When Lenehan tells M’Coy how he grabbed Molly while her husband was pointing out constellations, he meets his companion’s cold silence. Reproved, Lenehan ends his story by lamely conceding, “He’s a cultured allroundman, Bloom is [...] He’s not one of your common or garden ... you know ... There’s a touch of the artist about old Bloom” (U 10.581-3). Trodden down, Bloom rises up in status again, pathetically, with embarrassment in equal measure with respect. As the butt of the joke, Bloom is still awarded an afterthought of admiration. This happens so often in Ulysses that one is tempted to think Lenehan’s remark might be more appropriate than even he knows. I wish to take this concession, which he “seriously” makes, then, seriously - analyzing Bloom as a “cultured allroundman,” a character whose occupation, personality, and interests construct him as a new kind of amateur learner suited for the modern city and modernist narrative.
In his knee-jerk apologetic compliment, Lenehan actually targets an essential characteristic of Bloom. His education is primarily built on self-culture - the self-directed pursuit of knowledge outside of traditional educational establishments. He is not a specialist, expert, or academic. Unlike Stephen, whose Jesuit and University education have tied him primarily to the class-bound book (1), Bloom learns about the world from the world. In “Circe,” he even claims enrollment at the “University of Life” (2). Bloom is an autodidact and self-improver, and tends to think of himself in that way. Stephen also has plans for self-development, though of a more classical kind: seeking erudition to propel him into artistic significance. In “Ithaca,” most strikingly, both characters’ methods of self-cultivation are on display through and against the method of interrogation making the strongest claims to complete knowledge - that is, variously (and not exhaustively), the catechism, the study guide, and the imperial database. Joyce uses the self-critiquing form of “Ithaca” to present Bloom’s practical approach to self-culture favorably against Stephen’s lofty idealism and against the dominating voice of the absolute, all-knowing text.
Joyce famously claimed to be writing this chapter to resemble a “mathematical catechism” where “All events are resolved into their cosmic, physical, psychical etc. equivalents [...] so that the reader will know everything and know it in the baldest and coldest way” (Letters 159-60). The concepts of knowing and knowledge are certainly key issues in this episode, as one can tell by its form and content. Joyce’s hope that the reader “will know everything” takes shape in the examination format of the chapter. Though inspired by the tradition of the Catholic catechism, the direct source for this question and answer format is ostensibly Richmal Mangnall’s Historical and Miscellaneous Questions for the Use of Young People, a copy of which Joyce kept in Trieste and consulted for Ulysses (Gillespie 98). Written by a schoolmistress, and first published anonymously in 1800, the book was enormously popular andwent through fourteen editions by 1818 (Hampson 239). In his classic essay on “Ithaca,” A. Walton Litz calls Mangnall’s Questions “a compendium of undifferentiatied ‘practical’ knowledge, cast in the form of a familiar catechism.” He adds, “Questions that any child might ask are phrased in simple form, while a voice of hectoring authority responds with a surfeit of information and misinformation” (394). I would argue with Litz that Mangnall’s Questions includes intentional misinformation, because its primary purpose was for study, but “a voice of hectoring authority” is nonetheless apparent:
Figure 1. In the beginning . . . Page from Mangnall's Historical and Miscellaneous Questions
Certainly, the Questions may seem unusual, even bizarre, for twenty-first century readers accustomed to answers at the click of a mouse rather than through a deluge of essayistic cross-examination, but one should understand that the primary purpose of the text was to prepare “young people” for the kind of testing that they would encounter in grammar and intermediate school: that is, essay-based questions and answers. Certain editions, like William Pinnock’s “Improved Edition” of 1844, were adapted specifically for classroom use and appeared on middle-school syllabi (Hampson 240n22). Mangnall’s text is not an isolated case; Robert Hampson tells us that the catechism, outside of its traditional function in religious instruction, was a popular educational method in the nineteenth century (237). Looking at other examples in this style, it becomes clear that this schematic style of learning was attractive for general adult readers beyond school-bound “young people.” Popular works from Adolphe Ganot, including Natural Philosophy for General Readers and Young People(1872) and Popular Natural Philosophy (1879),recognize in their very titles that general readers also sought knowledge in these directly accessible ways (Hampson 246) (3).
