May 3rd, 2007

Agenbite of Inwit

Idle but wholly subversive thoughts, as I shave at the mirror in the bathroom this bright sunny morning:

My father is dead. Now I am my father. And as I walk I am split, endlessly, by everyone I encounter. I am a reflection—yes, absolutely—but I remain an illusion.

Buck Mulligan in the Scylla and Charybdis episode of Ulysses says that his friend Stephen “…proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he is himself the ghost of his own father.” This paternity motive is among the leading themes of the episode, and not long after the word “father” is uttered, the conversation inevitably moves toward a consideration of God. And that’s when the trouble begins. Underneath it all, unsaid, remains the central question: God begat us all, but who begat God? Yep. It’s something to think about. Something to truly strain the brain.

In this particular part of Joyce’s elaborate scheme for the novel, the Scylla and Charybdis episode represents the human brain, which Stuart Gilbert calls the “…cruelest of all the instruments that man has forged for his undoing.”

Gilbert goes on to say, “We feel a tensity of cerebration that is almost pain in Stephen’s dialectical progress towards a paradoxical conclusion, the cul de sac of a mystery. On that mystery the book Ulysses, all religion and every explanation of the universe is founded—“upon the void. Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood.”

Joyce is all about metaphysical nihilism, it saturates his work from the first word to the last. He insists despite our pathetic howls of protest that there is no substance whatever underneath all our theology and all our philosophy. In the end all that’s left, says Professor Curtius, is “An odor of ashes, the horror of death, sorrow of apostasy, pangs of remorse—Agenbite of Inwit.”

Now, what shall I make for breakfast?