marriage? Whatever it was, he
wished to conclude it "lest he should not conclude."
Etymologically, "conclude" means "to shut completely." None of
Bloom's thoughts about his wife, his marriage, or his
sexuality come within a country mile of that condition.
If the cracking timber does offer some hope that Bloom will
succeed in the bedroom, it does so only within the context of
his evident uncertainty, self-doubt, and hesitation. A similar
mixture of anxiety and hope is implied by the allusion to a popular song in his
final, "selfevident enigma." Here at the outset of the triad,
"selfimposed" probably refers chiefly to the fact that the
sound intrudes on Bloom's consciousness irresistibly. But
nothing in nature requires him to search for its "cause," so
it is Bloom too who is imposing the enigma on himself.
Spending time on two more such mysteries before he departs for
the bedroom—Who was McIntosh? Where was Moses when the light
went out?—shows a reasoning mind in thrall to its emotions.
Fear is the mother of procrastination.