In practical use, the schematic study guide that “Ithaca” apes was as much the autodidact’s ally as the school-child’s crutch. It could be and was employed beyond the classroom to cultivate individual knowledge, especially for a readership that shared Bloom’s curiosity for facts. Many motivated men and women sought a way of improving themselves by returning to, or perhaps practicing for the first time, the habits of learning by concrete Q&A. Using this format, “Ithaca” seeks to connect the learning styles of Stephen and Bloom, academic and general reader, “sublimating” the two (as Joyce indicated) in this case by virtue of a shared indebtedness to the catechistic structure which had by the mid-nineteenth century transcended school and church to become a method of popular learning. One can see this sublimation in Joyce’s own life. Joyce would be familiar with the structure of the catechetical setup from his own education, where the Catholic catechism and the tripartite structure of the Jesuit pedagogy Ratio Studiorum inspired rigorously logical thinking (4). In “Ithaca,” the catechism borrowed from Mangnall and the Catholic Church marks the formative backbone of this episode concerned with knowledge. It is a logical choice because, according to Litz, the catechism was “associated with some of [Joyce’s] most profound early experiences, and had proved to be a vehicle for precise intellectual argument which simultaneously allowed scope for exaggeration and self-parody” (395). Keeping Mangnall’s Questions in Trieste suggests that he thought its structure still intriguing, or its information still quaintly useful (perhaps enough so to employ on Giorgio and Lucia).
Figure 2. Questioning/Authority. Excerpt from the online Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The claims that “Ithaca” makes toward exact knowledge, and its subsequent inability to deliver on them, are intrinsic to the problem of comprehensiveness that the catechetical method seeks to overcome. Herein is the essence of self-parody - “Ithaca” unveils the fallacy of total knowledge by undermining through its “scientific” language the Socratic method employed. The minute details and technical language of the responses, in this case, actually draw attention to the questions not being asked and the answers’ lack of helpful revelation. Recent critics have returned to “Ithaca” to explore this issue of knowledge failure. Jon Hegglund reads the style of “Ithaca” as Joyce’s parody of the colonial ambition to amass the mythical knowledge of the world, what Thomas Richards has called “the imperial archive” (Hegglund 59). This is a promising interpretation, especially with its emphasis on questioning both 1) the complete possibility of full and total knowledge, wishing for which both the Empire and the Enlightenment are guilty, and 2) the appropriateness of “facts,” in general, but especially in a moment where a desire to explore these personal relationships by the questioner is buried by raw material by the answerer. Joyce was highly skeptical of any total truth claims, whether they came from religion, science, or anywhere in between, and considering this Hegglund’s reading of “Ithaca” makes complete sense. I would even extend it beyond a critique of the colonial amassment project into a criticism of useless knowledge, or knowledge for its own sake, especially when the modern culture of science threatened to take over the less easily definable area of relationships. Nevertheless, Joyce was not anti-intellectual, just attuned to the contemporary dominance of science’s clinical jargon - offensive to literary wordsmiths for its joyless tone and pretension towards exactness. “Ithaca” is frequently funny because it uses the verbal instruments of accuracy inaccurately, inappropriately, and at cross-purposes with common sense.
