books, christianity, culture, God, history, James Joyce, Life, literature, poetry, religion, spirituality
“Bloomsday is an intellectual game… Dedalusday is a spiritual journey.”—Xenon
“When Zen gives utterance to itself, it goes against the intellect so as to upset it from its very foundation; the intellect loses its way and stands completely dazed.”— D.T. Suzuki, Living By Zen
I was looking for a well known quote of T.S. Eliot’s, something about “coming and going, and talking of Michaelangelo,” but couldn’t find it. That’s ok, I very nearly loath T.S. Eliot. Too dry, too Life negating. Even when he’s preaching rebirth and regeneration he’s doing so in a desiccated sterile manner. He feared women, hated sex, and in spite of numerous relationships and several marriages held the life of a celibate as the ideal. Why some women idealize him is beyond me… but actually it isn’t, because those women tend to be over intellectualized and uneasy in their femininity.
Which brings me back in a “…commodious vicus of recirculation…” to Joyce’s Ulysses and today, June 16th, known to many in the booky world as Bloomsday, to a few as Dedalusday.
Driving my truck around yesterday the thought occurred to me that Bloomsday is a fixating on the past while Dedalusday is a looking to the future.
Bloom wanders the city dressed in mourning black out of synch with his fellow citizens and out of touch with his wife Molly. They have not had sex since the death of their infant son years before, and as a result, from shear neglect and an unwillingness to throw up the flag and grow prematurely old, Molly is taking on a lover. Good for her—Life takes precedence.
In his blundering though well intentioned way Bloom returns at last to the bed of marriage, exhausted yet somehow renewed, but not before touching the life and destiny of Stephen Dedalus, the third member of Ulysses‘ Holy Trinity: Bloom the Father, Dedalus the Son, and Molly Woman. (That’s where Joyce diverges from Eliot, who clings to the antiquated Life-denying Holy Ghost.)
That, in a nutshell, is the tale of our modern day Ulysses. We have been out of touch with Woman, out of synch and relationship with Life. The old way, the old religions—how they shaped our inner and outer lives—no longer serves. A new way need be found.
And that, as confusing and difficult as the chapters in the book devoted to Stephen Dedalus are, is what is taking place. Dedalus is tearing himself from a fixation on the past. In the brothel scene he swings his cross-like ash plant at the haunting apparition of his dead mother who would have him return to the comforting bosom of the Church, before staggering out into the street and getting knocked to the ground and symbolically killed by a drunken British soldier.
Bloom is there for the resurrection. He helps Stephen back to his feet and brings him home… to meet Molly, Woman. In their own way both men have returned to relationship with Life. Bloom the city man and Dedalus the Artist.
Joyce chose June 16th, 1904, for the events of the great tale of his ultimate awakening. It was the day he first walked out with Norah, the woman who would become his wife, mother his children. What a tribute.
Maybe, if I ever learn to write, I’ll write a book which takes place on June 25th, 2003, the day the woman who would become my wife walked into my life.
Woman the all-encompassing centre of a new Holy Trinity. I like that.
The Father, the Son, and Woman, and not necessarily in that order.
I enjoyed reading this, although I’ve not yet read Ulysses.
However, a couple of things you say make me a little nervous, a little doubtful.
Firstly, to say that women who idealize Eliot ‘tend to be over intellectualized and uneasy in their femininity’ is a stark generalisation, and I wonder what makes you think you know this. I don’t think many women are terribly or at least completely easy in their femininity. Just as likely many men are not completely at ease with their masculinity.
Then you say ‘We have been out of touch with Woman, out of synch and relationship with Life.’ and I wonder who this ‘we’ is. If you mean ‘we’ as society, you’re forgetting the half of society that happens to be a woman (which is not to say that all women are in touch with femininity, or what it is to be a woman, whatever that is). If by ‘we’ you mean man and men, that’s just as bad if not worse. I agree that Western civilisation has grown up phallocentric, I’m just not sure about how you put it.
My main concern is the idealisation of ‘Woman’. Against the phallocentric culture, I think there is some tendency to slightly mythologise the feminine, and this is dangerous. By erecting the great monument ‘Woman’, you’re somewhat denying her. The name, ‘Woman’, is just an empty monument. What is its substance and content?
Hope you understand I say all this in the friendliest spirit of debate –
All the best,
Thanks for reading, and a big thanks for asking the questions. As for the ‘spirit of debate’, I’m elated, although I hate the idea of a debate. It conjures images of ideas being bandied about, ideas often enough utterly unrelated to our inner beings, our souls if you will.
