Saturday, June 11, 2022

James Joyce's "Ulysses" at 100: Was Leopold Bloom a Stoner?

Joyce's sketch of Leopold Bloom, wth the line from Homer,
"Tell me, Muse, of that manyminded man, who wandered far and wide."

This year is the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce's epic modern novel Ulysses, which was published in Paris by Sylvia Beach on February 2, 1922—Joyce's 40th birthday. 

Ulysses chronicles a day in the life—June 16, 1904—of the Dublin-based character Leopold Bloom, with parallels to the Homeric tale of the same name. "The novel's stream of consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—replete with puns, parodies, and allusions—as well as its rich characterisation and broad humour have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history; Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday." According to Declan Kiberd, "Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking." [Wikipedia]

José Francisco Batiste Moreno in his astonishing paper Leopold Bloom's Tea-Pot presents evidence for Bloom, and Joyce, being influenced by hashish. In 1902, Joyce hung out with hashish-taking authors William Butler Yeats  and Arthur Symons in Paris, "a city once again overcome by the deliquescence of hemp; especially the colorful artistic life of Montmartre, that around the turn of the century was experiencing a new cycle of a true psychotropic revolution based on the green hempen pill."

In 1902, Joyce went to Paris with an introduction from hashish-taking author William Butler Yeatssome say to follow in the footsteps of Verlaine and Baudelaire (who also took hashish). Joyce reportedly spent time with Yeat’s party buddy Arthur Symons in "a city once again overcome by the deliquescence of hemp; especially the colorful artistic life of Montmartre, that around the turn of the century was experiencing a new cycle of a true psychotropic revolution based on the green hempen pill." The “Circe” chapter of Ulysses is said to "rework the visionary literature of Gérard de Nerval and Rimbaud," two more French hashish-takers. In Homer, the goddess/enchantress Circe turns men into pigs with a drug. Of nepenthe, the drug used in Homer by Helen to make soldiers banish the grief of battle, Joyce seems to have borrowed from Shelly's interpretation of it as a love potion. 

"Lotus Eaters" by Edward Marle (1970)

In Homer, the Lotus Eaters live on an island where their consumption of lotus plants puts them in a perpetual state of bliss, losing all sense of urgency. In the opening paragraph of the chapter "Lotus-Eaters," in Joyce's novel, Bloom "walked soberly" past a boy smoking "a chewed fabgutt," "lolled" by the nicotine.  The chapter continues: 

In Westland row he halted before the window of the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company and read the legends of lead-papered packets: choice blend, finest quality, family tea. Rather warm. Tea. Must get some from Tom Kernan. Couldn’t ask him at a funeral, though....The far east. Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, big lazy leaves to float about on, cactuses, flowery meads, snaky lianas they call them. Wonder is it like that. Those Cinghalese lobbing around in the sun, in dolce far niente. Not doing a hand’s turn all day. Sleep six months out of twelve. Too hot to quarrel. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flowers of idleness.

Sure sounds like the musings of a stoner to me. One wonders: why would Bloom need to buy tea from a friend, instead of a shop, and why couldn't he ask him for it at a funeral? Is black tea really a "flower of idleness?" The next think he does is go to the post office and, using the name Henry Flower, asks if there are any letters for him. 

"It doesn’t take much to accept this veiled reference to marijuana in Ulysses," Moreno writes. "The author himself shelters it in his notebook Scribbledehobble, where «Lotus Eaters» equals “Bhang.” (Source: Th. E. Connolly, Scribbledehobble: The Ur-Workbook for “Finnegans Wake," quoted in Moreno.)

"And this leads to unsuspicious implications that could affect the whole of the discourse attributed to Leopold Bloom," writes Moreno. "He would assume the quality of an aficionado of the mental alteration produced by hemp: something that was there in the streets of Dublin and that Joyce could have experimented with, or simply wanted to represent those who were close to him.  In any case, it is a qualify that corresponds with the psychology of the character...

"Leopold Bloom would not simply be a poor devil with an exacerbated ability to establish semantic connections to everything that surrounds him –a mirror of that non-transference of ideas and words which everybody observes daily–: He would also be affected by a substance that stimulates astonishing brain activity, and its inexplicable links, sometimes deep, between concepts, icons, myths and beings.... Would we go too far considering the whole novel as the mental avalanche of a character used to hemp’s quintessence and laxity, all tempered with the precarious dikes of his aware and elusive conscience?"

Joyce mentions "haschish" in Finnegans Wake (1939), writing of: "blood, musk or haschish, as coked, diamoned or penceloid, and bleaching him naclenude from all cohlorine matter," making reference to Hector France’s popular anthology of tales translated to English, under the title Musk, Hashish and Blood (1899).  Cohlorine may also refer to chlorodine, a mixture of opium in alcoholic solution, tincture of cannabis and chloroform taken by Rudyard Kipling in a revelatory moment.

Another influence on Joyce was Sir Richard Burton, an explorer, linguist, and botanist who traveled to the East in the 1800s and brought back descriptions of the "kayf" enjoyed by the Arabs: "The savouring of animal existence; the passive enjoyment of mere sense; the pleasant languor, the dreamy tranquility, the airy castle-building, which in Asia stands in lieu of the vigorous, intensive, passionate life in Europe....where Ernst ist das Leben [Life is Serious]." A paper from Aida Yared starts with comparable quotes from Burton's Terminal Essay and Finnegan's Wake

"And they led the most pleasurable of lives and the most delectable, till there came to them the Destroyer of delights and the Severer of societies and they became as though they had never been." (Burton, TE)

"And they leaved the most leavely of leaftimes and the most folliage-nous till there came the marrer of mirth and the jangtherapper of all jocolarinas and they were as were they never ere." (Joyce, FW)
Dr. David P. Rando writes in Hope, Form, and Future in the Work of James Joyce, "While [writer Ernst] Bloch associates the night dream with narcoticizing opium, he associates the daydream with hashish, with which he and Walter Benjamin conducted well-documented experiments for its visionary potential. 'The hashish dreams of the subjects in more recent experiments are reported to be of an enchanting levity, they have a kind of elfin spirit about them, the asphalt of the street is transformed into yards of blue silk, random passers-by turn into Dante and Petrarch anachronistically deep in conversation, in short, to the talented hashish dreamer the world becomes a concert of wishes.' (Bloch, The Principle of Hope). Seen in this light, the strange transmogrifications and anachronistic collisions of the Wake are not so many displacements and condensations of thrown up to semiconsciousness by the night dream, but rather wishful expressions as a form of daydream."

Tokin' Woman Grace Slick wrote a trippy tune called "Rejoyce" for the LSD-inspired Jefferson Airplane album "After Bathing at Baxter's." Gertrude Stein, whose prose also reads like it's written by a stoner to me, said of Joyce, quite derisively, "He had that beautiful stream of consciousness at his fingertips, and he opted for clarity." It's possible that stream of consciousness was hemp-enhanced. 

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