At any rate, due to the pretentiously thorough mode of information-gathering here employed, one neither searches for nor finds quite what one is looking for. A charged instance where there appears to be a simple answer is radically reductive, if fundamentally accurate. The question “What two temperaments did they individually represent?” correlates Bloom and Stephen simply to “The scientific. The artistic” (U 17.559-560). “Ithaca” is too much of not enough. It attempts to break down difficult, variable ideas into concrete categories, which, though difficult in their own ways, approach factual infallibility but emotional incompleteness. These are correct answers, mostly, but not the right answers. “What the catechism of ‘Ithaca’ parodies is not the idea of relationship but the idea of a system that purports to halt the play of potential relationships,” Karen Lawrence says. “All sorts of relationships do exist in unexpected places - coincidences, repetitions, puns - but these ‘facts’ cannot be reduced to a schema” (195). “Ithaca” highlights the imperfection of knowledge-gathering from a schematic standpoint, but it does so without abandoning the characters who are there at a distance. And with the shape of the episode centered on the imprecision of facts as wisdom, it is appropriate that much of the subject matter and development of the characters has to do with the way they deal with their own self-cultivational limitations.
With all of the ironic questioning of catechistic knowledge that occurs in “Ithaca,” whether it targets Church, Empire, or learning itself, the reader sees Bloom and Stephen meaningfully obscured in the pages of the parody as partial practitioners and partial victims of the schematic form. There is yet another reunion happening during the Nostos - that is, the rapprochement between nineteenth- and twentieth-century ways of envisioning self-culture. On the one hand, Stephen emerges from A Portrait as the product of a more traditional kind of Bildungsroman, or more specifically Künstlerroman, instigated by the benefits of private education and classical study through the university level, not to mention the Jesuit strain (cursed or not) inscribed therein.Bloom’s education, on the other hand, though more ambitiously middle-class than some readers may expect (5), ends before college. We know his interests extend to a wide variety of topics, often pursued through his own efforts unsystematically and not necessarily through personal motivation. His excitement to take in Stephen for the evening is spurred in part by his admiration for the young man’s intelligence and a desire to engage in repartee elevated above Molly’s habitual indifference to brainy matters. Bloom is more honored to be in the company of the “author” and “professor” than Stephen is to be with him. Still, they are able to converse about shared interests: “Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris friendship, woman, prostitution, diet [...] the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, jesuit education, careers, the study of medicine, the past day, the maleficent influence of the presabbath, [and] Stephen’s collapse” (U 17.13-17). The litany of diverse topics covered by the two reads at first like a program for a mutual improvement society’s debate club - large, general interest issues, about which self-educated men and women were expected to have opinions to appear informed and intelligent in everyday life. These topics evolve as the conversation shifts to become more personal, ending with Stephen’s fall. Whether they see eye-to-eye about these issues is obscured, but the emphasis on shared conversation suggests mutual interest and knowledge enough to carry on discussion - strains of which connect directly from “Eumaeus.” The way that “Ithaca” retreads these topics in the form of a list shows again how knowledge, specifically self-culture, underscores the episode and connects the two characters. From the “big-issue” beginning to the personal end, the list of topics suggests that Bloom and Stephen can be seen as fellow self-improvers who, though their methods and motivations differ, have a relationship that is based in part on curiosity and their shared pursuit of knowledge.
Linked to the guiding force of the episode’s schematic form, there are several passages related directly to self-cultivation in “Ithaca.” One prominent example deals with opposing opinions: “Stephen dissented openly from Bloom’s views on the importance of dietary and civic selfhelp while Bloom dissented tacitly from Stephen’s views on the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man in literature” (U 17.28-30).Interestingly, this is the only time in the book where the word “selfhelp” is mentioned, and it is smashed together without the more common usage of a hyphen to break up the word (6). The centrality of self-help, particularly concerning the “dietary and civic” kinds, is affirmed by Bloom in the face of Stephen’s outspoken dissent. This is not exactly the kind of personal, inspirational self-help we know today - pioneered by Samuel Smiles in his eponymous book popularizing the trend. Civic self-help (and its attendant dietary variety) refers to a nineteenth century view of popular citizenship to which Bloom still subscribes (7). One could make a connection between Bloom’s support for civic self-help and the Sinn Fein movement - “we, ourselves” - but his politics in the rest of the novel do not support stating the case so strongly. More centrist and pragmatic than radical, the political importance of civic self-help for Bloom is surely less important than the benefits of the exercise to the people involved.