Here at the Cafe it is all about Truths that well up from within. In honouring ourselves, being true to ourselves, we experience the outer world–learn–from the inside out. Education and growth is a flowering out from within, rather than an imposing from without. So yes, question, don’t take anything anyone, whether Joyce, Eliot, whomever, or myself says, without filtering it through your own sense of Truth first.
Ok, that said, I’ll respond as best I can. And I do so with a large playful smile; I love this stuff.
I wrote: ‘We have been out of touch with Woman….’ and you ask who this ‘we’ is. To me, ‘we’ is us, you and I and everyone else, for as you say: ‘Western civilization has grown up phallocentric.’ How can this ‘phallocentricism’ not distort our inner selves, not unbalance both men and women raised into it? I write of the origins of this in several places, including my post ‘We Are The Seekers.’ Oswald Spengler and then Joseph Campbell used the term ‘psuedomorphoses’ for what occurred some thousand years ago, and continues to affect our lives to this day. It had much to do with a religion with its roots in the Levant, harsh and masculine, imposing itself across our young and growing Western world.
Two things come to mind as I write this. The Jewish religion took shape in a society’s soul at a time when the grasslands that covered much of North Africa were ever so slowly drying up and turning to desert, and the early Hebrews were nomadic herders, which tends to emphasize what might be termed the ‘masculine’ virtues in a community. Combine the two and I don’t think it’s hard to imagine the heavy shift towards phallocentricism. Nature was drying up, the life of the community amidst this roil of peoples competing for nature’s diminishing bounty would have been difficult. Their Bible was an outgrowth of all they were, it summed up in its wild agglomeration a people, a time. Divine? Sure, it was their Life.
But that Bible has been imposed on others in different times and different places. We Westerners don’t even know who we were or could have been. The burgeoning sense of ourselves and the world about was brutally stamped out a thousand years ago. Little remains, though we’re still intrigued and fascinated by runes, Occidental Mythology, witchcraft, and in fact anything that recalls our lost heritage, take The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter for just two examples.
Wow, this is getting out of hand, but let me go on. Bloom was a Jew, the wandering citified man, an arch representative of our Judeo-Christian upbringing. In fact, his wife Molly was Christian, so there you have that Judeo-Christianity. Note that their son, Rudy, had died many years before. It is the end of the line for the phallocentric portion of the Bloom blood line. Had Joyce had any of the above in mind when he wrote Ullysses?
As I wrote, Dedalus is in the process of tearing himself away from that very heritage in order to move forwards into the future. His great journey was announced by Woman, and to my thinking ends as well with Woman–an new and living relationship with Woman. His upbringing is amply emphasized in A Portrait and now he is back, in the throes of his final struggles.
An idealization of Woman? No, more a realization of Woman. And now I’m on firm but indescribable ground, or perhaps paddling frantically mid-river. And at the heart of your ‘friendliest spirit of debate.’ Far be it for me to impose Womanhood on you. It just is, and I’ll mostly leave it at that. How many women have I met who exude confidence and comfort in their truest femininity? Few I would say, Westerners that is. Our educational system is something of an impediment. Usually, what I’ve experienced, is there is a period of readjustment required after graduation, a sort of returning to mythic roots, a discarding or more accurately perhaps a long period of assimilation required to truly integrate the outward ‘learned’ knowledge into the inner being. Education seems to pull the individual’s consciousness–and unconsciousness too–upward into the noggin’ and away from the centre of being. Time is required to counteract that, to draw it back downwards where it belongs. Many don’t succeed, and hence the uneasiness, the questioning.
Ok, my wife is across from me and giving me a hard time. The boy is playing his last game of Wii before we get on with the day, Father’s Day. I’m dressed and my wife is still in her bathrobe. Ahh, such is life. A wonder and joy.
Breakfast time around here. We’re wondering whether or not to feed the boy as he threw up… in a library no less, yesterday. Maybe he knows more than we.
Have a great and joyous day, Rachel, and thanks for the comment, sorry for the length of response,
Thanks for your comments and your response, Jeff – I really do enjoy the dialogue (much better word than ‘debate’).
Glad you noted my Anaïs Nin post because, as you can probably tell from that, I’m of a very similar disposition to you in terms of your aspiration towards truth, self realisation (or what you will) and so on. I also very much agree with your analysis of the influence of the Judeo-Christian heritage on what our culture is today, particularly in that it is far dominated by the masculine.
