May 13, 2016
What Would Leopold Bloom Do? Volume 9
by Josh Cook
Complex and confusing, filled with words you don’t know and people you don’t understand, life is even more difficult to navigate than Ulysses. But luckily, we have Ulysses to help us!
Why shouldn’t we be able to apply our reading efforts to our living efforts? Expansive, generous, humanist, funny, and, of course, difficult, Ulysses can provide answers to the questions kicked up like so much dust as we traverse our day.
Ask your questions, pose your problems, present your challenges, and Josh Cook, author of An Exaggerated Murder and resident Joyce expert, will dispense advice drawn from Joyce’s masterpiece. Just like Ulysses the advice will be serious, silly, and, of course, dirty as required, but always thoughtful and honest. You can send your inquiries to Josh at [email protected]!
Here’s our next question.
“Does this look infected to you?” —Red Around the Edges in Rhinebeck
There is only one example in Ulysses of Leopold Bloom stopping his train of thought. He goes off on tangents, he changes direction, he moves on from topics, he is shocked by Gertie’s lameness, and though, there are moments when his thoughts trail into the wordless realm or when the narrator leaves his brain to consider other phenomena, only once does he actually grind the momentum of his mind to an absolute halt: when he starts to wonder if Blazes Boylan might give Molly an STD.
What makes Bloom such an interesting and important character is how he considers very little of life as “unthinkable.” Whether it’s rats eating bodies in the graveyard, the sensation of one’s own skin to the blind, or the roller coaster of fear, fantasy, excrement, and sexual fluidity in Circe, Bloom is open to considering pretty much every aspect of the human experience. So it’s odd that he draws a line at the clap. Or syphilis. This would be one thing if we were in Stephen’s sin-addled brain. The hellfire Catholic schooling erected barriers all over his brain, especially all over the parts of his brain that consider sex. But Bloom has not such barriers.
I believe an STD (from which one or both of them might end up sterile, maimed, mad, and/or dead) is unthinkable because at heart, Bloom is a reformer. The current of his thoughts, whether directly or indirectly, all flow from wanting to make the world better. In 1904, you couldn’t really reform gonorrhea. So not only are thoughts of an STD emotionally painful and physically scary, they’re also pointless.
Which is why, ultimately, we have professionals think about our potential diseases and infections for us, those who might actually be able to “reform” them.
But to your original question: If you’re still wondering if it looks infected a month after looking at it, then it’s infected. Badly. Probably also flesh-eating.
“Dare I eat a peach?” —Wanda in The Wasteland
Yes. Yes, you do. You dare to eat a peach. To get juice on your chin. To stain the front of your good shirt. To stain the cuffs of your good shirt by thoughtlessly wiping the juice off your chin. To get your fingers sticky so you can’t touch your grandparents’ antique lace doilies or your father’s newspaper before he has a chance to read it or your mother’s new sweater. To ruin your grandparents’ antique lace doilies and your father’s newspaper before he has a chance to read it and your mother’s new sweater with your sticky fingers. To value the fleeting sweetness of a peach over the the appreciative value of antique doilies. To be sweet and sticky and irresponsible.
And there was a time in all of our lives when it did not take daring to eat a peach because to dare you must be afraid, or at least hesitant, and as children we did not know how to fear the inconvenience of an extra load of laundry, of having to change our shirts before going out in public again, of forcing someone else to wash their hands or face or change their shirt or do an extra load of laundry because we recklessly touched them with juice-laden hands and mouths. And over time we learned to be more afraid of what might stain than of the stains. And over time we learned it is better to avoid making the mess completely than relish the twofold experience of mess creation and order recreation. And we found ourselves in our particular adulthoods, in our sweaters with our lace and our newspapers and peaches have become something to fear, risks to be mitigated, flavors only approached through daring.
There are actually two true stories that lead from the child who will cover everything with sauce and juice and crumbs and the adult who risk-assesses eating a peach, and Ulysses tells both of them: one is the story of joy and freedom and exuberance slowly extruded from our lives and the other is the story of how the spice of fear makes the peach that much sweeter.
Josh Cook is a bookseller at Porter Square Books. His first novel, An Exaggerated Murder, was published by Melville House in March 2015.