The exploration of self-culture in “Ithaca” does not stop there; speaking of exercise, one is reminded throughout the episode of other kinds of Bloomian self-culture that are physical in nature. Most strikingly, the famous turn-of-the-century bodybuilder Eugen Sandow’s Strength and How to Obtain It appears upside-down on the bookshelf, and in one of Bloom’s drawers is a sheet of measurements to chart his progress in muscle size corresponding with the book’s exercises.
Figure 3. Title page, Strength and How to Obtain It
In nearly every way, both mentally and physically, and whether he is ultimately successful or not, Bloom is looking to improve, capitalize and learn. His father’s adoptive choice of surname is appropriate to the growth and development aspirations he possesses. The process is also brought into the realm of fantasy with his ambitions for the dream house and estate, Flowerville, where he can enjoy natural beauty away from the glum city and realize the agrarian ideals of self-reliance and cultivation of the soil as well as the self. As Vike Martina Plock points out, this reverie, following on the heels of Bloom’s reflections on Sandow, actually matches up quite closely with the principles of physical culture popularized along with other forms of self-culture at the turn of the century - especially the guiding precept of latent potential. “Like the mystic figure of the glorious strongman, Bloom of Flowerville is the product of self-improvement stretched to the utmost,” she says. “And whereas Bloom’s transformation obviously remains an idealizing fantasy, it is significant to remember that Sandow’s physical culture empire firmly relied on advertising fantasies of perfection and on promoting psychological determination as a requirement for physical empowerment” (130). With Bloom, the influences of low literature, advertisements and weightlifting books all come together in the spirit of self-improvement. Whatever source provides the inspiration, Bloom is looking inward to make good, or as muscle-builders sometimes say, make “gains.”
Figure 4. "Yours truly, Eugen Sandow." From Strength and How to Obtain It
Though he is a proponent of self-help, Bloom disagrees quietly about literature’s supposed affirmation of the human spirit - the very crux of Stephen’s wild-eyed ambition to become an artist in exile. Bloom is not an artist in the traditional sense, nor is he a heavy reader of fiction, but he is aware and respectful of the literary masters who had reached canonical status by the end of the nineteenth century - especially Shakespeare. One way he has engaged with the Bard is through a quotation-of-the-day calendar, which he either has or has seen somewhere (likely even in an advertisement)(8). When his abridged understanding of Shakespeare proves disappointing in terms of contextual applicability, Bloom’s skepticism of literature’s central role in personal development is sealed. It may be a mistaken conclusion on his part, based on shaky logical grounds, but it nonetheless characterizes how Bloom envisions literature reverently, but not personally. Bloom’s failure to “apply” literature may also accent his respect for those, like Stephen, who apparently can. In a strange way, both characters’ beliefs are made to look somewhat ridiculous, as if to put the moral authority for the disagreement on the shoulders of the one who diverts from, rather than the one who upholds, that opinion. In any case the question serves to first characterize Bloom and Stephen on the basis of their upheld beliefs, and then chide them for holding such beliefs in the first place. As amusing as they appear in the clinical language of “Ithaca,” these divergent views are held dearly. Bloom’s attention to self-improvement is local and at large, of the mind and the body. Stephen’s is more personal, artistic, and myopic, with no interest in cultivating civic advancement. Marguerite Harkness puts it succinctly when she says, “However much Bloom wants the perfect, he accepts less. Stephen has difficulty making that adjustment” (191).