You’re also, I think, right to suspect that most women are not at ease with their femininity – because the emancipation of women hasn’t been around at all long in terms of history, so women are having to (re?)discover just what it is to be female. Hélène Cixous also writes very well on this. I must admit that I was rather hasty to object to your ‘We have been out of touch…’
I think this was probably because I feel I am at ease with my feminitity, having considered it quite a lot, and so are my female friends. Then again I can well believe that many men are not so very comfortable with it, and I think most women don’t even question it, therefore carry on in a femininity that’s been prescribed to them largely by men.
I do, though, stand by my objection to your use of the word ‘Woman’. While I believe I understand what you mean (and happen to largely agree with you), For me, merely to say ‘Woman’ is to say nothing at all. Perhaps I am pedantic, but I believe it’s essential in philosophical discourse to speak specifically. I think that ‘woman’ and ‘the feminine’ are more than just vague concepts, that they have a certain describable substance, and in order to realise them, as with anything, we must understand exactly what we mean by those words.
Talking of resonating (in your last comment over on my blog) – Nin persuaded me to finally pick up D. H. Lawrence and he really does write amazingly well and subtly on the differences between men and women, as well as his prescription for humanity. I was utterly blown away by Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and his call for ‘tender-heartedness’. That’s what I’m talking about!
Hope you’re having a great day too, Jeff!
Philosophical discourse? Youch! How ’bout a poetic parley? Or perhaps a verbal dance.
‘Then again I can well believe that many men are not so very comfortable with it…” No truer words, for what is at the core of manhood? What defines it or validates it?
Community is a dynamic dance of men and women. Sometime the two are in synch, sometime not. Roles change over time, the demands of society change, and the dance need evolve too. Mellors and Lady Chatterley, who is leading and who following? Neither, and both. They touch and awaken one another to Life’s fullest potential, after what might be called a protracted apprenticeship. Society opposes their union, both have the choice of knuckling under or holding fast to what truth lies within their hearts. ‘Tender-heartedness’? Wasn’t he the gamekeeper? The life nurturer? And L.C. responds and opens to him, reluctantly at first, for he is outside of what she has experienced up to then, and yet touches something inside which was already there.
What point any of this? Life, that’s ALL. Woman? I wouldn’t presume to define, delimit. I leave it, capitalized, as I often capitalize the word Poetry. Both are words that point to something bigger than words can encompass, so I leave them… maybe for the reader to discover within him or herself.
I’ll leave off now. Things are growing vague… vague and poetic. I’m having fun though. Books needn’t be a burdensome chore, the words can be listened to like music. They touch or they don’t, and perhaps what don’t touch now will later, which you allude to in the Nin post.
Books? Here’s what’s at my elbow as I finish this: Henry Miller On Writing; Living By Zen, by David Suzuki; Reader’s Digest’s Vanished Civilizations (mainly for some pirated images); Simplified Photoshop Elements 9; and T.S.Eliot An Imperfect Life, by Lyndall Gordon.
Why the Eliot book? Bought it for a buck at the library. I’m half way through and bogging down. Don’t like the man, and never liked his poetry, but thought I would take a stab, if only to know the enemy. In my humble opinion a real life-negating shite, but he’s become part of the ‘Canon’ I suppose. Which only serves to point out how fucked up and problem-perpetuating the ‘Canon’ can be.
OH well, we are all masters of our own destiny. Make no mistake, it’s a fortunate era which, having read a great deal of history, I believe won’t last all that much longer. New book needed: Entropic Of Cancer.
And damn, I never got going on Miller and Nin, and Henry And June, the book and movie. Didn’t like the movie, Miller came off as a boor. Takes genius to capture genius. Went looking for the book ’bout a month ago. Used to have it but let it go on one of my periodic purges. Have two Miller VHS videos, bought at the Henry Miller Library outside Big Sur, California.
That’s absolutely it,
Thanks, and may you celebrate it all….Life that is
You know I was thinking about this (too much) before I went to sleep, and decided I may have misinterpreted some things, somewhat. I now disagree with myself about trying to be more specific re woman, because I realise that to specify would actually be to generalise more for women, to tell woman what she is. I think the point I was vaguely coming to is more that Woman means nothing to me, because each woman’s femininity is an individual matter. I think it’s less a case of learning to become Woman so much as womankind needs to establish its confidence in order, actually, for the individual to break away from what’s ‘Woman’ and be herself. And the same goes for man. I think if humanity ever actually reached the point of being at ease with one’s gender (or perhaps sexuality), the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ would be reduced to biology, the words having nothing to do with how one lived one’s life.
I like philosophical discourse because philosophy is simply loving knowledge, seeking truth. It does sound a little pompous though.
I’ve not yet read any Eliot either. Seems almost unbelievable, he really is ‘canon’. I’ll let you know what I think of him when I eventually do! I think it’s impossible that you won’t love Nin, when you get to her. I’m lucky enough to live in a town full of really, really excellent 2nd hand bookshops. You never know what you’ll find (latest haul: Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonte, Lawrence’s Son’s & Lovers, Woolf’s The Voyage Out, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. Book shopping is really one of my greatest pleasures in life!)
I did read quite a bit of Nin years ago, as an offshoot of reading Miller. If an author appeals to me I tend to read outward from him or her, like concentric circled ripples spreading across a pond. Biographies included. That, for me, always puts a human face behind the words, for words never stand alone–unless they’re dead I suppose.
Perhaps aside from a re-perusal of Henry And June I must admit I haven’t much interest in delving too far back into the diaries, and definitely not her novels. Too dreamy, insubstantial. The diaries have more solidity, more body, and yet even they swirl, touch but never gain balance, never reach the hub and remain there for any length of time.
‘I do not think I am looking for a man, but for a God. I am beginning to feel a void which must be the absence of God. I have called for a father, a guide, a leader, a protector, a friend, a lover, but I still miss something; it must be God. But I want a God in the flesh, not an abstraction, an incarnated God with strength, two arms, and a sex.’
Right there is the crux of the matter (Matter as in ‘mother’). In New Agey parlance, had she thrown aside her search for a man and ditched her search for a God in order to concentrated on a search for the Goddess, which for all I know of her latter years she might very well have finally achieved, much would have been different in her life and writings. But it was a far different era from our’s and she was one of many pioneers on the trackless path away from the phallocentric back towards the feminine and a societal balance.
The goal has yet to be reached and there is much resistance, internal as well as external.
As for the bookshopping, I’ve slowed down immensely from years ago. Recently I visited two bookstores, one a well-stocked used and another a big boxy Chapters, and come away empty handed. I marvelled to my wife the other day that I had spent the better part of an hour in the latter–with $40 in gift certificates to burn– and couldn’t find anything of interest!
The truth is I don’t feel the need to read voraciously anymore. There once were years when I worked a minimum of hours and read the rest. My head was too full of the stuff to appeal to womanhood so I was alone and, besides occasional bouts of yearning and self-pity, happily so. It was an invaluable experience, one I don’t think many people these days are willing to undergo, it sort of being a fool’s errand. But I have a large dollop of the fool in me and the quest for Truth has always occupied too much of my thoughts.
Anyway, the Omphalos Cafe is the result.
Thanks for reading, commenting, and best wishes on the journey and adventure that is nothing else than your very own life, which, I believe, should you make it far enough along, (or, I write this shamefacedly, truly grasp the message of the Cafe) you will discover you share as sister and eventually mother with every living being on this planet and beyond.
Wow, that was a grand finale, with fireworks and all.
Thanks very much for all your comments Jeff, it’s been an interesting conversation. I still think we suffer a little from mistranslation of each other, but this form of communication makes avoiding this even more difficult than it already is. I’m afraid that while you may want to leave it there, I can’t. Not just because I like to have the last word I promise.
I’m sorry you feel that way about the Diaries. They are a little insubstantial, I agree, but I think that reflects the lack of solid stuff out of which our identities and lives are constructed. And although, particularly in the earlier diaries, she does appear to be searching for a man, the fascinating thing for was to experience her burgeoning realisation that what she was searching for was an impossibility. The quest for a man was revealed to be (all along, I’d argue) a quest for herself. It takes a while to understand what we’re searching for, and for me, Anais represents the feminine par excellence. She’s not perfectly formed, but she’s human. She recognises her imperfections, her inconsistancy and insubstantiality. She is sexual and yes she’s searching for some male ideal, but not to complete her or make her, at least not later, but because woman isn’t made to exist alone. Yes she searches for god, perhaps you’d prefer her to be searching for goddess, perhaps you’re right – but I think even ‘goddess’ is a pretty male way of putting what we’re searching for. If she searches for god it’s only eventually to overthrow him, to find him as flawed and not fit for her as any male ideal. I think later she does come to search for the ‘goddess’, only she never calls it that.