In this context, Stephen actually appears very limited with the strong emphasis he places on literature’s humanistic affirmation at seemingly all costs. After deciding to dedicate his young life to art, Stephen in Ulysses has failed to reap the full benefits of his course. Next to Bloom’s dynamic interests across diverse outlets, Stephen’s devotion to art in literature seems rather stodgy, old-fashioned, and distinctly nineteenth-century. When it is stripped to its roots, as the answering voice in “Ithaca” so effectively does, Stephen’s project resembles the humanistic sentiment of so many Victorian sages - Arnold, Carlyle, Ruskin - who argued vehemently for the life of the mind, urging everyone who could to pursue Culture as a divinely-detached, higher form of aesthetic experience. Only the best could be considered worthy of the grave responsibility that literature was supposed to entail: an affirmation of the human spirit, available in truth to only those with the genius to understand what that affirmation meant (9). Stephen was called, but his answer has not been heard by any other than himself. The route towards literary self-cultivation, in the mind of this already introspective young man, leads to loneliness and further withdrawal into the interior realms of memory, philosophy, and aesthetics. Even in A Portrait, looking back on his semi-autobiographical self, Joyce was not entirely convinced that the Dedalus workshop could produce real flight. In Ulysses, he has passed the torch completely to a new kind of learner who allows himself to be taught by society, not having to retreat from society in order to learn.
Ulysses in general, and “Ithaca” in particular, then, provide the framework for locating Bloom in the role of a new modernist autodidact - one who borrows from classical education, culture at large, and his own innovations to become a cultured all-around man (with some considerable sincerity) at the University of Life. By his methods and motivations he is opposed to Stephen, whose literary aspirations remain unrealized in Ulysses. Joyce has his doubts about the efficacy of catechetical education, whether in church, school, or in the public, but he recognizes its importance to all of these systems and chides the readers who seek absolute knowledge in the pages of “Ithaca.” What is there behind the screen of linguistic authority, instead, are two characters whose interests in self-improvement - in temperament roughly “artistic” and “scientific” - inculcate them in the narrative parody performed. But they are not exactly obliterated by this technique, as distancing as it may be. Bloom rather emerges from Joyce’s chiding to take his role as the definitive autodidact for the twentieth century, replacing Stephen’s literary devotions with a diverse range of interests that fit his natural curiosity and the stimulation of urban life - especially as an ad-man. Bloom’s version of self-culture, “updated” as it is from Joyce’s previous examples, endures because Bloom is a memorable, sympathetic character. The confluence of a generous personality and a generous mind outlasts the gloomy selfishness of Stephen. Bloom is full of faults, but genuinely interested in life around him.
Joyce, a student of the world as much as a student of literature, realized that self-culture did not have to be contained in books, and was rather more potent when exercised with real-world compassion. As Timothy Brennan says in “Joyce and the Common People,” “Joyce was a habitual joiner of opposites - in this case, of trends within his own sensibility. As a result, he made Bloom’s compassion into a kind of aesthetic indicator - a means of clarifying for us Ulysses’s aesthetics” (148). That same aesthetic indication grounds the book in the travails of Bloom, Everyman and Noman, who lacks Stephen’s formal education but compensates with individual innovation. As Bloom experiences highs and lows throughout his day’s journey, the reader who is travelling with him also undergoes defamiliarization that becomes more familiar with each episode. It is a question of constant re-orientation, which Bloom’s mental state and approach to self-understanding compel him to do. It is Joyce’s achievement to present a work that requires so much of its readers as to make them students of the text as Bloom is of Dublin (10). “Ithaca” is the quiz at the end of the class, and Bloom is ultimately the answer. Joyce’s autodidactic everyman is untethered to the culturally-restrictive, even snobbish, standards of self-education that Stephen embodies. Ulysess itself is in the style of a new age ushered in by Leopold Blooms more than Stephen Dedaluses, and reflects the multifarious influences that would provide the raw material for self-taught students of the modern world: as much advertisements, popular songs, and low fiction as Shakespeare, philosophy and theology. Joyce created a modern character who was as fascinated with the popular as he was, and whose story - re-told through and against the schematic factuality of “Ithaca” - legitimated this kind of inclusionary, practical self-cultural odyssey.
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