Anyway, that’s the serious stuff. Book shopping – I’ve only been reading seriously for maybe three years, even though it’s felt like I’ve always been a literary creature and I can hardly believe this fact! So I have lots to catch up with! And it’s still new, fresh, exciting for me. I hope it will always be.
I think there is a link between reading/writing and suffering/unhappiness/unsettledness. It sounds like you’re very happy and well settled! That makes me happy. Not that I’m unhappy, but I’m certainly not settled. And writing does seem to be far easier when you’re slightly suffering. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t strongly argue this anyway, but it’s a thought.
The Cafe’s message may not be my message. There are many, many, many paths and I’ll accept no one who tells me theirs is the best. Stay open. Each man and woman’s journey is his own – best of luck with yours.
Wonderful reply, Rachel,
Mistranslation? I don’t think so, You’re you and I’m me, and I’m perfectly alright with that. Was I putting a final touch on anything? Not in the least: I love this stuff. In knocking up against others, in the ruck and roil of life, we become more defined, more ourselves.
You say, ‘The Cafe’s message may not be my message.’ Then: ‘There are many, many, many paths and I’ll accept no one who tells me theirs is the best. Stay open. Each man and woman’s journey is his own – best of luck with yours.’ But that is precisely the Cafe’s message! It came off in my email a little heavy handed and I cringed after rereading it, but I am no longer about second guessing or worrying about taking things back or how it will be received. Let Fly! I say now.
‘Yes she searches for god, perhaps you’d prefer her to be searching for goddess, perhaps you’re right – but I think even ‘goddess’ is a pretty male way of putting what we’re searching for.’ Perhaps, and I suspect this to be absolutely and irretrievably true for me, I can only put things in a ‘pretty male’ way, but again, I’m alright with that. ‘Goddess’, ‘Woman’, I frankly don’t know how to put it differently, don’t know if they can be put differently. I mean them in the poetic sense, hence the capitalization. There is no defining the undefinable. I experience the ‘Goddess’ and ‘Woman’ in a certain way, definitely male, while I’m sure you experience (and experience and not definition is what I’m talking about here) in a different way. Can we, as male to female, bridge the gap? To my thinking, and I’m talking about the deepest level of experiential thinking, no, which in all likelihood contributes mightily to the ‘mistranslation.’
A certain level of education would have us believe there is an absolute, objective, meaning to be gained. In fact that kind of thinking is promoted and makes it to the head of the classroom in order to perpetuate itself. The Artists and Poets are forever running counter to this way of thinking. They are forever striving with might and main for a reconnecting to what is vital and alive within ourselves, fighting to help society regain the balance lost with that sort of head understanding.
As for the happiness, I have never been happier. Life is full of wonder and challenges, this Cafe thing not least of all.
My wife is an amazing woman, who incidentally prefers to be mostly left out of this. She is a practicing psychologist who I’ve repeatedly urged to write her own book, if only to blast the goatteed goofballs off their podiums. Our son is seven and healthy and sometimes gets himself into trouble, which is entirely normal for a kid his age. I, and the Cafe, would not be as rich without them.
That I’m trying to subtly alter the way we look at things, that I am fully and completely in a well documented line of visionaries, I am well aware. Have I the means of sharing my vision of Life? Who knows. Time will tell. Do I care about publication, approbation? Not one bit. My goal is uttering Truths as I see and experience them. Am I having fun doing all these things? Working towards including slide shows in my blog, maybe one day video clips? Absolutely.
One other ‘message’ this Cafe strives to convey I don’t think I included: this Life we, you, I, and everyone, are living, is precious and a fantastic gift. The mysteries of all the ages, the great Words, the Great Works, are in us too, if only we tap most fully into who we truly are. When I started out on my journey, some twenty-six years ago now, I had small inklings of Truth within me striving to be heard and mountains to be read; now, after all that time, living as much as reading, I feel I have much much more Truth within and much less to be read.
Oh, and one last thing. ‘And writing does seem to be far easier when you’re slightly suffering. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t strongly argue this anyway, but it’s a thought.’ I laughed reading this, ’cause I totally agree. Easier to read too, as evidenced by the bestseller lists. As I’ve said before, people still read and love Miller’s Tropics, Cancer and Capricorn, as well as Black Spring, but who has heard of Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, Wisdom Of The Heart, The Cosmological Eye? Dante’s Inferno is far better known than his paradise. And Kerouac, who never really gets anywhere, remains a counterculture classic, as do the rest of the Beats.
Damn, that’s enough. A big thank you for all this, and blessings,